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The Loloata Island Resort is situated on the northeast corner of the island.


Wrecks, reef, barracuda, sharks and pygmy seahorses!

By Andrew Whitehead

Published in Dive Log Australasia October 2002

Our group of eight divers descended through the batfish straight down to the wreck of MV Pacific Gas.  The ship sits upright on a slope with the stern being the deepest point at 45 metres.  The ship is 65 metres long and was sunk in 1986 for recreational diving.  This is one of those fairly modern ships where the superstructure is aft above the engine room.

On this dive, I teamed up with my old Truk Lagoon dive buddy.  Rod has been to Bikini Atoll, the Philippines, and dived the Coolidge several times.  This guy is a serious wreck diver!  As I passed 30 metres my computer started beeping a depth warning at me. Rod had a look at the engine while I entered the superstructure from the stern and looked down the stairs at him in the engine room. With deco time rapidly approaching, we moved up the structure to give us more bottom time.

Neil and Jenny Harris were outside the superstructure where Neil was videoing the bridge and a big school of baitfish.  Swimming towards the bow, there were several lionfish and a big school of trevally.  Under the bow there was a BIG coral trout.  What a magnificent specimen!   I may have missed the leaf scorpionfish and the ghost pipefish, but I did see some tiny shrimp in the windlass.  The mast is heavily encrusted with coral and makes a superb vehicle for a slow ascent, first to the top of the mast, then up the rope to the buoy, then to the dive boat.  A superb dive!

The Loloata Island Resort has a well-presented, four-page colour brochure on the nearby dive sites. With a selection of twenty-nine sites to choose from, four days of diving, and three dives per day, we were able to visit the best sites that most interested us. The balance of big fish and unusual small species made the decision very hard.  Do we hunt for the pygmy seahorse or enjoy the barracuda swimming overhead?

Pygmies and Rhinos

It is mountainous above and below the water in Bootless Inlet!

On our first day, Carl Nicholls took us way out in one of the 9 metre Reefmasters to “The Pinnacles” which is 9.2 nautical miles from the resort.  The boat was loaded with two 85 cu ft tanks for each of us.  Our dive master was Mari Kawagoe who had come from Japan by way of the Philippines.

Carl gave us the guided tour complete with large magnifying glass.  Yes!  On a large Gorgonian Fan, between two of the coral peaks, there were pygmy seahorses.  I wear a mask with standard –2 dioptre lenses which give me reasonably good long-range vision.  This is very useful for spotting sharks and finding anchor lines in the distance, but it is difficult to focus up close on those tiny seahorses!  Fortunately, Neil got it all on video including  the famous Rhinopias or Lacy Scorpionfish.

After morning tea on board, we headed back towards the resort and hove to near the end of a long coral reef.  They have a good method for protecting their dive sites.  The skipper navigates to the site using GPS, then visually locates a submerged buoy which is attached to the shallow reef near the actual dive site.  The deck hand leaps overboard with mask, snorkel, fins and a rope and secures the boat to the mooring.

Sharks and Barracuda

“Dinah’s Delight” consists of a coral reef sitting on the edge of a steep drop off.  The reef is split by two gullies which form a triangular pinnacle in the middle.  I joined my old President Coolidge dive buddy Alan in the swim across to the site, then down through one of the 3-4 metre wide gullies.  The current flows through these cracks and feeds the marine life.  We eased past the huge gorgonians ever so carefully, and marvelled at the schools of fish.  I came to the end of the gully and looked down the sheer drop.  Whoa!  22 metres is quite deep enough for this dive!  We swam out over the abyss and entered the second gully to return to the shallow side.  At the end of the dive we had jacks, barracuda and one grey reef shark for Neil to film.  Diving does not get much better than this!

A Deadly Torch

On day three, dive master Francis “Franco” Tolewa and young Wahlo took us out for the best dive of the trip – Suzie’s Bommie. I was finding the water a little bit cool at 26 degrees C so I wore two polypropylene suits.  Neil, Jenny and I have dived on a few of these coral peaks in Fiji.  You start at the sand and circle around a few times until you get to the top.  Neil chased some sharks and a big cod around with his video camera while the rest of us watched the entertainment.  With visibility of at least 30 metres and a bottom time of 45 minutes, we circled around the big bommie, enjoying the beautiful coral, lionfish and humpheaded wrasse.

Back in the boat, Lyle unscrewed the lens from his little torch.  As it came loose, the torch exploded with a loud bang! hitting me with the lens and spraying batteries and brown water all over me, the roof, and the floor of the boat!  Neil hosed me down and I soon recovered from this unnerving experience!

PNG Hospitality

The daily routine started with a sumptuous breakfast in the dining area which runs along the side of the main building and only a few metres from the water.  There is a fine collection of PNG masks on the walls which I duly photographed.  We had cereal and those delicious little bananas that are so common throughout the South Pacific.  We also raised our hands for the hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, etc, with lots of toast. 

The crew washed our gear each night in fresh water and reloaded the boat each morning and assembled our gear for us.  Each person was allotted a dive bin with their name written on it. All we had to do was wander down the long jetty with our cameras for an 8am departure. Easy diving!  We did two dives each morning with morning tea provided on the boat.  We returned to the resort for lunch and then off for a third dive in the early afternoon.   I went up there for a bit of a rest so I spent some very pleasant afternoons reading and snoozing in our waterfront unit instead of that third dive.  The surrounding trees and afternoon breeze make the resort a pleasant place with a comfortable temperature.

We met for pre-dinner, duty-free drinks on our veranda which had delightful views of Bootless Inlet and the magnificent, cloud-covered Owen Stanley Range on the mainland.  Hors d’oeuvres were served in the outdoor lounge area from 6pm followed by a buffet dinner with different food each night. Divers get hungry and saying that we ate well is an understatement!

On Friday, a group of Japanese dive shop operators arrived to sample the resort.  While we were chatting to them about the diving, the staff were busy transforming the outdoor lounge into a ‘U’ shaped entertainment area.  Dave brought about 30 people from the nearby village over on the ferry to provide the usual Friday night’s entertainment at the resort.
We were enchanted by the traditional songs and dances presented by the local villagers.

After a dinner of sushi and raw tuna, we were enchanted by the village children who sang and danced some of their traditional songs for us.  The village is paid for this and the kids get icecream!  We hopped in for our share as well!

A Sweaty Walk

On our last day (“no diving before flying” day) the rest of our group went by ferry and van to Port Moresby to do some shopping.  I had done some consulting work in Port Moresby in the past and figured that I could give that a miss.  Instead, I climbed the steep set of concrete stairs at the northern end of the island up to the communication dish and then walked along the spine of the island to the southern point.  The track appears faintly on promotional photos of the island.  The view is magnificent making it a worthwhile excursion.  I found that my 28-80 mm lens on my SLR camera could not do it justice and have since purchased a 75-300 mm lens to lug around as well!  I stumbled back into the dining room, downed three glasses of cool water and headed off for a shower.

Mummies and Curious Officials

On the way to the airport, we stopped at a store to collect a huge shield which Neil and Jenny had purchased the previous day.  It was wrapped up in a package that was about the size of an Egyptian mummy!  They must be used to this sort of thing at the airport, because they simply fed it through the X-ray machine with everything else.

On arrival in Brisbane, we had no problems with the mummy.  However I was asked by a serious looking officer to open my gear bag.  What could he be looking for? After I answered all the self-incriminating questions, found the keys for the padlock, explained that it was diving gear, and dug around in a pile of dirty washing, he pointed to my regulator bag.  I unzipped the neoprene bag and there was the offending item!  The heavy wire cage for my tri-gauges looked like a prohibited catapult weapon on the X-ray machine.

Loloata Island has its own very informative website

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