CAN YOU BELIEVE IT I almost got bored photographing harlequin ghost pipefish, as Sebastian pointed out yet another cluster. Rough ghost pipefish rivalled the harlequins in number, and our guide marked each area of likely interest with a stick pushed into the mud.
All we had to do was to move to the next marker-post when we had finished where we were. Ornate ghost pipefish hung round the crinoids that provide them with excellent camouflage.
The challenge was to light a photograph in an interesting way, rather than to simply record the animal as if collecting badges. Thats quite difficult when your subject may be only a couple of centimetres in length.
Blennies posed helpfully. Even those acting as look-outs for their miner shrimp companions seemed seduced by the camera and lights into acts of foolhardiness unbefitting of their role as security guards.
I hung around the entrance to the home of a mantis shrimp, attempting to get a useful shot. It peered out at me apprehensively, blinking its alien eyes, but never risked making a dash for it.
I backed off when I noticed a couple of highly venomous inimicus devilfish making steady progress towards the shadow I was casting on the mud, creeping unsteadily on their chicken-like claws. Gosh, theyre ugly!
A juvenile lacy lionfish caught my eye as I made my way back to the boat that was by now surrounded by locals in their outrigger canoes, loaded down with the shells of endangered species and wondering why we were not intent on buying them.
Tawali in Papua New Guinea is famous for its muck-diving. Sites such as Michelles, close to the mainland, can rival Lembeh Strait for the sheer variety and quantity of tiny exotic animals living in close proximity.
The macro camera also came in useful at offshore reefs such as Calypso and Cobbs Cliff. Whiteleaf scorpionfish posed proudly, and small scorpionfish
of other varieties stayed put reluctantly while I made their portraits.

THERE SEEM TO BE A THOUSAND varieties of anemonefish here, as many there are anemones. On the sand away from the reef, I spotted a colourful bloom like an oversized dahlia, about 40cm across.
Was it some sort of anemone, or a soft coral It was rooted like a cerianthus, and when I inadvertently touched it with part of my camera while trying to photograph its host shrimp, it withdrew its big petals and turned itself into a defensive ball.
I was out of luck when looking for it in any number of animal-identity books.
One site was called Crinoid City, but multiple crinoids adorned every other reef site, too. I watched bemused as one unaware diver passed me, trailing a good 60cm of spare weightbelt that was now home to several of these tenacious animals.
It was a relief when Sebastian, our dive guide, came to summon me up from the wall onto the reef top, where two giant cuttlefish were mating. I was the only diver armed with a fish-eye wide-angle lens. The others were all set to photograph the minutiae of reef life, while I was trying to get shots that showed you what it was like.
I had not been rewarded with very good visibility. The Solomon Sea was normally better than this. A plankton bloom had rolled in like a fog of green smoke from someone burning wet leaves further down the reef.
The cuttlefish were to be the only worthwhile shots I got that day, but the female co-operated in posing for me, even if the male assumed I was a rival for her favours, and somewhat bigger than him. He pulsed angry colours at me, and waved his tentacles threateningly, but never allowed me to get close enough to him to get the photographic evidence.
Eventually he settled down to waiting patiently in muted colours while, as he assumed, I had my wicked way with his intended.
I photographed a school of jacks against the green background, and determined to join the macro club for the next dives. The Milne Bay area has some stupendously exotic coral reefs, but I was there in the wrong week to photograph them.
To most people, Papua New Guinea conjures up visions of head-hunting wigmen and other violent warriors wearing nothing more than penis sheaths and a liberal coating of mud, and brandishing stone-age clubs.
To divers, it evokes images of unspoiled coral reefs and exotic macro life. I went for the diving.
PNG is a huge country. After Greenland, and not counting Australia, its part of the second largest island in the world. Its an understatement to say that it is a long way from Europe, both culturally and geographically. Its on the other side of the world, so getting there is an adventure in itself.
Milne Bay is an area that has proved popular with the dive operators that have settled there. They may be few, but the diving has made them well-known in the industry, with pioneers such as Bob and Dinah Halstead, Rob Vanderloos and their like, and the liveaboards such as Febrina, Telita, Chertan and Golden Dawn getting coverage in the worlds diving media.
American Bob Hollis is a real pioneer of the diving industry. He is the founder and owner of Oceanic and its associated companies, such as Aeris and Hollis Industries. When he visited Milne Bay, he determined to operate his own dive resort and, together with long-standing partner Ronda Friend and Australian PNG veteran Rob Vanderloos, he set to work on the project. Tawali Resort is his vision realised.

WHEN YOU FINALLY GET TO PORT MORESBY in PNG, the journey to Tawali is still only half done. Its a flight to Alotau and Milne Bay in the east, and then an hours road journey that seems a lot longer than it is, on an ever-diminishing road surface through villages along the coast.
Endless numbers of narrow steel Bailey bridges criss-cross torrential streams, before the road becomes little more than a dirt track, and flimsy wooden structures play their part.
By this time you start to get glimpses of a world little changed in hundreds of years, especially so now that, with the recent rise in the cost of man-made fibres, many of the mothers have resorted to dressing their children in clothes sourced from local material. You really do see little girls in grass skirts with flowers in their hair.
Finally, the route becomes little more than a rutted track through the jungle. You come to a rickety wooden jetty where the boat waits to transfer you the last few miles to the Tawali Resort, on its remote bluff. Things looked promising. A pod of dolphins, tightly knit, escorted the boat on its way when I was there.
The Tawali project was started in 1992, but it needed a gathering of the clans to identify the owner of the land Bob and Ronda wanted.
Its a matriarchal society in this part of PNG, and it took 10 years to secure the legal title, even though a traditional purchase had been made involving the required amount of kina (money), a number of pigs (a highly valued local resource), betel nut and rice.
Even then, things were not easy. Without electrical power, the resort was built using local labour with hand tools. For example, the seven totems seen in various parts of Tawali took two years to carve. It finally opened in 2004 with an initial 10 rooms.
This is a resort designed for divers. Non-divers might find it claustrophobic, with little to do except for trips to skull caves and waterfalls. Its built on a limestone bluff, 20m up, overlooking Hoia Bay with the Owen Stanley mountain range at the back. Rainwater drains away so that there is nowhere for mosquitoes to breed, and a refreshing breeze means fewer insects, too.

RONDA WAS VERY KEEN to tell me how wonderfully the local people have adapted to jobs in the resort. After all, it's something to teach a girl to make beds for Europeans when she may well never have seen a bed before.
The rooms are huge, with their own drinking-water supply, air-conditioning and big fans. You may not see a saltwater crocodile in the ocean, but there are plenty of carved ones. The food is excellent.
Although Tawali is very remote, it has wireless Internet connected to a satellite dish, so I could keep in daily contact with my wife and kids back home by Skype. Isn't todays computer technology marvellous?
At the time of writing, two Brits, James Cooke and Marnie Threapleton, freshly arrived from working on the Tahiti and Fiji Aggressor, managed the resort. The dive centre manager, Chris Hazlehurst, is also a Brit.
The local dive staff are drawn from a long tradition of diving instructors who have worked around PNG. Our guide Sebastian, originally from Bougainville, previously worked at Loloata. The liveaboards, Spirit of New Guinea and Chertan, both operate from here.
Tawalis own two dayboats are bigger than some liveaboards. I was on Tawali Explorer and found plenty of space, including a big camera table and large freshwater rinse tanks, despite accompanying 15 or so mainly bulky Americans. Bob Hollis is a regular visitor, and Tawali is regularly used by Oceanic for new product launches.
Although its a steep climb to the rooms, there are few steps. Sloping boardwalks through the rainforest that are covered against the event of tropical rainfall link everything.
Theres a spacious camera preparation room, and the fact that it was full of macro camera set-ups when I arrived underlined the main interest in the diving here. Nitrox 32 is routinely supplied by a membrane system.
Who are the clients Well, I saw big burly Aussies in pursuit of the smallest nudibranch. Bob Hollis connections in the diving industry mean that you may well meet well-known divers.
While I was there, I spent time with none other than Bret Gilliam, one-time record-breaking diver, underwater photographer and writer, and the founder of both TDI and Fathoms magazine.