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Here I have collected good messages from various news groups and mailing lists that I have read. I have tried to remove all names ( except for names of operators ). I have tried to email all authours to ask them if I can show their email on a web page, but I remove only thoose that ask me to remove their message. Also I only put their email address with their message if I have gotten a reply from them saying that that is OK.
The emails on this page are all written in 1997.
It's been a number of years since I've been there, but:
- NOTHING is cheap.
- Read the latest issue of National Geographic which had an article on FP. ( this was written in July 1997 )
- Skip Tahiti except to change planes.
- Moorea was the nicest island for vacationing, but the diving was so-so. Did have dolphins 20 feet off our overwater bungalo (not in your price range).
- Bora Bora diving was OK, better than Moorea, but I still wouldn't go there to dive. Interesting island, but not as nice as Moorea.
- Rangiroa diving was neat, if you like sharks and high speed drift dives. I liked it. Some wouldn't. It has the potential to be a real dive destination if someone ever markets it correctly.
Ah! Tahiti, one of my favorite places, now that the French Government has decided to quit their pointless neuclear testing. I can't speak for all the destinations you mentioned just Rangiroa Atoll. It's part of the 76 atolls that makes up Tuamotu and probably the best of Tahiti anyway.
The operator to go for is the most experienced operator Yves Leferve of Rai Manta Club. If he is a few dollars more expensive it's worth it. He's been there the longest and has the best facilities. August is a fantastic time to go to Rangiroa. Accommodation can be expensive anywhere in Tahiti unless you can settle for Pensions (huts). Most Pensions offer waterfront accommodation all meals and transfers for very reasonable rates. The diving is action packed, hundreds of sharks, manta rays every day (best time August) and supurb coral fishes. The water is always clear. Rai Manta Club can be contacted on tel (689) 968480 or fax (689) 968560.
A few weeks ago I asked about land diving at the Solomon Islands, especialy in
Hononari. I receved several messages, most of wiich were negative, but one positive
response from Cathy Church about "Let's Go Diving".
We just got back today and I wish to report that the diving and the service from "Let's Go Diving" and Evan Thomas was womderful. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were diving that night. Their shop was well stocked, staff friendly and they feature SCUBA PRO and MARES equipment and repairs. They accept VISA and Mastercard and are located in the Solomon Seas Hotel. We made two dives per day, plus night dives. Evan and his staff cleaned and had our equipment ready each day. All we had to do was take care of our camera equipment and not lug dive gear to and from our hotel. We followed this week with a week aboard the "Solomon Seas', which was also excellent and discovered that over 75% of what we saw on the live-a-board was seen during our land based diving. Hononari is not the most exciting city in the world of diving, but the diving and the service we received resulted in a very positive experience, as were the wrecks.
Due to the limited flights to the area I strongly recommend that you book a few days extra for land based diving to become adjusted to the area, get into the groove with your photography and eliminate hassels. We also learned (the hard way) that Solomon Airlines requires that you confirm your flight BEFORE you leave home to start your trip.
I had wanted to go to Aldabra for many years - not even for the diving, but to see the
giant tortoises (I'm a big reptile fan) - I had promised years ago to send photos of the
tortoises to my friend who lives on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos so he could compare
them with the various species in the Galapagos. I finally made it to Aldabra in 1993, on
the Fantasea II. It also has a huge sea turtle population, and nesting colonies of many
birds, and the last remaining population of flightless birds in the Indian Ocean, the
white-throated rail - if you like birds, have the Zodiacs land you on Polymnie Island and
you have a good chance of seeing the rails as they are fairly curious.
It's kind of a complex story, which I won't bore you with, but our trip was not the usual one that boat was making even then, and I am not sure what their itinerary is now. I think you either sail from Mahe (where the main airport of the Seychelles is, about 1000 miles due east of Mombasa, Kenya) to Aldabra and then fly back to Mahe from the landing strip on Assumption Island, about 20 miles north of Aldabra, or the other way around. The Fantasea II has a huge cruising range, something like 8000 miles - it used to be a North Sea oil rig tender and has huge engines. It's a very fast and very comfortable boat, though the cabins are all different shapes and sizes. We had a cabin that could have slept five, with a queen-sized bed, two singles, and a pull-down bunk, so we kept all our camera gear on the single beds, easy access, but the head was tiny and often flooded if anyone took a shower anwhere. Wierd. Check the boat layout when picking your cabin - some are teeny, others huge. There is a big "owners cabin" on the main deck - looked very, very nice. Boat did not have E6 processing, maybe still doesn't. The food was terrific. The crew is great.
The northern Seychelles are granite islands with fringing reefs, not coral atolls. Very dramatic, lots of big stuff, but not heavily coral. Halfway south towards Aldabra are the Amirantes, which are coral cays - these are sea fan territory. Commerical fishing in this area has down in the big schools of tunas and jacks, but not elsewhere in these islands.
In the far south, Aldabra, Assumption, Cosmoledo, and Astove are coral islands. Assumption is a patch reef, and the others are atolls. Assumption was once mined for sea bird guano, which is why it has a landing strip on it. Astove and Cosmoledo were oil palm plantations at one time, briefly - they are *very* isolated places. Astove is soft coral heaven, surrounded by a gorgeous wall.
Aldabra has a huge lagoon, with four channels in and out. A lot of the lagoon empties at low tide, and the main (western) channel has mega currents at that time. The original Calpyso almost sank there, in the mid-60s, because of the currents. There's a mooring buoy inside the main channel today, which is actually attached to the anchor Calypso lost, which is embedded in the coral at about 60' - our trip set that mooring buoy. Diving when the tide is flowing is a wild ride, but you won't see much! The northern channel (Johnny Channel) has a zillion tunas, plus even more smaller stuff - this is a *nice* dive. The whole time we were in the area, there was a typhoon off to the east, so we only dove the west and north sides, and usually anchored inside the lagoon at night (Fantasea has huge anchors - a big sailing yacht tried to do the same, but kept getting swept back out to sea through the main channel because of the current - that's why the mooring buoy is there now - not much shelter in this area from storms since Cosmoledo and Astove are teeny and I don't think a boat of any size can get into either lagoon for a storm shelter). All kinds of neat stuff at night, like Spanish dancers, but watch out for jellyfish!
Make sure your insurance is current - this is a *really* remote location. If anything were to happen, you'd have to be brought out to the landing strip on Assumption and a plane flown in from the African mainland to get you to safety. There's no refueling facilities on Assumption, so the small Seychelles inter- islands planes can't make the round-trip from Mahe as it is about 800 miles away, though the governmental jet can do it and that is how we got down there (and I think is what the Fantasea is using now). Be conservative... and bring all the spare parts for your gear yourself. If the boat or another passenger doesn't have one, you're going to have to do without it until you get to Mahe. Pressure guages on our trip were fixed with wetsuit cement - several got damaged from being transported in an unpressured plane at 37,000 feet (mine survived!). Speaking of which, unless you sail into AND out of Mahe, which I don't think is what the itinerary is, do NOT leave a lens on any waterproof camera or housing unless you have taken the orings off - not designed for serious positive pressure from the INSIDE. One diver on our trip did all his shooting using my buddy's and my spare Nikonos V body because the shutter blew out of his in the unpressurized cargo hold of the flight down, and we weren't able to repair it enough that any of us trusted it (he took even better care of our gear than I do, too).
This is not a place for the macho diver who needs five dives a day or feels cheated. The distances are vast, and when the boat is transiting, you may get a day with no diving at all, even though Fantasea II is a VERY fast boat, unless the seas are calm enough that you can dive the African Banks north of the Amirantes (hopeless case when we were there, with the typhoon in the area). When you are in the Aldabra area, you can. And it's *expensive* - true of the Seychelles anyhow, unless you are paying in French francs or Deutschmarks - the weak dollar when we were there meant that nothing, nothing at all, was less than very expensive, but we knew that ahead of time.
Have a blast!! I'd go back in a minute!! Got room in your gear bag for a stowaway??
Re: Xxxx's question: Has anyone any experience of Aldabra (Indian Ocean atoll
belonging to the Seychelles), in particular with Fantasea II ?
Somewhere in this computer I had a multipage synposis of my month on Fantasea II with xxxx and others. Somehow, the file won't respond to a search. I'll look further later. David's coverage was in a Geographic issue last year. (this was written in August 1997)
Some brief comments:
The crew was great, but by now most have surely moved on.
Fantasea II is a good boat, though not totally like the current crop of liveaboards (vis-a-vis Peter Hughes, Aggressors, etc.).
Aldabra and surrounding atolls have a riotous profusion of marine life. Pristine underwater; like no one had ever been there.
Not a large animale mecca; a few manta.
Drift diving the incoming tide into the lagoon via Grande Passe is a wild ride. Not for the faint of heart and something you'll remember vividly for the rest of your life.
Mangroves in the lagoon terrific for poking around the roots underwater and watching the birds in the branches.
Tortoise everywhere. Ditto turtle females laying eggs during the night.
I'll reply on the more public line as it may interest others.
Mara Tua, Kakaban, Derawan andd of course Sangalakki are islands off the east coast of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo for those from my era). These are further south from Sipadan and are in Indonesian waters.
Sangalakki - This island is famous for its mantas. Most divers come to this area because of the publicity given in the English language press about the regular appearance of large numbers of mantas. The mantas come up to feed and are basically quite oblivious to snorkellers and cameras. They buzz you from all directions and it comes as quite a shock to have one calmly winging its way towards you as though you don't exist - only to veer away at the last minute (whew!). You can also wait for them near cleaning stations underwater - just follow the wide sandy channel underwater. Other than that, diving here is lovely shallow (70feet average) coral which many divers here take for granted.(I know!). Borneo Divers has a station here.
Derawan - Another island nearer the mainland. This has very good macro, especially under the long Derawan jetty. All sorts of sand creatures, crustaceans, gobies with long fins, sail fins, wasp leaf fishes, ghost pipes etc. There's a little wreck nearby studded with little things too. Locals know of dugongs round the other side but apparently these are very shy. There are also WWII wrecks near the channel. Derawan Diver Resort is based here. Try http://bpp.meg.net.id/derawan/ for more info. Accomodation is really good with attached baths.
Kakaban - an uplifted atoll with an enclosed lagoon with jelly fish - rather like Palau's. They have a lovely dive called barracuda point where when the current is strong, hammerheads gather to laugh at divers. (A bit deep though - 40+ meters). There's a thick rope for divers to haul themselves along. Goes beyond 40+m
Mara Tua - my favourite. Another atoll, this time with an open lagoon. This lagoon is 100-400m wide and the whole of this drains through one channel, creating a very strong tidal flow. This causes considerable disturbance and one can see small whirlpools at the periphery of the channel. The locals believed this area to be haunted by a giant octopus that pulled boats down. Recently people have been diving there and the general method is to wait till there is a good incoming tide. Then there is plenty of clear water rushing into the lagoon. The boats drop you outside, you fin along the wall to the channel. At the channel, the sea floor resembles a Greek amphitheater - again like Palau's Blue Corner - except there are several levels, the last at about 20+m before a steep drop. Here, if you can stay in that rip roaring current, you can cling to bare rock (nothing else there) and watch flights of eagle rays, schools of baras, huge rays flapping around (literally), dogtooth tunas, and of course those hammers can suddenly materialise. When you have run low on air, just let go and drift into the lagoon - a thrilling speedy ride. We carried housings and suffered. The next time, we carried nik V and Sea & Seas. Have been there twice just for Mara Tua. When other islands further out open - I hope to go again!
Sorry for the length. Warinig - you have to get the tides right for a thrilling Mara Tua. The dive resorts are reluctant to let people dive the outgoing tide - low vis from the lagoon and divers get swept out to sea - which is less controllable than into the lagoon.
I spent a week diving in Rangiroa between July 21 and 27. I dove with Ray Manta Club,
the largest dive outfit on the island. The water was outstanding, with 200 ft. of
visibility on good days and 100 ft. on bad ones. It is incredibly clear. Essentially all
of the dive sites center around the Tiputa and Avatoru Passes, which are at the ends of
the main section of the atoll. I did a total of seven dives, six at the Tiputa Pass.
Coral life is relatively poor. Several cyclones went through the area within a few months in 1982 and 1983 and tore up large sections of the reef. Some of it is in okay shape, with new corals forming, but there are large sections where there is little more than coral debris. As a consequence the number of reef fish is somewhat limited, with only on the order of a quarter to a third the densities you see in Fiji, for example. There's still a nice variety, it's just not very dense. I didn't see any soft corals at all.
There is a good variety of larger fish. Big schools of large (5 ft.) barracuda were regularly encountered, as were 4-6 ft. white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks. There were quite a few large Napolean Wrasses as well, and the occasional school of Jacks. I never saw a Manta Ray, but am told they are fairly common. Dolphins are seen from time to time as well.
The dives are quite deep, with just about all of them starting out with a descent to 110 ft., followed by a fairly long swim at 60-70 ft., and then long decompression stops at 20 ft. Rangiroa is known for big things, so often the guide will have you leave the reef and swim out into deeper water in search of larger fish. Dives tend to be hit or miss, with some where you see great things and others where you don't see much besides empty ocean. All of them ended with a decompression stop of 5-10 minutes, depending on the depth and time. Most of the dives lasted about 35 minutes.
All of the diving in French Polynesia is done under the French system, which mandates that all of the divers stay right with the guide. They are very rigid about enforcing this rule. I was told that if a diver gets DCS, the guide is jailed for allowing it to happen. Some of the guides allowed a bit of flexibility, while other insisted that the group stay in formation. In short, it's quite different from U.S./British/Australian diving practices.
This system creates some problems for photographers, in that it's awfully difficult to plan, set up, compose and shoot pictures while constantly checking to make sure you're right with the dive guide, who tends to move around pretty quickly.
The physical circumstances aren't particularly helpful either. You dive from Zodiaks (inflatables) that are typically quite full, with no safe area to put your camera. You then do a back first entry into the water, and they hand you your camera. After the dive you hand your camera up and then take off your BC, handing it up before you climb aboard, using the rope running around the circumference of the boat to boost yourself into the boat. The problem is that your camera is sitting there while 8-10 tank/BC combinations are being hoisted aboard. They do try to protect the camera, but there is certainly some danger involved. Nothing happened to mine but there clearly is some risk. As an aside, I was the only photographer on just about all of the dives. There's no place to get film developed in Rangiroa.
I would strongly encourage everyone to bring their own equipment. The rental gear is free, but tends to be somewhat limited. Many of the BCs are well worn, while the regulators typically don't have an octopus or a depth gauge. I brought my own equipment and was very glad to have it.
The guides are all French, but all speak at least some English. There are very few English speakers among the vacationers (95% of whom are French) and pre-dive instructions tend to be very brief. The guides are very proficient and are easy to deal with. They have a little van that comes around to the different hotels to pick people up and drop them off, so transportation is not a problem.
Despite some of the shortcomings, Rangiroa most certainly is worth diving. I saw more large animals in any given dive than I did in two weeks of diving in Fiji. Two highlights were the shark feeding dive and a high current drift dive where you shoot through the pass. Watching six foot sharks cruise by a few ft. away from you was incredible. Flying through the water at 6-7 mph with absolutely nothing within 70 ft. of you was unbelievable. Both have to be experienced.
This is a reponse to the following.
Comparison to Sipadan / Manado
In tiny Sipadan it is easier to see some big fish although of course in Wakatobi there is much more due to its huge size.
In Wakatobi you are the only divers within a 500 km range, and only small groups enjoy the reefs in privacy.
The resort is more convenient and quiet than Sipadan
- plenty of space in a parallel universe for nature lovers who like it unspoilt!
Manado is very easy and fast to reach, which brought lots of divers who cause increasing pressure on this small area. Still some very nice dives - for a few off days a good choice.
There are no beaches and housereefs in Manado, the dive sites are at least twenty minutes by speed boats away from the coast.
Your above statement is NOT TRUE and biased.
I am qualify to make the following statements because, I have spend over 20 days last year on the Baruna Adventurer with D. Doubilet exploring the reefs of Tukang Besi.
Sipadan - few places in the world can match the fish life of Sipadan in density and predictability in one small island. Tukang Besi is not one of them. The remaining good reefs are too few and far apart. Whist we find some outstanding walls, I am not sure the effort and monies justify for the average diver and photographers.
No house reef in Manado! - Have you dive Murex? Dr. Hanny Batuna has one of the best house reef in the world. Incidently, most critters found at Kungkungan can be found at Murex, just at the door step. There are a few American photographers I know of that have return to Murex for at least 3 times for 3 weeks each stay and just dive their house reef. They don't even bother with Bunaken. There are at least 5 car wrecks on that reef which are home to ghost pipe fish, mantis, frog fish, mandarin fish, stone fish just to name a few. My natural history pcs on squids were photographed entirely at the Murex's house reef.. mating sequence, laying and birth! In term of coral genera, I am a contributor to Dr. Carden Wallace project in documenting distribution and diversity of Acroporas in Indonesia and the Pacific. The diversity of such reef building or staghorn corals at Bunaken is much greater them Tukang Besi. We have made collection at both sites. Dr. Carden Wallace is one of the pioneering scientist that documented coral spawning.
Please check your facts.
>1.Is it good to dive in November, December or are there >underwaterstreams? If
not then which is the best and worst time to dive?
November is normally the month were the wind is picking up; up to Beaufort 6 is not uncommon but then, don't take my word for it. Water temperature will be 26/27 C. Over the years I found the best diving weather from April to June and September and October. Live aboarders will also be happy with the weather over the summer months; the mainland is piping hot. But, I will never deny a trip to the Rs, whatever season. After November water temp goes down quickly to 20 C. It will start heating up again by the end of March. Definetely no wx for shorties and skins; 8mm ( quarter inch ?) is fine though my brother was glad he brought his drysuit for January diving, like quite a few of the (skinny) diveguides..
You might find some unpredictable currents, but then the dive operator normally knows the area where they appear. For instance: the wreck of the Thistlegorm is notorious for these currents. Depending upon the operator you can use these currents to your advantage and then they are fun.
>2. Where should we stay? Hurghada, Sharm el Shikh or Ras Mohammed?
Sharm el Sheikh and Ras Mohammed are the same place; the option is to stay in Sharm itself (which used to be small..), Naama Bay, an artificial tourist village or further up north in Dahab, staying (budget) in tents with most of your diving shore diving. If you look for safety you will be well taken care of by most of the operators; especially in Sharm most of them rather keep an eye on their guests then allowing them to explore on their own :-( Oddly enough I did not find a single operator stocking 15 liter ( 130 cuft ?) tanks ( I like to take my time taking pictures) and 80 cuft was the standard.
Hurghada is quite a large city with hotels both downtown (3 Corners, 3 Corners Emperor, Shedwan) but with most of the hotel/resorts at the outskirts of the city. Though I did a lot of diving with 3Corners/Easy Divers they recently raised their prices, a very good alternative now is Shedwan with the German run Aquanaut divers. Very conveniently they have their own jetty, saving you the travel time in the morning and afternoon to the harbor. My favorite is still Hurghada for a variety of reasons. It gives you the option to travel further south into the direction of Sudan. There are day trips available to Abu Nuhas, a reef with 4 wrecks nearly in swimming distance. Harbor is larger/less congested than Sharm. Prices are better, tanks are larger. Hopefully the Brother Islands will open soon again, I am waiting already for over a year .
Unfortunately I will have to go diving the RS tomorrow ex Hurghada ( I am taking my 4mm full wetsuit) just in the blue on a live aboard I arranged just 5 days ago :-)
(And for any European contacts on the cheaper live aboards call me in 10 days or so; no financial interests but the American rates are outrageous. I will put it in line :
No a/c (which you don't need, bring your sleeping bag if you want to see the stars) boring food after 3 days or so, lousy Egyptian Stella beer (unless you bought some trays of Heineken at the Hurghada tax free) , 3 (sometimes 4) long dives a day ( you are not going to need 5), 100 cuft tanks minimum, no camera facilities (generator only runs 4/5 hours a day), bring your own rinse tank (or WetBag, whatever) .
Do you want to dive or do you want to be pampered ?)
BTW, I am sorry using bandwidth for an item like the RS, not very photogroup related but it might help you planning your next trip. Questions ?, e-mail, I consider it my backgarden
If you are plannig going to Caribe but don't know where to go, I can recommend San
Salvador Isle (Bahamas). There's a Club Med Resort there named Columbus Isle.
It's an especialized diving resort, of course.
Diving is quite good there. Visibility was great, at least at the time I was there (June) and coral reef and marine life is nice, underwater colors are really nice. You can easily see barracudas, sharks, ...
Acommodation is first class as this is a Club Med. Other sports and activities may be done with no aditional charge. Diving is catamaran diving. I don't remember exactly, but I think there were two dives per day and a night dive weekly.
If yoy go there, Enjoy!
Hello everyone! xxxx and I just returned from the two areas currently being inquired about. We spent 9 days with xxxx and friends @ Walindi Plantation, PNG. One of my all time favorites! xxx and team did an incredible job in setting up our wedding. Yes, our wedding was native style with 2 tribes present to decorate the bride and groom. We all had a great deal of fun. xxxx was our still photographer and xxxx did the video. And the diving was at it's usual best!! Both wide angle opportunities and macro. Xxxx's and Xxxx's are wide angle favorites with the huge gorgonians - Rest Orf has the best macro. But the trip had a special wedding present. We had an encounter with no less than a dozen socializing sperm whales - right in Kimbe Bay!! Stay tuned for the upcoming Dive Travel Story. As far as the Solomon Islands - well you can't ask for a better place to follow up PNG. If you are going on Bilikiki Cruises (either boat), you should be impressed. Service was excellent - and so was the diving!! Out of all the dives on a 10 day trip - only 1 was just OK. The rest ran from very enjoyable to absolutely stunning. And if you are even more fortunate - you'll have Kay and Jim as your cruise directors. They are taking a leave for awhile after the first of the year. I'm sure Bilikiki will miss them.
Xxxx - I was on the Bilikiki twice - in May 95 and May 96.
My bottom line: the Bilikiki is the finest liveaboard I've been on and has set a high
standard that other operators would do well to emulate. To respond to your questions:
1. Quality of Dive Op/ Sites/ Currents/ Temp. Most of the diving is done from the two 18 foot tinnies. You really never have to schlepp your own gear unless you want to. Camera equipment is handled with great care, and the dive deck crew quickly learns who owns what. When the tinnies get to the designated dive site, the crew will help you get into your BC, you'll enter the water via backroll, and your camera will be passed done to you. You do you own thing u/w for as long as you want and never have to worry about surfacing in *the wrong spot* because the vigilant tinny driver will spot you - usually within seconds of surfacing. If you have to bob around for longer than a minute before being picked up, it will be the exception rather than the rule. To exit the water, you will pass up all your gear and climb up a stern ladder to reboard the tinny.
Sites vary from cruise to cruise, but the 10 day cruises do the Floridas, the Russells, Mborokua (Mary's Island) and the SE part of Morovo Lagoon in the New Georgia Is. group. Therre is lots of variety, from muck dive sites, to fantastic walls, to submerged pinnacles, etc. Currents are mostly light to nil - except on Mary's Is., where they can get a bit stiff, and on the pinnacles. Water temps during my two May trips ran 82 to 84 degrees.
2. E-6 Processing. Quality is excellent. Jim Light and Kay Nevin (soon-to-be-former boat managers) told us that Cathy Church pronounced the photo processing operation on the Bilikiki to be the best of any liveaboard she had been on. Frequency is whenever they get enough film together to process a batch. With a full boat of photographers, this will be at least daily. With a small group, perhaps every other day. Cost, as I recall, is $11 per roll.
3. Number of TV monitors for Videographers. As I recall, only one.
4. General Attitude Towards Guests. Superb! You really couldn't ask for a nicer, more competent crew.(And the food is pretty darn good, too!).
Have a great trip!
Diving conditions are o.k. but certainly not great by other Barrier Reef conditions.
Unfortunately, I had some of the worst experiences with the dive operations that I have
ever had anywhere else in the world. You are severely limited to depth and time both by
policy and by the fact they only have small tanks, approx 60 cu.ft.
I asked why such small tanks and received a surprisingly honest answer " ... the small tanks are easier to load and unload AND it minimizes bottom time so the trips can be kept short". Basically, the dive guides were lazy and unaccommodating. The overall cost to dive time ratio made Heron diving the most expensive I have ever experienced not to mention overall poor quality of services and 'ho hum' dive sites.
If you can change to a live a board, you will save yourself a lot of grief.
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