Unforgettable Maldives diving in the Indian Ocean
We set off from Singapore and connect in Colombo Sri Lanka, from where it’s just a one hour flight to the islands. There is literally nothing to see but sea all the way to the Maldives, in fact, I didn’t even see any land until almost just before the plane touches done, such is the slightness of the land mass. Immediately leaving the airport, one is greeted by the most wondrous of welcoming sights, the azure blue waters of the ocean lapping the shore, just ten metres or so from the airport exit.
We meet our friendly dive crew and clamber aboard the support vessel, that chugs its way across the shore line to the waiting MV Audrey, looking fresh in her navy blue and white livery.
Abroad the Princess, we find a spacious cruiser, with a well appointed lounge room, good sized cabins, generally all pretty up together, and much much better than the last beaten up Thai live aboard that took me to the Similan Islands a few years ago.
The morning starts early with a reveille at 6 30, and a beautiful view of the ocean. Three cups of powdered Nescafe just about rouse my slightly bewildered brain, and we clamber aboard the dive support ship, which the locals call call a Donnie. The first dive of the trip, Sunlight Thila, and for us, the first for over two years, means a good deal of faffing about, as I try to remember what weights to carry, how to rig the second stage octopus and all of the other paraphernalia that comes with Scuba diving.
The first five is little more than a quick 30 minute try out, to test the gear, and the group’s general dive abilities. Unfortunately the brand new Mares dive mask I bought for the trip leaks badly, which is a real shame as it’s super soft silicone would have made it very comfortable to wear, but no amount of strap tightening and re-positioning fixes the problem.
It’s with the second dive that we get begin to see what the Maldives dive experience is really about. Clear waters (though not the super crystal visibility I was expecting) the Hafusa Thila dive, is around a large column of coral, home to a sizeable group of grey reef Sharks, and a menagerie of tropical fish and animal life. The only blight is my mask which is still leaking, and my GoPro which, somehow I have failed to master the basics of charging up properly.
After the dive we have four hours of blissful lolling around on board, catching up on reading, and cultivating an early stage tan and watching the beautiful ocean pass by, punctuated by the occasional tropical island.
These islands look straight out of a child’s picture book drawing of a tropical island, with their palm trees, bright white sand, and fringed with shallow turquoise water. Being a castaway on one of these though would not be too testing for any would be Robinson Crusoe, for most are home to luxury resorts. We finish our first full day of diving with Fesdhai Lagoon
We anchor early evening, and the crew switch on the boats underwater lights. This has the desired effect, first the plankton are attracted to the lights, and then, about 30 minutes later, a Manta, it’s massive wing span unmistakable about five metres below us. We break for dinner, in the hope more Mantas will arrive, and then don our dive kit.
Descending into the dark ocean, the dive did not start auspiciously. Clouds of sediment thrown up by the group as we settle on any available pocket of sand amongst the coral, and reducing visibility to something akin to Victorian London.
Soon however, the huge shape of the Manta glides back into view, as for the next 30 minutes or so we have front row seats to a dazzling aquatic acrobatic show (see the video above). The big creature glides effortlessly between us, it’s giant fins coming within a centimetre or two of our faces, cavernous mouth wide open, as it hoovers up the plentiful plankton drawn in by our dive torches. Reaching the end of the line of divers, the giant creature with a few flaps of its fins, ascends before corkscrewing back on itself and coming back once more over our heads.
Fish Head Dive, Lhamiyaru Ga Thila and Dhigga Thila
A great days diving, made more enjoyable by swapping out my leaky mask for a clear one. We swim amongst pinnacles and submerged reefs, with plenty of tuna, black tip sharks, and to my delight, as I’ve not seen that many of them on my previous dives, two turtles. I find these creatures fascinating, with their colourful patterned skins, beaky noses, and sleepy looking faces. A shame that they have become one of the many victims of human over fishing, and though at least there is much more awareness of their precarious ecological state, there are still a depressingly large number of turtle food stalls in Singapore.
In the evening, the Princess Audrey sets anchor just off another picture postcard perfect Island. The inflatable slide is put into enjoyable service for an hour, before we set out in a dingy for our evening meal.
The little island is like the Maldives bottled into a tiny compact package, with dazzling white sand, blue sea and a small coral outcrop, offset by an orange hued sky as the sun sets. The crew put on a good show of food, and our little group of drinkers keeps bartender busy for most of the evening.
Whale Sharks Galore
Second dive of the day sees us enter the water alongside a long reef, along which we trundle for the best part of half an hour, with only a distant platoon of Devil Ray, and a turtle or two to report on. A couple of us a are beginning getting a little low on air, but the DM presses on in the hope of seeing something larger. His patience is rewarded, and out of no where comes one of the most distinctive silhouettes of the ocean.
The whale shark, long, and with a flat head wider than the body, with an enormous wide mouth that stretches almost across the entire width of it’s head. It move deceptively fast, it’s languorous sweep of its tail enough to propel it faster than an average Scuba divers finning. It’s a very brief glimpse, enough to tick it off the list, but by the time I’ve got the GoPro switched on, it’s already retreating into the murky gloom.
Back on board the dive support vessel, we don’t have to wait long until the next burst of excitement.
Multiple cries of ‘Whale Shark’ sees the whole consignment of divers scrambling for fins and masks, jumping into the water like a mass swim start at triathlon, and finning frantically towards another enormous fish.
After some frantic finning, I reach the head of the Whale Shark, and swim with an unobstructed view of is magnificent creature, an accomplishment only marred by the gallon of seawater I inhale though my snorkel. The whale shark eventually starts to pull ahead, and I abort my swim and return to the dive vessel, exhausted but exhilarated from the adrenalin and frantic swimming.
Back onboard, no sooner than we have time time to settle down to reflect on what we’ve just experienced, the cry of ‘Whale Shark’ goes up once more, and the mass ranks of the dive contingent once again bundle into the sea, and commence the frantic scramble to have a third, glorious glimpse of the gentle giant.
Night Dive and the Shark Banquet- Alimatha Jetty
Shark night Dive
Night time comes quickly at the Equator, and once darkness has set in, we clamber aboard the support vessel and chug across to a jetty adjacent to an Island resort.
Apparently this has become a favourite spot for nurse sharks, drawn here by years of Italian cooks throwing food leftovers over the side of the jetty. Having spent five years in Australia, I’ve seen plenty of nurse sharks, and while I am fascinated by this most gentle of sharks, after witnessing the Whale Sharks, it seems almost greedy to expect another mind blowing dive experience, but that is exactly what we get.
The bottom of the jetty is about is about 15 metres down, and the dive group gradually settles into a ragged line, ready for the evening entertainment. YP, one of the DM’s floats into view with a plastic bottle, uncorking a ripe mix of long dead tuna and assorted fish parts. This sends the waiting fish into a feeding frenzy with dozens of nurse sharks, trevally and Marble Rays jostling for food, oblivious to the lights and strobes of the assembled human gallery.
It’s aquatic bedlam, as nurse sharks pummel in from all directions, between divers, through legs, and commence their snaffling around the bottom for every last morsel. Some get a little boisterous, one even head buts one of the divers straight in the mask (see the start of the video above). I find it a little disconcerting to have a 10 foot shark is foraging to for shellfish a few inches from ones own delicate parts.
The show lasts for almost an hour, and by this time my legs are complaining after being folded for so long, and we surface into the warm evening air, noisily sharing the excitement of the spectacle.
Hammer heads and more nurse sharks – Diving at Miyaru Kandu, Sand express, Miyaru Kandu
By comparison to the previous day, Wednesday is comparatively unremarkable but fun day, mainly channel dives, where we drift with a light to medium current, along sand channels, and across stretches of flat coral. The slight lack of excitement of the mid morning dive is punctured by a glimpse of a hammerhead shark. Unfortunately I only glimpse a sideways glance of its stocky body as it swims behind a coral outcrop, but the sharper eyed couple to our left, get a view of the unique shaped head. The evening, we return to the jetty, this time a little earlier at dark, for a repeat of the previous nights spectacle. This time I more enjoy watching the sharks in the outer waters, and their graceful progress towards the site of the evening feed.
The Maldives more than live up to their billing as one of the top dive sites in the world, and if you like your aquatic ecology big and bold, then look no further. Even now, writing this a month later I am still re-living some of the amazing creatures we saw. If you are thinking of going, don’t hesitate, and you could do alot worse than booking on the Princess Audrey.