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
DOING IT TUFF IN TUFI – PART 1
By Nigel Marsh & Helen Rose
Flying into Tufi you would think you are in New Zealand, rather than Papua New Guinea, as below us was a broken coastline of fjords. Carved by ancient glaciers these fjords are now fringed by coral reefs and are just one of the factors that makes Tufi such an interesting dive destination.
Exiting the plane we were greeted by Tufi Resort manager, Wayne Dicker, then loaded into his 4WD for the trip to the resort, which took barely a minute. We were impressed by the resort as soon as we walked around its tropical gardens, and were welcomed by its three resident hornbills. The Tufi Resort was established over twenty years ago, but in recent years has had a complete makeover, with 23 air-conditioned bungalows around a central dining/lounge/bar area. After dropping off our luggage, we headed to the pool for a cool down and then met some of the resort’s other wildlife – tame parrots and cuscus.
Arriving late in the day we didn’t get to enjoy the views of the fjord until the next morning, which were very spectacular, especially with wild hornbills and parrots flying over head. The view wasn’t quite as good when we walked down the hill from the resort to the dive shop. Here was a rather dirty little bay with a muddy foreshore. This is where the house reef is located, we wondered what could possibly live in here under that green water. We said hello to a few locals that were arriving by canoe and entered the dive shop to meet Glen, the dive manager, and his crew - Archie, Alex, Wesley and Moses.
The dive staff had already set up our gear, which always makes for a relaxing holiday when the dive crew look after your gear each day, we just had to check the air and we were ready to go. Tuff Resort operates a number of dive boats to the local reefs each morning for a double dive, which are around 30 to 60 minutes away.
Our first dive was at Ritchie’s Bommie, which was typical of many of the reefs we did off Tufi - a lovely pinnacle rising from 40m to 14m. With 25m visibility and 28°C water we had a wonderful time photographing the colourful corals and abundant fish life. We encountered trevally, fusiliers, crocodilefish, parrotfish, anemonefish, surgeonfish, Maori wrasse, a white-tip reef shark and also saw numerous invertebrate species.
Each of the reefs we explored off Tufi were beautiful; healthy hard corals, pretty whip corals, soft corals, gorgonians and amazing volcano, tube and elephant ear sponges. But the one thing that especially impressed us was the sheer volume of fish - masses of damsels, surgeonfish, fusiliers, sweetlips, snapper, fairy basslets, barracuda, mackerel and many more. Our safety stops were never dull, most of the time stretching to twenty minutes or longer as we just didn’t want to leave the fish.
A number of reefs stood out from the rest. Two of the best were Bev’s Reef and Minor Reef. These two inshore reefs had some of the prettiest coral gardens we had ever seen, that were completely covered in reef fish. At Minor Reef we were also engaged with a friendly and photographic cuttlefish, while at Bev’s Reef we encountered an endemic Milne Bay epaulette shark, a beautiful little shark with leopard skin patterns on its skin. But the best was Veale Reef.
We’d encountered reef sharks on many of the reefs, including half a dozen grey reef sharks on an exploratory dive on an uncharted reef. But Veale Reef was something special. It didn’t have the best corals and the visibility wasn’t as good as the other reefs we dived. However, this reef is washed by currents and was a great place to see pelagic fish like trevally, barracuda and mackerel. But Veale is most famous for hammerhead sharks, including a legendary white hammerhead.
On our first dive at Veale Reef we didn’t see a hammerhead, but did see numerous reef sharks, so returned for a second look when the current was a little stronger. Hovering off the point at the end of the reef, and surrounded by trevally, we were lucky enough to see three scalloped hammerheads. We only got to view them for a few seconds before they disappeared into the blue, and they were too far away to photograph, but it was a memorable encounter.
Beside the reef diving Tufi has a lot more to offer the visiting diver. Nearby are two of the best wreck dives in Papua New Guinea, the cargo ship S’Jacob and the B17 bomber Blackjack. Both rest in deep water, 45m plus, so are only open to experienced divers. We unfortunately missed diving both, as the resort needs a minimum of six divers and generally requires advanced bookings. We weren’t too disappointed as we had a great time exploring Tufi’s wonderful reefs, and discovered that under that green water in the fjord was an incredible house reef, but more on that next issue.
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