Monday, June 10, 2013

Primal Wilderness Rambling From The Deep

Looking for that unique SCUBA diving experience? As a SCUBA diving instructor, dive shop manager and lover of all things underwater, I'm often asked this question: where is the best diving?

In addition to being active in the world of professional diving, I'm also an avid recreational diver and committed traveler. Still, alas, I've not yet seen it all. For this reason, I've often sat, like many before me, in the presence of the all-knowing wonder that is the World Wide Web, searching for an answer. Sadly, while the internet has a lot to say on the subject, I find myself repeatedly disappointed with the many predictable top ten lists and oft-recycled recommendations. There are the crowd pleasers: the Galapagos, the Maldives, the Red Sea, plus the overrated popular destinations like Belize.

Sure, we'd all love to dive the fishbowl bonanza that is the Cocos Islands. However, what if you can’t afford the $5,000 liveaboards that many of these must-see locales require? What if you want something new, something different, something not so expected?

In my quest for the ultimate diving experience, I've spoken at length with experienced customers, newbie divers and professionals with whom I work and play. I've come to the somewhat obvious conclusion that the answer to “where is the best diving?” is relative. While a career diver may relish in the euphoria of a good muck dive, a novice may see only sand. Though a happy vacation diver stares in awe at the manta rays soaring overhead, his dive guide likely has his nose to the coral in search of a microscopic abnormality in neon slug form. To each, his or her own.

So, here are lists I've compiled from my own experiences, as well as those of co-workers and customers. These include some lesser known (but rather impressive) dive regions, plus interesting oddities and tips you won’t find automatically in a Google search.

Dive Regions:

East Timor – Due to years of armed conflict this tiny new nation, which has only recently opened up to tourism and has been virtually untouched by divers, has not yet made it onto the must-dive lists. However, it’s location in the coral triangle puts East Timor right up there with heavy hitters like the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia in terms of creature life and abundance. It also offers pristine sites with very few divers and some of the friendliest local guides around.

Togian Islands – The Togian Island Archipelago is in the Gulf of Tomini in Sulawesi, Indonesia. While dive professionals and macro enthusiasts may be well acquainted with the name, it's relatively unknown to the majority of recreational divers. The area is home to some of the world’s strangest, brightest, and most stylish creatures. Bring an underwater camera and keep your eyes peeled for the hairy, the glowing, the fluorescent and the miniscule.

Okinawa – This is a somewhat conflicted recommendation in light of the Japanese government’s horrendous disregard for ocean sustainability. Still, the Okinawa area boasts a plethora of easy-to-get-to sites, beautiful cave or wreck dives, plus copious amounts of nudibranchs and other interesting critters for which many flock to Southeast Asia. It should be noted when visiting Okinawa that it's best to opt out of enclosed whale shark diving with the creatures entrapped. Whale sharks are migratory animals and should be left to roam freely.

Mozambique – Sharks of every description, manta rays all year round and occasional humpback sightings are just some of what makes this southern African nation stand out as a dive destination. Here you won't only find the big guys but the little stuff too. With an abundance of macro life, in addition to all the usual suspects, you're sure to have a great experience.

New Zealand  Want wrecks, drop-offs and sub-tropical reefs with great visibility? How about kelp forests, schooling fish, dolphins and whales? If that’s not enough, what about catching a glimpse of the spectacular Leafy Sea Dragon? New Zealand has all this and was considered by Jacques Cousteau to be one of the world’s most interesting dive spots.

Wreck Diving Areas:

St. Lawrence River – Try river diving in what some call the freshwater wreck capitol of the world. In this upstate New York river, you'll find numerous wrecks with many dating back to the 1800’s, accessible from both land and boat. The area also promises great visibility and some of the best freshwater diving in the world.

Morehead City – You'll find all sorts of wrecks up and down the North Carolina coast, from U-boats to civil war wrecks, sail boats to fishing vessels, tankers to freight ships. And the added bonus? In addition to over 50 sunken wrecks, the North Carolina coast is also home to many shark species. The most notable is the commonly sighted, fearsome looking but relatively docile, Sand Tiger Shark. No chumming necessary!

Bikini Atoll - Bikini Lagoon in Micronesia serves as the resting place for many famous WW II naval vessels. Some were sunk by the U.S. in an attempt to learn the effects of nuclear bombing. There are all types of wrecks here: battleships, carriers, destroyers, submarines, even small transports and landing craft. Untouched by divers for many years, the area also sustains an abundance of sea life both big and small.

One-off Wonders:

Silfra Lake – In these Icelandic waters, you can dive the rift between the American and Eurasian continental plates. You won't see fish life, but the scenery is stunning and the cold clear water is a trippy experience.

Neptune Memorial Reef - Also known as the Atlantis Memorial Reef, this is an underwater graveyard located just 3 miles off the coast of Key Biscayne in Florida. It's home to hundreds of cremated remains, which make up the world's largest man-made reef. At a depth of only 40 feet, it's an easy and relaxing dive.

Homestead Crater – Take a dip in this 55-foot sulfuric dome in Midway, Utah. No fish life here, but it’s an interesting atmosphere with great visibility and 96-degree bathtub temperature.

Elephant Cave – Elephant Cave in Crete is filled with fantastic, colorful earth formations as well as the fossilized remains of an elephant including tusk, tooth and vertebrae.

Anika Wilson lives the life of a nomadic SCUBA diving instructor. She made the decision to wander without roots after becoming a professional diver 8 years ago and hasn't looked back since. She uses seasonal jobs to see the world and experience new places along with her husband. She trained as a writer in college, so travel blogging comes naturally. Her work can be found at

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Anika. I've never done any diving... but I've always been curious about it.