Go South for Scuba

Go South for Scuba

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Christmas Island: photo by Kara Murphy

If you’re a scuba diving enthusiast, your daydreams may feature a yacht, land-based luxury, racing fish-filled currents, calmer conditions, staggering depths, sunlight-filled shallows, inquisitive marine life or probably some combination of all of these. Whatever your preferred base and dive profile, add these six diving locations in the Southern  Hemisphere to your underwater bucket list.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Off Indonesia’s West Papua province, the 15,000-square-mile Raja Ampat archipelago has tremendous marine biodiversity: more than 75 percent of the world’s hard coral species, half of the world’s soft corals, 1,500 fish species, and 700 mollusk species.
Another heartwarming feature is its status as Indonesia’s first shark sanctuary; sea turtles, rays and dugongs are also protected.

While scuba sites are superb throughout the archipelago, Misool in the south has some of the best. Explore swim-throughs and say hello to Papuan scorpionfish at the Dunia Kecil (“small world”) site. Become mesmerized by otherworldly soft coral gardens at Whale Rock, and meet multitudes of fish—barracuda, Spanish mackerel and more—flying through Karang  Bayangan’s currents. Between dives, ease into a lake filled with ethereal jellyfish, their sting so mild it’s undetectable.

WHEN TO GO
October – April

DIVE CHARTER
Beautifully crafted, 167-foot Dunia Baru has seven ensuite cabins and is an ideal base for remote dive adventures. duniabaru.com

Ari Atoll, Maldives

For wonders on a grand scale, head to Ari Atoll, one of 26 natural atolls in the remote and vulnerable 1,190-island Maldives archipelago. Whale sharks cruise its outer edge year-round; if you’re lucky, you’ll swim close to the planet’s biggest fish, awed by their
might and magnificence.  However, this atoll has smaller delights as well. At the Hafsa Thila dive site, for example, hundreds of psychedelically colored anemones and anemonefish create a striking dream world. At nearby sites, giant moray eels, sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and fish—fusiliers, butterflyfish, tangs, parrotfi sh, and more—add to the enchantment. Migratory reef manta rays are also common, and one manta event is well worth a detour. Between June and November, at high tide during the full and new
moon, up to 200 hungry rays gather for plankton feeding frenzies in Baa Atoll’s Hanifaru Bay, so add this to your scuba itinerary, if possible.

WHEN TO GO
Year-round, although seas tend to be calmest in March.

DIVE CHARTER
128-foot Four Seasons Explorer has 10 staterooms and one suite. Charter her or book a place on a scheduled cruise. fourseasons.com/maldivesfse

Christmas Island, Australia

With a narrow fringing reef harboring 600 species of fi sh, 88 species of pristine coral, caves, and steep walls plummeting to the deep sea, remote Christmas Island—in the Indian Ocean and closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland—offers a bounty
of dive sites…64 altogether. These include the Rhoda Wall, which begins at 60 feet and descends to 10 times that; Daniel Roux, a lively coral outcrop; and the Thunderdome
and Thundercliff caves. The former cave has a dark, air-filled chamber in its inner reaches; rise for a breath here and let your imagination toy with its chair-shaped natural formation known as “Neptune’s Seat.” Does a sea goddess rule from here?

WHEN TO GO
November to April for whale sharks; November for the red crab migration; and May to October if you’re visiting via yacht.

LANDBASED EXPLORATION
Christmas Island Wet’n’Dry Adventures offers daily dive trips. divingchristmas.com

Similan and Surin Islands, Thailand

To sample Thailand’s best scuba diving, venture into the Andaman Sea, about 40 miles west of Khao Lak, where 11 granite boulder islands (the Similans) attract boatloads of divers and snorkelers, thanks to the good visibility, intriguing underwater boulders, coral gardens, and other marine life.

Hin Muan Deaw (“whole roll of film rock”), a sea fan and soft coral-covered rock near islands No. 5 and No. 6, and West Ridge (near No. 10), which features a manta cleaning station, are just a couple must-visit sites. The area’s most exquisite dive, though, is 40 miles north, in Mu Ko Surin National Park. Here, Richelieu Rock—a flat, horseshoe-shaped, sedimentary limestone rock draped in pink, red and purple corals—rewards divers
with a dizzying display of fish as well as turtles, manta rays, moray eels, and scorpionfish.

WHEN TO GO 
The Similan Islands are only open to visitors from November to mid-May with best visibility between December and March.

DIVE CHARTER
Dunia Baru can include the Similan Islands on charters traveling to or from Myanmar’s Merguiarchipelago. duniabaru.com

Rainbow Reef, Fiji

Fiji is blessed with more than 4,000 square miles of coral reef and more
than 1,000 fi sh species. Dive sites are scattered throughout the 333-island
archipelago; however, make Rainbow Reef, in the narrow Somosomo Strait
between Vanua Levu and Taveuni, your first stop. Here, about 20 scuba sites are
spread along its southern section. The abundance of soft coral is the result of
water rushing through the channel during tidal shifts, thus providing nutrients
for the marine life.

The Great White Wall—a scenic vertical wall of soft, white corals—is the most famous site and is best experienced during low slack tide, when the current is minimal and the soft corals are visible. After descending to 49 feet, you’ll enter a swim-through filled with soldierfish and fairy basslets. Exiting at about 82 feet, turn left and begin drifting along the spectacular wall, which extends to depths of more than 130 feet. Remember to move away from the wall at least once to properly witness its grandeur.

WHEN TO GO
April – October; check with your dive guide for the best tidal window for the Great White Wall.

LANDBASED DIVE LUXURY
Laucala Island, a 40-minute boat ride from the Great White Wall, offers diving day trips and glamorous villas. laucala.com

Lady Elliot Island, Australia

If close scuba encounters with manta rays and sea turtles sound like your version of heaven, book a trip to Lady Elliot Island, a coral cay on the southernmost Great Barrier Reef. Expect to fall in love as reef manta rays dance elegantly around cleaning stations such as Lighthouse Bommie; for the ultimate treat, visit in the Austral winter and early
spring, when humpback whales migrate along Australia’s East Coast. Their song, audible on nearly every dive, will fill your senses. Keep your fins crossed that one swims past before you surface.

WHEN TO GO
July and August

LANDBASED EXPLORATION
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort offers dives twice daily. ladyelliot.com.au

DIVE CHARTER
Ocean Alliance represents a number of yachts that charter on the Great Barrier Reef. oceanalliance.com

Story and photos by Kara Murphy, Southern Boating September 2017

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