AS WE CAREFULLY WENDED our way across a jungle path studded with tree roots, and deep in thick, black mud, trying not to slip or injure ourselves, I reflected that this outrigger-canoe trip was taking a turn for the worse.
We had started off in a beautiful wide New Guinea fjord and headed up to where the tidal river started. The tide was low and we had run out of water, so wed been forced to travel on foot.
It was then that I noticed a furtive figure moving along with us, dodging from tree to tree and hiding among the pandanas. He was naked except for a thick coating of black mud, and some sort of mask.
I was wondering what he was up to, when the relative silence was broken by a high-pitched scream, and another similarly unattired gentleman, his eyes outlined in fearsome red, came racing across the open space afforded by the shallow water of the river, brandishing a stone-age club and acting in what might be called a very threatening manner.
This is the sort of thing you get to experience on your day off from diving, before flying out of the Tufi Dive Resort in Papua New Guinea.
PNG is one of the last places in the world where the people keep the rituals and customs of a Stone Age existence alive. In fact there are still villages in the highlands that have had no contact with modern civilisation. You get a close view of some of this at Tufi.
The resort is set in the fjordland of Cape Nelson in PNGs Oro province, which is home to the worlds largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra Birdwing. People go there to see the birds too - ospreys, Blythes hornbills, black palm cockatoos and raggiana birds of paradise.
During the 18th century, the inlets and fjords here made an idyllic anchorage for Royal Navy capital ships. Later Tufi became a government station, and the Tufi Resort is what was once the station managers residence. In WW2 it was a US torpedo-boat base, and Tufi is still a local governments district centre.

YOU FLY IN BY LITTLE TWIN OTTER from Port Moresby. The plane stops on the grass, right outside the gate to the resort. It tops a bluff, and down below is an inauspicious native fishing dock.
Locals come in from the surrounding villages and park their outrigger canoes on the untidy beach alongside.
Guests come for both the diving and the trekking by canoe, and I watched a party of New Zealand farmers set off for a three-day excursion escorted by a team of men brandishing paddles and wearing little more than a bunch of flowers.
When they returned, they told me that they had enjoyed the best time of their lives - and none had learned to squeal like a pig!
Tony and Linda Honey have owned the Tufi Resort for 10 years, but it is managed by Simon Tewson, a typically good-natured Australian brought up in PNG, with a lived-in face that would have made Sid James look positively youthful. Luckily, his lovely Maori wife Sharon is a lot easier on the eye.
The resort was built in the 1970s, and some original cabins, though perfectly functional, are looking a bit tired, but it is due for rebuilding this year, along with a new conference centre and probably a runway for STOL Air Nuigini aircraft, which will make access easier from other parts of the country.
The dive centre is down on the dock. Its quite a trek down the hill in the morning, and a longer one back up after diving. If youre lucky and have a heavy camera to carry, Simon will give you a lift in his truck.
The resort has a 10m aluminium covered dive-boat with a 15-knot speed that takes up to 12 divers, augmented by a 500hp fast fishing boat of about 8m. Its good that the boats are quick, as the reefs are a quite long way offshore.

MY JOURNEY TO DISTANT MULLINS REEF was rewarded with the site of a vast school of slender Pinjalo snapper massing. Their bright red attire in such numbers is a sight I hadnt seen or photographed before.
The reef tops seemed knee-deep in anemones of all types, with attendant clownfish. You could easily spend a week amassing pictures of all the different types - unless, that is, you are into giant clams. There are plenty of those, too.
On another wall dive, I witnessed rare white and black scalloped hammerheads pass by, wraithlike, in deep water, while the reef was inhabited by all the usual suspects, from crocodilefish to crinoids.
I intended to photograph a huge barrel sponge that was perched on the reef wall, and indicated to my guide Alex that I wanted him to swim past it.
He rather surprised me by climbing inside it instead!
If you are into macro life under water, the fjord diving will keep you busy. Other divers tell me that its teeming with exotic little species, many of which have yet to be formally described.
However, in the short time afforded me at Tufi, I simply dived off the dock at night, and in among a centurys worth of detritus saw flamboyant cuttlefish, harlequin ghost pipefish, electric clams, tiny scorpionfish and a unique type of anemonefish endemic only to this area.

STOPPING TO PASS THE TIME with some of the locals, loading up their canoes to return to their villages on the other side of the fjords, I was struck by their beautiful use of English, backed by a wide vocabulary.
They may live a simple life, but they obviously have great respect for schooling. Archie, another dive-guide, had such good diction that it was a pleasure to listen to him.
As dusk approaches, its time for the long walk back up the hill to your cabin for a shower, followed by a pig roasted out in the open, and more very scary dancing by local warriors clad only in feathers and paint, and that includes the women. Its impossible to escape the local culture in Tufi.
Rather than spend any time in Port Moresby before making the long journey back to the UK, head for Loloata Island in nearby Bootless Bay, and spend a few days diving in the Coral Sea.
The water is a little colder than the Solomon Sea at Tufi, but the dive centre at Loloata has a variety of spectacular sites to offer, including reefs and a couple of wrecks. One is the Pai II, an ocean-going trawler now sitting upright on the seabed at 27m deep. It is covered in soft corals and home to countless fish.
The mv Pacific Gas, or Nanayo Maru as it was originally called, is larger, and sank in 1986. It was a bulk gas-carrier and lies more than half a mile north of, and at an angle to, Horseshoe Reef, its propeller at 45m and its prow at 16m. The foremast makes a useful route towards the surface.
Other famous dives include reefs such as Dinahs Delight, Susies Bommie, the Pumpkin Patch and End Bommie.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Air Niugini, the national carrier, flies from Singapore, Manila or Australian cities to Port Moresby. Connections are by local operator or fixed-wing charter. A tourist visa costs 50 kina on arrival.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Tufi Dive Resort, www.tufidive.com
WHEN TO GO: Year-round, but the best season is from May-October. Coastal regions are tropical. It can be cold at night in the highlands.
MONEY: Kina (about US 50 cents). Credit cards widely accepted in resorts, cash machines in Port Moresby and other towns.
COMMS: Overseas SIM cards do not work in PNG - buy a local card.
LANGUAGE: Pidgin and 800 local languages, but English widely spoken.
HEALTH: Take anti-malarials. Dive centre operators all subscribe to a hyperbaric facility in Port Moresby. Use sunscreen in daytime and insect-repellent at dusk and dawn. Resort water is safe to drink.
Tipping It is neither expected nor encouraged.
PRICES: John Bantins trip was organised by both Scuba Safaris and Dive Worldwide. Scuba Safaris offers a Tufi & Loloata combo from £3655, which includes airfares from London to Tufi via Port Moresby, transfers, seven nights in Tufi with 12 dives and six nights in Loloata with 10 dives, all on full board, www.scuba-safaris.com and www.diveworldwide.com
FURTHER INFORMATION: 020 7930 0922, www.pngembassy.org