For dive addicts, the thrill of strapping on their oxygen tank, plunging off the side of a dive boat, and watching it loom out of the blackness is the sole fix. It’s amazing how things look grey and dull at first, but then you shine a torch on the barnacles and the anemones that have grown on the massive hulk over the years. Colours explode. What a delight to suddenly see the watery world light up–pinks, greens, and yellows, like an underwater rainbow! Just sometimes, these big ocean thrills can drift the way of amateurs as well.
On World Oceans Day, we list out some underrated scuba-diving destinations, waiting to envelope you.
Being the only place in the world where you can dive directly in a crack between two tectonic plates, this one offers the surreal experience of diving into Iceland’s Atlantic rift—yes, the one that divides America from Europe. Here the melted water from Iceland’s glaciers is filtered by the porous lava rock which in turn flows into these gullies. The immersive dive takes you on a meandering journey through curiously named areas: Silfra Black Crack, and Silfra Lagoon. In every corner, expect to be greeted by stunning vistas. The water shimmers when gas occasionally bubbles from below, a result of deep volcanic activity. As the Silfra Fissure widens, you find yourself in Silfra Hall, where you might possibly spot local ducks and geese paddling overhead. Near the opening to Thingvallavatn Lake is the Silfra Cathedral, the deepest point of the diving tour. The clarity of the water also means that sun-rays refract through the surface of the water, creating rainbows on Silfra’s bed, a sight to behold! Divers can get their ‘between continents’ photo captured here.
When: While a calm and overcast winter day will be perfect to spot beautiful reflections in Silfra’s water surface, a windy summer day with waves will cast sun ripples into the Silfra bottom. However winter surface conditions can be more challenging with regards to the cold.
From a depth of 105 feet, the Skellig, abound by exquisite rock formations, rises precipitously from the Atlantic off Ireland’s west coast. While kelp dominates the seascape, it’s the visual rush that makes this location so special, as it serves sheer walls of corals and sponges in great visibility as you go cold water diving. It is home to huge colonies of puffins, seals and over 60,000 gannets. A UNESCO site, marine reserve with seabird colony on the surface, and also the site for the Star Wars movies, this one should be a part of every diving enthusiast’s diving bucket list.
When: May-October, when daylight is plentiful and the weather is likely to be at its most clement.
Uninhabited since the 1820s, the Poor Knights islands, located north of Auckland, off the small coastal town of Tutukaka, are known to be eroded remnants of a four million-year-old volcano. They are bathed by warm, clear waters of the East Australian Current (EAC), popularised in the film Finding Nemo, and are abound by sub tropical species. The bait is heavier for underwater photographers, as the marine colours around the boulders are unforgettable: imagine a psychedelic haze from kingfishers, snappers, mackerels, to endemic pink and blue mao maos. A rich tapestry of pinks, yellows, oranges, and blues abound with temperate species in the kelp and sponge gardens around the islands.
When: February-May, as it features pleasant water temperatures of around 21° C, making it the perfect time for the dive.
Less than 32 kilometres off the bustling shore of Naha-Okinawa’s capital, the Kerama is home to several gorgeous islands. These landforms dramatically rise, shark-fin-like, from tropical blue-green waters. While it is a popular dive destination among Japanese divers, it is yet virtually unheard of outside. Known for its crystal clear waters, diving enthusiasts can swim with sea turtles, an aquarium of anemone fish, and cowry shells with delicate eggs that resemble opaque teardrops. Other typical sights here include the cuttlefish, known to many as chameleons of the sea, as well as larger sea creatures such as humpback whales and manta rays. Known to be home to over 200 types of corals with over 100 dive points, this destination caters to all the different highs of a satisfying dive.
When: July-September, when the water temperature here is the highest at around 27° C. However, factor in that June-October is typhoon season, so flights and boats may often be cancelled.
It’s no secret that Ecuador is home to one of the most beautiful marine life in the world. Most divers equate the Galapagos with Ecuador’s best diving spots. However, it is the unexplored Isla de la Plata, an island two hour away from Puerto Lopez, that offers an incredible diving experience. Its standout feature is that it hosts the largest seasonal congregation of giant manta rays in the world. During the peak manta ray season, it plays host to between 50 and 600 individual giant manta rays. Growing up to 23 feet, they have been documented here in all their free glory. Isla de la Plata is also a breeding ground for blacktip sharks. Divers can also witness abundant macrofauna such as nudibranchs here.
When: June-December, with water temperatures between 16-22° C. However, it can get windy between July- October, making for rougher seas and poorer visibility.
Stretching for more than 260 kilometres along Western Australia’s rugged coastline, Ningaloo is one of the world’s largest fringing reef systems. Comprising dense, hard coral gardens, sand flats, large areas of rich sea grass and deep ocean pinnacles, ledges and walls, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2011. The outer reef of Ningaloo protects the shores from large ocean swells and weather, creating a 5000-square kilometer haven, which is home to 250 species of hard corals and 500 different species of fish. These include endemic stunners such as sailfin catfish and a year-round populations of manta rays. Whale sharks visit this landscape in large numbers between April-June.
When: It’s possible to dive here around the year, however winters (May-November) remain the best time to spot manta rays. July-November is the ideal time for spotting humpback whales.
The largest atoll in the Tuamotus, located approximately 350 kilometres from Tahiti in the French Polynesian Islands, Rangiroa diving offers breathtaking pelagic encounters with dolphins, gray reef sharks and silvertip sharks.
Special sights include schools of jacks and barracuda, eagle rays, turtles, whitetip and blacktip sharks. Divers can witness manta rays occasionally, apart from blacktip sharks resting on the sand, or nimble eagle rays passing by. The coral in the area is abundant with megafauna (the dive site is full of colorful reef fish) that can be spotted while doing some excellent drift dives. It is one of the only places in the world where you will be able to dive with dolphins.
When: June, for encountering hundreds of gray sharks coming to breed, sometimes even great hammerhead sharks, while July-September is the perfect time to sight manta rays.
With surge and current factored in, conditions at some of these sites can be challenging at times. There could be an abundance of caves, sometimes with air pockets, or tunnels and cracks, so be prepared for some overhead environments. You might need to be a qualified diver with a certification in drysuit specialty, or a qualified diver with a specific number of logged dives conducted over the past two years, signed by an instructor or divemaster.
In some sites, extreme clarity of the waters can even lead one to lose all sense of depth. So good buoyancy control is of essence, to not only to avoid landing deeper than planned but also preventing any damage to the unique relics of nature beneath, the treasures of the ocean.
Misbaah Mansuri is a travel journalist, spa and wellness connoisseur based in the U.A.E. Her passion for travel was ignited at the age of 13 and since then, there has been no looking back. She is dedicated to unearthing the best in destinations, hotels and holistic hideaways, world-over.