Witu Islands Diving… Some two years and nine months (almost to the day…) after I had to scramble to get out of Papua New Guinea before the borders closed. In early December 2022 I arrived back at Hoskins airport in Kimbe Bay to pick up where I left off.
PNG only opened its borders fully to tourists in August. But it seems there are many others like me who were itching to get back as the boat was full. A really great sign after virtually zero inbound tourism for 2.5 years…
I was heading for Walindi Plantation Resort where I was booked on board the MV Oceania. For one of its “signature” trips to the Witu Islands in the Bismarck Sea. It was my 24th trip to PNG in 20 years and you could say I was very happy to be back!
The Witu Islands
These remote islands, atolls and reefs are located some 120 kms north-west of Kimbe Bay, on the north coast of New Britain. The next largest island in PNG after the main island of New Guinea. Like much of the country, New Britain is a wild, rugged and interesting place that is sparsely populated. And has some intriguing topography with two very defining features… The huge mountain range that runs down the spine of the island. And the numerous volcanoes to be found around the coast.
So high are those mountain ranges, they almost completely isolate the north coast from the south. Creating two separate weather systems and making the south coast one of the earth’s wettest places with some of the highest annual rainfall in the world.
The Witu Islands are also defined by volcanoes and their epicentre is the massive caldera at Garove Island. The southern wall of the caldera is breached and so the huge crater is flooded. Forming a superb natural harbor named after the German humanist and theologian Johann Albrecht. Overnighting inside the caldera is one of the highlights of the overall trip!
Witu Islands Diving – Reefs…
Underwater at the Witu’s the diving falls in to two main types… Spectacular reefs rich with marine life and black sand muck sites that abound with critters!
Viewed from a drone the fringing reefs are really quite spectacular. While underwater the rich waters of the Bismarck Sea, combined with the sheer isolation of the Witu’s have created incredible self-contained ecosystems that simply pulse with life.
The tops and sides of the reefs have dense coatings of beautiful, healthy hard corals, and sponges that host a plethora of reef fish.
Then, the reef walls start to descend down in to the depths. Here you will find equally healthy and very photogenic sea fans, anemones and soft corals. All hosting beautiful colonies of small creatures and more of those colourful reef fish that all combine to create a veritable kaleidoscope of marine life!
In between the numerous reefs and the critter sites is this iconic Witu Islands dive. As the name suggests, the site is all about the pair of very scenic arches. Which are on the sloping ridge that runs down in to the deep from the main reef.
The site’s permanent mooring is perfectly located to dive on and return to from the ridge. As the the arches are at 23m, bottom time can become an issue as you explore the caves and what the rest of the site has to offer.
The arches are side by side and easy to find as you descend down the ridge. Plus they are quite safe to enter and exit. The surrounding area has a lot of nice sea fans and generally there is much to see. And when your bottom time is up you simply swim back up the ridge to the mooring.
Witu Islands Diving – Muck…
The massive explosion that created the huge caldera on Garove Island also deposited rich, black volcanic ash. Creating numerous places for critters to thrive, like these dense clusters of cabbage coral…
Wire Bay (pronounced “weary bay”) is my personal favourite of those black sand sites.
It is located on the south-west corner of Garove Island and provides a nice, safe anchorage for open-deck diving. It’s a target-rich environment for macro shooters and abounds in colourful nudibranchs, ribbon and moray eels, hermit crabs and those reef bullies the mantis shrimp!
The routine we followed while at the Witu Islands on Oceania was early and mid-morning dives on the reef site. Which allowed us to get the best of the light as it brought the reefs to life.
Then in the afternoons we would switch to the muck sites and immerse ourselves in critters…
There is really only one negative about a trip to the Witu’s and that is the trip will come to an end. A week out in the Bismarck Sea seems a long time when you are leaving Kimbe Bay, but the days quickly pass and before you know it, it’s time to head back!
The whole area offers some truly exceptional diving and, unlike many other global locations, your’s is the only boat in the area – period.
Fantastic location, wonderful boat and simply incredible diving!
Check out the Complete Guide to Diving Papua New Guinea to understand more about this amazing country!