It’s time to go underwater to the weird and wonderful, the unusual and unfamiliar, the extraordinary dive sites so good they make Attenborough’s Blue Planet seem insipidly tame.
Don’t expect perfect conditions or idolized reef collections. These sites aren’t all rounders. Instead, they have something remarkable and extraordinary, something which makes you want to travel halfway around the world for just one glimpse at its beauty.
But be careful. Sometimes a dive site is so good, it almost seems futile diving anywhere else.
10. Precontinent II, Sudan
Egypt’s Red Sea is known the world over. However, Egypt’s piece of the Red Sea is a narrow and shallow strip of over-dived reefs. Beautiful it may be, but the big stuff stays away. Sudan’s Red Sea coast is much deeper. It’s got the same idolized reef, full of vivacious colors and impossible creations, combined with an assortment of sharks that have been known to take chunks out of divers. With the exceptional visibility and young dive industry, Precontinent II is a game of cat and house. You want to get closer to the sharks. But you know they wouldn’t mind a chunk of your calf.
9. Manta Ray Night Dive, Kailua Kona, Hawaii
A series of underwater lights have been attracting the mantas and invertebrates of Kailua Kona for years. Insane currents mean you usually swim out along a fixed line, find yourself a comfortable spot, and wait for the show to begin. Juvenile rays begin to throb with color, flickering orange and blue as they come to the surface to feed. Over one dive you could see hundreds, although most people stop counting after ten. And they get so close you have to shimmy under the line to avoid them bumping into you.
8. Blue Corner Wall, Palau
Palau is one of those evocative islands yet to be over-fished or over-dived as the world hurtles into the future. With a ban on shark fishing, this tiny Pacific Island retains an extraordinary underwater world of resident reef sharks. Rather than drift, most dives at Blue Corner Wall involve fixing yourself to a line and watching the sharks swim past along the edge of the slope. This makes it an extraordinary big fish option for less experienced divers.
7. Silfra Fissure, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Dramatically marking the geological boundary of Europe and America, the Silfra Fissure earns its place for extraordinary underwater scenery. Bubbles and hissing emanate from an outrageous rift that scars the heart of Thingvellir National Park. Through the rift you sense the molten smouldering of the continental plates, the lava fissure as deep and wide as it is surreal. While marine life is limited, you don’t dive Silfra to see fish. You dive it to absorb the power of our planet’s core.
6. Tres Cocos, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Belize’s Blue Hole is extraordinary enough, but the world’s second largest barrier reef isn’t just about a single abyss. Ambergris Caye is the kind of destination that can keep you occupied for weeks, each dive forcing a decision between going macro or wide-angle. Tres Cocos is the must-dive site for those short on time, famed for revealing the full tropical menagerie in one thirty minute submersion. Sharks, rays, turtles, big fish schools…if you can dream it you’ll probably see it. But taking the site to extraordinary levels is the seasonal sighting of manatees, gentle Caribbean giants difficult to see anywhere else on the planet.
5. SS Yongala Wreck, Townsville, Australia
If you were playing God and wanted to sink a ship for the amazement of future divers, the middle of the Great Barrier Reef would be high on the agenda. Eclectic corals and sponges surround the metal remains, some ancient, other developing in the 104 years since the Yongala sunk. Most of the wreck is covered, turning the ship into a giant decorator crab. And everyone comes to admire: barracudas, sea snakes, rays, tiger sharks, bull sharks, and more.
4. Batu Bulong, Komodo Island, Indonesia
Indonesia’s Komodo Island surprisingly took the final slot in the new seven natural wonders of the world competition. Its premier dive site, Batu Bulong, also takes divers by surprise. On the surface it’s just a rock with a hole. But descend into the blue and you can keep going to 70meters below. Dogooth tuna, giant trevallies, whitetips, Napoleon wrasse, blacktips…the giant pelagic action adds to the insane setting, most of them swirling in large schools as you lose your dive buddy in the action.
3. The Sardine Run, Port St Johns, South Africa
Sardines are not particularly smart. Billions of them travel along the eastern coast of South Africa towards Mozambique. And billions of them get decimated. But every June and July they still make the same migration. You’d think they would learn to stay put. Predators travel for thousands of miles to join the sardine feast. Bottlenosed dolphins, Bryde’s whales, humpbacks, tuna, seals, dusky sharks…a frenzy of activity whips them into bait balls and soon there’s virtually nothing left. Then the next school of millions swims past and the action starts again. For predatory underwater scenes, the Sardine Run is the world’s most easily accessible and extraordinary site.
2. Barracuda Point, Sipadan, Malaysian Borneo
Barracuda Point occupies the top echelons of world diving reverie. It’s the premier dive site at the premier destination (Sipadan) of the premier dive island, Borneo. And it doesn’t disappoint. A strong current whips you around Sipadan’s mile deep vertical wall. Just drift and watch the show. You spot a dozen turtles and fight the current, desperate to watch them for longer. Now there’s 20-odd sharks. Don’t struggle. On any dive at Barracude Point you’re likely to see over a hundred white-tip sharks and a similar number of turtles. Oh, and then there’s the barracuda schools that swim past for over ten minutes.
1. Gordon Rocks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The great thing about strong currents is that everything gets directed straight into your path. And at Gordon Rocks, that doesn’t just mean mantas and hammerheads. Fur seals are chased by sea lions, who are followed by the sharks, and then you turn around to admire dozens of marine tortoises and moray eels. Gordon Rocks is one of the few dive sites that combines two completely different marine paradigms. It’s tropical, bringing colors, reef walls, and reef pelagic beauties. But it’s also where the unusual giants hang out.
If you liked these extraordinary dive sites, you’re also going to like Random Vacay’s A-Z of the world’s best dive sites to see before you die.