N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
BOUNTIFUL BOOTLESS BAY
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
You don’t generally associate the capital city of most countries with great diving, but the Papua New Guinea capital of Port Moresby is ringed by coral reefs and offers some of the best diving to be found in the country.
Diving Port Moresby is centred around Bootless Bay, where the wonderful Loloata Island Resort is located. The resort is only thirty minutes from the airport and was established over thirty years ago by one of the pioneers of diving Papua New Guinea, Dik Knight. Dik still manages the resort, with the assistance of fifty staff, and is a wealth of knowledge about local diving. The resort is a little piece of paradise off Port Moresby and features 23 cabins, a conference centre, bar, shop, large dining area and dive centre.
The dive centre on Loloata Island is managed by Franco Tolewa, with the able assistance of Roy, Kity and Henry. From the minute you arrive on the island the dive team look after you and your gear, you only touch your dive gear to put it on for a dive. They operate two 10m long Reefmaster dive boats, each catering for ten divers, and have over thirty dive sites for divers to explore around Bootless Bay. Diving is possible year round in Bootless Bay, during our stay we enjoyed 15m to 30m visibility and the water was a lovely 29°C.
We were very impressed by the diving around Bootless Bay from our very first dive at Suzie’s Bommie. This wonderful dive site is a tower of coral, rising from 40m to 12m and covered in colourful gorgonians, soft corals and sponges. While diving the bommie we encountered Maori wrasse, gropers, white tip reef sharks and schools of trevally, fusiliers and diagonal-banded sweetlips. Masses of reef fish populate the bommie and we also saw leaf scorpionfish, porcelain crabs, anemonefish and clingfish siting in featherstars.
Another great bommie dive was Baldwin’s Bommie. At this site you cross a ridge of coral at 30m to the bommie, but watch your depth as the far side of the bommie drops to 60m! This bommie, like all the sites we dived in Bootless Bay, was covered in wonderful corals and reef fish. The top of the bommie is at 14m and is where we spent most of our time as here were anemonefish, nudibranchs, octopus, gobies, blennies, hawkfish and two very colourful stonefish. But the highlight was the lacy scorpionfish. Bootless Bay is one of the best places in the world to see these rare and spectacular fish. Our guide Kity had to point the lacy scorpionfish out to us or we would never have seen it with its very cryptic camouflage!
At The Big Drop we saw an olive sea snake and garden eels, while at End Bommie there were white tip reef sharks and a huge collection of anemones and anemonefish. Another impressive site was Di’s Delight where row upon row of spectacular gorgonians are found, at this site we also saw a pygmy sea horse and a leopard shark.
One of our favourite reef dives was Lillian’s Patch, which had coral gardens and masses of sea whips. Kity found us three pygmy sea horses here, but we also saw nudibranchs, octopus and a crocodilefish. We enjoyed this reef so much that we returned at night to see its nocturnal critters. Crabs, shrimps, moray eels, cuttlefish, slipper crays, leaf scorpionfish and epaulette sharks were the highlights of a very memorable night dive.
For a bit of muck diving we did a few dives around Lion Island. At a site appropriately called Lion Island Muck, we searched the sand and sea grass beds and found mantis shrimps, bobbit worms, razorfish, sea pens, shrimp gobies, snake eels, upside down sea jellies, sea stars and numerous anemones home to anemonefish and shrimps. Lion Island also has two wonderful wrecks, the former tug boat MV Tuart and former trawler MV New Marine 6. Both these ships are now covered in corals and home to a range of critters; including pipefish, nudibranchs, flatworms, moray eels, shrimps and numerous reef fish. Don’t forget to check the sand around these wrecks as there are plenty of critters here also, including crocodilefish, gobies and the odd cockatoo waspfish.
But the diving off Port Moresby is not all about coral and critters as we found out when we dived The Finger. Exploring the wall at this site we were buzzed by a white tip reef shark, a spotted eagle ray and then a grey reef shark. However, the highlight came when a shark ray swam by us. This prehistoric looking ray was 2m long and extremely rare, this being the first one that any of us had ever seen. We surfaced from this dive only to discover that we had missed seeing two great hammerhead sharks that had buzzed the other divers!
Unlike other parts of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby doesn’t have any substantial wrecks as a result of World War 2, apart from a Boston A20 Havoc plane wreck off Loloata Island. But it does have some great artificial reefs, ships sunk deliberately for divers. The MV Pai II was a prawn trawler that now rests in 27m. There is plenty of structure to explore on the ship, but the colourful corals and marine life are its most memorable features. We landed on the stern of the ship to find a fat tasselled wobbegong shark lazing on the deck, then ducking under the stern we encountered a large estuary groper and a Maori wrasse. Throughout the rest of the dive we also saw batfish, mangrove jacks, fusiliers, lionfish and many long-nose hawkfish.
The most popular wreck dive off Bootless Bay is without doubt the Pacific Gas. This 65m long ship was scuttled in 1986 by Bob Halstead and varies in depth from 45m under the stern to 15m at the bow. We did three dives to explore the ship and were amazed by the corals and fish life on the ship. But of our three dives the night dive was the best. Descending on the bow we turned off our torches for a very special experience. We gathered around a hatch where an unearthly glow could be seen. Peering inside there were countless flickering lights – flashlight fish! For the next five minutes we were mesmerised as the fish slowly emerged from the hatch and spread across the ship lighting it up like a Christmas tree. A truly amazing experience that we will never forget.
However, the wildlife experiences in Bootless Bay are not only contained underwater as Loloata Island is a haven for wildlife. Wallabies roam freely across the island and bound around the resort and also strutting around the resort are Victoria crown pigeons, the world’s largest pigeon species. During our stay we also saw frogs, mud skippers, butterflies, birds and several banded sea snakes that come ashore at night.
We had a wonderful week at Loloata Island Resort and found it offers some of the best diving in Papua New Guinea in the bountiful waters of Bootless Bay.
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