Papua New Guinea

NO CLOWNING

1. False clown anemonefish hide in a purple-tipped anemone. 2. Former heads of state in the Skull Cave near Tawali. 3. The ingloriously named "plucked chicken" pygmy seahorse. 4. A rare interlude with a chambered nautilus, drawn up from deep water.

Upon seeing their first airplane in the 1930s, many of the residents of Papua New Guinea thought it was a heavenly bird. Later, during World War II, when they learned that airplanes often contain useful things such as pots, pans, Coca-Cola and Spam, many villages formed "cargo cults," crafting facsimile airplanes and control towers out of bamboo and clearing runways in the jungle, hoping to entice the spirits into bringing more such good stuff their way.

Times have changed, and cargo cults have mostly gone the way of the dodo. (During one recent visit here, the village chieftain was seen to be wearing Billabong board shorts.) But the fact remains that much of Papua New Guinea is still

DESTINATION PRIMER

AVERAGE WATER TEMP: 77-84°F WHAT TO WEAR: A skin plus a 3mm can get you through the region's full range of conditions. AVERAGE VIZ: 30-100 feet WHEN TO GO: Year-round; best viz is June-October. WHAT TO EXPECT: Warm and underexplored waters with what may be the greatest diversity of marine life on the planet. Walls, barrier reefs, patch reefs and wrecks all well-represented. LANGUAGE: Several hundred, although pidgin English is widely spoken. TAXES: $30 consular fee for processing visa. ELECTRICITY: 240 V; some newer resorts and boats have 110 outlets (usually in bathroom). TIME ZONE: GMT +10.

very much off the grid. For adventure travelers, that means ample uncharted or under-charted territory both topside and underwater. And it's one of the few places in the world where an average Joe can make a dive and have a sporting chance of discovering a previously unknown species.

From muck dives to shark dives, from pristine reefs to historic World War II wrecks, PNG is unquestionably dive-trip-of-a-lifetime material. The underwater wonders are back-dropped by a country with 14,000-foot mountain ranges and valleys so remote that inhabitants there still speak more than 700 distinct languages. It's a place where the traveler can discover a commodity that is rare in modern times: a genuine, honest-to-goodness, unfabricated adventure.

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