Sunday. I hooked up with Eunice, who’s the head chef down at the Madang Resort. We’d been talking for a few weeks of doing a dive outside the Harbour, where folks do most of their diving. I poached a car from the office, we loaded up with four tanks of air, an esky with ice and sandwiches, and set off down North Coast road. Destination? We weren’t really sure…
But we had a few places in mind, and figured we’d play it by ear. Just over an hour out of town is the village of Kubugum. This is where boats leave for Karkar Island six days a week. On Sundays, however, the market is shut and the banana-boats, usually drawn up on shore, are conspicuously absent. There’s an island out in the harbour, maybe five hundred yards off-shore. So we found a friendly man and his wife with a little aluminium row-boat who was willing to paddle us out there. We didn’t know what we’d find around the island, but we thought we’d give it a go anyway.
We loaded up. It was a 10-foot boat, teeny-tiny. Into the boat climbed Eunice, myself, the man, his wife, two tanks of air and associated breathing and diving aparatus. And six children. There was a hole in the hull about the diameter of a kitchen tap. Water came through it at a similar rate. There were two little plastic tubs with the lids cut off. One little girl stamped her heel over the hole in the bottom of the boat and two more bailed out the boat for all they were worth while the man and his wife paddled us across the channel with leisurely strokes. I comforted myself with the knowledge that if the boat did in fact sink, I had an hour’s air supply with me under the water.
Pulled up on the island, we pulled on gear and got straight in. The water was warm and once away from the sandy shoreline, quite clear. There was a reef shelf about ten metres deep, then a nice drop-off that sloped gently away into the ocean. Fish life was copious, and the coral landscapes were exotic and enticing. It was a wonderful dive, all the more fun for the freshness of it. Eunice and I circumnavigated the island and ended up where we started an hour later, myself with all of 30 bar left in my tank.
We paddled back across the bay. This time our leaky skiff was accompanied by three little boys in an outrigger. If they were wise they’d keep their distance so that when we sank to the bottom, they wouldn’t get pulled down by helpless floundering escapees. Back on the road, we backtracked a short distance to a little village whose name I don’t even know, looking for a spot called WaraWall.
WaraWall we know as Hole in the Wall. It’s a sheltered little lagoon bounded by a reef wall, into which time and the relentless surf has worn a great natural archway about five metres across in the lagoon floor. It’s entirely underwater, and is a bit of an attraction among locals. Keen snorkellers can swim the little passage out into the open ocean. The lagoon itself is very picturesque, with a white coral-sand beach and children playing in the surf, while brown thatched huts peek out from the bush at the water’s edge.
After a surface interval we got back in the water, this time fighting the waves on the way out before dropping over the reef wall. The visibility was perhaps a little lower, but the small network of gullies formed by the reef were a treat to explore. Sea cucumbers and small reef fish abounded close in, while at the rollover into the Bismarck Sea, we found shoals of Fusiliers, Angelfish, Moorish Idols, Butterflyfish, and plenty more besides. A highlight was a pair of large Hump-Headed Parrotfish towards the turning point of the dive. We entered the water via the Hole, finding a beautiful Lionfish drifting with the surge before resurfacing.
What was great about this Sunday was that it really was like any given Sunday out here. Dive gear notwithstanding, the day cost us twenty-five Kina in access fees and a bit of fuel money. Sites like this abound up and down the North Coast, and for those of us who enjoy taking advantage of the diving opportunities here, every weekend we spend it out on the water (as those of you who’ve been watching my photos and stories over the last couple of months have realised, with me sounding increasingly like a record stuck on ‘dive’). When I get back to my other life in Australia, I have no idea what I’m actually going to do with my weekends…