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Diving Operator Reports & Trip Reports

I hope this page will be VERY BENEFICIAL to traveling divers.  No pictures here - only facts as I observed them.  If you have visited these areas, let me know your thoughts and I'll update my listing.

Whether a dive site is good or bad is subjective.  Two divers will have different opinions even though they both dived the same profile.  What is not open to discussion, is whether a dive operator is good, bad or indifferent.  Most operators offer an excellent service with high levels of safety, however, as with all industries there are always "big sharks in small ponds" and "bottom dwellers", and those operators that really have no idea how to operate a diving business, and probably should enter politics!

I thought it pertinent that I mention some of the pros and cons of dive operators I have used.  A number of Internet sites provide information on dive sites (species seen and so on), but rarely do they provide any information on the dive operator.  The success of a dive and dive vacation rests heavily on the efficiency and reliability of the dive operator, as such, it is important that prospective divers are able to review the experiences from other divers.

Not all the reports are positive.  As such a little of my background should be known before reading them.  I was qualified to dive in 1977 and have completed over 3000 logged dives (I gave up logging dives in 1997).  In  1989 I became instructor qualified and operated my own diving business until 1996.  I was based out of Brisbane, Queensland and my clientele were mostly Japanese diving groups from colleges in Japan whose purpose was to learn to dive, learn basic English, and develop a knowledge of marine life.   I have dived in many areas in Asia and the South Pacific.  Therefore, I have a relatively sound working knowledge of dive operations and hospitality.

It should be noted that the below comments relate ONLY to events that occurred during my visit.  These are my comments only, and I am not inferring that the performance of the operator today is the same as it was during my visit.  Also remember that diving operators come and go, with all to often great regularity.  Before you take these comments on-board ensure that the operator has NOT changed since my report.  I will strive to keep this information up to date as changes occur.  If you wish to contact me regarding my experiences with the various operators,  please feel free to e-mail me by using the contact form/tab.

I often receive e-mails from divers asking what the diving was like at such and such a place.  As mentioned above, whether a dive is enjoyable is very subjective and depends on weather conditions, marine life encountered, diver training level and experience.  To partly address this request I've added a table at the end of each operator critique.  These ratings are my opinion and relate to marine life I saw on my visit only - they may not accurately represent your opinions or marine life observations at the time of your visit. 

Note that some locations have a trip report in .pdf format.  The trip report is a brief synopsis of my visit.

ACCESSED DIVING OPERATORS (Diving Operator Reports)                     

Jais Aben; Madang, Badabag Island, Papua New Guinea

MV Somona Live-aboard, Madang, Papua New Guinea

MV Moonlighting Live-aboard; Hansa Bay, Papua New Guinea

Rabaul Dive; Ropopo - Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Maravagi Diving; Maravagi; Solomon Islands

Walindi; Papua New Guinea

Kabaira Dive Rabaul and Lodge; Gazelle Peninsula, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea   (several trips 2004 & 2007(outdated @ 2011)

Sea Explorers & El Estrella; Cabilao Island, Philippines

Peter's Dive; Southern Leyte, Philippines

Philippine Divers; Malapascua Island, Philippines

Serenade Live aboard (Murax), North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Froggies Diving, Bunaken, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

Shakti Live-aboard; Raja Ampat, Sorong, West Papua (Irian Jaya)

Diving 4 Images (Graham Abbott); Bali based, Indonesia

Tuwali Resort; Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

MV Spirit of Nuigini Live-aboard, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Tufi Resort, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea

Cape Paperu Diving, Ambon Region, Indonesia

Maluku Diving, Ambon Island, Indonesia (coming soon)

Akermi Happy Dive, Maumere, Flores Island, Eastern Indonesia

La Petite Kepa Dive, Alor Islands, Eastern Indonesia (coming soon)

Alor Dive / Eco Dive, Pantar Island, Eastern Indonesia (coming soon)

 

TRIP REPORTS (.PDF FORMAT)

Trip Report - PNG 2002

Trip Report - PNG 2004 (456 kb with images)

Trip Report - PNG 2005

Trip Report - Solomon Islands 2003

Trip Report - New Zealand North Island 2004

Trip Report - Philippines 2004/05

Trip Report - North Sulawesi, Indonesia 2005

Trip Report - Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia 2006

Trip Report - Tuwali, Milne Bay PNG 2007  (502 kb with images)

Tufi Resort, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea (coming soon)

 


 

JAIS ABEN:  Madang, Papua New Guinea - Sept / Oct 2002

Fast Boats and Live-Aboard - Madang Area

The dive operator uses 3 fast boats and 1 live-aboard.  The fast boats are all aluminium; 2 of the boats have large Johnson outboard engines and the remaining boat has a diesel inboard.  The live-aboard is called MV Somona and I was told this boat will probably be replaced (late in 2003).

Safety equipment is non existent on the fast boats, other than two way radios.  The live-aboard MV Somona does have a portable oxygen cylinder and resuscitation equipment, although I did not actually view the resuscitation equipment.

On my visit all the boats with the exception of the inboard diesel boat had problems.  Engines continually broke down either before leaving port or on the way to the dive site, subsequently dives were aborted and you were taken to other sites of less quality.  On one dive I had to actuality snorkel 700 meters to the boat as the engine was not working and was not able to collect the divers.  In addition to engine problems, battery problems occurred on all the boats as well as other electrical problems, such as two way radios not working properly or inoperable lights..  All the boats had had a very abused life!  Preventive maintenance was non existent and items when broken were repaired as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

MV Somona Live-aboard & Bagabag Island

The live-aboard (MV Somona) was amazing.  It seemed as if you had entered a time warp - backwards in time.  The electronics did not operate, lighting was inoperable, the toilet was broken as was the shower.  The toilet had not been cleaned for “millennia” and was full of urine.  Fresh water tanks had rust in them giving a lovely brown shade to the colour of the water. A glass of water was full of rusty sediment.  

The galley was a major mess with very limited crockery and what was available had not been cleaned  for a very long time.  Eating implements were scarce; there were forks, but we had to share two spoons with 6 people.  Linen (tea towels) for drying the few plastic dishes that were available were scarce; one tea towel was available and this doubled as a dish cloth, face towel and general use rag to wipe your hand on!.  The food was pitiful.  We lived on canned food and rice for 4 days. The canned food consisted of spaghetti and baked beans!  We also had cheese and biscuits between dives!  The plus side the bed linen was clean, although the below deck fans were inoperable.

During the trip to Bagabag Island on MV Somona the engine broke down three times, and the electronics refused to work.  This meant that we did not have a working depth sounder!  At one stage the engine broke down approaching a breaking reef and it was only though ingenuity on behalf of the national crew that managed to restart the engine averting disaster!

I would not classify this craft as being habitable.  The galley and bathroom facilities were disgusting and I was very concerned that I would contract a disease during my 4 days aboard. I think rats wouldn't live here as they are far more discerning in their taste!

Enough about the boats.  Suffice to say I was not impressed with this live-aboard and would recommend you stay away from it.  MV Somona is operated as a live-aboard option at Jais Aben in Madang.

Diving and Staff

The diving was good, however it was very difficult to dive the locations you wanted to.  The operator only wanted to dive the areas close to the resort.  His excuse to this was that fuel was expensive!  After arguing this point, he claimed the weather was not good or visibility was poor.  During the two week period I was in Madang, I dived many sites 4 times and failed to dive all the sites advertised.  It seemed the operator wanted to gain as much money as possible with minimal expenses in fuel and maintenance.  What sites you had dived or wanted to dive was not important. 

The diving staff were all nationals with the exception of a Japanese diving instructor.  The national dive staff  treated all divers as if they were novices!  You would be studying something on the reef – maybe a mantas shrimp, when one of the dive masters would grab your arm and drag you away to show you something else, such as a common anemone fish!  They would do this every dive no matter how many times you asked to be left alone.  Another dive master had the annoying habit of using his knife to continually hit his tank.  Throughout the dive you heard “clang clang clang”.  

The Japanese instructor was excellent in every respect.  If you find yourself in Madang and she is still there, I suggest you hook up with her on every dive.  She was courteous, friendly and very professional.

Every dive had a dive briefing of sorts, although on several occasions the dive master did not dive the profile he had explained during the briefing.  Reverse profiles occurred on a number of dives.  It was not possible to dive alone, or be totally responsible for your depth/time profile.  Although I did manage to “escape” a few times to enjoy some peace and solitude!  Upon surfacing I was ridiculed by the national dive master for not staying with the group!

Of particular importance was the issue of tank fills.  On several occasions my second tank of air was not full, despite the dive master saying that it was full when we left the dock.  Clearly the staff were confusing full and empty SCUBA tanks. 

Accommodation and Food

Accommodation was at Adrian's Lodge located 10 minutes walk or canoe ride from Jais Aben.  Adrian's Lodge has several well appointed bungalows with share facilities.  The bungalows are nestled within a number of coconut trees and other tropical plants.   The dining area is a large open sided long house near the water's edge.  There are also several friendly local dogs to amuse you; the leading dog is called Violet.  I was very impressed with this accommodation and recommend staying here.  Adrian can be contacted via Jais Aben dive centre - not Jais Aben accommodation.

Adrian can also arrange for meals and I found his meals to be well prepared, although I tired of his cooking after a three week stay.

Overall Opinion

Accommodation at Adrians' was excellent and I would recommend staying here.  Diving with Jais Aben was very mass-produced and you were one of several divers on the boat.  Dive masters were overly zealous with their sheep-dog herding routine.  Some of the dive sites were average, but other areas were spectacular.  If you dive with Jais Aben ensure you go where you want to go - and not where they want to take you!  On several occasions poor weather was sited as a reason for not going to a dive site,  only to find out later that another boat had dived that area!

Overall Opinion and ratings

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

8

Food

7

Operator (overall Opinion)

5

Coral Diversity

7

Fish (*)

7

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

4-5

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

0

Dive Management & Attitude

3

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

Note that I dived with Jais Aben, however, my accommodation was at Adrians (now non existent as Adrian died in 2006.


 

MV MOONLIGHTING live-aboard:  Hansa Bay, Papua New Guinea - Sept / Oct 2002

Live-aboard, Diving and Staff


This operator is very professional and offers excellent service.  The boat is a delight to dive from and is very comfortable.  On surfacing there is always someone to assist you onto the transom and help you out of your dive gear, although I find this unnecessary.  Tanks are filled by the skipper immediately from a full bank.  After every dive there were snacks and drinks available.  The food was excellent and was very well prepared.

All dives were to different locations, unless you wanted to dive the same location again.  During the dive you were left alone and expected to look after yourself.  You were responsible for your profiles.  The skipper and crew were very open and friendly and would help you in anyway possible.

The food was excellent, abundant and well prepared and the cabins well appointed.

I thoroughly enjoyed by time with MV Moonlighting and would recommend this boat and crew.  I certainly will be diving with them again. 

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

9

Food

9

Operator (overall Opinion)

10

Coral Diversity

3

Fish (*)

7

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

4-5

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

10

Dive Management & Attitude

10

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 


 

RABAUL DIVE CENTRE:  Rabaul, Papua New Guinea - Sept / Oct 2002   (UPDATE BELOW)

Fast Boat, Diving and Staff 

The centre is run by a new operator who has only been in the location for 6 months.  Previous to becoming a diving instructor he worked with a large bank in the country.  Based at Kaivuna (near the volcano Turvurvur) he operates one 17 foot (rough length) banana boat with a 55 horse Yamaha outboard engine.  The boat is equipped with safety and resuscitation equipment and has a two way radio.  Although the boat is suitable for diving, it can be cramped with more than 5 divers aboard.  I have been told that the operator now runs out of Ropopo Plantation Resort which is located on the other side of Simpson Harbour.

The standard of service is reasonable, although the operator does not like to travel to areas not listed on his dive itinerary.  Furthermore, a few of the listed dives were very ordinary.  Two of his standard dive locations are to wrecks sunk in the 1980’s.  These wrecks are on mud and have poor visibility.  Considering the cost of diving and the wreck potential of Simpson Harbour, diving these wrecks is pretty pathetic!  His knowledge on the location of coral reefs offering good diving is limited, as his knowledge is on the location of several Japanese ship wrecks. 

He does take divers to a number of the well known Japanese ship wrecks and aircraft, and to his credit he is slowly determining the location of other wrecks in the vicinity of the harbour.  

His dive briefings were well prepared. A dive guide is with you on all dives and stays in the background.  You are free to select your own depth and bottom times, however, depth and time is recorded on a dive sheet at the conclusion of each dive.  The style of diving was nowhere as confining as in Madang.

When I was there I wanted to dive several locations I had read about, however he was loath to take me to these locations as they were extended trips.  I offered to pay additional funds but he really does not like to go too far for an extended time.  I also wanted to dive a few areas more than once, but as he had other guests that were new to the area, they were given preference.  This resulted in me diving sites already dived, or worse, not diving at all as the site in my opinion was not that great.  Because of this, I missed out diving some sites highly recommended by other divers.

Although he attempts to do a double dive at the same time each day, this rarely occurs as the national dive staff are unpredictable and often do not turn up for work on time.  As such, you maybe waiting for an  hour or so until he is ready to depart for the 0800 dive.  A problem that arises from this late departure is that he always wants to be back at the hotel in time for a late lunch, resulting in a hurried second dive or a shortened surface interval.  On several occasions he revved the motor to speed me up during the later part of a dive.   The surface interval is always a minimum of 1 hour, and he is loath to increase this time as he wants to head back to the resort.  I asked him whether we could depart earlier than 0800, but he said this was not possible as the staff would not turn up for work at an earlier time.  Interestingly, when not diving, he was rarely seen in the morning.  In the afternoon he would always claim he was too busy to take you diving (unless there was a full boat), however, he always had some time spare for a few beers around the pool. 

After complaining about not going to decent sites, he begrudgingly decided to take us to the Pigeon Islands.  This area is excellent and I would highly recommend diving here.  The diving is mostly wall diving and visibility exceeds 40 meters.

If you wish to pay for your diving using a credit card, be aware that the operator charges an extra 10% to cover bank fees.  The other operators in this review did not charge a bank fee for using a credit card.

Accommodation and Food

Accommodation was at Kaivuna Motel and was the standard style motel rooms.  Rooms were air conditioned.  Food was motel style from the restaurant.  Accommodation was suitable and the food was average.  The plantation house accommodation at Ropopo was better than the Kaivuna Motel.  The plantation house accommodation is located within the grounds of a once thriving coconut plantation, in a scenic area beside the water.  The staff make excellent milk shakes!

Overall Opinion

The diving was quite good and several dives were excellent.  The accommodation and food was suitable, however, the lack of enthusiasm from the dive operator, shortened bottom times and surface intervals and general difficulty in arranging anything became painful very quickly.

Overall Opinion and ratings

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.

I found the owner of this operation to be very "money hungry".  When information was sought, unless there was a financial gain to be received by the owner, information was not very forthcoming or accurate.  My advice is to stay a day or so at Ropopo if you want to (the bar is located in a fairly attractive setting), but use the diving services and/or accommodation at Kabaira Diving (see below).


Accommodation

5-6

Food

2

Operator (overall Opinion)

5

Coral Diversity

5

Fish (*)

7

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

4-5

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

0

Dive Management & Attitude

0

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

UPDATES   

FEBRUARY 2004    I have learnt that the diving operator (Gary) is no longer with Ropopo Plantation Resort.  I have no knowledge on the new replacement diving operator (a New Zealander), but it would not be difficult to be better!  I believe the boat and equipment has not changed.  The Kaivuna Motel is no longer operating as it has been sold.  The diving operation and accommodation is now operated from Ropopo Plantation Resort.

OCTOBER 2004    I have been informed that the New Zealander has been deported.  Currently Ropopo does not have a resident diving operator, although boats and some dive gear are available. 

JULY 2005 
   I have been informed that diving is sporadic at Ropopo Plantation Resort and is not run by a diver orientated person.  My advice is to avoid this operator and instead dive with Kabaira Dive (see below).  Note also that the Kaivuna Hotel is now under a different management team.

JUNE 2006 
   The above report is now completely outdated.  I have left it on the web site purely for interest.
SCUBA diving is not offered by the Kaivuna Hotel, although I believe accommodation is still available.  Ropopo Plantation Resort has been completely revamped with new accommodation wings added to the complex.  Apparently they do offer diving at Rapopo, however, I have no idea as to the quality of service they offer.  I have been told they utilise Kabaira Dive on a regular basis when their diving instructor/dive master is unavailable.  In my opinion, Ropopo is more interested in providing accommodation and dining, however, this may change as the area is being developed on a continual basis.

 



MARAVAGI DIVE:  Florida Group, Solomon Islands - April 2003   (UPDATE BELOW)

General

The operator at Maravagi is an Australian husband and wife team who also own a diving operation in central New South Wales, Australia. It should be noted that they ONLY operate the diving at the resort. The accommodation and restaurant are operated by Solomon Island nationals. The accommodation was OK, but a lack of water for gear washing and showering was a continual problem. The food was adequate in quantity, but the selection was pretty basic (rice nearly every night with whole fish). Fruit was available but of limited variance.

Experience and Equipment

The operator is very knowledgeable in safe diving practices and all the diving equipment, including compressors, are late model and in very good condition. NITROX and other mixed gasses can be used if you are appropriately certified and experienced. A number of 20 cu pony bottles are also available, as is 100% oxygen. NITROX and 100% oxygen are charged over above the standard dive costs.  Check the price before you dive.

Fast Boats

The operator uses a three 17 foot banana style boats equipped with Yamaha 4 stroke 40 HP outboard engines. The boats are in good order as are the engines, however, the engines require continual maintenance, which can be lacking at times (a common problem in the south Pacific). The boats do not carry radios or other life saving equipment. On the dives I did (25 in total) oxygen resuscitation equipment, nor other safety equipment was not carried.

The diving staff comprise the owner and two national dive masters. The dive masters are well trained and are both very good divers. I was impressed with the amount of time allowed for you to complete your dive. Many of my dives were 60 minutes with copious time spent in the last 5 to 7 meters of water. Most of the diving involved being dropped off and then being followed by a "live boat".

Problems and Concerns

One problem I did notice was the number of times I dived the same site. During my stay the owner was away for much of the time tending his Australian business. As such, the dive masters ran all the dives. I found that when they were not supervised by the owner, they had a tendency to make up their own locations and make excuses for not going too far a field, unless their was something extra in the trip for them – such as family or hidden personal business.

Artifact removal From Wrecks

I was extremely disappointed when I dived the USS Kanawha, a US oil carrier sunk at Tulagi. The dive master forcibly removed a steering wheel from a US truck, and then took the artifact to the surface. To my knowledge the steering wheel is now lying somewhere around the dive shop. Wrecks should not be tampered with in anyway and removing artifacts, in my opinion, is a definite concern. The steering wheel was not returned to the wreck whilst I was at Maravagi.

Underwater Explosive Fishing

Of major concern was the practice of using explosives for underwater fishing. This style of fishing is conducted by nationals living in nearby villages. The explosives are obtained by thievery from nearby mining sites, or from unused World War Two ordinance. During my two week visit several explosions were noted. Also, a number of dives were conducted on destroyed reef. On two occasions explosives were detonated by nationals whilst we were actually diving. Negotiations were under way to stop explosive fishing in the vicinity of dive sites, however, the negotiations did not appear to be moving forward with any positive outcome. You could DEFINITELY see the results of the explosions; fish life was poor in many areas.

Herded Divers (divers hate sheepdogs...)

Another concern involved diving with several other divers. I was herded by "sheep dog" dive masters and had to follow the dive leader. This happened on a number if dives when the resort had to cater towards a large group of divers. To be honest, all I can remember on these dives is flippers, bubbles and pesky dive masters pushing you along! Not all the dives were like this, but when the numbers of divers increased at the resort, the style of diving changed towards the "heard mentality".

I was lucky in that during the first week there were only two divers. During this time the diving was very laid back, casual and very much do as you like.

Dive Scheduling and Map

The operator is an experienced diver, however, during my visit he did not want to commit to anything until the actual dive day. It was very difficult to find out the night before where you were diving the next morning. In some cases I could not find out the location until the departure time (pity if you had already been to the site). Arranging specialist dives to view sharks was problematic. He always said there were great dives with sharks, but when you wanted to go, there was nearly always an excuse not to go (currents, visibility, too many other divers, problems with locals, etc).

One thing which definitely was lacking at Maravagi was a map of the dive sites, or a brochure indicating what sites were available. A basic map would minimise the times you visited the same site and provide an ideal memory jogger for the various sites!

Lack of Fresh Water

This was a problem during my stay and water was supplied from nearby islands.  Showers could be used, but the water supply and pressure was poor.  Fresh water for washing diving equipment was also difficult to find, and when water was supplied there was very little of it!  Apparently the local well has gone dry and further wells had to be dug. 

I have since heard (December 2003) that Maravargi has closed due to lack of a reliable water supply (I guess they never did dig that second well) and poor relations between the diving operator and the nationals.  I have been told that the diving operator has moved back to Australia.  Check with your travel agent before booking.

Accommodation and Food

Accommodation was second rate bungalows or lodge, but for divers was adequate.  Bathroom facilities were of a poor standard.

Food was mass produced and consisted of mainly rice and fish dishes - many poorly cooked.  Fruit was available for breakfast in addition to cereals.  I tired of the food very quickly.

Overall Opinion

A nice location with some excellent snorkeling and diving off the beach, however, the frequency of dynamite reef bombing was to be desired.  Many of the other reefs we visited were average and their was definite lack of medium-sized and large fish life.  The food situation and lack of water became inconvenient during an staying longer than one week.

Overall Opinion and ratings

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

4

Food

3

Operator (overall Opinion)

6

Coral Diversity

5

Fish (*)

4

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

4-5

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

2

Dive Management & Attitude

4-5

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

UPDATES   

JUNE 2006     I have been reliably told that Maravargi no longer has a diving operator.  Best to check with a travel agent before visiting this area.

 


 

WALINDI:  Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea - April 2004   

General

Walindi is a converted oil palm plantation and is located on the shores of Kimbe Bay. 

The actual resort is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and tall rainforest trees in what appears to be a drained swamp, consequently there are lots of mosquitoes.  Mosquito repellent may be needed at any time of day and is essential from dusk to dawn.  

As the resort is situated along a shallow mud flat there is limited snorkeling and no shore diving. 

The resort is owned by Australian expatriates and is very well staffed.  The staff are generally friendly and knowledgeable about the resort.  Unfortunately, American tourists insist on tipping the staff which makes me question whether the staff are genuinely friendly. This is despite the notice to incoming travelers to PNG that it is not the custom to tip in PNG.

Be warned that everything you want to do at Walindi will cost you - and the price may be in US dollars or Australian dollars which will be converted back to PNG Kina at the daily exchange rate which makes paying the bill very confusing.  Walindi prices are in US or Australian Dollars to protect their profit margin against the fluctuations in the PNG Kina, a practice I strongly disagree with.

The prices at Walindi are geared towards the 5-star traveller, despite the resort not being a 5-star resort.  A small can of coke cost us $US 2.00!  

Marine Conservation

One aspect of Walindi which I wholeheartedly agree with is their attitude to marine conservation.  Fishing at Walindi is banned and divers are made aware that touching, grabbing or hitting corals with fins will not be tolerated. 

Experience and Equipment

All staff members are highly experienced dive masters and instructors with a very good knowledge of the local dive sites.

Walindi uses a number of different sized diving tanks, but generally prefers to use 90 cu aluminium tanks. 

Nitrox and 100% oxygen for out gassing on decompression or safety stops is not available.  A D sized oxygen bottle and oxygen regulator is carried aboard all boats for emergencies only.

Fast Boats

Walindi uses 17 to 25 foot, 5mm aluminium boats powered by Volvo Penta diesel inboards.

All boats have a roof for sun protection, two-way radios, GPS and depth sounders, emergency oxygen equipment and medical kits.  Each boat has a dive ladder that allows the diver to climb aboard fully kited.

The dive boats are comfortable, well fitted out for diving and stable in a moderate swell.

Diving and Staff

All dives are accompanied by a qualified dive master and they will go out of their way to show you marine critters that you may not have seen before.  The dive masters have excellent vision are very adapt at seeing things you would probably miss!   At the start I did not find the dive staff friendly but subservient, after a couple of days this changed to friendly.

Diving schedules can be inflexible and depend on the number of divers at the resort at any one time, and if you are at Walindi for a week or more you will most likely repeat a dive.  , However, the dive masters try avoid this.  Each evening a dive master will discuss where you wish to dive the following day and try and accommodate your request, along with everyone else’s.  

Dive boats depart at 0830 and return at around 1530 – 1600 depending upon whether two or three dives are done.  Dive sites are approximately 30 to 45 minutes cruising from the resort. The first surface interval is around one hour, which I find is too short, but the general plan is to do 2 dives before lunch and a third after.   Mooring buoys are used on every dive to protect the reef.  Night dives are possible on reefs located close to the resort, but are not promoted (at least during my visit).  If the resort is busy, expect to be diving with six to ten other divers!  There is no limit on your bottom time, but they do like you to be at your safety stop at 50 bar (500 psi). One dive master told me he did not mind if I "ate my tank"......

One aspect of Walindi which many divers like, is that they do not have to clean and assemble their own equipment, as this is done by the dive staff.  Personally, I like to look after my own gear, but this can be difficult as they do not like divers accessing the diver storage and cleaning area without a staff person.  At the beginning of each dive day your equipment is put on the boat and occasionally set up by the dive staff.  Make sure you check your gear thoroughly before you depart for the dive.

Drinking water, tea, coffee and biscuits (free) are supplied on all dives.

I would rate the diving on average as good, but this can be very subjective as it depends on your interests and experience.   Several sites have superb hard and soft coral formations with many rare and unusual species being observed.  Although there are lots of interesting “little” things there was a definite lack of large schools of fish and, in particular, larger predatory fish in comparison to previous visits to PNG in the mid 90s.  This is probably a result of the relentless long-lining fishing that occurs outside Kimbe Bay.  A couple of the dives I did were very poor (low visibility with poor coral and marine life) and it was obvious that the location was chosen because of its proximity to the resort allowing and an earlier finish time for the boat crew.

Accommodation and Food 

Accommodation is either in a bungalow or in the plantation house.  The later is a long building with five rooms beside each other.  Bungalows have a small kitchen whilst plantation rooms do not.  Both are located in a lush tropical setting.  The accommodation is good, although lighting in the plantation house is very poor.  There are several electrical outlets for recharging lights, etc.  There is bathroom in each room with hot and cold water.  During my stay they were having hassles with a continual water supply.  Often after the dive boats returned there was not enough water to have a shower.

The food was very average considering the price you pay to stay at Walindi.  The cook is exactly that – a cook and not a chef.

Dinner was always a smorgasbord with rice plus an assortment of meat, cooked vegetables and whole cooked fish.  The volume of food was adequate, however, there was usually insufficient time for a second serve.  A staff member was always posted near the food table which was off putting if you wished to have seconds.  After a few days the food selection and preparation became very monotonous.  Occasionally a really good meal was served like curried fish which was as good as that served in an Indian restaurant.

The highlight of the meal was dessert, usually there was cake or pudding or both with ice cream and fresh fruit salad.   

Breakfast was generally chaotic with hot meals taking ages to arrive.  The selection of fruit was generally paw paw with the odd banana, in addition there was cereal, white bread toast and fruit drink.

My greatest compliant about the food was the reincarnation of the previous night's dinner into the next day’s lunch.   This might be appropriate for staff meals but not for guests.  

Overall Opinion

An overpriced 1980’s style resort trying to squeeze the most out of each guest.  Considering it is a third world country, the diving and accommodation is very expensive and the food is average.  I disliked the way that everything was converted to US dollars.  The staff did there utmost to help you if you had a problem.

Would I return?  Probably yes, as the coral formations are some of the best I have ever seen.  However, if you are keen to dive with big pelagic fish I would recommend diving another location.

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

7-8

Food

3

Operator (overall Opinion)

7-8

Coral Diversity

10

Fish (*)

7

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

4-5

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

9

Dive Management & Attitude

8

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 


 

KABAIRA DIVE RABAUL AND DIVE LODGE:  Rabaul, Papua New Guinea - April 2004 to June 2006 

Click here to download all reports for Kabaira Dive Rabaul (4 reports 2004 - 2006, 19 pages .PDF format)

NOTE: These reports are now quite dated. Popular opinion suggest that Kabaira Dive is now a good operator

First, I dislike having to report a substandard operator (and I rarely do unless the bad publicity is warranted).

I gave considerable thought before I published this report.  I realise that the report maybe detrimental to Kabaira Dive’s future business.  I hope Steven Woolcott will rectify the problems, and more importantly improve his attitude and environmental awareness.

I have just returned from three weeks at Kabaira (June 2006).  This operator is nowhere as good as noted on previous trips (very poor service, poor dive guiding, boat & vehicle engine break downs, poor environmental awareness, low quality for a very high price (based on the condition of accommodation, boats and food), general poor attitude & high level of ignorance and arrogance).  I DEFINITELY do not recommend Kabaira Dive at the present time (be aware that Steven may improve his operation, especially how he deals with clients (I hope so). 

If you dive with Kabaira Dive and note positive changes, please e-mail me, and if warranted, I will definitely upgrade this report.

I don’t mind diving from old dilapidated boats or sleeping in basic accommodation with basic food; high end accommodation in bungalows, etc is not a requirement for most experienced divers.  However, the price charged must reflect this, and it did when I first visited Kabaira in 2003/2004.  The fees charged in June 2006 for accommodation, food and diving services did not match the quality that is to be expected when paying this amount.  Steven appears to believe that because other dive operators charge a high price for their services, then he also can charge a similar price.  What Steven fails to realise that these other operators have injected large amounts of capital to bring their establishments to a level of quality that equates to the fee charged.  No one is quibbling over the increases in fuel that many operators have had to pass on to clients, but accommodation which is below the standard of an Australian backpackers or youth hostel should be reflected in the amount charged.

This was my fifth visit to Rabaul and the fourth time I have used Kabaira Dive as a diving operator.  My first visit was in 2003 just after the business began operation.   At this time, there were many problems – many of them being teething problems that any new operation in PNG has to endure.  I assumed that these problems would eventually iron themselves out as the operator gained his foothold in the area.  

It would appear I was incorrect in my assumption.  

Other than a small supply of SCUBA diving equipment, and some not needed extensions to the eating area, the operation has gone backwards.  

Building infrastructure is falling apart, rats plague the establishment, boat and car engines breakdown on a regular basis, GPS and sounders on the dive boat do not consistently work because of poor wiring and no maintenance, generators are intermittent.  This is but to mention a few of the shortcomings.

Unfortunately, Steven Woolcott the owner, has become exceptionally arrogant in his outlook and does not treat guests in a way that they should be treated (unless he wants to).  Furthermore, his method of dealing with staff is also questionable, as his overall demeanour, general attitude and environmental attitude.  To be very blunt, I found Steven Woolcott to be rude, arrogant, uncooperative and obnoxious – as close to a primadona as you can get!  It's a pity this young man has become this way, as he was quite affable and co-operative when I first met him on on of my first visits.

Rather than duplicate the content of previous reports, I have combined all the reports into one report.

Jolanda and I have decided not to use this operator again, unless he improves his attitude.  If you wish to dive the New Britain area, I would suggest visiting Walindi Plantation (good operator with consistency) or making contact with Ropopo Plantation Resort to determine what diving services they currently have on offer. 

UPDATES

In July 2008 I was contacted by a person who had visited Kabaira (June 2008). She commented that the operation was a lot better than I have reported above. She mentioned that Kabaira now has several dive boats and additional bungalow style accommodation. She also commented that the food was plentiful, although it lacked variance. I cannot comment as to the validity of this, I asked the person in question to prepare a dive report to append to this listing, however, nothing was received.

 


 

SEA EXPLORERS & EL ESTRELLA:  Cabilao Island, Philippines - Dec / Jan 2005 / 2006

During my visit to Cabilao Island I stayed at La Estrella Resort and dived with Sea Explorers Cabilao Island.

Sea Explorers

Sea Explorers operates several diving operations throughout the Philippines.  

The operation at Cabilao Island is managed by Henry, a German, who decided a change in life style was necessary from his previous occupation in Germany as a civil engineer.  Henry also manages the Sea Explorers Resort located on the other side of the island.

Dive Boats, Equipment and Staff

Diving is from the standard style wooden constructed banca boat which is used for larger dive groups or for the more distant dive sites whilst a small wooden skiff equipped with a Yamaha 40 HP engine and stainless steel dive ladder is used for the closer locations.  The geography of Cabilao Island also allows for shore diving.  The banca has a canvas roof for sun protection and is equipped with a medical kit and oxygen, although I did not observe this equipment in the wooden skiff.  The wooden skiff named “Pegasis” is quite small and often is overloaded with divers and diving equipment.  Be aware that you will get wet in this boat if the sea conditions are unfavourable.

Although I did not use any of the available rental equipment, it did look as if the gear was in good serviceable order.  Air fills were clean, however, on several dives the tank fill fell short of 200 bar.  Nitrox is available, but only if you pre order well in advance.

The Philippine national staff were all very friendly and helpful and always carried your dive equipment to and from the boat.  They also assembled dive equipment prior to the dive and disassembled and cleaned the equipment after the dive.  Although this practice pleases many divers, I am not in favour of the practice as often the equipment is assembled differently to the way you would normally do it.  Also, I noted regulators on several occasions being cleaned without dust caps securely fastened.  

Equipment was stored in plastic crates marked with your name, however, several times I discovered that my weight belt had been taken and altered or certain pieces of equipment had been placed in the wrong baskets.  Although not a big issue, it can be annoying having to rethread your weight belt two to three times a day!  

All the dive guides were very good and you could conduct any dive profile of your choice, although the guide provided on each dive a basic dive briefing with depth recommendations. Once you had proven your diving ability to a guide, he was happy for you to dive away from the group. Long run times were not frowned upon and often the guide spent 80 minutes in the water exploring a shallow section of reef.  

If required any of the guides will try and find critters and point them out to you.  Bobbet by far has the best eyes and he found me critters I never would have found!

Diving is on demand and dives usually start at 9 AM and 2 PM with a night dive starting at 6 PM.  I did some night diving and thought that 6PM was too early to enter the water as the transition from day to night is still occurring.  The best time to night dive is after 8:30 PM.

Equipment Washing Facilities

Equipment cleaning was accomplished using three large plastic rubbish (trash) bins filled with fresh water. One bin is for cameras, one for BCD’s and regulators and the final tub is for wetsuits.  

On a negative note, the floor to the dive shop area was very rough cement.  The texture of the cement caused considerable scuffing and scratching to regulator second stages and gauges.  This was unavoidable as in many cases it was difficult to look after your own equipment as the Philippine nationals were too quick “striping your gear” after a dive.  Diving equipment is expensive and nationals continually laid the equipment on the rough cement floor causing superficial damage.

A more insidious problem with gear cleaning was in relation to the water used.  Fresh water is in relatively short supply on the island.  As such the water is recycled from one tub to the next.  Eventually, the water becomes putrid as wetsuits are washed and regulators inadvertently get washed in the wetsuit bin instead of the regulator bin.  Being the tropics equipment rarely dries and several divers during my two week visit to Cabilao were observed to suffer from ear, nose and throat infections.  It would appear that the catalyst for these infections was the dirty water from the washing bins.  Management was alerted to the problem. But nothing was done to correct the issue.

Management

Henry is the manager of Sea Explorers and is very inflexible in his attitude.  Be aware that you will be charged for anything extra you require.  I wanted to pay using VISA and although the web site advised that VISA was accepted, Henry would not accept it.  I had to arrange payment through Estrella Resort.  Also note that if you use VISA you will be charged an additional 7%.  It appears that this is a bank cost that is passed onto the customer and not incorporated into the business’s expenses.  Henry also argued with other diving guests over their accounts.  The main point of concentre appeared to be regarding the hire of dive lights (rechargeable type).  Henry asks if you would like light, however, does not tell you that it will cost you $5.00 USD.  You only discover this charge at the end of you stay.

Fish Stocks Declining

At many Philippine dive locations fish diversity and stock is very low.  The reason for this is over population of the Philippine Islands and over fishing.  The local people eat anything that swims, no matter what the size or species.  

I observed several fish traps and nets along the house reef at Cabilao Island.  Caught within these traps were small reef fish, decorator crabs, fire fish, squirrel fish, white eyed eels and zebra fish.  I asked the local fisherman if they returned any of fish because of their small size and he replied that they ate the lot!

I spoke with several resident divers who have been diving the area for twenty years and they all said that diversity was falling very quickly.  I certainly noted a complete lack of small tropical fish on many dives.  Large pelagic fish were non existent.  

If fishing does not cease on local reefs used for diving, and cyanide and reef bombing stopped, then I fear the worst will occur in the not too distant future.

Invertebrates and Cryptic Critters

The diversity of invertebrates such as nudibranchs, and other cryptic reef creatures was very good.  On several dives I noted: ghost pipefish, weedy pipefish, star gazers, crocodile snake eels, pygmy sea horses and vast collection of smaller invertebrates such as crinoids, commensal crustaceans and many species of shrimp.

Accommodation – La Estrella

Simple native style bungalows equipped with a wall fan, single power point, small table and chairs.  Mosquito netting is supplied for the bed.  The en-suite has only a cold water shower.

Of particular annoyance was the lack of available power and very poor lighting in the rooms.  Power for charging batteries, etc was only available between 6.00 PM and midnight and I had to resort to using a dive light to find things in my bag.

The food provided at the restaurant at Estrella ranged from being just suitable to down right atrocious.  Food prices are expensive considering the quality of food and the service is VERY slow.  Expect a 45 minute sitting to eat the breakfast!

Staff are friendly.  Payment can be made using VISA.  Estrella do not charge the 7% additional fee but incorporate the fee in their business expenses.

Overall Opinion and Ratings

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

6-7

Food

3

Operator (overall Opinion)

6-7

Coral Diversity

5

Fish (*)

2

Invertebrates

8

Cryptic Animals

4

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

5

Dive Management & Attitude

0

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 


 

PETER'S DIVE:  Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte, Philippines - Dec / Jan 2005 / 2006

Peter’s Dive Resort (also known as Whale of a Dive) is located in Sogod Bay in southern Leyte.  Peter Morritt, the owner and operator is an English born Australian.  Peter employs David who is an Australian diving instructor and several Philippine nationals.

Dive Boats, Equipment and Staff

The dive boat, Whale Shark 2 is a wooden fifty three foot banca which has been purposely built for diving.  The boat cruises at about 13 knots and is a fairly stable diving platform.  The boat has a cabin that can accommodate several divers to a basic standard and has a solid wooden roof for sun protection.  Oxygen and a medical kit is carried as is a satellite telephone.  Two things which make this boat stand out from others is the large flat table for camera repairs, etc and the fresh water container for washing camera equipment immediately after the dive.

All the staff were friendly and more than helpful.  Diving equipment was always cheerfully carried to and from the boat by Philippine staff.

All diving is carried out in a group and all divers are asked to remain in the group with David the diving instructor leading.  I found this practice a little claustrophobic and it made taking photographs problematic.  Despite attempting to alter this routine, the practice continued and the only way I could successfully take photographs was to leave the group and dive alone.  Perhaps if you dive with David you can arrange something with him at the beginning of your trip.

Dive profiles were basically your responsibility based on David’s recommendation and long bottom run times over one hour were not frowned upon.  David was more than happy for you spend seventy minutes on a dive exploring a shallow section of the reef.

The rental equipment that was available appeared to be in very good order, although I did not actually use any equipment.  All air fills were to 220 bar and the compressor was maintained to a high level.

The equipment cleaning area was the best I have seen.  Several large cement baths with ample space and wooden pegs for hanging suits and BCDs to dry.

Fish Stocks Declining

At many Philippine dive locations fish diversity and stock is very low.  The reason for this is over population of the Philippine Islands and over fishing.  The local people eat anything that swims, no matter what the size or species.  

I observed several fish traps and nets along the house reef at Peters Dive Resort.  Caught within these traps were small reef fish, decorator crabs, fire fish, squirrel fish, white eyed eels and zebra fish.  I asked the local fisherman if they returned any of fish because of their small size and he replied that they ate the lot!  

Large pelagic fish were non existent with the exemption of one site where a school of large rainbow runners were encountered.  Invertebrates (i.e.: nudibranchs) had very high diversity as did corals, ascidians and sponges, however, smaller reef fish on 90% of all dives were hard to find or non existent.  Quite simply they had been caught and eaten!

Peter and David are very environmental conscious, however, if fishing does not cease on local reefs used for diving, then I fear the worst will occur in the not too distant future.

Accommodation

Accommodation was very good and was a spacious native style bungalow equipped with two fans, power points, a cupboard, a table and chair.  The bungalow was mosquito netted.  A hot fresh water shower was located in the en-suite to the main room.  Power was available 24 hours.  Meals, if required, were available from the restaurant.

The only problem I found at Peters was that the accommodation is located directly adjacent to a village which was very noisy.  Other than this I would recommend this operator.  The web site is www.whaleofadive.com  Peter’s e-mail is pmorrittpdc@yahoo.com.au.

Overall Opinion and Ratings

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

8.5

Food

5

Operator (overall Opinion)

9

Coral Diversity

7

Fish (*)

2

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

6

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

7

Dive Management & Attitude

8

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

(**)  Only 8.5 because of constant noise from village at all hours.

 


 

PHILIPPINE DIVERS:  Malapascua Island, Philippines - Dec / Jan 2005 / 2006

Philippine Island Divers has operations at Malapascua Island and at Alona Beach at Panglao Island and is owned and managed by Jacques Trotin, a French expatriate.

Dive Boats and Staff

The dive boat Philippine Divers use is a large seventy foot banca.  The craft was very stable and was quite suitable as a diving platform even in 2 to 3 meter seas.  A small cabin on the banca offers protection from wind spray and waves and a canvas roof provided ample protection from the sun.  I did not observe a medical kit or oxygen aboard the boat, although I am fairly certain this equipment was carried.

The staff are friendly and the dive guide (Ken), once he knew the level of your diving ability, was very flexible in allowing you to dive in a buddy pair away from the group.

A large cement bath was available for gear washing although the water was slightly saline as it was island groundwater.  Wooden pegs and cloths line were used to dry equipment.

Poor Equipment Performance 

I was not impressed with the air fills received by Philippine Divers and contracted a headache on several dives.  Upon inspection of my regulator 1st stage sinter filter I noted that instead of it being white it had changed colour to a shade of dark grey only after 10 tank fills (my regulator had been serviced before this trip).  The filter was new when I arrived at the island.  I have since learned from a third party that the operator does not service the compressor regularly, nor does he replace the air filters as per the required schedule.  I also noted that the operator’s rental regulators were continually being overhauled and repaired.  I used two of his regulators and observed that the intermediate pressure was far to high causing 2nd stage free flowing.

Accommodation

I stayed at lodgings located directly behind the shop and although very convenient, the accommodation was overpriced for what was on offer elsewhere.  Lighting was very poor in the rooms and there was only a cold water saline shower.  The toilet also did not work properly, and although repaired during my visit, continued to be inoperable.  Power was available 24 hours and the room was mosquito netted.

Very Poor Business Practice

The overall business practice and environmental attitude of Jacques Trotin did not impress me and I will not be using this operator again. His staff on the other hand did there very best under the circumstances.

During my stay we were plagued with bad weather resulting in the cancellation of several dives.  Jacques in his desire to provide diving took us twice to the same location which offered very poor diving.  Then, at the end of our stay he attempted to charge for 2 dives a day, when many of the dives were cancelled due to inclement weather.  He also charged us double the room rate to that of another person staying in the room opposite mine.  

It appears that he makes up the rates as he goes along trying to negotiate the highest rate obtainable at that particular time.  I approached him regarding the room rate disparity and he then spent two hours hotly arguing with me.  Staff said that this occurred frequently with divers who made enquires over the Internet.  

Furthermore, our transfer from the island to Cebu City took over 10 hours as his vehicle continually broke down due to poor maintenance.  Jacques eventually decided to arrange another vehicle only after leaving us sitting at the pier for three hours whilst he attempted to repair his van. Jacques also operates a live shell business supplying endangered shells to  collectors -  a practice I do not support.

If you decide to use Philippine Divers in Malapascua island – BEWARE.  Arrange all fees and schedules beforehand and only pay after you have received the service you expect.  A 7% fee is added to your account if you use VISA.  I do not recommend this operator.  

Several other divers on the island were using Exotic Dive and they were more than happy with their service.  I also have heard that Thresher Shark Divers offers top notch service.

Overall Opinion and Ratings 

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

5

Food

4-5

Operator (overall Opinion)

2

Coral Diversity

1

Fish (*)

2

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

5

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

0

Dive Management & Attitude

0

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 


 

MURAX DIVERS & SERENADE live-aboard:  Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia - April 2005

General  

Murex was one of the first diving operations in North Sulawesi and operates three live-aboard dive boats and a number of diving resorts.  Their main resort is located in Manado.  I stayed at Murex Manado for two nights before departing on their live-aboard named “Serenade” for a one week dive trip to the islands north of Bangka Island and Lembeh Straight.

Marine Conservation

Murex has a protocol that does not allow divers to wear gloves whilst diving.  This is supposed to provide protection to the coral.  Although this a good idea for novice and experienced divers, I think that the company should implement procedures to penalise divers, especially photographers, who lie on coral formations to obtain their photographs.  I noted several divers breaking coral from time to time and at no time were these divers reprimanded by Murex dive masters. 

On a positive note was the utilisation of mooring buoys when anchoring at a dive site, or the boat remaining live whilst a zodiac was used to deploy and pick up divers.

Live-aboard Boat “Serenade”

The Serenade is roughly 18 meters in length and constructed of wood.  I was told the boat was around 20 years old and had undergone a number of refits.  The latest refit included the replacement of the engine with a caterpillar tractor diesel engine converted for marine use.

The Serenade is an old style boat and it is not luxurious in layout or appointment.  It is a low cost functional dive boat.  Cabins are quite spacious for a live-aboard and cabins were located on the middle deck and below deck.  My cabin was located on the middle deck above the engine room and was probably the worst cabin on the boat.  Diesel and oil fumes permeated the wooden floor from the engine room below and filled the cabin with a noxious gas that caused a severe headache and nausea.  Although my cabin was air conditioned, the unit did not operate properly and frequently turned itself off.  Furthermore, as the engine, compressor and generator were located beneath and beside my cabin, the whole room vibrated severely and was very noisy.  I actually moved my cameras as I was afraid the continual vibrations would damage the equipment.  I only stored my personal equipment in my cabin and actually slept on deck or in the main cabin of the boat.  Each cabin is equipped with a twin bunk and has a western style toilet and shower.  None of the fresh water aboard the Serenade is of drinkable quality.  You can only drink mineral water (Aqua brand) which is stored in the main eating room in a 20 litre container.

The best area on the Serenade is the bow section which is spacious and has sun protection.  The main cabin where the meals are served is also quite comfortable. 

Unfortunately, our trip did not travel the planned itinerary as inclement weather and large swells proved too dangerous for the boat to proceed past Bangka island and Lembeh Straight.  The Serenade is not a good rough water boat and rolls violently in anything but a small swell.  If you suffer from sea sickness, then you will not be happy aboard this boat as it rolls and pitches.  Furthermore, the engine and generator are very noisy (unless on front or top deck) and the odour of diesel and oil fumes permeates most of the rear deck, rear cabins and galley.

The Serenade has the standard safety equipment including HF and VHF radio, portable GPS and radar.  Medical oxygen is also carried.  A small zodiac with a Yamaha 25 HP outboard is used to ferry divers to dive sites and the shore if required.  The Serenade has a rear deck suitable for getting ready to dive, however, any more than 5 divers at a time is problematic.  There are no tubs for storage of diving equipment and I was continually misplacing equipment items such as my mask and torch.  Although I would place the equipment in a particular location, staff would then move my gear to another location.  After a short time this became quite annoying.  Gear cleaning was via a rectangular tub full of fresh water.  I noticed that after a day or so, the water had an oily film on the surface – as the water came from the main fresh water storage tank I had my doubts to the cleanliness of the storage tank. 

Equipment

I can not comment on rental equipment as I did not use rental equipment during my stay.  Nitrox was available at an extra $10.00 USD per tank.  The tanks had to be pumped and blended before departure as the Serenade does not have a nitrox blending station.  Compressor fills were to 200 bar maximum.  I noted that my regulator filter, which was white before my trip, was a shade of grey after the trip.  This suggests that the compressor filters are not cleaned regularly.

Diving and Staff

A dive briefing was conducted before each dive, however, after three or four dives it became painfully obvious that every briefing was identical to the last with the exception of the location and name.  I personally found the briefings to be pretty useless.  I was on this trip by myself so was added to a group of five German divers.  The ratio was 6 divers to 1 dive master/guide.  I tired quickly of swimming with the group and being a photographer, opted to dive by myself after entering the water with the group to obtain my bearings.  The dive guide didn't’t object and this  flexibility was ideal for my photography pursuits. 

The captain of the boat and crew did everything to ensure my time on board was enjoyable and their service and attention to any requirement was above standard.  What was lacking was the value for money. 

One thing I didn't’t like was the way the staff removed regulators from tanks and refitted them to a fresh tank ready for the next dive.  I often observed them putting the equipment together incorrectly and washing the regulator with dust caps loosely fastened or not attached to the yoke.  Some divers love this kind of service, but I dislike it.  I prefer to be responsible for my own equipment at all times.

Accommodation and Food 

Accommodation at the Murex resort in Manado was bungalow style with air conditioning.  Although the resort was aged and required quite a bit of maintenance, it was more than functional for a few nights accommodation whilst waiting to board the Serenade.  The accommodation aboard the Serenade has been addressed in the section above.

The food at Murex and on aboard the Serenade was average.  Everything was deep fried and as I’m not particularly fond of deep fried food I am probably not the best person to comment on the food.  Suffice to say there was stacks of food available, although after a few days the buffet style menu became a little monotonous.  Coffee and tea was available at all times.  If you wanted something specially made, Cookie on the boat did his best to please you.  For instance, Cookie made some lovely pancakes for me.  By the way, the steamed rice was some of the nicest rice I have ever tasted.  All food was free of charge with anything to drink requiring payment (not coffee & tea).

Overall Opinion and ratings

In comparison to other dive boats I have utilised, there is absolutely no comparison other than the hardworking crew.  The pricing to charter the Serenade is very high and the value for money very low.  The Froggies operation (outlined in the next dive operator report) on the other had was top notch in every possible way and provided excellent value for money. 

My lasting opinion of Murex is that the management are very “money hungry” and will try to get every last dollar from you.  Although Murex are running a business, arguing over whether a coke was a small or medium sized bottle is petty when you have just spent over $1100.00 USD for five days.  Murex and especially the Serenade trip does not provide value for money.

I would not use this operator again, nor would I recommend them to other divers.

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

7/2

Food

5

Operator (overall Opinion)

4

Coral Diversity

5

Fish (*)

7

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

8

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

1

Dive Management & Attitude

3

 

 (*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

(**)  Refers to accommodation at Murex in Manado (first figure) and the Serenade respectively

Field Book Excerpt

I was allocated room 4 port side rear.  A room I soon was to hate.  Air conditioning was intermittent, the carpet was wet and the room stank of diesel fuel.  The engines were beneath the room and fumes filled the room when the engine was running.  The noise from the engine and or generator/ compressor shook the mattress and I moved my camera gear to the galley as I was worried the vibrations would damage the cameras.  I slept in this room for one night before living and sleeping in the galley on the meal table.

Wheelhouse leaked water and throttle controls are located at the rear of the boat and operated via light and horn activated by the Captain.  Diesel leaked from the fuel tank and there was always am oil lick behind the boat for 20 m.  Likewise the dive gear tub was tainted with fuel oil.  All rubbish tossed overboard.  Nothing was free other than food.  Shower used contaminated water from the boat’s tank.  Cabins stank of fuel and oil.

Weather was rough.  Gale force winds and swells.  The boat rocked to 45 degrees.  Weather precluded us from traveling far and we did not make any land based trips other than to a local village on Bangka Island. (this not the operator’s fault).

All food was cooked in a galley similar in appearance to MV Somona.  Washing up was done in cold tank water (from the boat’s supply and nor fit for drinking) using a cloth saturated with dish washing liquid.  Utensils were then wiped with a paper towel as you received them.  All food was deep fried – everything – even bananas.

I had fish the first night and promptly became sick with severe diarrhoea for 48 hours.  It just would not stop!  I used my Flagyl and anti diarrhoea tablets and eventually things were OK.  Then I threw up bananas I had eaten for 10 minutes straight.  I  missed the following day as I was sick, had severe diarrhoea, and was severely dehydrated.  I filtered all water, despite “Aqua” band being available.  A man at the airport told me that Aqua was not the best water, but the cheapest.  The fish I ate was served again albeit in a different form for the next 5 days.  Eggs were cooked in oil like when in the Army.  The food was the same day in day out – several dishes were made and the left over food eaten by the crew or dished out the following day.

Diving was very average.  Guide (1:6) was inadequate and guide just swam about the place pointing out lion fish and the like. Dive guide at “briefing time” would always say this is a beautiful area, it is my favourite, you will see this and that – rarely was he correct.  He was interested only because it was his job, and clearly only going through the motions.

Serenade is ideal for new divers or those interested in diving and socialising.  It is not a specialist dive boat for specialist divers or divers with special requirements/interests.

 


 

FROGGIES DIVERS:  Bunaken Marine Park, North Sulawesi, Indonesia - April & Dec 2005

General  

Froggies Divers is a shore based diving operation based on Bunaken Island located within the Bunaken Marine Park.  The operation is owned and managed by veteran diving instructor Christiane Muller.

Marine Conservation

The staff at Froggies practice what they preach.  Conservation is foremost in most of the dive guides minds and divers are continually reminded not to damage coral and other marine life.  All dive boats are operated live and they never anchor to the sea floor.  Christian is an avid and passionate conservationist and does everything in her power to try and ensure that the reef within the confines of the park is protected for future generations.  It was a pleasure to speak with a person so dedicated to marine conservation.

Equipment

I didn’t use the rental equipment available for rental from Froggies so cannot provide comments.  Tank fills were to 200 bar and the air was clean.  My regulator filter, after it had been replaced from the earlier Serenade live-aboard trip, maintained its white colour suggesting that Froggie’s compressors were fairly well maintained.

Fast Boats

Dive boats are constructed of wood and powered by two or three 25 - 40 HP Yamaha outboard engines.  There were several boats and they varied in size and capacity.  I never felt crowded on a boat and there was lots of room to get gear ready before a dive.  Each boat carried a large tub of freshwater to place my camera in after a dive.  Medical grade oxygen was carried on all boats.  Two way radios were not carried, but were not really needed as travel distances to dive sites were relatively short in duration.

Diving and Staff

All the staff at Froggies, from housemaids to dive guides were very friendly and helpful.  If you were unhappy about anything, Christiane did her utmost to rectify the situation quickly, quietly and with the minimum of fuss.  I found Christiane to be a very thoughtful and caring person, but on the other hand she will not be steamrollered into something that she doesn’t agree with.  With Christiane you know where you stand at all times, which I find refreshing.

Diving usually starts at 0830 or 0900 after breakfast at 0730. The afternoon dive starts at 1330 and the night dive at 1800.  At no time was my bottom time cut short by a dive guide.  My shortest bottom timer was 70 minutes with the longest being 110 minutes.  Long bottom times are not frowned upon.  The dive guide to diver ratio was 1:1 or 1:2 which is excellent.  Most of the dive guides were good, however, it really depends upon the guide you are allocated.  There is no depth limit, however, experience and diver qualifications are taken into account when you arrive.  Divers with like minded interests are always, if possible, allocated the same boat.

One thing I didn’t like was the way the staff removed regulators from tanks and refitted them to a fresh tank ready for the next dive.  I often observed them putting the equipment together incorrectly and washing the regulator with dust caps loosely fastened or not attached to the yoke.  I use a harness style BCD which has various clips on it for photographic gear, etc.  Every time they set my gear up I had to dismantle it and redo what they had done incorrectly.  This is not a big problem, but after a while it began to grate on you.  Often it’s difficult to change the regulator yourself as the staff are so quick to do it for you.  Furthermore, at the end of the day it was difficult to look after your own equipment as the gear was stacked into a plastic crate and taken away for washing and drying before lock up for the evening.  Some divers love this kind of service, but I dislike it.  I prefer to be responsible for my own equipment at all times.  This is a personal bias.

I would rate the diving as average.  Certainly I had some memorable dives, however, after several dives at Bunaken I found the location quite boring.  Invertebrate diversity is outstanding, however, nudibranch diversity was somewhat lacking.  Fish diversity was good and there were large fish, however, the fish diversity is nowhere in comparison to that observed in some locations in PNG and the Solomon Islands.  If you want to dive schools of fish, then Bunaken is not a suitable location as most of the large schooling fish have been over-fished  Sharks are sadly lacking with the exception of the odd white tip and black tip reef shark.  Most of the diving in Bunaken is wall diving which I am not a great fan of.  Visibility varies from 5 meters to the average of 20 meters.

Accommodation and Food 

Accommodation was varied depending upon your taste and budget.  My accommodation  (leaf fish and moorish idol) was a largish bungalow located in a elevated position amongst leafy trees.  Smaller and less expensive accommodation is available ranging from a smaller bungalow to dormitory style lodging.  A western style toilet and bucket shower were attached to the bungalow.  My room was not mosquito netted, however, a net was provided for the bed; other rooms maybe netted I am not sure.  24 volt power generated from two large generators was available 24 hours and there were ample power points for recharging photographic equipment. Ensure you bring the correct adaptor for Indonesia as spares are not available.  I found the accommodation to be more than adequate for my requirements. 

All the food was well prepared buffet style with free soft drinks, coffee and tea available at all hours.  After two plus weeks, I found the food a little mundane, but this is to be expected when you stay in the one location for a considerable time.  Desert was sadly lacking, however, fruit was readily available.

One aspect I did not like was the unavailability of fresh or UHT milk.  Milk was always coffee whitener (chemicals).  In my opinion, if milk is available in Manado and on live-aboards in more remote regions, then Froggies should also be able to supply fresh milk.

Overall Opinion and Ratings 

I found Froggies to be relatively good value for money.  The prices are in Euro only.  I enjoyed the diving and the staff were very helpful and tried to find the animals I wanted to observe and photograph.  The only down side I found at Froggies was that the dive shop is located in close proximity to the accommodation.  The staff began work at 0530 and the noise was quite distracting if you wanted to sleep until 0700.

I would recommend this operator.

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

6

Food

7

Operator (overall Opinion)

8

Coral Diversity

9

Fish (*)

5-7

Invertebrates

8

Cryptic Animals

6

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

10

Dive Management & Attitude

9

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

(**)  Poor lighting in rooms

Field Book Excerpt

Met Christiana and initial impressions of Froggies is very good.  Randy gave me a good wrap and I have been assigned a personal guide.  Staff waitresses are similar to those at Cabilao Island, Philippines.  All drinks free except alcohol, and then alcohol is only allowed in moderation.  Owner is French Italian and speaks fluently in English, German, French and Italian.  Room is nice, lots of space and veranda that looks over – or actually into a forest canopy.  Room has been built into a uplifted coral bench about 30 meters higher than the beach.  Just saw two pigeons in the tree in front of room.  Colours are brown drab body, bright green wings with red under the wings when it flies, orange beak and white cap on its head.  

Bathroom washing is via a green bucket as is flushing the toilet.  Unfortunately the cleaning girls place the two buckets together and you don’t know which is which – cross contamination.  Ironing comes back neatly folded in a coloured ribbon.  Food is plentiful, however, is the same every night which becomes monotonous.  Singing and playing musical instruments in the eating area by the locals can and does loose its appeal as the playing is quite loud and often you cannot hear people speaking.  Everything seems to wake up at 0530.  Tanks being rattled, compressors starting, music and the like.  The dive shop is located below the accommodation and noise travels up.  Furthermore, the staff hang out below the accommodation playing cards from early  to late and get quite loud.  In the afternoon the water pump is started which also loud and very invasive.  It seems that this could be better arranged.  No solar or tank water (?) and all water is shipped from Manado.  Petrol and oil lubrication and maintenance is on the beach and viewable by guests – poor set out with the exception of accommodation and the main dining area.

Dive boats are good, although they are old as are the engines.  The engines are also smelling.  10 odd dive shops on the island, although you rarely see other divers, although, you do see dive boats.  Certainly there is a total lack of adventure that exists in PNG.  Some of the guides are very good, but most are pretty useless pointing out lion fish, hawk fish, crinoids and the like.  Guide ratio 1:1 and 1:2.  The guides all look in the crinoids for shrimps and really do nothing to add to the dive as you see most of the things they see.  Diving is “so so”.  I have seen a lot underwater so I am difficult to please.  All the sites are well dived several times a week and much of the marine life is used to divers.  The guides really concentrate on small stuff, they keep talking about big stuff but you rarely see it (well I didn’t until my last dive).  Nearly all dives are walls with the odd sandy slope.  Invertebrate bio diversity is excellent, however, nudibranch spp. are not prevalent and then only the usual varieties.  Large fish are quite common and the fish bio diversity is very good as is the hard coral diversity.  Soft corals are lacking.  If you like coral reef then Bunaken is probably equal to Walindi in PNG.  Despite the high bio diversity, I found many of the dives a little boring as you saw the same things on every dive day in and day out – but I am not a wall diver and prefer sandy and coral slopes and patch reefs.  There was nothing new after several dives. But this is diving – sometimes you see a lot and oat other time you see only a little.  The guides seem to take you to the same place time and time again and show you the same animals on every dive despite the location being different.  Trash very common everywhere.

 


 

SHAKTI live-aboard:  Raja Ampat, West Papua (Irian Jaya), Indonesia - January 2006

This report deals with the dive live-aboard Shakti only.  For additional information on this trip, please read the Diving 4 Images operator report (next listing) and the trip notes (link at top of page).

General   

I was asked to join an expedition to the remote islands of Raja Ampat.  The trip was organised by Graham Abbott, owner of Diving 4 Images based in Bali.  The expedition was 15 days aboard the dive live-aboard Shakti and the aim was to explore some of the main diving areas and a few of the lesser dived locations.  

New Guinea, the second largest island in the world is separated into two parts.  The eastern side of the island is the independent state of Papua New Guinea and the western side of the island belongs to the multi-ethnic Indonesia.  

In 2001, the Indonesian Government renamed the region from Irian Jaya (named by the Dutch when they were custodians of the island) to Papua Barat.  Although not entirely correct, many people refer to the region as Western Papua.  

Raja Ampat meaning the four kings is the name given to the island archipelago located adjacent to the main island of West Papua.  There are four main island groups (Waigeo, Batana, Salawati and Misool) and hundreds of smaller islands with secluded beaches and lagoons.  

The entry point to Raja Ampat is Sorong, en-route from Manado. The people inhabiting the areas are distinctly Papuan in appearance and culture bearing more resemblance to Papua New Guinea nationals rather than Indonesians.   

Several Indonesian owned live-aboards operate in the area, however, Shakti is the only non Indonesian operated vessel. 

The Shakti is roughly 30 meters in length and constructed of wood.  I was told the boat was around 6 years old being constructed in the traditional Indonesian phinisi style of boat building (wooden vessel with two masts resembling an old style pirate ship).  The Shakti diving operation is owned and operated by David Pagliari, a softly spoken but enthusiastic expatriate from Hong Kong.  The crew are Indonesian and Papuan.

Comprising two levels, the Shakti has six cabins (four double berths below the main deck & two located on the main deck).  Each cabin except one has air conditioning and a window, or a hatch that can be opened.  Immediately aft of the forward four cabins is a largish multi purpose room equipped with a DVD player and overhead projector.  This room is used for general entertainment, camera repairs and sleeping.  Despite being air conditioned and having a oscillating fan, the room can become quite hot and stuffy.  A ladder and hatchway connects this room to the upper deck and galley.  

Located on the main deck is a spacious galley adjoining the kitchen area and the remaining two cabins.  The galley has a skylight built into the roof that ensures good lighting, however, you must be careful not to get sun burnt.   The upper deck has deck chairs and mattresses and is an ideal area to socialise and relax.  There are three bathrooms with warm water fresh and salt water showers.  

The forward area of the boat is quite spacious and this is where the dive stations are located and dive briefings conducted.  All your equipment is kept in a plastic crate and it’s almost impossible to misplace equipment.  The arrangement is very efficient and neat.  Access on and off the boat is via a ladder-way which is lowered from the side of the boat to waiting tenders.

The Shakti has the standard safety equipment including HF and VHF radio, portable GPS and radar.  Medical oxygen and a well stocked medical kit is also carried.  

Two small tenders are used to ferry divers to dive sites and the shore if required.  One is an orange coloured heavy Chinese built rescue boat and the other is a zodiac style craft constructed from aluminium.  Both are powered by Yamaha 40 HP outboards.  The larger Chinese built boat has a boarding ladder, however, the smaller zodiac requires divers to slide aboard “like a seal”.

The air fills I received were of high quality and the compressor was large enough to fill tanks on demand.  Equipment cleaning (if required) was available via a small hose connected to the fresh water tank.  Although the boat has several large water capacity tanks, fresh water is limited when spending an extended time at sea.  Two large plastic tubs were available for soaking camera gear and dive computers.

Equipment

Minimal equipment is available for rental and it is recommended to bring your own diving equipment and a small dive master kit.

Staff 

All the staff on Shakti acted in a very friendly, outgoing and professional manner.  David the skipper was very approachable and did everything in his power to ensure your stay was pleasant and memorable.  If there was a problem, then a staff member would deal with the problem immediately.  

All the staff are quiet and inconspicuous.  It amazes me how such a large number of staff can literally disappear on a boat, but they somehow manage it.  The exception was Adam.  Adam is British born, is diving instructor rated, and has been traveling the world for the past 11 years.  He is exceptionally gregarious and his friendly abruptness and casualness made up for the quietness of the remaining crew.  In the morning you would frequently hear Adam’s booming accented voice yelling “ hands of cocks – put on socks” as he rallied the guests for breakfast.  Adam’s job on Shakti is a dive guide.

The only negative comment I have regarding the staff is that David (skipper) during lagoon trips was not well versed in photographic etiquette.  It is very difficult to take decent photographs “flying” along in a zodiac at 15 knots!  No doubt I should have mentioned this at the time and David would have stopped the boat, but at the time you don’t really want to say anything.  When you consider that three individuals in the boat were semi-professional photographers, there really is no excuse for David not thinking to frequently stop the boat for picture taking.  This negative aspect of the trip is easily rectified.

Please read the separate report on Diving 4 Images (which is in no way associated with Shakti).   (see next listing)

Food  

Food is one of the most important aspects of a live-aboard, and moral quickly slumps if food is not tasty, plentiful and varied.

The food aboard the Shakti was excellent.  Two Papuan girls worked tirelessly, sometimes 14 hours a day to provide meals for the crew and guests. Most meals were rice based with either fish and prawns.  Fruit was either pineapple, papaya or watermelon.  Breakfast was cereal, eggs to your liking, bread and flapjacks.  Freshly brewed coffee was available at all hours, as was tea, hot water, biscuits (cookies) and fresh drinking water.  Milk was UHT milk and was a very welcome change from the usual powdered milk.  There was always enough food and "left overs" were given to the crew.

A word of thanks must go to the two cooks – Yolanda and Aiming.  They worked the longest hours of any of the crew and slaved away in 40 degree Celsius heat cooking and baking.

Overall Opinion and ratings

I have used many live-aboard dive boats and although not the most luxurious I would rate Shakti in the upper 20%.  The reason being it’s very functional, spacious, and the crew are 100% committed to their work.  It should also be mentioned that in 2006 Nitrox is being installed.

Negatives are:

It can be difficult negotiating the ladder-way to the waiting dive tender – especially when carrying camera equipment.  Although my camera equipment did not suffer any damage, I was waiting for a tank to hit the camera on every dive as I climbed down the ladder-way to the boat.  This is not really a negative as the boat has been designed this way.

Lack of sun cover.  The boat is a very open boat despite the crew erecting sun shades over the deck (awnings).  I was constantly relocating my position to remain out of the sun.  The galley area has a large skylight, therefore, sun protection is required in the galley as well.  Furthermore, the galley was quite warm as the skylight allowed heat to penetrate.  To combat this there were two oscillating fans.  Perhaps the skylight can be coated in a UV material or a shade erected during the say to stop harmful sun rays penetrating the galley.  

 

I would definitely use this operator again.  I strongly recommend the Shakti and crew.  Shakti is available for charter only.  

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation

7

Food

8 **

Operator (overall Opinion)

8

Coral Diversity

9

Fish (*)

5-7

Invertebrates

8

Cryptic Animals

6=7

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

8

Dive Management & Attitude

9

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

(**)  Only 8 because food was fried rather than stir fried

 


 

DIVING 4 IMAGES (Graham Abbott).  Based in Bali, Indonesia - January 2006

This report only deals with Diving 4 Images.  For additional information on this trip please read the dive operator report for the dive live-aboard dive boat Shakti and the trip notes.

General  

I was asked to join an expedition to the remote islands of Raja Ampat organised by Graham Abbott owner of Diving 4 Images based in Bali.  The expedition was 15 days duration aboard the dive live-aboard Shakti and was to explore some of the main diving areas and a few of the lesser dived locations.

Diving 4 Images is not a dive operator but rather a business that can arrange trips for like-minded individuals to areas in South East Asia.  They arrange everything except airfares and meet you on arrival at the airport before the trip begins.  Although I had heard of Graham Abbott and his company “Diving 4 Images”, I had never used their service as I usually prefer to arrange everything myself.

Overall Opinion

To be very blunt, I was not impressed with Diving 4 Images nor Graham Abbott. 

It’s difficult to know where to begin to explain the problems associated with this business as they appear to be embedded in both the business and in Graham’s poor attitude, organisation and communication skills.

Payment Problems

Payment for the trip was required before departure and this proved very difficult to do.  I wanted to pay via VISA card, however, Diving 4 Images didn’t have a credit facility, therefore, payment details had to be faxed with passport details, etc to another company.  This had to done three times as Diving 4 Images never seemed to receive the payment or fax transmissions (via the other company). The charge for this was an additional 4%.

Further payment complications arose for a member of the group a day before departure.  While in Manado awaiting an early morning flight, Diving 4 Images contacted one of the group to say that payment hadn’t been received and therefore, the person could not join the trip.

The guest had recently transferred money by wire to Graham before departing China, however, for some unknown reason payment had not been received by Graham despite the guest having documentation from the bank, stating that the payment had been sent some weeks earlier.  A conversation via cell phone from Manado rapidly degraded into an argument after the guest was informed by Graham that she would have to pay again! 

Eventually after several cell calls to China, and to Graham and Dwi in Bali the problem was sorted out and she was allowed to proceed on the trip. 

The person concerned commented at the end of the trip that she never received an apology from Graham for the argument which cost her a considerable sum in cell phone calls.  Part of the problem was that Graham’s wife (Dwi) had incorrectly informed Graham regarding payment.

A similar problem occurred with one of the other guests, who had arranged for a guide to come along on the trip.  Apparently this had been arranged weeks earlier via e-mail with Graham’s wife, Dwi.  Graham insisted there wasn’t room and the guide would have to remain in Manado.  After several minutes of heated discussion it was agreed that if the Skipper of the boat agreed, then the guide could travel.

Trip dates Altered After I had booked

Before departing Australia, I had confirmed by e-mail the dates for the trip, however, on arrival at Bunaken Island  (meeting area for the group) I was advised that the dates had since been changed.  Fortunately, this fitted with my international flights.

Diving For Himself

This lack of accurate information was the beginning of what was to become a very disorganised dive trip.

Graham joined the group at Manado Airport 30 minutes before departure and we were met by the owner and crew of the Shakti at Sorong. 

The first day was sailing to our first destination and diving was carried out late in the afternoon.  Graham mysteriously disappeared during this sail time and only reappeared to conduct a dive briefing.  I thought it very odd that he did not explain the purpose of his company, the itinerary, or for that matter anything else.  Graham just seemed to be on the boat to dive.

After the first two dives, and the dives the following two days, it became readily apparent that Graham had no intension of supplying an itinerary to the group.  The guests (those paying) wanted to stay in some of the places for a little longer and dive some of the other sites in the region.  The skipper of the boat (David) had mentioned several large fish sites that were excellent dives and the group were keen to dive these areas. This was communicated to Graham, however, Graham wanted to dive areas he was keen to see and not dive fish sites. 

Despite Graham knowing that we were disappointed with some of the dive sites, he insisted in doing what he wanted and continued to not provide input to the group until late in the second week  - after the trip was almost over.  This inability of Graham to understand the group’s needs meant that we only dived at locations that Graham wanted to dive.  The name of Graham’s company is Diving 4 Images which we sarcastically renamed to Diving 4 Myself.

The inability of Graham to communicate the itinerary, or to be flexible as to what the group wanted infuriated me and most of the group.  As a result, many hours each day and night sailing to different locations rather than diving.  The group wanted to explore lagoons and have pleasant anchorages – not rolling seas every night! 

This situation was never resolved and degraded further when the group spent an entire day diving a jetty off a village, and diving some sites two and three times – despite there being other sites in the vicinity (such as a known manta ray cleaning station).

The consensus from the group was that Graham was only on the trip to dive the areas he wanted to dive.  Graham did not seem to care the slightest that his guests weren’t happy with the dive sites they were being forced to dive.

Lack of Dive Schedule

We were never quite sure when diving activities were to take place.  The diving schedule changed continuously and Graham never informed the group where or when we were diving, until it was time to prepare for the dive and get into the water.  Apart from two nights, the group had no idea want was happening the next day.

On several occasions, guests were eating breakfast and Graham yelled “briefing” which meant that breakfast was forfeited due to a dive.  Graham never waited for anyone.  It was as if you were privileged to be with him!

Despite Graham’s very good knowledge of critters, he rarely explained what had been seen to the guests, except when pressed to do so.  On several dives he swam off by himself looking for critters and never guided anyone.  Nor did he pass along his observations during the dive.  Rather, he would exit the dive  boasting about what he had seen – then comment that “you should have stayed with me”.  The only occasion that Graham was helpful to me was during a dive when I was photographing a rather elusive goby.  He swam over and proceeded to relocate a number of sea urchins which were blocking the view from my camera lens.

Some of the divers found it difficult to actually keep up with Graham underwater as he often swam into the current (despite a live catch boat)  Graham didn’t care about this and swam at his own speed, rather than that of the slowest group member. 

Graham seemed to forget that he was not a member of the group, but rather a service provider.   I never once saw him help any other person with diving or camera equipment.  At the end of a dive he would climb out of the tender, dump his dive gear at his station and head off for the shower. 

Jolanda had a problem with her regulator and needed tools to repair it (usually carried in a dive master kit).  I asked Graham if he had any tools suitable to repair the regulator to which he replied that he didn't carry a dive masker kit and that it was the responsibility of each member to carry spare parts, etc.  A Shakti crew member found the appropriate tool in the boat’s tool box!

Final Comment

Graham’s inability to communicate the dive itinerary, inflexibility in changing the trip to suit the wishes of those paying, and general lack of caring for what the group wanted marred what was an otherwise excellent trip.

However, if you are a photographer searching for a specific fish species to photograph, then Graham definitely has the ability to find the animal.  But be warned, find out where you are going to dive before you leave, and prepare to put up with Graham’s selfish attitude.

I would not recommend Diving 4 Images nor its owner Graham Abbott.

 


 

TUWALI RESORT:  Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea – April 2007           

Tuwali Resort is located in Milne Bay.  The access point to Tuwali Resort is Alotau (Gurney) which is the capital of the province.  Alotau is  approximately an hours flight time from Port Moresby.  To reach Tuwali, a further 2 hours travel by vehicle is required followed by a 30 minute fast boat ride.  Although Alotau is located relatively close to the nation’s capital, Tuwali Resort is not easily accessible.  A visit to Tuwali should be treated as a remote location with regard to safety and medical evacuation.

Tuwali Resort has been constructed on a limestone point adjacent to a small bay.  The accommodation, diving room and other facilities have been built in such a way as to blend with the surrounding jungle.  A covered walkway snakes its way across the point through the jungle, passing each of the accommodation wings and effectively joins the village and service area with the main reception area and visitors wharf. 

Tuwali is base for a number of dive boats operated by the same company.  A 60 foot long Australian made ex fishing boat called explorer supports guests staying at Tuwali along with a smaller 50 foot boat called Prowler.  In addition to this a number of smaller banana boats and zodiacs can be used to reach close by local dive sites.  The 60 foot long MV Chertan and 110 foot long Spirit of Nuigini are used for longer charters and visit other areas of Milne Bay.

Dive Boats, Equipment and Staff 

During my visit, I used two centre console controlled banana boats approximately 20 feet in length.  The boats are fitted with twin 40 HP 4 stroke Honda outboards.  Both boats have sun protection by way of a awning above the boat and are equipped with a stainless steel ladders.  Radios are standard as are small medical kits.  No oxygen is carried aboard the fast boats, however, a plentiful supply is available at the resort for emergency use.  The banana boats are used to access reefs and diving area relatively close to the resort (30 minutes maximum sea time).

From Tuwali you have a choice of either diving nearby fringing reefs and sandy slopes or diving outer coral reefs.  The larger Prowler and Explorer boats are used to reach the outer reefs and travel time is usually an hour and half depending on the reef selected.  The Explorer boat is well appointed with 6 small berths, toilet, large open covered deck area, twin ladders, duckboard and a large camera table.  The Explorer has a very wide beam providing very good stability.  Trips to the outer reef are for the day and 3 dives are usually completed during the day.  Both the Prowler and Explorer are quite fast considering their size and weight.

You are responsible for your own diving profile, although dive briefings are completed before each dive.  There is no limit with regard to bottom time and you will not be chased out of the water by dive guides wanting to go home early.

The rental equipment is predominately oceanic brand and is in new to very good condition.  All equipment is well maintained.  A good selection is available for rental including: fins, facemask, snorkel, regulator, BCD, computers, tanks and weight belts.  A number of wetsuits are also available for rent.

All the staff are PNG nationals.  The dive supervisor’s name is Sebastian (Saba).  Saba is very proficient at his job and will do everything possible to ensure your diving stay at Tuwali is enjoyable.  Tuwali employs several dive guides which are present on all dives and act as marine life spotters; as with all national dive guides some are good and some are not so good.  Saba and Albert were excellent spotters, however, the rest of the crew were not very good at finding more than the commoner species.

Equipment Washing Facilities 

I found that the dive washing facilities were rather limited.  There are two wharfs at Tuwali and although cleaning tubs and showers have been constructed at each wharf, only the service wharf bath tub was operational.  This may change at short notice.

Management 

Rob Van der Loos is the manager/part owner at Tuwali.  Rob appears to be a gentle, friendly person who is very much entrenched into the New Guinea lifestyle.  When not working about the resort, Rob skippers the Chertan.  During my stay I found Rob to be very approachable and open to suggestions.  He has a genuine interest in diving and photography.  Rob is a diver first and manager second.

I found everyone at Tuwali to be friendly and courteous at all times.

Accommodation and Food

The accommodation at Tuwali has been constructed in such a way as to be part of the surrounding jungle.  Each room is spacious and insect screened, has two queen size beds, is equipped with air conditioning and a ceiling fan, and has en-suite facilities.  A small veranda with water views adjoins each room.  All the rooms are connected to the main reception and dining room via a covered walkway which snakes its way through the jungle .  I found the room lighting to be a little on the soft side, and power points for charging camera batteries, etc were not abundant.  A power board is recommended if you need additional power points for charging.  The mattresses were not overly comfortable which lowers the accommodation rating from a 9 to a 8.

The food provided at the restaurant is standard buffet style and included an assortment of meat, fish and vegetable dishes followed by desert and coffee.  A selection of local fruit was usually available.  Breakfast was cereals, fruit, eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast.  After a week or so I think most people would tire of the food as it doesn’t alter very much (I guess it depends on which cook/chef is worming at the time).  In contrast to the resort food, the food prepared on the live-aboard by cook Melita was outstanding.  Nearly all her dishes are very tasty and you will be wanting seconds!  I believe that Melita is the permanent cook aboard the MV Chertan.

Payment can be made using VISA.  

Overall Opinion and Ratings 

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average. 


Accommodation

8

Food

6-7

Operator (overall Opinion)

9

Coral Diversity

9

Fish (*)

9

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

9

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

8-9

Dive Management & Attitude

8-9

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 


 

MV SPIRIT OF NUIGINI live-aboard:  Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea – April 2007

The MV Spirit of Nuigini, formally called the Aqua One (Indonesia) began PNG operations in March 2007.   Rather than duplicate what has already been written regarding specifications and layout, I recommend you point your browser to the following “Spirit” web site  www.spiritofniugini.com/about.html. The "Spirit" operates out of Tuwali and runs side by side with Tuwali's other live-aboard MV Chertan.

Any new boat has its problems, and the “Spirit” had her fair share of teething hassles during my time aboard her.  A number of mechanical problems plagued the boat, however, many of these problems (if not all of them) will have been repaired by the time you read this document.  As such, it’s pointless to discuss them.

I found the “Spirit” to be the best live-aboard dive vessel I have used to date.  The “Sprit” is very different to the usual run-of-the-mill charter boat operating within PNG waters.  The main asset the “spirit” has is the boat’s overall size (over 30 meters in length) and available working space.  The boat is very roomy and extremely stable in a rough sea.  The overall size of this boats allows you to escape others fairly easily if you want to – you don’t need to hide in your cabin.  

The rear dive deck is spacious allowing easy access to 4 large gear cleaning tanks and the large rear dive platform situated just above sea level.  The platform is equipped with two ladders leading into the water.  Diving from the “Spirit” is very easy.  

The two air conditioned lounges (one with a large covered upper rear deck) are spacious, comfortable, and provide ample room to socialise, eat, or  repair equipment.  The sleeping cabins on the “Spirit” are relatively large for a boat, and the beds/bunks in all the cabins were roomy and very comfortable.  En-suite facilities were ample, although of a smaller size in the economy cabins, and it was nice to have a degree of privacy on the boat.  All cabins have central air conditioning.

The boat’s bridge is well appointed with modern instrumentation including: GPS, chart plotter, depth sounder, radar, EPIRBs and HF / VHF radios.  Two large diesel engines provide ample power for the boat to travel between dive sites very quickly.  The speed of the “Spirit” is over twice the speed of the slower MV Chertan.

Medical oxygen is carried onboard and is available for emergency use, or to use if diving with NITROX.  Medical equipment carried on the “Spirit” include resuscitation equipment and a well maintained medical kit.  I believe that the medical equipment is soon to be upgraded.

On my trip, the food served was exceptional (considering the small size of the kitchen area).  Melita, a PNG national was our chef, but I understand that Melita is assigned to the MV Chertan on a more or less permanent basis, therefore, I cannot vouch for the food on future trips.  A automated coffee machine located in the lounge area dispenses fresh PNG coffee 24/7 – no making coffee on this boat!

To improve on this boat requires me to “nit pick”.  The “Spirit” is a large boat well equipped for the “expedition diver/photographer.  I have no hesitation recommending this boat and I certainly hope to use the “Spirit” again in the future. 


 

TUFI (TUFI Resort):  Oro Province, Papua New Guinea – December 2008

Geomorphology and History

Tufi (Tufi Resort), located in Oro Province is approximately a one hour flight from the nation’s capital Port Moresby.  The twin otter aircraft flies over the precipitous and rugged Owen Stanley Mountains and the infamous Kokodo Track where hundreds of Australia troops and thousands of Japanese troops perished in combat during World War Two.  The Owen Stanley Ranges are beautiful and during the flight you will fly over large tracts of virgin primary rainforest and precipitous ridges and cliffs.  As the flight nears the coast, the topography begins to alter and deep fiords fed by meandering and braided river systems dominate.

The fiord geomorphology at Tufi is unique to Papua New Guinea.  Although not a true fiord, the landscape has been created by the infilling of deep valleys by the ocean during geologically recent sea level rises.  The areas now exposed are the remnants of fluid basaltic lava flows that emanated from the nearby Tufi volcano  - now considered extinct.  The resulting geomorphology is a fiord-like landscape encompassing several deep water fiords.

Tufi is actually a village and the dive operator is located adjacent to the village.  Like many airfields in PNG, the strip is a grass strip and maintained by the local villagers.  Tufi guests are met by the dive operator in the late model landcruiser troop carrier and transported to the resort some 5 minutes drive away.

The resort is situated 200 meters above sea level and commands outstanding views of the fiords and mountains. 

During World War Two, the United States Navy (USN) utilised the fiord at Tufi as a forward base for a PT boat squadron.  Not much remains from this period, with the exception of a cement washing area beneath a waterfall, some marsden matting, and the skeletal remains of a sunken PT boat at 60 odd meters depth beside the current wharf.  The original wharf used during the war was replaced by the modern wharf during the 1990’s

Post War, Tufi village was a staging station for the Australian administration in Oro Province.  This continued until independence in 1978.  Tufi began to be used as a diving location in the late 70’s and was completely redeveloped and modernised in the mid 1990’s

Diving and Staff

At the time of my visit, Tufi staff dive staff consisted of two dive masters and two open water SCUBA instructors.  All staff are PNG nationals with the exception of the Japanese instructor.  All the diving staff were competent divers and had experience to deal with most in-water emergency situations should they arise.

The area for dive preparation and storage which adjoins the wharf is excellent and has been well thought out with divers in mind.  The dispersal area is large and protected from the elements by a roof.  Storage and drying space is maintained in a lockable area inside the actual dive shop.  Four large fibreglass tubs are available for gear washing are two on site showers.  Without a doubt, this would be one of the better deigned and constructed dive areas I have used and I could not fault the design and functionality in anyway.

Normal dive operations begin at 0830 and return around 1500.  Two dives are conducted with an hour minimum surface interval.  All dives are conducted with a guide and the depth rarely exceeds 35 meters.  The bottom time is at your discretion and bottom times exceeding 90 minutes were the norm.

As with many dive operations, all dive equipment is set up, carried, cleaned and stored by the dive staff.  Guests do not have to touch their equipment other than to put it on before diving.  Although some guests appear to like this, I find the practice rarely works flawlessly, especially if you have an unusual dive rig.  I had to pull apart my equipment on nearly every dive because the staff had incorrectly put the equipment together. 

I was not overly impressed with the dive guides ability or enthusiasm to show you reef inhabitants during the dive; they just swam along the reef and you followed them at your own pace.  Occasionally they did make a effort, but after being shown the third anemone and fourth clam shell you began to wonder!  I’m not sure whether the guides were bored and complacent, or just couldn’t find anything interesting to show you!

The dive equipment available for hire was all late model equipment in good condition and order. 

100% oxygen is available should a diver suffer decompression sickness. 

Fast Boats

Tufi a number of diver boats of varying length and design.  The dive boats are powered by late model Suzuki 4 stroke outboards ranging from 125 through to 225 HP.  The exception being the largest boat which is powered by an inboard diesel engine.

All boats have a roof for sun protection, two-way radios, GPS and depth sounders, emergency oxygen equipment and very basic medical kits.  Each boat has a dive ladder that allows the diver to climb aboard fully kited.

The dive boats are comfortable, well fitted out for diving and stable in a moderate swell.

Accommodation and Food

Accommodation is either in a lodge room, basic bungalow (three joined together so it is not really a stand-alone bungalow) or in the deluxe bungalows.  The difference between the standard and deluxe rooms is that the later is newer (2005) with contemporary furniture and usually has a better view of the fiord or forest.

The lodge accommodation is very spartan and consists of a bed, small table and cupboard in a cement room  without air-conditioning. 

The accommodation wings surround the main central building which houses administration, the restaurant and bar, and swimming pool.  The central structure is surrounded by a covered deck.

The basic bungalow (which in 2009 was priced at $175.00 AUD per night) is a single room with a double bed and two single beds.  A built in cupboard with several shelves is located against one wall.  Each room has a very small air conditioner and ceiling fan.  The air conditioner is poorly sited and is not of adequate power/size to cool the room sufficiently.  An adjoining room houses the shower and toiler facilities.  A bench is located along one wall.  There are two 24 volt single power points which are nowhere near the bed to bench!  I charged my equipment on the floor!  Considering the price of the accommodation I expected adequate cooling and suitable placed double power points for camera battery charging, etc.  I was told that the basic bungalows and lodge accommodation date from the late 1970’s.

All accommodation has insect screening and the bed has a drop down mosquito net (basic and deluxe rooms only).

The grounds surrounding the accommodation wings are lushly vegetated with native vegetation, trees and scrubs.  There is a large collection of native orchids in addition to several species of cycads.  A fence surrounds the whole complex as Tufi adjoins the nearby Tufi national village.  Security is excellent and patrol guards cruise the grounds during the day and evening ensuring that the area is completely safe.  Please note, that Tufi does not have the security and crime problems associated with other locations in PNG such as Port Moresby and Lae

The food is excellent and would be very acceptable in any western 4-5 star restaurant.  Three meals are served daily.  Breakfast is a-la-carte / continental with lunch and dinner a set menu.   The evening meal is three courses.  The selection of alcohol from the bar is adequate, although prices are on the slightly high side; no doubt due to the expense of having to ship/air freight everything from Port Moresby.

Diving – Lack of Currents & Very Warm Water

During my stay I was very concerned regarding the lack of large marine life and the extremely warm water.  Usually in December and January there are relatively strong currents flowing over the reefs at Tufi.  The currents lower the water temperature and attract larger marine life to the area and include manta rays and hammerhead sharks.  Water temperature was between 31 and 33 degrees Celsius, with a 3 degree thermocline at a depth of 20 meters.   Tufi management are very concerned that the currents maybe changing due to unknown events and are actively seeking to explore and dive reefs further afield.

I saw very little large fish life and nearly every dive was identical to the last.  Outstanding corals and reef structures, but for the wide angle and dedicated macro photographer you maybe wishing for more (in my opinion and at the time I dived).

Extracurricular Activities

Most people that visit Tufi do so to dive the reefs.  Other activities are available for those who do not dive; canoeing the fiord, visiting local villages, bird of paradise walk, and rainforest walk.  Of course, there is a subsequent charge for these activities.  The bird of paradise walk involves an overnight stay at a local village that you will be charged for, in addition to the money you are already paying to stay at Tufi. 

Visiting the adjacent Tufi village is frowned upon by the managers who “hint” that it maybe dangerous to wander outside the fenced and secure area of Tufi.  However, when pressed it appeared that this is doubtful and all they wanted was to sell you a “tour” rather than allow you to do something for nothing.

Medical

Be very aware that Oro Province is located in a malaria zone.  Management play down the risks, however, I observed mosquitoes during the day and night at all hours at Tufi.  Staff place “mosquito killing coils” around the eating area at night to minimise the risk of being bitten. 

Tufi has been the first location during my visits to PNG that I have methodically applied insect repellent during the day and night when venturing outside my room. 

There is no hospital or nurse aid station at Tufi.  Therefore, ensure you bring any medications or emergency items that you believe you may need with you.  I became sick during my stay (basic flu caught from a local person) and received little help from Tufi staff, but relied on my medical training and medications brought from Australia.  Tufi does not have a pharmacy, does not have a trained medical person, and does not stock pharmaceutical drugs.  A basic first aid kit is available and this is only used in emergencies.

Overall Opinion & Comments

The location selected for Tufi is outstanding and is certainly one of the most picturesque locations I have visited in the country.

The basic accommodation is well outdated, the low-end basic bungalows are somewhat lacking, however, the newer deluxe bungalows are quite aesthetically pleasing. 

The overall management and functionality of Tufi is beyond scrutiny.  The staff are extremely helpful when asked to do something and diving and other events for the most part run to a schedule similar to a well as a well-oiled machine.  Problems when they do eventuate (as they do in any dive operations) are quickly solved without fuss. 

The diving operation is run flawlessly.  Hire diving equipment is in very good condition and serviced regularly.  The fast boats are all well maintained and the outboard engines work as they should.
Of concern is the lack of regular currents and subsequent loss of large marine life.

The other negative is the attitude of the part-owner (Linda) who is rarely at the resort but is an expatriate American living in Port Moresby and in Cairns, Australia.  Linda is very “money hungry” and treads the resort purely as a money-making venture.  This translates to anything you want at Tufi you must pay for, and if possible pay up front! 

During my initial e-mail correspondence with Linda, it became very apparent that all she was interested in was obtaining full payment as soon as possible, which included pre paying for as many dives as she could sell you.

This single attitude is the main reason I will “think twice” about returning to Tufi.

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.

 


Accommodation (basic bungalow)

5

Food

8

Operator (overall Opinion)

8

Coral Diversity

8

Fish pelagic (*)

1

Fish reef (*)

7

Invertebrates

5

Cryptic Animals

1-3

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

9

Dive Management & Attitude

10

 

(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 

Field Book Excerpt

PORT MORESBY FIELD NOTES

Qantas ground staff attempted to charge me $382.00 to take extra equipment on flight and insisted that the pelican case could not be carried as hand luggage due to safety requirements.  I spoke with Diane the PX rep and she reluctantly agreed it would be OK and reallocated seats so I had a spare seat beside me.  On the flight I had no hassles as it wasn’t full.  The Qantas lady had said the flight was fully booked.

POM is now air conditioned which was good.  5 lines for entry.  2 lines say entry with VISA and one line says entry visa for entry.

3 guitar playing singers on arrival to greet you to the tropical isle

Hideaway car not at reception.  I had to find a phone to call them.  My driver was Daniel who drove like a madman.

POM is dirty with rubbish everywhere, people loafing as usual, and small rubbish fires in the streets.  The Grandville is a complete dump.

On arrival at Hideaway I realized I had been to this dumpy motel before on a layover courtesy of ANG.  Receptionist wasn’t sure about a voucher and was very thick!  Nice wall hanging near restaurant and internet computer for guests.  Air conditioning very marginal.  Several international flash outside

Room was the same room I had last time.  Hid my gear behind the fridge that didn’t work and arranged for Daniel to take me to Airways Poolside.  Here I had a iced coffee, pizza and beer.  Asked the waitress for a menu and never saw her again!  Pizza took for ever.  When I asked if I could have my driver telephoned Ivan said it would cost me 120 K despite having bought food there!  Girls wore nice flower dresses – Yvonne Dorothy, Suzan.

The driver did not turn up for 2 hours and I whiled away the time talking with the security guard.  Made another 2 calls and discovered the phones were malfunctioning and the first girl had not rung anyone!  The second girl got thought and left a message, but had not passed it along to Daniel. Asked Dorothy to call and she did.  Eventually he came saying he was busy.  But, I knew the girl at reception had forgotten to tell Daniel I was ready.  Whilst waiting the police came and asked if I was OK.

Poor sleep as air-conditioning was LOUD and room was very humid.  POM was humid – very humid

0500 took my gear downstairs to discover that Daniel was nowhere around, despite me ordering  driver for 0500.  The security finally found him and he raced me to Jackson.  Security had witches cones to stop cars from entering.  A queue was leading outside the building as there were 3 0600 departures.  People were moving past me despite the queue being single lane – they were concerned that they would miss their flight.  Finally got through X-Ray with out a hitch.  One man helped me with my big bag to put it on the belt – nice.  No worries with gear and then discovered flight (twin otter) was late.  Walked to aircraft and saw my bag in the back.  I asked where they wanted the hand luggage and was told put it anywhere I like.  I placed the bags under the rear seat and climbed in followed by a young boy and his mother.  The pilot was FAT and I was surprised that he could actually fit into the pilot seat!  I noted that the arm rests had been removed.

Uneventful flight passing through a gap in the Owen Stanley Range.  Virgin rainforest with natural cleared areas in some places – at the tops of hills.  Rivers meandering with waterfalls.  Braided streams and oxbow lakes.  One are had the most fantastic multiple meandering streams with oxbow lakes – a real speck.

As we neared TUFI, the geology altered and we flew over fiords, cliffs, tight rivers and marsh land before turning to final over the sea.  TUFI was a grass strip and we were met by a landcruiser and locals while the pilot kept the RHS engine spinning.

At TUFI it was very humid and I did a 2 hour dive to cool off from the jetty with Yoko.  After dinner it started to rain with thunder and lightening – finally it cools!  My room is “so so” and not worth the dollars.  No fridge, AC not great, yew of the playing field.  Other areas of the resort are very nice though offering unparallel views of the TUI fiord and mountains.  No one ere other than a national and American working on a fish collecting enterprise (2 days only).  Just me diving, although they have given me to a staff Japanese 29 year old instructor from Japan called Yuko.

B/F was poor as was lunch, but dinner was excellent – grilled fish in orange/lemon rind – very tasty.  Finally it rained for around 4 hours after dinner and the humidly has somewhat dissipated.  Lightning and loud thunder with heavy and then consistent rainfall – similar to that experienced in Madang, but not has heavy.

TUFI FIELD NOTES

When you spend an extended time at a location (3 weeks plus) you begin to notice the in and outs of how the operation is run.  Most people, by virtue of their short stay do not notice this.  Further, often the operator will start to tell you what issues are problems at the resort.

At first, Simon was very negative to Linda stating that he (Simon) was trying to run the operation well and Linda was a hindrance because of her money-making ideals.  After 3 weeks, have noticed that Simon works the same way, but instead of fleecing guests before they arrive and promising everything, he attempts to save whatever he can on expenditure.  Simon and Linda play good cop and bad cop!  Boast are used minimally, food is minimalist if possible, food is reused.  I heard Simon say at the beach BBQ – keep the rice as I want to use it again.

OWNERSHIP AND STAFFING

STAFF ATTITUDE AND ABILITY

Everything at TUFI costs money – end of discussion.  Nothing is free!  It would appear that the manager’s task is to ensure guests spend as much money as possible

I was charged 25 kina for checking my e-mail on their computer!  I questioned the number of times I was going to be charged and the receptionist argued that she had seen me typing, therefore, I was sending e-mail!  Rule number 1 – never argue with a guest.  Considering I am spending 3 weeks on location, I thought the e-mail would be gratis.

They were persistent in attempting to sell village and rainforest tours, etc.  I briefly mentioned an upgrade and nothing was said until 4 days later, then it was offered.

Most of the staff are very friendly and come from a variety of locations – locally and within PNG.  The diving staff are excellent most of the time, however, like anyone when sleepy after a day out, they loose interest after the diving has been completed for the day.

Food timings are somewhat inconsistent as is what is supplied for breakfast or lunch.  Fruit juice one day but not the next. 

Manager is helpful to the point of making money – nothing is done outside what you would expect at a lesser facility.  The manager is quite abrupt, but this is typical in PNG when expatriates have had enough of dealing with the locals.  On arrival, Simon spent an hour complaining about everything informing me how difficult it was to actually make money!

Everything starts out well with new clients, but soon digresses,  For instance, staff make tea/coffee for you after the dive.  But, on subsequent dives this does not occur again.

It is quite clear (and expected) that dive staff seem to get tired very quickly.  They take you for your dive and don’t communicate with you after that – no interest in what they see.  The Japanese girl is particularly rude and ignores you completely only ensuring you are watched during the dive – this could be cultural.  My dive guide shows me anemone fish and the same nudibranchs on every dive – nothing else!

FOOD AND ALCOHOL

TUFI has a well stocked, albeit expensively stocked bar.

Meals are good on average, although this is only for the evening meal. 

Breakfast is “hit and miss” depending on who makes it!  Milk is supplied (powered) for coffee, but this is the only time milk is supplied during the day.  Powdered milk for the remainder of the day and evening.

Lunch is pathetic – but your on a dive boat!  A few bits of tasteless banana cake, some basic fruit slices, and sandwiches.  Some days a bit of left over fish or chicken and a pathetic salad.

The evening meal is usually excellent with 3 courses followed by powdered coffee.

No drinks are offered to guests during the day other than water and coffee/tea.  Any other beverage must be paid for from the bar.

ACCOMMODATION

I stayed in the older accommodation wing in between the deluxe and basic room level.

Two main issues were that power points not strategically placed for battery recharging and there wasn't a table to place equipment on for servicing, etc. There were three beds though which could be used as a table (3 beds to add an extra paying guest).

All the rooms have fly wire and the main bed has a hang down mosquito net. Overall the room is large with with verandah overlooking a football playing field!

DIVING OPERATIONS

The dive operation is very well run.  Excellent gear preparation, cleaning and storage areas with sun/rain protection.  4 fibreglass cleaning tubs, an outdoor shower and hose are available for equipment cleaning.  Gear drying occurs inside the main lockable room with ample hanging space.  4 boats of varying sizes and configuration with two way radios and medical kits.  Small DM kit carried on all dives.  All boats have new Suzuki 4 stroke engines ranging from 125 HP through to 175 HP.  TUFI has taken delivery of a new 30 foot stinger dedicated dive boat.  This craft has a Suzuki 175 HP and twin stainless dive ladder at rear along with tank harnesses and navigation lights. 

Diving is usually 2 dives with lunch on board the boat between dives.  Surface interval is a minimum of one hour.  Lunch is sandwiches, left overs, basic fruit, cold water and tea/coffee.  No soft drinks are supplied.

Staff clean all equipment and ask that you do nothing.

ACTUAL DIVING

The diving is “so so”.  The dive master informed me that as of last year (2007) after a cyclone traversed the region the currents altered direction and are nowhere are prevalent as they used to be.  This, in his opinion has made a difference to the marine life present on most of the reef systems.  Large pelagic fish are no longer observed in the numbers they used to be seen.  In 6 outer reef dives I saw only a few solitary small Spanish mackerel and one solitary juvenile barracuda.  The coral infrastructure is there, but anything big is no longer on the reef!  No doubt this is causing or will cause a flow on effect in time.  I was told that management are soon to investigate the option of visiting reefs further field in the hope of finding diving that was reminiscent of the diving found on the inshore reefs.

I always find it interesting that when you e-mail an operator asking about conditions they always claim “they have everything”.  It’s a pity that this always falls short for experienced divers.

The diving at TUFI is not what I would call captivating – many dives are boring and you see exactly the same thing on nearly every dive!  The same species of nuisances, fish and coral.  The diversity of corals is excellent, but other than this, and the fact that some of the reef locations are quite impressive to actually look at (small bommies and the like) the location and diving is quite mediocre.  Milne Bay beats this location 10 times over.

QUIRKS

The staff appear to try and save money (yet make money) at every possible turn.  All drinks are expensive – including soft drinks (more expensive than Airways).  If numbers are down for the diving, they will attempt to travel to closer reefs to save on fuel costs.  Air conditioners are turned off and fans are rarely turned on – and when you turn them on the staff turn them off at the first opportunity. 

Considering the cost per night, you would assume that a glass of wine would be offered at dinner.  One lady spilt her wine as she placed the glass on the bar top (the carpet on the bar was a bit loose and rumpled).  Technically it was the fault of the bar keeper for not keeping the bar carpet flat.  Was another glass offered FOC – NO – if you pay another 15 kina you can have another glass.  The person in question declined.

New guests are offered coconuts – yet I sat there and watched them make and serve them and was not offered one – I mean they grow of the damn trees for free!

Kitchen and restaurant staff are good at hiding when you want to find them – but this goes for any operator in PNG.

PRE-CONTACT

I found Linda to be exceptionally pushy when it came to making my booking.  She was adamant that everything be paid for in advance including all diving.  This was reflected in nearly every e-mail I received from her.  It was obvious from the tone of her mails that this was an operation that was only interested in getting as much money from the visitor as possible.  To date (4 days in) this observation appears

OUTCOME AND PERSONAL OPINION

TUFI is aiming at the well healed diver and is filling the niche filled by “boutique operators”.  Whenever the word boutique is used, it appears that all it means is normal or slightly better service at an exceptional price!

A well equipped live-aboard dive boat offers more at a less expensive price.  The diving is equal or better in my opinion on the above option – especially when you take into consideration the change in local currents and demise of pelagic activity.

Considering the premium price paid for TUFI, you would have expected that some extras would be supplied for free such as e-mail access (within reason).  You also would assume that rooms would have a table and strategically located power points to recharge batteries, etc (this is a dive operation after all).  Likewise, air conditioners should operate flawlessly and be efficient at cooling the room.

In comparison to TUWALI and their operation, I would place TUWALI as the better option – at least everything is paid for and what does need to be purchased is at a reasonable rate.  For an experienced diver, Spirit of Nuigini or MV Chertan is a far better option.

INTERESTING TIDBITS INCLUDING GUEST LIST

* Simon complains freely – as does Matthew when pressed

Staff smile, but don’t seem to enjoy their jobs

One bar waitress will never smile at you, and then spills the drink when serving it! Of course you have to pay for it!

Dive staff are helpful when you are diving, but ignore you at all other times unless you want something or they want something

Receptionist is a bitch as is chef (PNG national)

Goanna attacking large green frog on verandah

Simon radios dive boat wanting to know location and times continuously as he appears to distrust national boat drivers

* On arrival back at port, Simon's his first comment is "who doesn't’t like air" – meaning who is spending too long underwater. Why they care I have no idea as they come back to port and mess around doing nothing in particular (nationals)

Dive staff freak when you try and help when Simon is about. However, appreciate the help when Simon is absent

Simon’s management style is that of fear, intimidation and aggression

Staff always turn power off I including air conditioners in room (meaning it is humid on return). Why I have no idea as the generator runs either way

It rained and the silly national came and removed the umbrellas as they belong to staff and are not for guest usage

Randy (my diving friend), additional supplies and other guests were supposed to land on Monday. The plane was full with a flight to Wianagalla. The Wiangalla strip was not serviceable to due to long grass and the pilot, although he landed, reported this to CA. Airlines of PNG sent another plane to Wiangalla knowing this, and instead of landing at Wianagalla the aircraft landed at TUFI. The passengers for Wiangalla then had to take a boat! The TUFI passengers and freight remained in POM! Why? Airlines of PNG knew from CA that the strip was closed – Airlines of PNG did not want to pay for lodging of passengers in POM, so flew them to Wiangalla and dumped them at TUFI…..The freight was perishable and went off, and TFI people had to overnight in POM till the next flight on Wednesday – as Airlines of PNG refused to put another flight on. Therefore, Randy was delayed in POM (also delayed because of Vegas ice storm)

Several Australian style BBQ's on white beach at noon – nuts considering the heat and glare! No wonder they are so sun damaged *

Randy and I did a 130 minute dive (with Japanese group) and on return nothing was said to us at all. That evening everyone gave us cold stares. OWSI and Yuko openly argued in pigeon whilst on the boat regarding a couple that had had one beer together at lunch and were going to do a second dive. The cold stares continued into the evening (2 Aust aid workers snubbed us – one the size of a small house!). Not sure what we did wrong......

Simon pointed out a witch doctor (Sharman village) who was responsible for poisoning several people in the village. When they die the witch doctor says he did it. This is a method of controlling the people in the village. He is the village elder of the "sacred" village which is part of Tufi village. He told Simon one day he would see him dead. Since this date Simon will not employ him or anyone else from the village at Tufi. The chief was the person responsible for a village stay guesthouse in which he hassled the people staying there asking for additional money, etc. They had to come back to Tufi earlier than planned to escape the witch doctor (people from SA with 18 year old daughter and boyfriend) who operates the guesthouse they were planning to stay at

Japanese divers all smoke and sleep on the dive boat! Very unfriendly bunch of Japanese I have ever met

Stuff up with dives resulting in me being left behind because no one came and got me! Apparently there was much yelling at the crew later on because they had left me behind – not because I was left behind but because they didn't’t make the money

Simon continually checks everything. The radio will always be left on allowing two way communication with Tufi base. Simon asked whether the divers were put of the water, in the water, having lunch, etc. I overheard Simon telling Glenn to pull me out after 60 minutes as there were other people on the boat non diving and they needed to come home – why put non divers on a dive boat – FUEL. Also, they want the diving concluded with so that people buy from the bar! – MONEY. The guide came down after 60 minutes and told me to come to the surface, despite there still being other divers in the water……programmed to obey without reason and logic

Guides swim mid-water, show you nothing and you follow! Guides only show you clams, anemone fish, dorids and that is about it!

Breakfast the last few days has been failing! Fruit is in sort supply so little is brought out. Pineapple rings from a can! Scraps of melon – no bananas! Pitiful considering the price. Evening meals have also lowered in quantity. One diver mentioned he was hungry! Last night’s meal creamed fish on potato bed with 3 beans!

Randy commented about the name of the place – Tufi Dive Resort. Meaning you are there to go diving and not to be brought to the surface with 100 bar in your tank!

I went on what was supposedly the rainforest tour – what a scam! 90 Kina to travel to the next fiord (where I had been diving the day before), met with some bored natives dressed in weeds to be transported up the river on an outrigger. Then a short walk along the river to be told how sago was produced. I was told it was rainforest and a waterfall! Rip off – major!

Simon continually harps about fuel costs, etc

Some guests wanted to go fishing as they had booked a fishing week with Linda – but there are no fish which Simon said. They still went, and caught nothing. They then asked about reefs further out, but Simon told me they need at least 4000K for such a trip! They were medical doctors and made the comment that is ridiculous

XMAS dinner (Sunday) was a BBQ. Simon cooked prawns and issued them to guests (4 each) as they filled past along with 2 pieces of crayfish

Tufi summed up is expensive with the most work being put into making money by cost saving, selling alcohol and side trips

New years eve - nothing at all. No wine, etc unless you made a purchase * All prices do not include 10% VAT

On dive trips with the large noisy boat you often saw a pod of dolphins. Despite guests being excited at the dolphin's presence, no effort was ever made to alter the course of the boat to see the dolphins. This would use too much extra fuel

Most of the fuel has water in it which cause hassles with the new 4 stroke engines


Akermi Happy Dive, Maumere, Indonesia – May 2011   

General

Akermi Happy Dive is located off the main road beside a volcanic rock-strewn shoreline 45 minutes drive from Maumere on Flores Island in eastern Indonesia. 

The operation, which includes a restaurant, dive charter, diver training and accommodation, was begun roughly 6 years ago and is owned a run by an Indonesian/Swiss couple (Kermi and Claudia).  Claudia is an Open Water SCUBA Instructor (PADI) and conducts diver training to Dive Master level whilst Kermi, a national from Java, acts a dive guide.


Be cautioned that the region has many rice fields meaning that mosquitoes are very prevalent.  In fact, the resort has a house rice field located behind the accommodation along with two large water gardens.  Although this looks quite nice, the permanent water results in mosquitoes breeding.  It is strongly advised that you bring “DEET”mosquito repellent if visiting this area.

Both reef and muck diving are offered at Akermi, however, during my stay the muck diving was not very good due to poor visibility (less than 2 meters) and a 1 inch silt layer covering everything (I cannot comment on what the muck diving is like in better conditions).  Kermi and Claudia state that the muck diving is some of the best in Indonesia, but I cannot comment on the validity of this statement. 


There is no actual true house reef at Akermi, but there is a black sand beach a few hundred meters from the resort.  Diving immediately off the resort is silty sand and coral blocks (small bommies) covered in silt from the discharge of two nearby rivers.

Marine Conservation – lack of fish, fish collecting and dynamite fishing

The owners of the resort are quick to indicate that the whole area is a designated marine park in the making.  Fees are required that are passed along to the Indonesian Government for regular patrols. 

This said, there is no ban on fishing and local fisherman regularly set nets a few meters off the front of the resort and fish all the reefs.  Dynamite fishing is also common place and on several reef dives I heard underwater blasts.  I also was informed that aquarium fishermen have fished the reefs using cyanide in the past.  All this means that a lot of coral is damaged in the first 30 meters and fish stocks are VERY low compared to other diving areas I have visited. 

I hardly saw any pelagic fish during my 15 dives with the exception of one dive during which I saw a school of bump-headed parrot fish and 2 reef sharks.  There also appeared to be a lack of small colourful fish you would normally expect to find on any tropical coral reef.

I noted that when the diving boats anchored the crew choose a shallow section of the reef before dropping the anchor to avoid damaging the coral.  Although the crew probably tried not to hit coral, they did so on several occasions.  I did not observe any permanent dive spot moorings.

Equipment and Experience

I use my own diving equipment, however, on inspection of their rental equipment it appeared to be relatively new and in very good condition.  I had no issues with tank fills.

All the staff I dived with were very proficient divers.

Fast Boats  

This operator does not use a fast boat.  Rather, they hire local Indonesian built fishing boats of varying sizes, sourced from the adjacent village, to shuttle you to the outer islands for reef diving.  These boats are quite seaworthy, however their basic engines are very noisy and on occasion can be smelly .  The boats are crewed by Indonesian fishermen.  On the smaller boats I would recommend using ear protection as the noise of the engine is loud enough to cause industrial deafness (by western standards).  Engine noise was loud enough to not allow talking when the engine was being operated.  The boats are very slow, so don’t expect to be in the water and diving quickly.  To travel from the resort to islands for reef diving takes about an hour and a half travel time one way.

All the boats I used had a wooden ladder of sorts and had adequate shelter from the sun and rain (tarpaulin stretched over bamboo poles).
Tools for equipment repairs are not available on the boat and I recommend you take a small dive master kit with basic tools. 
None of the boats I used, nor the resort has medical oxygen available for use during a decompression accident.  Further, I did not note any medical or first aid equipment on the boat.  The only safety gear I observed was a few old life jackets and a wooden canoe.  The canoe was carried on all dive trips using the larger of the boats.

Diving and Staff

All dives are accompanied by either Claudia, Kermi or a an Indonesian dive guide.  It isn’t possible to dive with this operator without supervision; Claudia states that this is to ensure the safety of visiting divers.  Kermi is an excellent guide and finds lots of small critters (anemone crabs, nudibranchs, etc).  He is keen to show you and ensures you have adequate time to observe and take photographs.

Each day the boat would depart at 0800 am for an approximate one and a half hour trip to the islands.  Two dives are offered with a one hour surface interval.  Although it is possible to do a shore dive on return (muck dive) I found it difficult to do this as the travel time is long when using a slow Indonesian fishing boat.

It’s important to note that the Indonesian boat crew are not diver trained; they run the boat only.  The handling of diving equipment was in my experience not the best.  Tanks were hauled onto the boat via the wings of BCDs and it wasn’t unusual for a regulator or pressure gauge to get caught on the ladder.  This is not the crew’s fault but is more a reflection of the operator’s laxity in training the crew.
Dive times are variable, however all my dives were over 80 minutes duration. 

The operation only uses air.  Nitrox is not available.

Non diving staff were all Indonesian nationals and were very friendly and likeable.

Dive Cleaning Area

I wasn’t impressed with the area set aside for the cleaning of diving equipment.  It was a cement slab surrounded by grass and large boulders.  Ensuring that regulators were not scratched was a continual battle. Further, the drying racks for wetsuits and other equipment were rusty and insufficient. 

Gear cleaning was done using three large plastic buckets which you filled with water.  There were no permanent tanks or areas set aside dedicated to cleaning photographic housings, etc (I used one of the plastic tubs which was adequate and worked well).  If the resort had more than 4 divers at one time I can see issues occurring with gear cleaning as there just isn’t the room to service more than 4 divers at anyone time.

Accommodation and Food 

Accommodation is either in a air conditioned garden view bungalow, or one of five basic non air conditioned ocean view bungalows equipped with wall fans.  The bungalows are close to each other and its relatively easy to hear what is happening in either bungalow each side of you.  The bungalows are situated amongst volcanic rocks in a basic garden setting.  Each bungalow has a small veranda (patio) overlooking the rocky beach and Maumere Bay.  The bungalows are constructed from cement with a thatch roof.  The floor is made from tiles.

Each bungalow has a double bed with mosquito net and a loft with an additional mattress (no net).  There are two Indonesian style power plugs, one which is located in the adjacent open air bathroom.  If you have photographic equipment that requires charging you will need a power board and converter plug.  The location of the power plugs is such that it’s problematic charging gear as the plugs are located high on the wall.
The bathroom is basic with a mirror, cold water shower, western style toilet and mandi.  There is no wash basin.  The toilet is non flush requiring you to fill a pale with water and pour it into the toilet until your deposits are gone.  Toilet paper must be placed into a plastic bin for later disposal.  This is standard practice in Indonesia.

The rooms are very small and lacked a suitable table/area for camera set up and maintenance.  There are two tables.  One inside (which I used to keep my personal belongings on) and the other outside on the veranda.  The outside table has a glass top which isn’t exactly the best option when needing a place to open and close large aluminium camera housings.  The rooms were too small to allow for the easy and adequate storage of gear for 2 people.  The lighting was adequate, but not strong enough for reading.  Poor and inadequate indoor lighting is a common practice in Indonesia.

Power is mains and for the most part was reliable.

Food

The food arrangements were in my opinion a little odd.  Breakfast and dinner were included in the accommodation tariff, in addition to afternoon coffee or tea, however, lunch was a pay as you go affair.  The exception being if you were diving on the boat for the day when lunch was complimentary.

All the food was excellent with an assortment of buffet style Indonesian dishes available each evening.  Alcoholic and soft drinks were available for purchase at the bar.  Lunch was chosen from a menu and the dishes I ordered were substantial and very tasty.  Deserts after dinner were not available.

Breakfast was not that fantastic.  There wasn’t a choice and breakfast consisted of more less the same food each day; coffee or tea followed by pieces of banana and papaya and a jaffle contained scrambled egg and cheese.  The portions were small and there always seemed to be a lack of fruit.
Lunch, when on the dive boat, usually consisted of noodles, rice, fish and an egg.  Tasty Indonesian tea and crackers were served as an in-between dive snack.
Overall, with the exception of breakfast, all the food was substantial, tasty and everyone enjoyed the food.

Overall Opinion

This is not a five star resort, but more an upmarket backpacker style resort.  For the travelling diver, the accommodation is quite adequate and food excellent.  The price for accommodation is reasonable although the price for diving a little high considering they use local boats rather than fast boats and do not appear to have any safety equipment such as oxygen, tool kits and resuscitation equipment.

One aspect I found odd was that reference books (fish identification, etc) were in a locked cabinet.  It would have been nice if these books were available for divers to read between dives and at night time.

Further, all drinking water had to be purchased, whether used on the boat or at the resort.  Considering the groundwater is undrinkable, I found this a little strange, as non bottled drinking water is usually available at no additional cost.
The area is an ideal place to learn diving or for a beginner diver to flex their fins; the diving is safe and if coral is damaged by newly minted divers, it probably doe

sn’t matter too much as a lot of the reef above 18 meters has already been damaged by dynamite fishing and a tsunami that occurred in 1992. Would I return?  I would have to research the muck diving potential of Maumere a little more before I made another dedicated trip to this region. 

In my opinion, the reef diving is way below par and probably was good 20 years ago before dynamite fishing, overfishing and fish collecting occurred.

I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation (ocean bungalow)

5

Food

8

Operator (overall Opinion)

4

Dive Boats (overall opinion)

3

Coral Diversity

3

Fish pelagic (*)

1

Fish reef (*)

3

Invertebrates

6

Cryptic Animals

1-3

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

8

Dive Management & Attitude

7


(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity


 

Cape Paperu Dive, Ambon Region,  Indonesia – October 2010   

General

Cape Paperu is located approximately two hours car and boat ride from Ambon Airport in the Maluku Island, eastern Indonesia. 

The operation, which includes a restaurant, dive charter, diver training and accommodation is roughly 5 years old and is owned a run by a Swiss couple (Kurt and Elaine).  Kurt is a very experienced Open Water SCUBA Instructor and Technical Diving Instructor (PADI & CMAS) and is responsible for all diver training, dive management and guiding, whilst Elaine ensures that the remainder of the resort is operating efficiently.
The region surrounding Cape Paperu is exceptionally beautiful and untouched forests, clear water and white sandy beaches are relatively common place to see when plying between dive sites on one of their three purpose built dive boats. 
Diving in the area is mostly reef diving, however, there are a few sites that offer muck diving, although these sites are not black sand, but rather reef rubble slopes.
There is a very small house reef near the resort (beside the pier) that I suitable for snorkelling.

Marine Conservation

Kurt and Elaine and very proactive when it comes to managing their area.  Fishing and netting is not allowed anywhere near the resort or the reefs that Kurt regularly dives.  Because of Kurt’s proactive attitude, he has captured the notice of the local authorities who actively seek out offenders.  If anyone is observed dynamite fishing or doing anything that may damage the reef, the issue is reported to Kurt through the local grapevine and Indonesian authorities act to stop the activity.  As such, fish stocks, coral and fish diversity is high in the region.
Kurt rarely uses an anchor when securing the dive boat, but rather either keeps the boat live (floating near by with a driver) or secures the dive boat to an underwater mooring.
Kurt prides himself on operating an eco-friendly resort and he has installed infrastructure to ensure his environmental footprint is minimal.  The resort uses reverse osmosis desalination for washing water and all water used at the resort is recycled.  Power at the resort is generated by a two large diesel generators and Kurt minimises the output during the day to reduce how much fuel is consumed.

Equipment and Experience

I use my own diving equipment, however, on inspection of their rental equipment it appeared to be relatively new and in very good condition.  I had no issues with tank air fills or nitrox fills.
All the staff I dived with were very proficient divers. 
Kurt is a technical diving instructor and as such has indepth knowledge and experience in relation to technical diving issues and mixed gas diving.

Fast Boats

The operator has three fast boats, one of which has been purposely built for diving operations.  Outboard engines are four stroke to minimise the impact of noise and oil discharge to the marine environment.  All boats are equipped with drinking water, two radio, medical kit and emergency oxygen and resuscitation equipment. A ladder is used to exit the water and each boat has adequate shelter from sun and rain.

Diving and Staff

All dives are accompanied by either Kurt or a proficient Indonesian dive guide and both allow ample time to observe and photograph marine life at the pace you want to.  There is no urging to swim faster to cover additional territory.
Each day the boat would depart at 0900 am for two dive trip with one hour surface interval.  The boat would then return for at late lunch at the resort before departing at 1430 PM for a final afternoon dive.  Night dives were possible and were done a request basis.
Dive times are variable, however all my dives were over 80 minutes duration. 
The operation only uses air and nitrox.
Non diving staff were all Indonesian nationals and were very friendly and likeable.
There is a well stocked library of diving and marine life identification books and guides.

Dive Gear Cleaning

Cape Paperu provides a complete dive service meaning that your equipment is assembled, disassembled and cleaned for you.  Whilst I am not in favour of this (I prefer to be responsible for my own equipment) I didn’t have any major problems associated with this service, although it was painful for the first few days having to set up my equipment again after a Indonesian national had put the BCD on incorrectly.  But to be fair, I use a technical BCD and harness which is different from the norm.  They soon learned how to put my gear together correctly.

Accommodation and Food 

Accommodation is in a air conditioned garden view or ocean view bungalows; the latter being larger than the former and providing extensive views across the ocean.  The bungalows are constructed from cement with a tile floor and thatch roof.  Each room has air conditioning, a ceiling fan, large comfortable queen size bed, mosquito net, two tables and chairs and a drinking water disperser.  The bathroom is outdoors and consists of flush toilet and hot and cold water shower.  There is also a large mirror, basin and table.  Power outlets were Indonesian style and there was enough to charge whatever you wanted.
Although my personal taste is not for cement rooms, I had no issues whatsoever with the accommodation and there was more than enough room for two people with camera equipment.
The power supply was generator supplied (two generators) and on my visit operated faultlessly.

Food

All the food was excellent with an assortment of buffet style Indonesian and Western dishes available each evening.  Alcoholic and soft drinks were available for purchase at the bar.  Lunch was mostly taken at the resort.  For the most part, all the dishes were I selected were substantial and very tasty.  Deserts after dinner were available.
It seems common place in Indonesia that breakfasts are never that fantastic and Cape Paperu followed this trait.  The breakfast selection was limited with small portions and there always seemed to be a lack of fruit.
Overall, with the exception of breakfast, all the food was substantial, tasty and everyone enjoyed the food.

Overall Opinion

This is by the far the most efficiently operated dive centre and resort I have been to in Indonesia and is a major achievement considering the distance  of Cape Paperu to the nearest urban center.  Diving operations run like clockwork and the resort is managed continually to ensure that efficiency rarely falls below an acceptable level.
Would I return?  Definitely.  The only draw back is that the resort is not inexpensive and all prices are in Euro Dollars.
I have used a point system from 1 to 10.  10 is perfect whilst 1 in very poor.  5 is average.


Accommodation (garden bungalow)

9

Food

8

Operator (overall Opinion)

9

Dive Boats (overall opinion)

9

Coral Diversity

7

Fish pelagic (*)

7

Fish reef (*)

7

Invertebrates

7

Cryptic Animals

7

Environmental Attitude & Awareness

10

Dive Management & Attitude

10+


(*)  Fish life refers to fish abundance and species diversity

 

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