The province of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea sits along the eastern rim of the Bismarck Archipelago. Its long, thin shape forms a natural barrier between the rich, deep waters of the Pacific Ocean to the east and those of the Bismarck Sea to the west. Because of this location, the island’s coastline is exposed to a complex mix of oceanic, equatorial and regional currents. The provincial capital sits on the very nexus of these powerful water flows, and thusly, the scuba diving in Kavieng is fantastic. Read on for how to get there and what not to miss when you do.
Getting to Kavieng
The only viable way to get to Kavieng is by air from Port Moresby. Both Air Nuigini and PNG Air (APNG) serve the town on a regular basis. Air Nuigini flies both direct and via Rabaul (Kokopo) in New Britain, while all APNG’s flights are via Rabaul.
Where to stay
Nusa Island Retreat is located a short boat ride across the harbor from the main part of Kavieng and offers a full range of amenities, while Lissenung Island is a dedicated dive resort, located about six miles (10 km) southwest of town.
Logistics in Kavieng
The Papua New Guinea currency is the Kina, and $1 USD will buy you about three of them. Most visitors to PNG get whatever money they think they’ll need at the ATM or currency exchange after arrival at the international airport in Port Moresby. There are, however, a few ATMs at the banks in Kavieng so you can get additional cash if necessary.
Things to do in Kavieng
Kavieng is often described as a typical “Somerset Maugham South Sea island port,” which means it’s a friendly, laidback and quiet destination.
The German colonial administration founded the town in 1900 around the large and picturesque harbor of Balgai Bay. Kavieng is sheltered from the sea by two Nusa Islands (Big Nusa and Nusa Lik) to the west.
Other than scuba diving in Kavieng, there’s a golf course, plus a few restaurants, general stores, bakeries and supermarkets. There’s also a large local market that’s a colorful hub of activity most days of the week.
Scuba diving in Kavieng
The scuba diving in Kavieng falls into two main areas: sites around Kavieng on the Pacific Ocean side of New Ireland and those to the south on the Bismarck Sea side of the island. When one side is at its best the other is probably not, so you’ll want to choose wisely. There are also up to six tides per day, so good local knowledge of the dives sites and when to safely dive them is a must.
Sites around Kavieng
There are numerous sites around Kavieng, but highlights must include the wreck of the Der Yang and the aircraft wrecks that are a legacy of the town’s Japanese occupation during WWII.
The Der Yang
The government seized this Taiwanese long-line fishing boat in the early 1980s because of suspected of “illegal activities” – code for falsifying the size of its catches.
The authorities eventually scuttled the ship in 1988. It now lays on its starboard side at the edge of the Echuca Patch reef, just offshore from the main entrance to Kavieng Harbor. This is right in path of the rich currents from the Pacific, which have turned the ship into a safe harbor for the very species it used to catch. Although a relatively small wreck, it is remarkably intact and photogenic, gracing many magazine covers.
There are six wrecks in and around the harbor, ranging from the remnants of one of the illustrious RAAF PBY Catalina flying boats to the “Deep Pete” – the wreck of a Japanese Mitsubishi F1M floatplane.
The F1M was a biplane with a single large, central float. The name “Pete” comes from the way the Allied Forces nicknamed Japanese aircraft during WWII. Located on the western side of Nusa Lik, the plane is on its back on the flat, white sand. It lays in 130 feet (40 m) of water, hence the nickname “Deep.” A large resident school of yellow sweetlips streams in and around the wings.
Over on the Bismarck Sea side is Albatross Passage, often called Kavieng’s signature dive.
Named after the German gunship that helped subdue the local population and establish colonial rule in the late 1800s, Albatross Passage is a channel between the tip of New Ireland and Baudisson Island. It’s one of the main passageways through the 14-mile (22 km) gap between New Ireland and New Hanover.
Dive Albatross Passage on an outgoing tide and you will wonder why you bothered, but return on an incoming tide as the clear waters from the Bismarck Sea sweep the site clean and you will quickly understand why it rates so highly.
It’s a big site, shaped like a large, semicircular amphitheater. It faces out in to the Bismarck Sea, with walls that slope down in terraces to the depths.
The upper terrace, below the ledge that forms the actual passage into the islands, is the spot for most of the action. It descends to a sandy plateau at 100 feet (30 m) and there always seems to be something happening, wherever you look.
A large school of yellowtail snappers lives on the sandy plateau, while above and out in the blue water you will see reef sharks, large dogtooth tuna, schooling barracuda and eagle rays patrolling in the current.
One unique Kavieng experience is not a dive site at all, unless you count partial submersion in a shallow stream as a dive.
“Cathy” is Cathy Hiob, a former Air Nuigini flight attendant who has retired back to her village of Laraibina, (56 miles) 90 km down the east coast of New Ireland from Kavieng.
Her 22 years with the national airline gave Cathy a string of one-liners she seems to relish using while you chat with her in the shade of one of the many trees in the village. But amusing as they are, coming from the feisty lady with the shock of white hair, the one-liners are not what you have come down the coast for. Rather, Cathy’s flock of freshwater eels are the star attraction.
Around 10 to 12 large freshwater eels inhabit the local stream, and Cathy has trained them on a diet of tinned mackerel to appear on demand when they hear her rattling the feeding pot.
Usually you’ll stand in the stream and let the eels swim around your feet as Cathy doles out the mackerel but if you want a close-up underwater shot of the eels feeding, total immersion therapy is the way to go.
When to dive Kavieng
Kavieng is a year-round destination, but you’ll find optimum conditions from April through to July and from September to November. December to February is the rainy season.
Who to dive with
Lissenung has the advantage of being a self-contained operation located halfway between the two main dive areas. Scuba Kavieng is in Kavieng itself and recommends that guests stay at Nusa Island Retreat where they pick up each morning.
Don Silcock is an Australian based in Bali. He has dived many of the best locations across the Indo-Pacific. If you are interested in learning more about Kavieng and New Ireland province, check out the complete guide on his website.