The last unexplored area in the world?

Diving Papua New Guinea – for many the last big dream destination. The last place on earth where not every single fish has been filmed already, where there are still dive sites to be discovered and where there is just not enough information to read online to know what to expect before travelling there.

The mystery destination of the dive world

The marketing agency calls it ‘the land of the unexpected‘. But what is it, that gives Papua its mysterious charm? Clearly, it’s remoteness and its diversity. Especially for Europeans, it is incredibly far to travel there. Hidden behind Indonesia, north of the Australian continent lies a dreamworld country consisting of huge mountain massifs and thousands of tropical islands.

To explore the dense jungles that lie throughout the whole country it needs a lot of travelling by boat and by plane. The road system is, let’s say, still work in progress. Considering the diversity, there is to be highlighted that there are more than 830 spoken languages, which makes it country number one, in the world ranking of language variety.

There are numerous ancient cultures and traditions still carried out until today, that are deeply embedded in the animistic beliefs the people had before the missionaries converted the majority of the population to Christians. These beliefs and traditions are still alive today and can be observed getting practised. Dances, traditional songs, instruments, rites, handcraft – you name it, the Papuans have it and had it for the past hundreds of years.

The underwater video production team around Behind the Mask had the opportunity to travel this mysterious country for seven weeks. The mission: To bring as many pictures and stories home with them as possible.

Behind the Mask is a loose circle of creative people, filmmakers, photographers, writers, that all share one passion: the love for the exploration of the underwater world and the constant drive to share the beauty of it with the rest of the world. For the Papua-New-Guinea-Mission, the team consisted of three people. There was the filmmaker, creative mastermind, and founder of Behind the Mask, Florian Fischer, the underwater photographer and Woman Diver’s Hall of Fame member Amanda Cotton, and myself, freelance journalist and editor with scuba diving magazines.

Diving Papua New Guinea

The gear we had with us, had to take a lot of challenges along the road. Twelve big hard case boxes had to be flown all around the country, it’s content had to be carried through dense jungles, on high mountains, active volcanoes, taken into deep ocean waters, and all that with atmospheric humidity which was close to a hundred per cent.

“Two of the action cameras that were meant to be involved in the underwater filming failed before they even went on a dive. And that’s how the Paralenz came into play.”

The original plan was to use GoPro underwater – but the two units failed before they even got wet – and that’s how the Paralenz came into play. I was already a tester of the prototype and involved in the early development of the product. This fact made me even more happy to receive the final product that had been released to the market a couple of weeks before we head out for our big trip. I didn’t have the chance to test the final version yet. My last dive with the Paralenz had been with the prototype. So I just took it along and the unboxing happened in Papua.

The road less travelled

The spot where it delivered its first duty was the remote islands around Samarai in the Southwest of the country. No infrastructure. No dive logistics. Nothing. We had to carry everything, including tanks, and weights with us, bring it on a two-hour boat ride from the mainland.

There was a cleaning station for mantas out there and we wanted to get as much manta footage as possible. But it turned out that it was a spot with a mad current. While the mantas were getting cleaned on the spot easily, just standing in the current like on a little Sunday afternoon stroll, it was hard for us to stay there without being pushed out into the open waters. Being there with dive gear? Impossible. Being there with the big underwater cameras? Don’t even think of it. So Florian flew the drone and was able to get incredible shots of the impressive animals because they couldn’t sense the drone.

Diving the deeps of Papua New Guinea

But we still wanted to get at least some underwater shots. The only chance was to go with a small action camera that had hardly any water resistance in combination with swimming hard with my long free diving fins. Florian and I  built a little rack out of the underwater arms of his video lights on which we could attach the Paralenz and I was good to go. The mad current kept shooting stingy jellyfish pieces in my face, the visibility was poor and the mantas took off whenever I tried to approach them. They were not used to people in the water. Several times I had to get back into the boat that brought me back up the current a bit to give me a bit of a buffer while trying to fight the current. And finally, they were there.

Two mantas kept swimming three circles as if they were just posing for the camera. Turning their turns. Sailing like a hawk on upstreaming air, before then disappearing in the misty grey of the deep.

The relief was big. We had the footage. Our conclusion: Papua is full of mysterious secrets to be discovered, but it doesn’t give them away easily.

This article was written by Timo Dersch – journalist, editor, and photographer. His clients are media production companies publishing stories about travelling and outdoor experiences. His focus lies on scuba diving and related destinations. He is a member of the creative circle “Behind the Mask”.