A Deep History Lesson

Where: Papua, New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the world's most exotic diving destinations. It's far off the beaten path -- hard to reach and even harder to get around. In fact, this tropical island nation in the Pacific Ocean is often referred to as "the land of the unexpected." For scuba divers, the best part of PNG lies in its surrounding waters, home to an abundance of rare marine life and significant relics from World War II. The many navy ships and various aircraft that remain beneath the sea are a somber reminder of hard-fought battles between the Allied troops and Japanese forces that took place here during the early 1940s. In the years since then, coral reefs have grown over these historic remnants, creating vibrant dive sights that merge old stories with new beginnings.

Depending on the strength of your sea legs, you can base yourself at a lodge in PNG and take day trips to dive, or embark on a "live-aboard" expedition, where you stay on a boat and dive from it as you travel around different islands. Barring any serious tendencies toward severe seasickness, the latter is the obvious choice for adrenaline junkies.

A good place to start diving is Tufi, just a short flight or boat ride from Port Moresby. This secluded jungle area with tropical plants, coconut trees, and damp earth near Mount Trafalgar offers a great dive resort and plenty of underwater adventures around large wrecks, majestic fjords, spectacular reefs, and countless fish. If you're lucky, you might even see a pygmy seahorse.

When you're ready for more adventures at sea, climb aboard the Barbarian II (www.niuginidiving.com). Its skipper, Rod Pearce, is credited with discovering the famous B17 bomber Blackjack, still intact beneath 50m (164 ft.) of water off Milne Bay, between the Solomon Sea and the Coral Sea. It's well worth a look.

If you want to explore even more remote parts of PNG, head north to the waters off Kimbe, Kavieng, and Rabaul on the MV Telita (www.telitacruises.com). Diving highlights include Der Yang, deliberately sunken at 30m (100 ft.) to act as an artificial reef; an intact freighter; and a Japanese mini-submarine at 22m (72 ft.). Kavieng, in particular, is also known for pelagic fish action, when the change of tides produces strong currents and the number of fish is overwhelming.

Traveling anywhere in PNG, on land or under the sea, takes an intrepid spirit and a relaxed attitude. The infrastructure is poor, and things often take longer than expected. That's all part of the beauty. Just dive in and you'll be amazed by what you find.

Information: Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority (tel. 0675 320 0211; www.pngtourism.org.pg).

Travel Providers: Trans Niugini Tours, Mount Hagen (tel. 675/542-1438; www.pngtours.com). Telita Dive Adventures, Port Mortesby (tel. 675/321-1860; www.telitacruises.com).

When to Go: Apr-Dec.

Getting There: Jackson's International Airport.

Where to Stay: Tufi Dive Resort, Mount Trafalgar, 250km (155 miles) northeast of Port Moresby (tel. 675/323-3462; www.tufidive.com). Walindi Plantation Resort, Kimbe Bay (tel. 675/983-5441; www.walindi.com).