Diving Aliwal Shoal in South Africa we saw lots of oceanic black tip sharks and ragged tooth sharks, also known as sand tiger shark or grey nurse shark (depending which part of the world you are in), and many huge stingrays.
Aliwal shoal is a reef about 5km offshore and has really cool rock formations with coral growth and all sorts of critters, nudibranchs and fish life if you care to look – hard task given the distraction of the big stuff – sharks, rays and turtles.
We were there at the end of December when conditions were supposed to be nice with warm(er) water and good visibility. We got some rough sea, visibility deteriorated from very nice 15-20m on the first day to about 2m on the last day and water temps at about 20C. Despite imperfect conditions diving was superb and we saw sharks and rays on every dive and very close.
We were diving Aliwal Shoal from a small town of Umkomaas about 50km south of Durban in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. We stayed and dove and mostly ate at Blue Ocean Dive. They run a very professional operation, efficient yet easy going and friendly. It is nice to have the resort, the dive operation and a good restaurant all in one place. Diving is on rubber duckies which are launched from the river mouth – which is nice since you do not have to push the boat into the ocean and try to hop into it as we did in Mozambique. Dive sites were mostly 15-20 minutes by boat and would be less if we did not have as much wave action. They do two dives out but also have one of the boats going back after one dive – which gives flexibility. We dove on air as most sites were about 20m or less. Water temps were 22C at the warmest and 19C lowest. We had 5mm wetsuits which was ok for 22C but not quite enough for 19C.
From Umkomaas we headed further down the coast – as part of our long trip from Durban to Cape Town – to dive at Protea banks. Bad weather followed us with wind, big waves, rain, and poor viz. We persevered and still did two dives and saw some ragged tooth sharks and rays. Bottom line is there is some amazing diving at Aliwal shoal and Protea banks – we just have to get better weather next time. And, there is the sardine run to aspire to!
Around Exmouth you can dive and snorkel Ningaloo reef, fish, enjoy endless pristine beaches and hike in Cape Range National Park. Exmouth is a small town of about 2,000 people tripling its population during the high season. It is located 1,270km north of Perth on the coast of Western Australia. We dove Exmouth Navy Pier considered to be one of the best shore dives in the world and among top 10 Australia dive sites. We snorkeled along Ningaloo reef at Turcuoise Bay and Oyster stacks, walked along and picnicked on perfect white sand beaches, and drove around and hiked for stunning views in Cape Range Natural park.
Our trip to Exmouth was a part of a longer West Coast trip camping near Coral Bay as a base. We drove up to Exmouth and spent two nights there staying at Ningaloo Lodge. On the first day after arriving around noon time to Exmouth we went to Cape Range Park which has an impressive terrain of cliffs sloping into ocean with many beautiful beaches all along the shore of the park. We hiked around Yardi Creek which flows through a strikingly red canyon.
Next day we went for our Navy Pier dive with Dive Ningaloo. Exmouth Navy Pier is a functioning Navy Pier and only one company is licensed to run the dives. The pier has been closed to public access for more than 50 years and has lots of marine life as a result. We did two dives of about 50 minutes each – very precisely timed for slack tide as currents can be very strong and saw big schools of fish, sharks and huge cods.
On our last day in Exmouth we went back to Cape Range park to snorkel at Turquoise bay and Oyster stacks and picnic on the beach. It is a stunningly beautiful place and Exmouth is an excellent base to explore Ningaloo coast. There are several nice restaurants, two supermarkets, several hotels and self-catering rentals, and good roads making it possible to get around without four wheel drive.
Coral bay 1,100 km north of Perth on the coast of Western Australia is where Ningaloo reef touches the shore and one can swim and snorkel over the reef directly from the beach. Coral bay has a hotel, two caravan parks, a handful of restaurants and a few permanent residents. The shoreline is a sequence of pristine bays with perfect white sand beaches protected by sand dunes where kangaroos hop.
We snorkeled off the shore and did a dive/snorkel trip to see mantas, sharks and impressive corals. There is also whale shark and humpback whale watching depending on the season – with spotter planes significantly improving chances of seeing them. We were there in June and Humpback whales were just starting to arrive.
What to see
We did Coral Bay as part of a longer road trip from Perth to Exmouth camping about 15km north of Coral Bay at Bruboodjoo camp site as a base. This camp site does not have any amenities and one has to be fully self-sufficient including water and portable toilet. There are two caravan parks with amenities in Coral Bay itself, a hotel and backpackers (with rooms with private ensuite bathrooms).
We snorkeled off the beach on the corals in Coral Bay itself and also did an organized tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive which included two dives and snorkeling with Mantas (spotted by spotter planes). We also went exploring the shore on a quad bike driving on the beach and inland sand roads around the dunes.
The scenery is pristine – there are endless empty beaches, oyster reefs and we even saw a guitar shark about a meter off shore with its dorsal fins sticking out of the water. It is am amazing place of largely untouched nature and out of this world sunsets.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site covering 97 thousand hectares in the center of the Sulu sea in the heart of the coral triangle – diving is spectacular. Research shows that there are 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and a nesting site for Hawksbill & Green sea turtles here. Most dives are along walls covered with corals in very good condition. We went at the end of the season during the first week of June and saw lots of reef sharks, manta rays, eagle ray, lots of turtles, large bumperhead parrot fish and napoleon wrasse, and even a hummerhead shark (albeit far – we were at about 40m and it was at abt 50) as well as variety of schooling fish.
We missed the whale shark and will be going back for sure. Tubbataha is only accessible by liveaboard and diving season is short between mid-March and mid-June. Visibility is superb about 30-50 meters. Only about a dozen boats operate diving trips and given the size of the reef you most likely will not have too many divers around you.
What to see
Tubbataha reef is only accessible by liveaboard. The information on the park and liveaboards in the park is here. All liveaboards depart from Puerto Princessa in Palawan. There are regular flights to Puerto Princessa from Manila and Cebu. Most operators offer transition trip as the first and last trip of the season. Transition trip is a good opportunity to combine Apo Reef and Tubbataha reef in one trip. Transition trip in March departs from Batangas and ends in Puerto Princessa and the last trip of the season in June starts in Puerto Princessa and returns to Batangas. Puerto Princessa town has many hotels and expanding restaurant options. There is not much to do in Puerto Princessa itself.
Further ideas for combining Tubbataha trip include going to El Nido in the north of Palawan island – about 5 hour overland transfer or private plane transfer – or visiting Underground River and Honda Bay. If you do a transition trip in/out of Batangas than it can be combined with diving in Anilao or Puerto Galera. Tubbataha is definitely a world class destination and by far the best diving in the Philippines!
Palau is the largest shark sanctuary where all commercial shark fishing was banned in 2009. Palau diving is one of the best in the world. Sharks, mantas, barracuda, napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrot fish and much more. Healthy corrals, stunning walls and drop offs. There are also WWII wrecks and famous jelly fish lake.
What to see
Palau Aggressor (October 2014)
The best way to dive Palau is on a liveaboard. Islands are spread out, and while it is possible to dive from land-based resorts, it is best to go with a liveaboard – you see more and cost-wise it is close once you take into account diving, accommodation and food. We went with Palau Aggressor – and had a superb trip. Food was so good that I think we all gained weight despite doing 4-5 dives a day every day. Their dive operation is superbly organized and professionally run.
The map shows approximate itinerary of our liveaboard trip. Arrival and departure point is Koror – the main city of Palau.
United flies to Koror from Manila and Guam, Korean Air and Asiana from Seoul and Delta from Tokyo-Narita. Flights are not cheap.
There are broadly two options for accommodations in Koror – resorts outside of downtown or hotels in town proper. Resorts outside tend to be nicer but also more expensive. Hotels in town largely cater to Asian tourist primarily from China, Korea and Japan. Value for money for accommodation in Palau is rather low. If you view the choice of accommodation as just a place to sleep between flying, getting on the boat and flying out DW Motel is a reasonable option. We had a couple of days between flights and getting on the boat and rented a car and went around the big island. More on that here.