Madang Madness

How in god's name could "HE" have created such wonderful place and then kept it hidden away from all us mortals for so long? The crystal clear water, schools of big fish and warm tropical days all concealed from the world simply by a 12-hr flight back in time.
We stuffed the dive gear into the MV "Nirvana" and with 5 other guests set off for the distant island. The nautical maps named the pinprick in the middle of the Bismarck Sea "KarKar" and said it was 57 miles from Madang. To us divers it was to be called merely DH (Divers Heaven).

A little cleaner shrimp, one of manyThe journey took 3 hrs; plenty enough time to meet and get to know the people we would be sharing the u/w world with. They were a mixed bunch, really from all walks of life. "Bill", from Texas (retired), who 15 years ago, had started diving to relieve the arthritis in his fingers; "Joe & Mara", (Kiwis), who had just released their 5 kids from the apron strings, then finally the clowns of the group, "Huey & Dewy". 2 German headstone-carvers who had made enough to sustain 3 trips like this a year, moreover give their wives an open chequebook in the worlds shopping capitals. We had won this trip in a photo competition in Berlin. Two divers, who had only glimpsed a fish like apparition in the lakes surrounding our city, even thought we had logged over 500 dives there.

About half way through the cruise the DM summoned us to the port side of the boat. "Look there " he said pointing to a pod of 50 killer whales cruising past, followed close behind by a smaller but no less spectacular group of spinner dolphins. "They must have been herding up the baitfish, ever so prevalent in these waters", he told us. In time the vessels radar picked up the blips of the submerged reef system of "KarKar". Our excitement level naturally rose a notch or two with anticipation of what was to follow.
"Kart", our local DM showed us the simple dive plan on the blackboard. With each passing sentence from his lips the dribble was visibly running from our mouths. He predicted a small current with over 30 meters. Vis; consequently we would jump from a hot boat and be picked up approximately 3 kms away. Our experience level was to determine our depth limit.

The kiwi's buddied up with Bill, who always carried two camera systems, (macro/wide angle) whilst the deadly German duo were teamed up. Danny's and my plan was to stick as close as possible to Kart, as he had intimate knowledge of all the dive sites in and around this area. Hawksbill Turtle feeding on the reef.He flaunted a beetle nut smile as his sign to jump, and then next second all that was left, was a stream of exhaust bubbles and bubbling water. It took us 3 minutes of frantic kicking to catch up to the kamikaze diver, who looked as if he was trying to break the sound barrier with his finning.

When we finally caught up to him, at around 35 meters, we were able to at last take in the scenery. There our eyes went into sensory overload. We had arrived in Divers heaven! All around us the coral was pristine, probably never seen by others, swarms of schooling fish everywhere, snappers, grunts, jacks, barracuda, fusiliers, big eyes, sweetlips, grey reef sharks, Moorish idols and emperors all standing to attention in that diminutive current. We leisurely drifted along trying to take in this entire superb and extraordinary creature feature.

After about 25 min into the dive I noticed Danny wasn't beside me. I stopped at a sandy patch, waiting for her to come into view. When she eventually came around the corner of the bommie, I could see her physically shaking (the water was a boiling 29°C), her image was completed by huge saucer like eyes. Through very animated and agitated hand signals I eventually worked out that a 2.5m Silvertip shark had cruised in and given Daniela some company for a short part of her dive! Lucky bugger.

Atlantis - 1 rebreatherThis event sorted out, we decided to check our deco status. Sadly it urged us further up the pinnacle to the shallower depths. There the current was considerably less, giving us a chance to take in the smaller critters. Kart spotted a mimic crab, Danny copulating nudibranches, and I saw my first pigmy seahorses hidden amongst the gorgonians, (this took over 5 minutes of Kart pointing to the fan before I could see the tiny creature). For over 70 minutes we had been under the water and still we hadn't reached the corner. If the depths had shown the "Beastly" things, then the shallows had its fair share of "Beauty". Nearly 90 minutes in this wonderland and still there was so much more to see. At 5 meters we saw 2 octopuses coupling plus a fleet of bump-head parrotfish crunching their way through the coral. Pretty cool. But all great things must come to an end and after over 100 min underwater we had to rejoin the other guests on "Nirvana". Our Atlantis-1 rebreathers had truly served us well. Not only were we able to spend so long u/w, but we could really get close to the fish life.The noise 7 excited and aroused people can make on a dive boat is extremely loud. We were all competing to proclaim the things that we had seen: swordfish, tunas, our silvertip, 50 or so napoleons, mantas and even a hammerhead swimming in shallow water. The Vis was outstanding, 40+ meters, the water so warm we dived in Lycra. The action so full on and non-stop that words couldn't do the whole scene justice and then to top it off, a lunch menu to die for.

During the surface interval, which was held on the boat moored at a secluded lagoon, our nitrox tanks were exchanged and a sumptuous lunch buffet was rapidly consumed. It still amazes me how the mind can justify eating far more than the stomach can handle, by telling itself that the diving and snorkelling is a form of exercise.

At last, after 1.5 hours. the nitrogen was low enough to allow us back into that fabulous ocean. That 2nd dive was to be a little less adventurous than the first, and with a different objective, a little trip back into history.

Diving one of the wreckDuring the 2nd world war, an American B-25 Mitchell bomber was shot down near Madang. The skill of the pilot was enough to ditch the stricken bomber near PUK PUK Island. His crew was discovered by the Japanese and either shot or given a slow death in Changi. The pilot escaped via the locals help, returning to dive on his wreck a few years ago. We all were lost in time as we geared up. We jumped back into the Second World War and down the descent line to 15 meters we slowly cruised; there slowly the wreck came into view. She was lying on her belly in the sand, with 1 wing dipping down to 25 meters and the other up at 20. It was in near perfect condition. 50 years of lying on the bottom had given her new camouflage paint. We commence our exploration at the forward guns. The quad 50 cals were searching for an unseen enemy Zero, the bullets still in their boxes. A pair of lionfish sat in the gunners' seat, waiting for the call to go into action. Without delay we took turns to sit in the pilots' chair and dreamt of flying in that liquid haze. After that, a swim along the outside to the intact tail where you could still see the serial number. The soft and hard coral had really taken hold over those 50 years and in some spots you had to think what was what. Shifting to the portside guns, we saw a blennie, which had made a barrel into its home. We tried forever to take a photo, but every time he would duck back into his house as we were to squeeze the shutter. Who said u/w photography was easy. After 35 min we had exposed all of our film, sadly we left that living wreck and then cruised around the reef top, looking for more macro subjects to end that magnificent dive.

Gracious Manta RayBack on the boat there were a lot of reflective divers who were thinking about the futility of war. The ride home was taken up with dive talk and a few tranquil Carlsberg's. PNG and Madang consummated a perfect ending to a great day, by giving us a great sunset as we entered the bay. Wearily but happily we unpacked our gear and then off to Malolo Lodge for a shower and more drinks with our new friends. The next day we'd be off to the headhunting village. Thankfully not as the main course! The rest of our two weeks was spent diving the Bismark sea, some notable dives were: Planet Rock, the Boston and probably the best the Quarry. We also soaked up the history associated with Madang, including investigating WWII wrecks scattered about the land and a half day trip to the coconut research plantation that turned out educational and interesting.

Malolo Plantation lodge is situated 45 minutes from Madang airport along a sealed road. Air Nuigini & Qantas fly from all Australian ports two times a week.

The PADI Gold Palm resort dive centre is fully equipped with nitrox and rebreathers (Atlantis) and oxygen for deco stops. You can rent all equipment, inc. computers and E-6 processing is available. They teach PADI, IANTD and TDI courses as well as run daily boat/shore dives. The 2 instructors speak 3 languages between them and the DMs will teach you PIGIN if you want.

The lodge is set on an old coconut plantation with 12 double rooms. All are air-conditioned and have breathtaking ocean views.
Malolo is part of Trans Nuigini Tours, run by Pam & Bob Bates, they have 3 other lodges in PNG as well as a liveaboard, which runs weekly, up and down the Sepic River.

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