My search for the world’s most exotic tribes in one of the most undocumented landscapes left on the planet ends in dramatic encounters. In Papua New Guinea, not only do I come across extraordinary indigenous peoples who adorn themselves with wondrous ornamentation and keep alive ancient rituals, but I also discover the most pristine offshore reefs that remain.
In the era when the Pacific and Asia were being explored and colonized by Europeans, Papua New Guinea was ignored. Its mountains and impenetrable jungles stayed protected by fierce inhabitants and treacherous reefs. The opulence and abundance of its diverse ecosystems – mountains, volcanos, rivers, swampy plains, rainforests and, coral reefs – have kept Papua New Guinea untouched. Such isolation also had a significant impact on the native culture, resulting in the evolution of over 800 languages and many distinct tribal civilizations.
Besides, its remoteness had a compelling effect on the life that inhabit PNG’s oceans. I travel across different pockets of the country over 19 days, taking up to eleven commercial flights, not going on logical lines as I crisscross a land without effective infrastructure (more on “The tribespeople of Papua New Guinea” story). From its impenetrable forested Highlands, where I meet the most secluded tribes, I fly to the Sepik River and sail upstream on a canoe to art and pottery- making villages. I join a headhunting tribe on a crocodile hunting expedition and witness odd initiation rituals. And when I think I can’t be more fascinated, I discover its colorful culture is equally matched by what lies under its far-off waters.
Papua New Guinea sits in the heart of Asia Pacific’s Coral Triangle, an area also bounded by Indonesia, and the Philippines, and the world’s primary marine biodiversity hotspot. While only covering 1.6% of the planet’s oceanic area, the Coral Triangle has 76% of all known coral species in the world. No wonder Jean Michel Cousteau – a French oceanographic explorer – was no enamored; he led the “Rediscovery of the world” expedition in the eighties set out to dig into PNG’S precious aquatic environment.
I fly to the most northeastern province in the country, New Irland, to dive in Lissenung, 20 minutes by boat out of Kavieng, for its exciting pelagic action (I’ve never dived with so many sharks), and iconic dive sites, such as Albatross. A few days later, I set off to New Britain, the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. There, I dive across the reefs around Walindi Plantations, where The Calypso, Cousteau’s legendary ship, anchored in 1987. I have unexpected encounters in the sea with creatures that give me the feeling of being at the edge of danger yet under control. I will always recall my dives in these remote sites as of supreme happiness, merging all of the joys – the spectacular, unadulterated coral reef, the congregation of rare predators, the sensual pleasure of gliding through a raw ocean.
My last diving destination is Tufi, on the southeastern peninsula of Cape Nelson, in Oro Province, where I have remarkable encounters with schools of Hammer Heads. Located on a coastal strip between the Solomon Sea and the Owen Stanley Range, it’s only accessible by air or sea. There are breath-taking “fjords” created by the ancient eruption of three volcanoes that plunge over 90 meters deep and rise over 150 meters vertically atop the ocean – which makes Tufi interesting both above and below the water. Like in other sites in the country, deepwater comes very close to shore, and offshore winds produce calm seas. As a result, fragile coral formations that could never grow on barrier reefs subjected to storm waves thrive in the clear, but sheltered waters. Large pelagic fish patrol the edge of the reef.
What’s rare on other dives is commonplace across Papua New Guinea’s reefs – the abundance of wildlife and immaculate corals. There are still many reefs in the country that have not yet been dived; every year, we hear about discoveries. I’m an experienced diver, yet nothing has prepared me to live these moments in a world where very few humans have been. I leave Papua New Guinea mesmerized by the array of life as I am surrounded by the magic of the Bismarck, Coral, and Solomon Seas.
Papua New Guinea will always have a special place in my heart. For details on this trip, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org