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reef, barracuda, sharks and pygmy seahorses!
Published in Dive Log Australasia October
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
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
Pygmies and Rhinos
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
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
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
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!
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Island has its own very informative website www.loloata.com.
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