Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Jais Aben Resort, Madang
After 13 months with only one day's recreation leave, I was really ready for a break from work. Early on a Wednesday morning in mid-October I arrived at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport to meet up with the rest of the group I had organised to travel to Papua New Guinea for a spot of diving. The 13 members of the group were all from the one dive club and most were regular diving buddies. We quickly checked-in our equipment and headed through customs to board the plane.
Soon we were on the Air Niugini Airbus A310 flight to Port Moresby. Early that afternoon, the Air Niugini Airbus 310 descended into Port Moresby's Jacksons International Airport after a five and a half hour flight from Sydney, including a stopover in Brisbane. The flight had been very good, with excellent food and service. The level of service and food on the plane was the equal of any airline I have been on and makes for a good start to our trip (by the way, if you forget to purchase anything duty free, you can get it at Brisbane both on the way up to PNG and on the way back).
As soon as you arrive in Port Moresby the first thing that hits you is the heat. It is hot. Very hot. Extremely hot. We take a long time to clear customs and immigration in the rickety old international terminal (there is now a brand new terminal) and finally we can start booking onto our connecting flight to Madang. This takes a while, all the time we are sweating like pigs. Finally the last of us are through and we head into the domestic terminal where it is a bit cooler, but still hot. It is very crowded, with planes leaving all the time. A kiosk sells drinks and we can cool down a little bit.
The final call for our flight is called and we once more walk across the hot tarmac to the Fokker F28 jet for the trip to Madang. We are soon in the air and climbing over the immense mountain range that runs right down the centre of PNG. To our right are Mt Victoria (4073m) and Mt Albert Edward (3993m) and we fly over the Eastern Highlands. As we fly over the monster hills, we see dozens of villages, located in such remote places you could not even imagine them ever been reached by man. No wonder it took so long for some of these communities to be "discovered".
|The Air Nuigini F28|
After about 45 minutes we land at the town of Goroka, which at 1600 metres is higher than Thredbo Village or even Charlottes Pass in Australia's Snowy Mountains. We get the chance to get out of the plane for a short while and it is refreshingly cool. The airstrip is right in the middle of the town, with the streets located right around the airport. An ancient four engined DC6 freighter sits on the tarmac, glistening in its original bare metal while it awaits yet another cargo to fly out of Goroka. Perhaps is going to carry coffee, one of the biggest exports from Goroka (and PNG).
Fifteen minutes later we are getting off the plane at Madang, once again back in the heat. Our trip has now really started. We are picked up by two vehicles from Jais Aben Resort and after loading our gear on board, we are soon travelling along the excellent roads to the resort, 16 kilometres to the north of the airport.
Jais Aben is located on the edge of picturesque Nagada Harbour, on an old coconut plantation. We arrive at the main restaurant/bar building and book into our rooms. It is even hotter here, despite the late afternoon. We go to our rooms (more about these later) and the staff drop off our bags. We put them inside the rooms and don our swimming costumes and rush back to the pool. Diving in, we are shocked to find that the water is about 33°C and does not refresh us at all. We all walk the 10 metres to the ocean and dive in. It is a bit cooler, only a degree or so, but it is better than not being wet. We soon try some internal cooling and find this more satisfying!
The resort is extremely comfortable, with a large semi-open dining room and attached bar area. The swimming pool is right next door and between the bar and ocean there are some tables and chairs which we find extremely good for lunch and a late afternoon beer as the cooler sea breeze flows past us. Virtually every afternoon and evening the sea breeze blows, keeping us cool.
The large very well kept grounds contain the bungalows which mostly contain a double and single bed, with a ceiling fan, fridge, toilet and shower as well as tea and coffee making facilities. Some of the larger huts have a double and two single beds as well as a kitchen and large verandah.
The food in the restaurant was reasonably priced and very good, both in size and taste. Breakfast was k4.5 (the Australian dollar is almost on par with the kina) for cereal, fruit, fruit drink and tea/coffee. For lunch you could have soup (k2-3), a main meal (k8-10) or take the great value toasted sandwich at k5.5 which included chips and salad. For dinner, soup was k5, entrees were around k8-10, main meals k16-19 with lobster about k25 and dessert k6. Soup and entree was quite filling for the average person. Drinks are also reasonably priced at k1.5 for a can of soft drink and South Pacific Lager k2.6 a stubby. In contrast, the prices at the hotels in town were significantly higher (mains k18 to 22 and beer k3.15).
The dive shop is located on the southern end of the resort, about a minutes walk from the main restaurant area. The dive shop area includes the shop, drying and gear storage area, wharf, a bar and food area (only used on weekends) and a small beach. This makes for very easy diving. After breakfast, you walk the short distance to the storage area, collect your dive gear and stroll across to the wharf. Tanks are already on the wharf and you simply put your BC and regs on a tank, it gets loaded on board your boat and you throw your wetsuit and other bits on board.
|The pool area at Jais Aben
Restaurant and bar in background|
Jais Aben has a number of boats at their disposal. They have two alumimium boats powered by a 200hp outboard (takes up to 10), a smaller fibreglass vessel and a very small runabout (3 divers). As well, two larger (but slower vessels) are chartered when needed. Of interest to Sydney divers, one is the Aqua Venture, well known from its time on the southern side of the city many years ago. All the boats are easy to dive from, even the smallest one.
The dive operation was well run, with Shane Ritchie being the chief divemaster. Unlike a lot of Pacific island dive operations, local divemasters were used in preference to imported Australian ones. Lamiu, Joe (Joe apparently died in 2000) and Richard and they can be relied on to place you right on the dive site and properly brief you about currents, things to see and how to get the best out of each dive site. The divemasters have a great deal of experience, Lamiu has been here seven years and Joe five years. Not only this, they are great blokes as well.
As well as the diving, there are numerous activities that non-divers (and divers for that matter) can do. These include paddling a canoe along the coast near Jais Aben, snorkelling on the fine reefs in front of the resort, walking to the nearby villages, visiting a crocodile farm and tours of butterfly farms, Madang and a village famous for its pottery. All in all, this is the perfect place for a dive holiday, especially for those who might have non-divers in tow.
A dive trip to PNG for diving can be quite competitively priced, especially at Jais Aben Resort. If you are thinking of a trip, do not miss these articles. If you are going to go to Papua New Guinea, get a copy of Reef Fishes of New Guinea before you go.
Articles from this trip:
On my trip to PNG, two people in our group (out of 13) contracted malaria. This is despite taking full precautions (drugs, clothes and RID) and not seeing a single mosquito. BEWARE. See the US Government Centers for Disease Control Web Site for more information about malaria and precautions. Also see the Malaria Database.
Since I travelled to Madang, there have been a number of changes at Jais Aben. A number of people contacted me and told me that the dive equipment and boats were in very poor condition and that the divemasters are not very good (except for a female Japanese). I was also been told that the resort is not as well maintained as when I was there in 1995 and 1996 and that the food was only average.
However, since then the resort is under new management and the diving has been run by Tim Rowlland since 1999. He was previously there from 1989 to 1994. The dive operation is now separate from the resort but obviously they work close together. In 2000 all new hire gear was purchsed and the number of boats have been increased and upgraded. In 2003 they added a new 12.5 m catamaran liveaboard. In October 2004 the dive shop moved into new premises closer to the water (it was not that far before).
Twelve new bungalows have been built and the Bridge bar and grill (the outdoor one?) made bigger. I have also had some friends travel there in 2003 and they were quite happy with both the resort and the dive operation. Perhaps it had dropped off a little and has now been fixed up.