Depending on which part of India you live in, it could take you almost all of your daylight hours to reach the island of Havelock.
Accessed exclusively via government ferry, from the capital city Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar’s Havelock Island is delightfully cut off from the range of mobile phone networks. With pristine beaches and clean cerulean waters, Havelock looks like your phone wallpaper come to life and it is here that much of India comes for quality scuba diving.
While there are enough dive sites to go around and visit at all levels, some warrant a special mention:
The Wall, located in the channel between Havelock and Peel Islands, is a must-visit site for divers of any proficiency level. Below the cool, blue surface, the underwater plateau of The Wall has a sudden steep drop. Accessible to entry-level divers pursuing open water licenses, the reef is a visual treat from a meagre 10 metres underwater. Packed with purple, yellow, and red soft coral, you can expect to see octopus, scorpion fish, and schools of brightly-coloured pelagic fish. The conditions at The Wall can change fast with visibility going from clear and blue to overcast and murky, making each visit here unique.
Similar to The Wall in terms of accessibility and variable conditions is White House Rock, a circular reef offering multiple vantage points between depths as shallow as eight metres to as deep as 50 metres. Based on weather and water currents, the visual palette underwater ranges from a bright, sun-kissed white to dark and almost eerie (think Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” music video). At this site you will find a mix of soft and hard corals, including large gorgonian soft corals, commonly fan corals, and the branch-like whip corals in vibrant colours. Large schools of tuna, trevally, and barracudas are staple sightings, but you can always expect more.
Brothers Johnny, Jackson, and Dickson Poayasay, members of the local Karen tribe, each have the distinction of having a top dive site named after them. These are accessible only to those pursuing an advanced open-water license, owing to their depth of 18 metres and more.
Dickson’s Pinnacle, in the east of Havelock, is the shallowest reading between 16 and 35 metres on a depth gauge. On descending, one can see three rocky pinnacles and a rather expansive reef. The flora here is mostly soft yellow corals and barrel sponges, but the fauna will have your head darting in all possible directions. On an average day, you can trail native species of batfish and almost-transparent Indian glassy fish, or spot surgeonfish—most often seen solo than in schools—eating algae off bright corals. Leopard-spotted moray eels and stingrays are a common sight, as are schools of giant trevally and generously-lipped humphead wrasse or Napoleon wrasse. On a lucky excursion, you may even find yourself chasing the widely photographed, neon-blue and yellow emperor angelfish.
Johnny’s Gorge, the next of the triumvirate, is about 15 kilometres away. The deep dive begins at 20 metres and descends to 34 metres across circular reefs with colourful soft corals and 1,200-year-old, almost human-size barrel sponges. The site is even mentioned in the notes of Jacques Cousteau, a French scientist and filmmaker, often referred to as the father of modern scuba diving.
Fish are abundant at Johnny’s Gorge. You can wave to schools of sweet lips, fusiliers, mackerel, trevally and giant trevally, snappers, and barracuda. In diver lore, Johnny’s Gorge is known as a likely spot for spotting whitetip shark. Such claims are difficult to prove but certain dive sites attract divers keen to spot a shark and Johnny’s is top of the radar at Havelock.
Jackson’s Bar has the deepest starting point of all five at 25 metres. What it lacks in fauna, it makes up for in being a bright site with typically high visibility. Diving in a deep reef with strong currents such as Jackson’s is as much for the small fish as bigger predators. Though certain species of shark and stingray are often spotted here, you are more likely to see of smaller fish—including cheery yellow Bengal snappers— their large schools forming a silhouette against the sunlight that tears through the water.
Getting There There are direct flights to Port Blair only from Kolkata and Chennai and flights from any other Indian city includes a stop in one of these two cities. From Port Blair, an approximate 3-hr ferry ride takes you to Havelock.
Diving In Havelock, Dive India is based out of Island Vinnie’s Tropical Beach Cabanas (diveindia.com; open water diving course Rs25,200 and Rs 18,200 for five dives at other sites).
Barefoot Scuba is another good option for dives in Havelock (diveandamans.com; open water diving course Rs 29,736).