When the South-Easterly winds blow up, the frustration of large swells and ripping currents prevent us from venturing to the outer reefs off the PNG coastline. We are resigned to the fact that the only option we have is to dive in the Fjords. Resigned to the fact?, the Fjord diving is great, but just like all other divers, if you dive the same dive site enough times it becomes monotonous.
Thankfully for us (the dive team) we had the pleasure of hosting a couple of ladies from America who are extremely comfortable and experienced in the water, Vinceena & Denise. Both ladies where happy to dive almost anywhere as a day underwater is better than a day staying dry!
We dived the regular Fjord locations for the first couple of days and all the time I had the little voice in the back of my head “Lets go exploring!!” Whilst discussing the following days possibilities I posed the question “How about exploring some areas that have yet to be dived?” It’s fair to say that their eyes lit up.
For a few months now I have had my eye on some areas within the adjacent Fjord to Tufi as possibly being good locations to dive. Going into further detail with Team Peanut Butter (yup, they ate that horrible stuff) I explained where and why;
Ultimately the most obvious reason to dive them is the fact that we would be the first people ever to explore on scuba diving equipment. I’m sure the local villagers have had a mooch whilst spear fishing but a few minutes underwater has no comparison to an hour or more.
The first location is a deeply recessed bay on the south side of the Fjord, the Dive Masters had told me of a Bommie that rose up to 1m. Looking at the position in relation to the incoming water movement from the sea it was well protected and therefore less likely to have any current. Above the surface, the finger of land rose steeply up to 100m+ and is covered by jungle foliage and a few mangrove trees along the waterline with a small river running into the bay some 200m from the bommie. Obviously this meant that fresh water ran into the area and therefore the visibility would be reduced.
The second location is an area outside the bay on the north shore which led out to 3 outcropping small islands still within the main Fjord itself. Initial thoughts on this location was that there would be more water movement as it would catch some of the tidal movement from the sea but is still on the protected south side of the Fjord. The land itself is much lower than the bay, maybe 40m in height so less fresh water run-off. Looking down from the boat and snorkeling showed the reef tops to descend down as a wall to approximately 20m.
The start of third area is almost opposite the end of the second site but again back on the south side going back towards the Fjord mouth. Steep walls of rock with a spattering of jungle and more mangroves at the water’s edge. From the boat you can see a distinct finger of coral protruding out into the Fjord about half way along the site we planned to dive.
It’s fair to say that I was pretty damn excited at the fact that the ladies where as keen as me to explore, so that was that, tomorrows dives in the bag.
An early start for breakfast and then out onto the boat, we skipped across the incoming waves of the open sea and retreated into Buame Fjord heading for the first dive at the bommie.
Entering the water and descending down to 20m, the bommie had a gentle gradient that disappeared off beyond our range of sight, maybe beyond 35m depth. Keeping the coral on our left we made our way slowly around its circumference observing coral fish, macro and (surprisingly enough) Spanish Mackerel on the hunt. The visibility was approximately 12-15m and as we rounded the East side it was clear that a saddle protruded out at 90 degrees heading towards the shoreline. I decided to stay on the bommie and explore this section another time. As we continued our spiraling ascent the sunlight hit the corals displaying their colors in a much more dramatic fashion. By the time we had reached <5m it was very clear that this would also make a fantastic little snorkeling site. After an hour submerged it was time for a brew, back on the boat and we all agreed that it makes a cracking alternative to being thrashed around in the currents ‘out front’.
Eager to get back to exploring we where in our kit and ready to jump 59 minutes later. Location 2 greeted us with the wall that we had seen from snorkeling. It plunged down to 26m and had plenty of alcoves ranging in depths for us to stick our adventurous eyes into. Macro was the main attraction on this site, along with some beautiful fauna and little coral outcrops as we moved along it to the North where the lands finger disappeared into the water. The visibility was better than the bommie due to a little bit more water movement but nothing that would cause any issues even for the most limited of divers. A gentle, relaxing and enjoyable dive site with amazing colors and little critters. We surfaced after an hour and again had a team full of smiles and gossip.
During our surface interval we took a slow meander further into the Fjord and the landscape was simply breath-taking, land reaching up to the clouds on either side, a slight ripple on the waters’ surface and candy floss-like clouds around the caps of the distant mountains. The view is simply unique and we all fell under its spell of beauty instantly. Not a word was spoken for at least 20 minutes. Even the DM’s where on the roof of the boat with cameras in hands (bear in mind these guys have lived here for all of their lives).
The third and final dive site produced even more surprises, again with a wall dropping down to 21m and then a gradual slope disappearing into the distant depths we elected to remain fairly shallow and mooch along the reef. There was so much more macro on this site to the keen eye and the landscape of the reef itself is simply stunning with mini coral bommies and protruding ridges forming step walls littered in fauna, macro, glass fish and of course, more crevices to peer into. A keen eye from Dive Master Dias found an Epaulette Shark snoozing within a recess promptly followed by a Nudibranch we had yet seen in these local waters (after a little research help via Nudibranch Central – Gary Cobb we ID’d the little fella to be a Helgerda Batangas around 4mm in length).
We spent almost 70 minutes on this dive site and only managed to get as far as the aforementioned coral finger half way along the site, partly because of the complexities of reef and crevices to explore but also because we wandered across some large sections of steel littering the bed at around 11m depth. You can imagine the excitement I felt knowing the WWII history of this area of PNG and the fact that the steels where ranging in sizes up to 8 feet in size. I had a quick swim out over the depths but the visibility would not allow me to peer beyond into the deep abyss of the Fjord. Certainly another exploration dive for hopefully some sort of wreck! Carrying on and just before surfacing I caught a glimpse of a Mandarin Fish (now its important to note at this point that Denise has some sort of infatuation with these little fellas, every dive brief closes with the response “And Mandarin Fish” regardless of where we may be diving) sneaking around in the shallows, quickly grabbing my camera, point, focus, shoot, black screen…….the perfect time for the battery to die!! I’ll leave you to your imagination for the post dive banter on that one.
A great day of diving came to a close with 3 brand new dive sites added to the Tufi map, but what do we call them? I think every scuba diver will agree that naming a dive site is something special and certainly may appear on several bucket lists. Team Peanut Butter enjoyed dive site 2 and noticed that a protruding rock from the water’s surface resembled the head of a bird of prey. The local bird of prey is a Kite and so, the ladies named the site as “Kites Point.” The Dive Masters on board have been diving these waters for years….in my opinion it was about time they had the pleasure of naming one for themselves. Just as we arrived back at Tufi Wharf Alex chirped up and announced the name of dive site 1 to be D.A.M Bommie. My instant thought was ‘Holy hell, we can’t have that, it sounds like a bit of foul language, not a clever idea for an upmarket dive resort’ but then he explained “It’s Dias, Alex, Matt, the dive team.” How could I say no to that? Well done Alex and Dias. The Final dive site has plenty of mangroves reaching into the water, and with my family name of Waters and 2 generations of military nicknames of Muddy I decided on Muddies Mangroves (Which is quite ironic as it’s not muddy at all).
Now the dives may not produce large pelagics or the 40m+ clarity of the sea but i think its safe to say that this was indeed one of the best days diving I have experienced at Tufi; and I’m sure the DM’s and the ladies will agree that it was a unique opportunity rarely afforded to divers on vacation. An experience that will take decades to forget for all involved.