Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Port Moresby & Brisbane

Christmas Day in Port Moresby was lovely....we spent some early morning hours aboard the Golden Dawn finishing the logs, working on photos and then sweet good-byes! After checking into the lovely Airways Hotel near the airport, all relaxed in their rooftop pool looking out at the mountains surrounding Port Moresby.

Christmas "Dinner" is the big meal in PNG so the adjoining restaurant was packed with local families and ex-pats celebrating with Santa in residence and presents for all the kiddies! Most of the gifts were "water related" so after meals were finished, the pool was full of celebrating children with their swamp boats and water guns! We had great fun watching all of them playing in the water....all those kids are really "fishes" with beautiful swimming skills!

Supper was our main meal later in the evening and since George had previously asked the manager if there would be "Christmas Pudding", of course there was! All in all, even though we were missing our families, it was a lovely Christmas Day...in plus 90 degree sunshine!

Early on the 26th we left PNG on a flight to Brisbane. We're staying a little ways out of Brisbane proper and had scheduled a 1/2 day afternoon tour of the City and the surrounding areas including a tour of a koala sanctuary. Unfortunately, it was "bucketing" here to use a local term.....I think we'd call it "pouring buckets" which is quite rare for the Sunshine Coast of Australia! It was hard to be cranky about it because apparently they're in the middle of a huge drought and desperately need the rain....we postponed our tour until the next afternoon so we'll see what happens later today.

It did stop raining a little later on and we were able to walk the few blocks to "Brett's Wharf" which is where the river transport called "City Cat" is boarded. It's a beautiful cruise along the Brisbane River down towards the Ciy Centre. It was quite a lovely sight, with all the beautiful homes along the river and then, of course, the tall apartment/condo buildings as we got closer to downtown. We walked along the boardwalk and found a magnificent Italian restaurant to have dinner and then cruised back to the hotel later on.

Here's a few more photos from the various legs of the trip that I haven't been able to upload along the way....we're off to Fiji late this evening, arriving early Thursday a.m. and then off to Los Angeles late Thursday evening, arriving in LAX mid-afternoon on Thursday....we're arriving in Los Angeles BEFORE we've even left Fiji timewise! It's tough on the body clocks but we're on our way home.....see you all soon!

Let's try again from PNG!

HO HO HO, and “Happy Christmas” as they say in this part of the world!

It’s Christmas Day and we’ve just finished the fourth and final “boat” leg of our South Pacific Adventure and what an experience it’s been!
The beautiful Golden Dawn has been our home for the past ten days and most of our time was spent in the rarely dove region called “Eastern Fields” which is in the North Coral Sea between Papua New Guinea and Australia. The Golden Dawn is the ONLY boat currently diving this pristine, remote reef region and the reefs reflect the absence of intrusion. It is the MOST pristine reef system we’ve experienced anywhere in the world. The hard corals are endless, covered in soft corals and sea fans taller than the average man!
The colors of the reef are mind-boggling, to say the least! They are literally teeming with life…covered in schools of fish too large to count all the way down to ½” size silversides and anthias and swarms of them coursing their way across the reef top. Craig DeWit, the owner and Captain of the Golden Dawn, limits the number of guests he brings to the Eastern Fields to a mere FIFTY per year!

Oh, and did I mention the sharks? There are several reef points that attract sharks in larger than seen anywhere else numbers! Craig has a simple trick by which he attracts the sharks and up the reef they come! They’re curious, to say the least, but keep safe distances from the divers…sometimes too far away even for the photographers to be happy, but once in a while one of the photographers gets lucky and has one “right in the middle of their lens”. Black tip, white tip and silver tip sharks are the most commonly seen. Everyone was hoping the great hammerhead would show up at Carl’s Ultimate but we’re assuming it has gone away for the Christmas Holidays because it was a “no show” for us!

We experienced stronger than usual winds out there in the open so after six days of slightly rocky weather, we motored back towards the coast of PNG and dove for 2-1/2 days along the southern coast near Port Moresby. There were some great dives experienced there also and Suzie’s Bombie was the group favorite…from the beautiful purple rhinopia to the schools of sweetlips that didn’t mind photographers getting up close and personal…lots of fabulous photographs were taken and many, many more fantastic memories were made!

We’re back in Port Moresby today, for one night, before starting our journey home. We’ll be flying to Brisbane tomorrow morning, spending almost two days there and then heading back to Nadi, Fiji and then homeward……watch the web page in the coming weeks for detailed trip reports on each individual destination along with TONS of photos I’ve been wading through!

What an incredible adventure this has been and both Bob & I want to thank all of our guests from all four trips as well as the crews of the Nai’a, the Bilikiki, the Paradise Sport and the Golden Dawn for taking such wonderful care of us. The crews are always smiling, always have time for a chat about themselves and their cultures and make each and every boat a special place while you’re aboard…..Hugs and Kisses to all of them! What fabulous memories you’ve helped us make!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Well, I didn’t call it an “adventure” for nothing!

After a lovely early morning departure from the Bilikiki on 08DEC, we were taken to the Mendano Hotel in downtown Honiara for a short while. It gave folks time to get to an Internet Café and get updated on the world a little bit! Then we were transferred to the Honiara Airport for our flights onward. Peter, Jeff & Ted headed home via Brisbane and Nadi; the rest of the group headed towards Port Moresby on AirNuigini.

Our first clue that things might be amiss was an aborted take-off! A few moments later our pilot came over the intercom to advise us that as he received clearance for take-off and gunned his engines, he noticed a “local” airline commencing a landing in front of him from the opposite direction! He commented to us that the “pilot was not in communication with the rest of the world!” After circling back onto a taxi-way and waiting for the plane to clear the runway, he commenced a safe take-off!Once we landed in Port Moresby, PNG, after clearing Customs and Immigration we were advised that Air Nuigini had SOLD our seats on the flight to Alotau that evening because our plane was slightly late!

Oh, the joys of world travel to Third World Countries! Air Nuigini made arrangements to put us up at a local hotel and booked us out on the 6:00 a.m. flight the next morning. I confirmed that our friend, Tim, who was joining us had, indeed, boarded our original flight, so we were ten unhappy campers, but with lots of great red wine and a wonderful dinner at the Airways Poolside Restaurant, everyone managed a good night’s sleep.

Onward…we thought! Well, when we landed in Alotau our ground transportation greeter advised us that the Paradise Sport had sailed WITHOUT us the night before! Air Nuigini apparently doesn’t communicate with their local offices and sat phone service is terribly unreliable, so no one from Paradise Sport could find us! After a one and one-half hour van trip out of Alotau to the southeast coast, we were greeted at the lovely Tawaili Resort where we waited for the Paradise Sport to come and fetch us!

Once onboard, lunch was served, dive gear was set up and diving began! Our first dive site was Kathy’s Korner, which is a signature Milne Bay dive site, followed by Dinah’s Beach (another world-class dive site) and the trip sailed on for the remainder of the week. Everything was seen on the various dives….we dove wall structures, bommies and “muck” sites. We were able to dive with the prehistoric Nautilus and fantastic photos were taken. We saw everything from pygmy seahorses (think grain of rice size) all the way up to a fantastic manta ray! A first for all of us onboard was a lacey scorpionfish….almost 1-1/2 foot long! He was GORGEOUS….light green/yellow/black and truly a wonderful find.

The weather all week was fabulous until the last night (of course) when it started to rain! For those of you who are familiar with the drill, dive gear is washed, rinsed and put out in the “sun” to dry once diving is completed, so our gear wasn’t able to dry properly. The crew did put it in the engine room for a few hours the last morning and it was about 60% dry when we packed it….I’m sure all of our luggage weighed more because of all the wet gear!

We’re now in the Alotau airport waiting for our flight back to Port Moresby. We’ll all overnight in POM and then Mike, Bruce, Lynn, Eamonn & Nicola head off to Brisbane and back to LAX…Geri, Tim, George, Joyce, Bob & I are going to be joined tomorrow by Marian and Simonne and we’re off to the 4th and last leg of the journey, the Golden Dawn diving the remote Eastern Fields between PNG and Australia…….no internet access again while on board so look for the next update when we get off the boat on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Season’s Greetings!

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Here are some Nai'a photos from the last trip...off to the Solomon Islands we went!

After a short flight from Nadi to Honiara (on the island of Guadalcanal), we were met by the Bilikiki crew and taken by "tinnies" out to the boat. Tinnies are aluminum tenders and the method by which we did 95% of our diving.

The boat is beautiful and has a crew of 12 which took awesome care of us! Monty & Michelle are the longtime Bilikiki Cruise Directors and lead the merry band of staff! We loved their Aussie accents and sharp wit! Their critter finding eyes were pretty darn good too!

Our 10-day charter on the Bilikiki allowed us to visit the Russell Island chain, Mary Island, Morovo Lagoon for several days of incredible diving and then the Florida Islands on the way back to Honiara. Dive sites were varied...some were seamounts rising to 15-30 feet below the surface. Those generally were covered in beautiful hard and soft corals and were surrounded by some of the largest schools of fish we've encounted. Critters were hiding amongst the hard corals too and we saw every kind and color of anemone in all the ID books as well as all their resident "clownfish" or anemonefish!

Other dive sites along the way were "points" jutting out of the various islands with schools of jacks and barracuda, some shark sightings and more big schools of fish. Other dive sites were "mucky" sites where we just puttered along looking for unusual critters. Harlequin ghostpipefish were frequently found and made all the photographers "nuts" over their poor posing behavior! Blennies and gobies challenged us all the way and various sizes, shapes and colors of nudibranchs were found. Pygmy seahorses were common but small: John our bartender went diving one day and found us two "true" seahorses! Mandarinfish were sighted, cuttlefish were photographed laying eggs....truly, truly world-class diving!

We did an incredible dive where three U.S. supply barges had been sunk at the end of World War II which were totally covered in critters....all in less than 40 feet of water! We also had an opportunity to shoot over/under shots of local kids in their dugout canoes...water was incredibly warm and beautifully clear!

Speaking of the kids, at every village along the route they and their Moms paddled out to meet the Bilikiki and conduct "Market" from the back of the boat where Michelle bartered with all the locals for fresh produce and awesome fruit! We also had a chance to visit three carving villages and see their incredible woodwork. Needless to say, some of the folks are at DHL as I type shipping their treasures home!

Thursday was the last day of the charter and after the final two dives, we were invited to Ndalah Village for a "sing-sing" where we were greeted on the beach by attacking warriors whooping & hollering and then lead into the gathering area where the boys & men played incredibly beautiful music on various home-made instruments including "pipes" made from PVC! Then the little girls had a chance to dance for us and then the little boy warriors came back and danced for us again....we then did a "walkabout" the village and saw the school and their beautifully kept village all the while snapping photos of the beautiful people surrounding us! The end of the day took us up on the sundeck for the group photo, the crew photo and then a Bilikiki tradition of traveling through a narrow inland passage surrounded by families in dugout canoes while we threw bags of popcorn down to them! It was a race to see who could get the most bags of popcorn and kids even jumped out of the canoes to catch the floating bags! We then had a farewell champagne toast by Monty & Michelle while finishing out sunset cruise....what a fabulous end to a most beautiful ten days!

Hopefully I'll also be able to upload a few photos from the Bilikiki week......on to Papua New Guinea and the Paradise Sport....farewell to Peter, Jeff & Ted...welcome, Tim!

I never imagined having this much trouble getting "quick" internet service! Oh, how much we take for granted.....