By Bob Halstead
“Forget the underwater shots –make sure you get me a photo of the Parrot!” Nina Joost of Diversion Dive Travel, Cairns, laughed to me after organising my trip to Lissenung Island, at Kavieng.
One of the most annoying questions I used to get asked when I was Captain of PNG’s Telita dive boat, and usually in the middle of a tricky manoeuvre requiring all my concentration, was “how many kinds of parrots are there in this area?” This, along with “how high is that mountain over there?” and “what am I going to see on the next dive?” were eventually banned to preserve my declining sanity.
Memories from Monty Python imaged a stiff, “just resting”, lifeless bird I’d have to prop up on my shoulder with wire and duct tape. Well, blow me down, I think; I’m going to shoot fishes, and aircraft wrecks, not parrots! But what I actually say is “Sure thing Nina! I’ll email it to you”.
At short notice Nina had obtained a splendidly cheap Air Niugini fare departing Cairns late morning with a same day connecting flight to Kavieng just two degrees south of the equator. The flight went via Rabaul so I had a thrilling chance to see the volcano that has been erupting since 1994.
Air Niugini was on time, accepted my extra 15kg free baggage for dive gear, and after a look down at Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea, we were soon landing in Moresby. It is just an 80-minute flight. The PNG immigration and customs officers were their usual friendly, welcoming selves, and I was happy to be back in PNG.
On my domestic flight to Kavieng, Rabaul’s volcano was shooting ash a thousand feet in the air and our Fokker F100 jet made a turn around the plume providing a magnificent view. Graham from the Island’s resort greeted me and drove me to the dock. Peni, the Island’s legendary dive guide, skippered the boat to Lissenung Island. We three had a pleasant banter as I dusted off my rusty Tok Pisin.
The Lissenung Island Resort was built by Dietmar Amon, who came to PNG in 1996. His wife Ange greeted me on the beach and showed me to my ensuite cabin. I was expecting something humble, but the resort has upgraded to 6 charming ensuite duplex cabins, plus one budget cabin, and I was very comfortable. They have 24-hour power, fan ventilation, insect screening, and blissful peaceful tropical nights. No screaming kids – there is a minimum age for guests unless the whole resort is booked.
The cabins are spread out in the tropical gardens and the pathways are laid in soft white sand that is raked daily. It is not necessary to wear shoes. Convenient washbowls are arranged to avoid bringing sand into the rooms.
Life here is a setting straight out of a Somerset Maugham story. Dining is more than a meal. Tropical fare, often with fresh fish, and a selection of wines, induce conversations with fellow travellers. Characters with exotic pasts congregate in shared joviality. One guest always ducked if I raised my camera. Another’s home in Europe was a remote wilderness out of reach of a searching wife. Yet another, well, my lips are sealed! All loved life and thirsted for adventure.
The staff members were extraordinarily attentive, and made the Island life style special. When I draped a damp shirt over a low palm to dry in the sun and forgot about it until it started to rain – I did not need to rush to save it, a gardener had already sheltered it on my veranda.
Dive guides and boat handlers are enthusiastic, helpful and on time, and instructor Nozaki full of fun – and she can cook too!
Dive sites were discussed in the evening and booked for the next day. I particularly wanted to dive two aircraft wrecks that I failed to discover when I was operating Telita in Kavieng waters. “Deep Pete” is a Japanese biplane in 37m of clear water, and “Stubborn Hellion” is an American B25 in, shall we say, visibility challenged water near mangroves.
I was able to dive both, plus old favourites, the fabulous Albatross Pass and Planet Channel, with several other good reefs – and the House Reef. Frankly, most “house reefs” are pretty ordinary, and I was not expecting much, so, just to do my duty and check it out, I went for an afternoon snorkel. Oh Boy! Within a few metres I had bumped into schools of snapper, reefs sporting both hard and soft corals and sea fans, and plenty of interesting critters. The next day, even though the reef is shallow, 10m maximum, I got a tank and dived it properly. Visibility was clear enough, and it was well worth the effort. It is a popular and easy night dive.
Dietmar Amon has a fine diver’s eye for critters and has discovered a new species of allied cowry at Lissenung on a sea fan. It is proudly named Archivolva lissenungensis. He also discovered an olive shell that has been named after him, Janaoliva amoni.
Their dive map boasts 35 dive sites accessible from the Island. Several fast boats are available and the drivers and dive guides load up all your gear that is stored (and washed) at the dive shop.
Recent news is that some exceptional dive sites are to be added to the itinerary. These include the wreck of the Sanko Maru with the midget submarine discovered from Telita when we first dived here in 1987, and the famous Chapman’s reef, another of our discoveries, with its ringed barracudas featured in April 1988 National Geographic. Lissenung’s large dive boat Andiamo can take 10 divers for the longer cruise to Three Islands Harbour with a stay at Clement’s guesthouse “Islands Escapade”. A two-night stay allows four dives at these extraordinary sites, previously only accessible by live-aboard.
Diving is the most popular activity at Lissenung but if you do not dive you can learn, or go fishing or surfing, make village tours, have a romantic holiday, get married – or even photograph the parrot!
He is just part of the menagerie, and confused. He is very much alive, and a beautiful bird – but the dogs do the singing, Chivas and Missy start a chorus every time a boat turns up, unfortunately neither can hold a tune nor sing in harmony. Yes, they are pop music fans. Perhaps that is why the parrot is silent. Some parrot! It can’t even chant “Pieces of Eight!”