Ten great dive sites
Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa
Almost every year around June, enormous shoals of sardines, millions strong and kilometres long, swim up the South African coast towards Mozambique. Among the best places in the country to witness the Sardine Run is KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast, along which lies the scuba-diving town of Umkomaas.
Tubbataha Reef, Philippines
Well out of sight of land and almost 200km southeast of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, this World Heritage Site is only accessible on live-aboard boats when seas are favourable between March and June. Its very isolation means it’s not overrun by package-tour divers. For a real buzz, dive deep over one of the many coral walls that seem to plunge into infinity.
Bloody Bay Wall, Cayman Islands
Bloody Bay Wall is over 3km long and dotted with coral arches, chimneys and sand chutes. Giant barrel sponges as tall as a man cling to the wall, while barracuda, Nassau groupers and turtles patrol the wall. The waters around Little Cayman are among the clearest in the Caribbean, let alone the world, and floating over the drop-off is a unique experience
The Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan
Tucked between the arid lands of northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the Red Sea is one of the world’s premier diving destinations, and leading off from its northern tip the Gulf of Aqaba boasts some of its best and least-damaged stretches of coral. The water here is nearly always warm and the reefs exquisite.
Palancar Reef, Mexico
Teeming with marine life, Palancar is just one small part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which stretches from Mexico to Honduras, but it is in a prime position to flourish. Lobsters pick their way delicately along outcrops, feelers are blown by the current, while blue-green parrotfish gnaw at the coral with their beaky mouths.
The brilliantly turquoise waters here hold over two thousand species of fish, including serpent-like moray eels, bulbous napoleon wrasse and huge, elegant manta rays. With visibility of up to 40m, diving in this remote archipelago, 700km southwest of Sri Lanka, is understandably big business, and established dive centres at most resorts offer reef and drift diving, as well as the opportunity to dive at night.
Famous for its large resident population of green and hawksbill turtles as well as healthy numbers of reef sharks and magnificent coral, Sipadan is Malaysia’s only oceanic island. Sitting in the Sulu Sea off the northeastern coast of Borneo, it’s also a great base for exploring the nearby shoals of Kapalai and the island of Mabul.
Pacific Harbour, Fiji
Just off the south coast of Viti Levu is a stretch of water that offers the world’s ultimate shark diving experience – the chance to encounter up to eight species of the ocean’s top predators with no cage or chainmail to protect you. It's a great way to learn about these much-maligned creatures.
White Sea, Karelia, Russia
Russia’s far north is a landscape of wonder and wandering once the colder months settle in and the unforgiving landscape freezes over, and ice diving in the White Sea is probably the most memorable time you’ll ever spend under water. Connected to the world above via a single safety rope, use your underwater torch to follow your guide down past ice hummocks, rifts, cavities and caves, minnowing under tall arches and vertical rocks overgrown with sea anemones and sponges.
Poor Knights Island, New Zealand
Jacques Cousteau championed the Poor Knights Islands as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. Dive boats spread themselves over fifty recognized dive sites that jointly cover New Zealand’s most diverse range of sea life, including subtropical species such as Lord Howe coralfish and toadstool grouper. Near-vertical rock faces drop 100m through a labyrinth of caves, fissures and rock arches teeming with rainbow-coloured fish, crabs, soft corals, kelp forests and shellfish.
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