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PNG Trip Report


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#1 Kevster

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 02:30 AM

Loloata & Golden Dawn (Eastern Fields & Ashmore/Boot) Trip Report Dec-Jan 2012

Introduction
Unfortunately I had to cancel a trip on the Febrina in September due to work commitments so I was determined to visit PNG during my next break. As this was an Xmas trip, I decided to book a spot on the Golden Dawn for a trip to the Eastern fields.
I could only find a couple of trip reports on the web for the Eastern fields but each report highlighted excellent viss and heaps of marine life.
The Eastern fields are in the Coral Sea approx 200 Kms to the west of Port Moresby, half way between Australia & PNG.
The dive season is short, Nov- Mar and only one boat, the Golden Dawn visits this remote reef system.

Flights
Perth-Ayers Rock-Cairns (5hr fight) on Qantas. Qantas has a 23 KG allowance but only allowed to check in 1 bag. I had 12 KGs carry on, but my carry-on was not checked.

Overnight in Cairns. Best Western Sheridan hotel ($100/night). Hotel was average but had free Wi-Fi. Ok location, 10-minute walk to main café strip.
Some nice bars in Cairns and next time I would probably stay a few days. Lots of large bats around town at dusk.

Morning flight from Cairns to Port Moresby (1 1/2 hrs) on Qantas. All up my return flights cost approx $1200. Port Moresby international airport was ok, a lot better than some other airports I have travelled through.

Loloata Resort
2 nights in aircon room & 2 pre-booked dives, food & transfers cost $650 (not cheap).

On arrival at Port Moresby airport there was no one waiting to transfer me to the resort. Had to use the airline customer service desk to call the resort to request transfer. Spent 1 hr waiting at the airport (not a good start).
Resort, room & food were ok. Glad I had an aircon room, as it was very humid. The aircon rooms are a 5-minute walk from the main resort. Lots of Wallabies around & a sea snake on the path at night-time.

Diving
Nice boat to the dive sites, 9 divers onboard. Dive sites were close-by, approx 20 mins from the resort. Surface/weather conditions, flat & sunny.

Dive sites- Baldwin’s Bommie & End Bommie.
Water was very warm 28-31 C. Viss was bad, approx 5 m. Some nice soft corals & fans, decent fish life. Generally the viss limited the quality of the diving. Found the 2 dives rather average. I have no doubts in better conditions the diving would be very good. The guides said the Rhinopeas have disappeared recently.

Overall I was not impressed with my short stay at Loloata (Expensive, no meet & greet at the airport, poor customer service & bad viss).

Golden Dawn (13 Day Eastern Fields , Ashmore Reef, Boot Reef)

The Boat
10 guests onboard. I shared cabin 2 which had 2 single beds and a shared bathroom with cabin 1. Although the boat is small it was comfortable. Lunch/Dinner was on the top deck. Enough room in the lounge areas. The dive deck was crowded. Luckily there were only a handful of divers with cameras. Would definitely be a struggle if everyone had a large camera.
The food was average. Definitely not the best I have had on a live-aboard. Breakfast was poor. (Both cooks left the boat a few days before our trip). There were a few other minor issues (air conditioning, operation of the tenders) and a few other areas that could/should be improved.
Overall the level of service was not as good as other boats I have been on.


The Weather
A week before the trip a tropical low formed over the Coral Sea resulting in a cyclone in North Australia. I was really concerned about the weather during the trip. The Eastern fields are in open water, in the middle of the Coral Sea. There are no islands or land around to provide shelter in case the weather turns bad.
The weather was mixed. A few sunny days & calm conditions. The rest overcast, rainy, squally & some large swell.
It was fairly sheltered in the reef system even when the weather was bad. I only took sea-sickness medication on a couple of occasions. Some of the dive sites were not accessible due to the large swell. The moorings at night were very sheltered.

The Diving

Water temp generally 28-29 C. Viss was generally 15-25 m, especially on the outside reef dives. Most of the diving was wide angle.

Day 1- Transfer from Loloata resort to board the GD at 15.00. Had dinner at the yacht club. 12 hr steam out to the Eastern fields. Very calm crossing

Day 2- Sunny, Calm conditions.
Eastern Passage -Great dive, excellent viss, sharks,
Shaw Thing -ok dive,
P.Point x2 -Great dive jacks, barracuda, white tips.

Day 3- Overcast, rainy. Carls Ultimate x 3 -1st dive at Carls was amazing. Gentle current, nice viss. Amazing fans & fishlife. Amazing colours, large tuna, a few sharks, barracuda & jacks. 2nd dive had ripping current, saw less big fish. 3rd dive was ok, could swim around the whole dive site.
Northern Passage- Nice coral garden dive.

Day 4- Weather was bad & we could only dive inner reefs. 1 dive, not much to see.

Day 5- Overcast conditions, rain. 3 exploration dives in sheltered location. Ok dives. 1 dive had nice hard coral.

Day 6- Overcast conditions. 4 nice dives. Two dives at a Manta site (no mantas) & Great Wall of China. The wall dive was very good. Lots of fish action & a couple of silvertips. Overnight steam to Ashmore reef.

Day 7- Overcast & large swell at Ashmore reef. 3 ok dives. Several sharks (grey reef & whitetips) and an olive sea snake being the highlights.

Day 8- Sunny & large swell. Tuna Tower x3 & Picasso passage. Large silver tip, huge tuna, large group of Barracuda & Jacks. Strong current.

Day 9 – Overcast & large swell. Picasso passage x3. Ok days diving. Strong current at passage. Couple of sharks, devil ray.

Day 10 - Overcast & large swell. Unable to do shark dive to see large silvertip (Miss Ashmore). 3 Exploration dives- 1st dive had nice viss. Large silver tip appeared after shark calling. Several grey reef sharks/white tips. The
2nd & 3rd Dive Exploration Dives were AMAZING. We hit a site that had not been dived before. It was the best dive of the trip. Lots of sharks (greys,white tips, silver tips, black tips), barracuda, jacks, GTs, tuna. Amazing fishlife and excellent reef. During our two dives here we only saw a small fraction of the dive site but what we saw was truly amazing. Definitely one of my best ever dives. The dive site is un-named but will definitely be a must dive on any trip out to Ashmore.

Day 11 – Sunny Calm water conditions. Unknown shipwreck approx 200 years old. Then 3 hr steam to Boot reef. Dives at South & North Boot. Great viss. Couple of sharks. Hundreds of GTs. Steam back to Eastern fields.

Day 12 – Sunny, calm water conditions. Moes reef. Excellent viss. Massive group of Bumperhead Parrot fish. Isac Newton & Sushi Bommies looking for Rhinopeas(did not find any). Alexanders wall- Great wall dive excellent viss. Lots of interesting cuts/cevices in the wall. Several small reef sharks.

Day 13 – Sunny, calm. Carls Ultimate x 2. Not much current & no big fish action. Couple of nice dives to end with. 10 hour steam back to Port Moresby.

Approx 50% the dives were from the Golden Dawn, 50% from the tenders. Most of the dives had current. A couple of the dives had ripping current.
The guides/crew did not dive every dive, maybe 30-50% of the dives.
The diving was very good with lots of fish & very healthy coral.
The coral reefs were amazing, pristine. Lots of huge colourful fans.
It was normal to see several sharks on the reef without chum, shark calling. Some large sharks around. Ashmore seemed to have more sharks.

I was disappointed with the lack of rays, turtles, sea snakes & small critters.
I saw 1 ray, 3 turtles, 2 sea snakes during 12 dive days. There are small critters (Nudis, shrimps, morays,) around but definitely not as many as any reef dive in Indonesia. I did not do a night dive but the reports from other guest were not good.
Other guests saw a dolphin, hammerheads.

Summary

The highlight of the trip was definitely the exploration dive at Ashmore reef. Totally amazing dive with lots of sharks, jacks, barracuda & great coral. 1st dive at Carls Ultimate was also very good (amazing fans & lots of small fish). Other highlights were South Boot (Several hundred GTs) & Moes (50-100 Bumperhead parrot fish).
The exploration dive at Ashmore & Carls ultimate would definitely be in my top 10 best dives.
There were several other great dives (Point P, Great Wall of China). The reefs are in excellent condition. Sharks on most dives.
The viss was good to average.

Overall I was slightly disappointed with the diving (another case of keeping expectations in check!). The diving was very good but not as good as I was hoping. Unfortunately the weather was not great during our trip.

I would recommend a trip to the Eastern fields/Ashmore.
There is no doubt some of the sites are world class. However I am not sure I would repeat this trip. I prefer more diving variety (e.g some wrecks, reef, muck).

Photography

This was my 2nd trip with my GH2 and I shot a lot more video this time. For a novice the GH2 has very good video quality. The Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens was very good. The 14 mm pancake lens was very poor. I definitely need a new lens, something semi wide to shoot sharks. The 14 mm (28mm equivalent) lens was slow to focus (especially for video) and a bit soft.
This was also my 1st time using my Light & motion 600 focus light & 1200 video light. These lights were ok but generally not bright enough for video, especially with my fisheye. I had to get really close to a fan for the video light to bring out the colours. The lights should be ok for macro. They charged within a couple of hours and lasted for 1 dive.
GH2, NA-GH2, 8mm,14mm,25mm,45mm,14-42x mm,14-140mm,100-300mm

#2 Canuck

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 11:57 AM

Thanks for the post.

John Davies
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#3 elbuzo

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 02:47 PM

What are GTs ?

Thanks for the report

#4 toddmcgill

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 09:22 AM

GT = giant trevally

#5 Steve Douglas

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Posted 12 January 2012 - 09:13 AM

Hope you send your report to both the resort and the boat. The only way for them to improve is sometimes to be told what to improve. Good report, thanks.
Steve

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I have worked as an unpaid reviewer for the editing websites since 2002. Most all hardware and software is sent to me free of charge, however, in no way am I obligated to provide either positive or negative evaluations. Any suggestions I make regarding products are a result of my own, completely, personal opinions and experiences with said products.