MV Febrina, Kimbe Bay PNG Trip Report

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oira79

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Location
California
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500 - 999
My wife and I went to Papua New Guinea for 10 days on the MV Febrina and a few extra days in Walindi and Loloata at the end of September/early October. I'm going to focus on the Febrina because that was why we went.

FOOD: The good news first. The food is much better than you'd expect for a liveaboard in PNG. Jayne, the cook, is talented and has a good touch on a wide variety of cuisine. (FYI, my day job includes writing about food.) Breakfast is to order. There's a snack after every meal. Lunches and dinners are varied, generous and pretty good. There's always fresh fruit because they trade with natives in distant islands after the boat gets underway. The wines they serve with dinner are decent. We ate as well on this boat as we have on any liveaboard.

ACCOMMODATIONS: The rooms are tiny. Some guests had to leave their bags on shore because there wasn't space for a luggage bag, even empty, under the bed. (Ours fit.) Every room has a private shower and toilet. Every room is cleaned every day, but the bathroom does have a hint of sewage late at night until the morning cleaning.

OPEN AREAS: Febrina is a small boat and doesn't have a lot of places to hang out outside the rooms. There is one big dining/living room with a lot of fish reference books and a rarely used TV. I think we watched 3 movies in 10 days during long steams. The dive deck is too crowded to hang out in. There's an area in the bow where you can sunbathe or watch sunset, but no loungers. The boat is not very stable in windy weather or choppy seas. Bring seasickness pills and/or other remedies.

STAFF: The staff is great. Alan, the captain, is a grizzled old guy who's been in PNG for more than 20 years. It's worth getting him talking about his experiences in the country. The all-native crew is terrific about taking care of guests. They do everyone's laundry once a day, a great service.

DIVE DECK: Because it's so small, the Febrina feels cramped when it's time to dive. You have your own equipment box, but there are 8 of these on each side of the ship, which means as many as 8 divers might be trying to gear up in a small space. All dives are from a giant stride off the back, and only two people can go in at a time, which sometimes leads to a waiting line. All tanks are lined up in assigned spaces near the back. If you're in the middle of the row of tanks -- we were -- you often have to wait until people on the sides are in the water before you can put your tank on. This system would not work if the Febrina took you drift diving, but they don't. There is a small tender boat for emergencies, but it was never used on our trip, even though we had some strong currents.

EQUIPMENT: We rented BCs, regulators and fins from Walindi. Febrina carries no extra equipment on board. Walindi had a good, reasonably new selection and we had no complaints, though it's not cheap, as rental gear is charged by the day. Febrina provides tanks, weight belts and weights and refills Nitrox (extra charge) or air. No rebreathers. Alan says, "Rebreather divers are wankers." Surprisingly, Febrina does not loan or rent lights, even though it offers night dives most nights. My wife's brand-new dive light (ordered off Amazon) didn't work well, but we didn't discover this right away and then we had no recourse for the rest of the trip. I don't know if Walindi has rental computers. Febrina does not.

DIVING: Now we get to the bad news. I'm sorry to say it, but Kimbe Bay was not as good as we had heard. Some of this may have been the weather conditions on our trip. Febrina is not set up for wind and current and we had both. But the visibility was fairly poor, even in calm weather. There was a lot of particulate matter in the water. There is a lot of fish life, and that's the best part: not many large animals (we saw no rays at all, for example, and just a few sharks), but a lot of beautifully colored small fish. There are shiny schools of barracuda and trevally. Very good news is that you don't need a wetsuit. I dove all 10 days in just a skin and was never cold, even on night dives. It's good diving, to be clear, but 3-star diving, not 5-star diving. We had been to Raja Ampat the year before, and Fakarava/Rangiroa the year before that. Kimbe Bay is not in that class. It's as good as good Caribbean diving, but the best Pacific or Indian Ocean spots are better.

THINGS YOU CAN SEE: Small, colorful tropical fish are the highlight: many, many of them. Muck divers can find frogfish and leaf fish and other oddities. We saw interesting octopi at night. The feather stars are very active at night and it's fun to watch them patrol. Turtles follow you on many dives for reasons I explain below. There aren't as many pretty soft corals as Raja Ampat, but the variety of hard coral is amazing. Kimbe Bay is not the kind of place where the wildlife blows you away; it's more about appreciating prettiness.

A COMPLAINT: Generally I liked the dive guides, but one in particular touches the wildlife way more than I think is appropriate. The reason turtles follow you is because he feeds them. He pulls feather stars off of their perches and rearranges them for photographers. Once I saw him rip several legs off a feather star that didn't want to let go of the coral it was gripping. There's always a mixed feeling about this sort of wildlife interaction. I wanted to see a mantis shrimp, and I was somewhat happy when he forced it to scurry from its hiding hole, but I wouldn't personally have kept poking a long metal stick into the hole to make that happen. They bring shark feeding boxes on some dives and I do not approve of that.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Like I said, it's 3-star diving. I'm not sure that the expense and trouble of getting there make it worthwhile. We don't regret our trip but it's not high on our list for a return visit.

QUICK NOTE ON WALINDI: We liked Walindi. The diving is the same you see on Febrina, so there's no real reason to do extra dives from there. But it's a pleasant place to chill for a couple days before or after embarking. We really liked the hot river visit: a river about 40 degrees Celsius flows from a volcano, and you can hang out in it as long as you like. We also enjoyed the short, cheap nighttime visit to a tree filled with fireflies. The food's not as good as on Febrina, but that will just make you appreciate Jayne more. The rooms are adequately comfortable, and like Febrina, they will do your laundry once a day, a great service, especially if you show up with a bag full of dirty clothes. If you like, you can interact with local expats, who hang out at the bar.

QUICK NOTE ON LOLOATA: This resort feels a little tired. The walls don't quite align, it looks a little dusty and old. And it's expensive for what you get. That said, expats who live in Port Moresby still come here to get away from Port Moresby. The diving isn't as good as Kimbe Bay. The water is colder, not chilly, but you will need a wetsuit (3 mil might be sufficient) whereas you don't in Kimbe Bay. We love the many small wallabies that have the run of the place. It's a very chill place, without a whole lot to do, but that may be what you're looking for.
 

Hintermann

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Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, UK
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Thanks for the excellent report Oira79. Paradoxically, the bit that pleased me most was your comment about the diving not being as spectacular as you had expected. This is because I had a deposit paid booking on the Febrina for October 2015 but following certain other reports decided to pull out, got my deposit back and booked a package with Wakatobi Resort and the Pelagian liveaboard instead. Those 'other reports' that I mentioned were not related to the quality of diving in Kimbe Bay and I was concerned that I had missed out on something earth-shaking. Your report makes it clear that I have not.
 

WetPup

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Thanks for the report!

I was tossing up between a bunch of different resorts and liveaboards in PNG, including Walindi and MV Febrina. I eventually booked at another resort for Christmas and New Year, but had been concerned that I was going to be "missing out". Seems maybe not so much...
 

Kevster

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Gee it sounds like you had some bad luck during your trip.
My trip in Kimbe bay,Fathers & Witu Islands was one of my best ever dive trips, with perfect topside conditions & no current at any of the dive sites.
Agree the boat is small, I was lucky the boat was only half full on my trip.

Have to agree about the lack of rays (I did not see any either) and hand feeding the turtle.

However the reefs are amazing. krakafat dive site was amazing, full of marine life.
 
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oira79

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California
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We did the "classic itinerary," including Witu Island and Fathers Reef. The sites at Fathers Reef were the best diving of the trip, easily, and 10 days of that would have pushed my evaluation of the diving up a notch. It's still not a place for big fish, but the large schools of fish there were spectacular.

I'm sorry to say this, but I think the reason you read such glowing reports is that they're often written by somebody who has a vested interest in having you go there: a company that sells dive trips, for example. This is not only true for PNG. But there are fewer reports on PNG than other places, so the vested-interest reports play a larger role in creating perception.

I should add this, and should have said it from the beginning: if you like macro photography, you should be well satisfied on this trip. The visibility and ambient light could be better, but if you have the right equipment that doesn't matter.
 

mikeycanuk

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Thanks! I was curious about PNG but for the $'s spent to get there maybe not. Going to the Solomon's next July. Looks comparable.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
 

billt4sf

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Hi Oira,

Just wondered if your opinion had changed at all over the years, after reflection or other experiences.

Others feel free to chime in about your DIRECT experiences on MV FeBrina. I have an option to join my dive club in October. I am concerned about doing giant strides as I have back issues.

Thanks,

Bill & Emily
 

MA

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I loved the trip. Had great viz. varied dives and dive sites. We only had 8 divers and we had plenty of room. The rooms were small. But I slept better on that boat than any other liveabiard I've been. The rooms and sheets etc stayed really dry never getting dank and smelly. Hard to explain what I mean. But it definitely is not a luxury boat. Food amazing and too plentiful which I didn't think was possible.

I agree on the one dive guide. I didn't take to that guide and did chat the captain about it. Other Dive guide fantastic!!

I enjoyed it much more than my raja almost trip, but there was not the diversity of wildlife in png compared to RA. So like all things nature it depends. I also had glassouts most days. We had a snorkel with a massive pod of dolphins between dives one day. But sadly yes, no rays. A few sharks but not heaps.

Most of us only shot wideangke as it was so spectacular and blue and clear. Schooling fish just everywhere. We had a couple of days macro where we dived some muck sites. So great mix. Note I went in April/may. I recommend going during the high season when they do the classic trips.
 
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