Defying gravity in a coral wonderland
THE weightlessness of scuba diving is the closest most people will ever feel to the zero gravity of space.
When you have good buoyancy and correct weighting, floating mid-water is an extremely relaxing sensation.
The experience is accentuated if the water is warm, crystal clear and calm.
You can find those exact conditions just a few hours' flight north in Papua New Guinea.
Our nearest neighbour is renowned for its tropical reefs situated in the heart of the coral triangle, the world's biodiversity hotspot for coral reef species.
Australians Max and Cecilie Benjamin, recognising the beauty of Kimbe Bay, opened Walindi Plantation Resort there more than 30 years ago.
A recent coral count of the sheltered bay revealed an incredible 413 species of hard coral - more than half the world's total hard coral species in one place - and more than 900 species of fish.
Situated on the southern coast of the bay on the island of New Britain, the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago, Walindi is accessible from Port Moresby by a one-hour flight to Hoskins Airport followed by a 45-minute trip by car.
The resort is all-inclusive as it is relatively remote and surrounded by palm oil plantations and local villages. Thankfully the food is excellent and the nightly buffet dinner is generous.
While bird watchers, fishermen and Second World War history buffs also travel to Walindi, the majority of guests are divers.
All of the dive sites are within a 90-minute boat ride of the resort. It's a pleasant journey thanks to glass-like conditions and regular visits from the local dolphins keen to have a play in the boat's wake.
During my first dive I discovered the water was a balmy 30C, even 31C in spots, and I got so hot in my 3mm wetsuit I decided to ditch it - a first in my 16 years in the sport.
The water was gin clear, giving me a great view of the reef below as I descended. Dense patches of branching corals provide shelter for tiny reef fish and there are heaps of anemones housing the iconic Nemo and his relatives.
There are also bright red, orange and pink sea fans and whips, as well as sponges the size of wheelie bins.
It's impossible to take a bad photo with so much colourful coral and fish life.
"The coral reefs of Kimbe Bay take me back 40 years to a time when corals grew in lush profusion, untroubled by the problems that beset them today," Professor Charles Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, famously said.
We saw some coral bleaching, but a visiting researcher from James Cook University assured us that the water temperature would drop soon and the corals would recover.
For bigger fish, we headed out into the centre of the bay to dive several sea mounts. The water out here is a deep cobalt as the reef slopes down to 80 metres below.
The sea mounts are like islands, jam-packed with corals and anemones in need of the sun's rays. Schools of barracuda patrol the perimeter while surgeonfish and pinjalo snapper travel up and down the water column.
There's also the occasional sightings of orca, pilot whales and whale sharks at these outer reefs but I had no such luck.
I had better luck, though, with visibility good enough to dive the wreck of a Japanese Zero fighter plane from the Second World War.
Resting in less than 10 metres of water just a few hundred metres from the shore, the plane is incredibly well preserved. Because of a lack of bullet holes or other combat damage and the throttle being found in the off position, it is thought pilot Tomiharu Honda executed a controlled landing and swam to shore.
The final highlight of my four days of diving were the spectacular sponges of Hanging Gardens reef.
Just a short boat ride from the resort, the reef is a popular spot for night dives. Long, twisting sponges cascade down the vertical reef wall in colourful, twisted tendrils. It's important to watch where you're going so you don't swim into the delicate sponges but if you're careful there are several short swim-throughs hidden behind the veil.
When: Conditions are suitable year-round for diving at Walindi.
What to see underwater: South Emma, Bradford and Joelle's reefs are well worth visiting and if the visibility is good enough you can ask to dive the well-preserved wreck of a Japanese Zero fighter plane.
What to see above water: The resort offers guided land tours to see abandoned NZ4522 and B-25H Mitchellin planes from the Second World War, a swim in a hot river heated by the nearby volcano, nature walks, bird watching and the local village market.
For more information: walindifebrina.com