Tim Escott, The Daily Telegraph, July 26, 2013
It’s always hard to pick a list of favourite dive sites. Some are good because they are beautiful or dramatic; some are intriguing because they are hard to visit or special because they offer a good chance of seeing a rare and charismatic species. Sometimes it’s personal, emotional associations that make them special. Some divers prefer wrecks or the chance to drift with a fast current in the company of large predators. For me, it’s the fish that generally make a dive site remarkable. Perhaps surprisingly, many of my best dives have been when underwater visibility has been low, usually as a result of plankton in the water. Lots of plankton means lots of fish, and although you may not see very far you can be surrounded by vigorous shoals of voracious animals making the most of the feast at hand.
Best for: diverse marine life
Likuan 2, Bunaken, Indonesia
Likuan is a long reef wall that in places (Likuan 1) can be subject to strong currents. But I love it for the variety of small creatures combined with a dramatic drop-off that offers the prospect of sharks and eagle rays in the blue nearby. Indonesia is part of the coral triangle, the epicentre of marine biodiversity. Few divers will be able to go under water here and claim they haven’t seen something new. Some of my favourite creatures live here, including pygmy seahorses, which come in a subtle range of colours but are no bigger than the end of my little finger.
Diver level: Moderate experience
Season: Year round
Booking: From £2,295 per person (sharing), including international flights and transfers, 10 nights at Tasik Ria Resort, full board, and nine days’ boat diving (three dives per day), through Dive Worldwide. (0845 130 6980; diveworldwide.com ).
Best for: underwater scenery
Lea Lea’s Lookout, Bloody Bay, Little Cayman
Little Cayman is a sandy dot of perfection south-west of Cuba. Home to the Bloody Bay Marine Park, it has arguably the healthiest coral reefs left in the entire Caribbean. Lea Lea’s Lookout is typical of the wall-diving here, a shallow (5m/16ft) reef top cut through with tunnels and sand chutes that lead downwards and out on to the sheer vertical reef wall. Cayman has the best underwater visibility in the world, and the abyss plunges into an infinity of dizzying blue. I’ve seen seahorses, inquisitive Caribbean reef sharks, hawksbill turtles and bolshie Nassau groupers here, and some of the biggest giant sponges in the world.
Diver level: Beginners and beyond with good buoyancy control
Season: Year round
Booking: Book direct with the Southern Cross Club ( southerncrossclub.com ). Six nights’ accommodation and diving will cost around £1,300 in summer. Diving is possible year round. Direct flights with British Airways to Grand Cayman cost around £942
Best for: diving with sharks
The Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa, Polynesia
Rangiroa means “endless sky” and is one of the most romantic parts of Polynesia. Underwater there is a sense of raw vitality, and at Tiputa I dived repeatedly with large schools of grey reef sharks, turtles, manta rays and, on one occasion, all of the above within view while dolphins passed overhead. The pass is one of just two entrances into the vast interior lagoon and dives have to be conducted on an incoming tide to avoid divers being swept out into the Pacific.
Diver level: Experienced
Season: any time except December-January. September is best for sharks.
Booking: Dive Worldwide (0845 130 6980; diveworldwide.com ) can arrange 10 nights via Los Angeles and domestic flights Tahiti-Rangiroa: from £3,595 per person b & b, with 10 boat dives.
A kaleidoscope of colours in the Maldives
Best for: wreck diving
Wreck of the Giannis D, Abu Nuhas, Egypt
The Giannis D cargo ship struck the coral reef en route from Croatia to Saudi Arabia 30 years ago. It’s not the world’s most dramatic, nor one of the largest underwater wrecks, but it’s very atmospheric and gives even inexperienced divers a taste of the adventure that makes wreck diving appealing. The topmost parts of the ship are only about 20ft below the surface, with the stern sitting on sand at about 100ft. Thanks to the proximity of the reef and the age of the wreck there is always a lot of marine life, and the site of the stern resting on the seabed with the funnel still upright makes for eerie, poignant photographs.
Diver level: All levels
Season: Year round
Booking: Seven nights’ b & b at the Elysees Hotel in Hurghada costs from £371, including flights and transfers. Five days’ diving costs £80 with Divers’ Lodge. The dive to Abu Nuhas costs £70 as it’s a long-range one.
Best for: colourful marine life
Noonu Atoll, the Maldives
This little gem of a reef is teeming with life: unicorn fish, mantis shrimps, big groupers and numerous varieties of tiny nudibranchs. Large shoals of hunters such as unicorn fish and tuna come hurtling from the open water to pick off the myriad schools of golden anthias that swirl in dense clouds above the healthy hard coral. It’s a tiny reef with ledges and overhangs covered in bright cup corals and feathery gorgonians.
Diver level: All levels
Season: Year round, though November-March may be better for visibility.
Booking: Noonu Atoll is accessible via a 10-night live-aboard dive cruise out of Malé with a northern extension itinerary: £2,749 per person, to include return charter flight from Gatwick, full board and up to three dives per day, through Regal Diving (01353 659 999; regal-diving.co.uk )
The clear seas of Baa Attoll, Maldives
Kakani Thila, Baa Atoll, the Maldives
Thanks to a vast number of islands and atolls, the Maldives has become one of my favourite overall diving areas, so not surprisingly I believe it deserves mention for more than one specific site. This reef always delivers one of my favourites – with the ungainly but brilliant scarlet or yellow frogfish, stingrays lurking in caverns and clownfish nestling in crimson anemones. And the beauty of the Maldives is that year round there is a good chance of encountering those majestic underwater fliers, the mantas, which are found here in higher numbers than almost anywhere else. And soft corals, waving exotically tinted fingers in the current, bring another profusion of colour to the tableau.
Diver level: Moderate experience required
Season: December to April for the best visibility, but June-October for the mantas.
Booking: Ten nights, with flights and 20 dives, costs from £2,255 with Divequest (01254 826322; divequest-travel.com ).
Best for: weird and wonderful dives
Bradford Shoals, Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea
Kimbe Bay is a vast area on the northern edge of New Britain and home to about two thirds of all the fish species in the Indo-Pacific. With hundreds of reefs, it’s hard to name a single site, but Bradford Shoals is as good as any: an oceanic pinnacle surrounded by deep, deep water. Large schools of barracuda can form into tornado-shaped clouds of life, silvertip sharks can spiral up from the depths and there will almost inevitably be dolphins off the bow at some time of the day.
Diver level: Experienced
Booking: Original Diving (020 7978 0505; originaldiving.com ) can arrange a trip from £2,500 per person for seven nights at Walindi Plantation Resort in a Plantation House Room on a full-board basis, including return international flight from Britain via Singapore, domestic flights and a package of six dives.
A diver gets close to soft coral in Papua New Guinea
Best for: remote adventure
Neptune’s Arm, Vamizi Island, Mozambique
Several miles offshore, and with no clue on the surface to what lies below, this submarine plateau holds a precious secret. A deep vertical wall, rock gulleys encrusted with coral and a promontory swept by deep-water currents combine to attract marine life. When conditions are right there will be thousands of large snappers, dozens of sharks, plus eagle rays and turtles in this isolated spot. Currents can be fierce, but this is an underwater heaven that only a few lucky divers will ever see.
Diver level: Moderate to advanced
Booking Original Diving (020 7978 0505; originaldiving.com ) offers seven nights, fully inclusive, in a luxury villa with a package of eight dives (including Neptune’s Arm), return international flight from Britain to Dar es Salaam, return charter flight from Dar es Salaam to Vamizi and a complimentary massage, for £4,950 per person. This is part of a diving special offer and includes one free night, eight dives for the price of five and a free massage, so represents a significant saving.
- Tim Ecott is the author of Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures in a Liquid World (Penguin)