Sean Chinn was in Aqaba, Jordan to report exclusively for Scubaverse on yesterday’s historic scuttling of the C-130 Hercules.
The day started nice and early with a 4.30am wake up call for my flight from Amman to Aqaba. Although very tired, I was excited at the prospect of what was in store for the day. A big date in Aqaba’s 2017 calendar – the historic scuttling of a C-130 Hercules to create a new artificial reef for divers in the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea.
I arrived at the hotel in time to check-in, prepare my gear and grab some quick breakfast before I had to depart for the C-130 Hercules scuttling event. Everything was organised and timed perfectly by the Aqaba Tourism Board.
As I arrived at the beach, I realised that I hadn’t anticipated the true scale of the event. The beachfront was packed with people from all corners of the world eager to witness a moment in history. There were also many proud locals looking on at what will hopefully become a major attraction for tourism in the area that brings in new overseas explorers.
The sound of bagpipes and a brass band rang loud and proud as I made my way through the crowd to pick a prime viewing spot. The C-130 Hercules was paraded before the excited crowd on a last trip before its final destination.
I’d heard there was going to be an Air Show but I was in for a pleasant shock as the aeroplanes jetted past with no prior warning. This took everyone by surprise and loud gasps echoed through the crowd as the planes blasted their way overhead. The first opportunity to photograph them passed me by but luckily they continued to make exciting pass after pass, giving me numerous attempts at photographing them.
The scuttling itself started around 12.30pm and in truth didn’t really last that long once the Hercules was hooked up to the crane. The vertical stabiliser stood tall and was the last part to sink beneath the waves. It reminded me of a long, distinctive dorsal fin breaking the surface and sticking proud out of the water. In my eyes, it was almost reminiscent of a Great Hammerhead’s dorsal fin.
After the event, we had a delicious buffet lunch at the Berenice Beach Club before heading back to the hotel to relax. The views over the Red Sea from the restaurant were truly beautiful.
Now I have a couple of days sightseeing planned on land but I’m anxious to get in the water and explore the new, developing dive site of the C-130 Hercules. I’ll let you know how it goes!
A Flying Visit to Nusa Penida, Bali
Once I’d organised my 6 day/5 night Jurassic Komodo trip, I knew, if I was going to travel all that way, I needed a bit more time to acclimatise and explore. With flying through Bali a popular route from the UK to Labuan Bajo, it made complete sense to spend a couple of days there before flying out. What better way to get the trip started than revisiting where my underwater photography journey started back in 2013 and diving around Nusa Penida? The opportunity came up to spend 2 nights with an amazing little dive resort on Nusa Penida Island called Pure Dive Resort, and it was the perfect start to my trip.
Pure Dive Resort was created in January 2019 after the owners sold their share in a dive resort they built on Ceningan, and has been operational since 1st May 2019. Pure Dive Resort has big plans to create a full-scale dive resort offering quality diving on Nusa Penida. Unfortunately, the Covid outbreak caused delays, and at the moment only the dive centre is operating. However, while I was there, you can see work is in full effect and the place is already looking amazing. After speaking to the owner Ark and the ambition he has for the place, it’s clear that Pure will be a sought-after resort on the island; a place focused on high service and safety standards, while concentrating on keeping it personal for each and every guest.
While the plans for the resort proceed, Pure Dive Resort are using Ring Sameton Hotel for their dive and stay packages, just a 2-minute stroll from the dive centre. Pure Dive Resort are running 2 custom built dive boats, each capable of taking up to 14 divers (including guides) onboard. I for one was very impressed with the dive boat and how spacious and comfortable it was, especially as ‘Manta Point’ is quite a ride away and it can be a little choppy; however, on this occasion the journey was a super comfortable and a fun ride out. The boats are equipped with marine radios, 2×100 4 stroke engines, emergency O2 and life jackets, keeping safety paramount. Not only is Pure Dive Resort a well-equipped dive centre, it also has a freediving school, and they use their own custom-built boat with the capacity of a maximum of 10 freedivers onboard.
While I was impressed with the professionalism and facilities of Pure Dive Resort, it was the equipment for hire and the capabilities of the centre which really stood out. As I was flying to Labuan Bajo late the next day, and I was only scheduled for 3 dives, I was reluctant to use my own dive gear for fear of drying time. I requested a wetsuit and BCD and was really impressed with the quality on offer. Almost brand new ScubaPro equipment is available, and you can see it is well looked after and kept in perfect order in a dry room at the back of the centre. So, after the formalities were over, it was time to get familiar with diving in Nusa Penida once again. Our first dive was scheduled for ‘Manta Point’, easily the most famous/popular dive site of Nusa Penida. I was really looking forward to getting back to a dive site that was the catalyst for me becoming an underwater photographer 10 years ago. The journey to ‘Manta Point’ is an adventure in itself, and just adds to the experience. The rough and ready coastline of dramatic cliffs, pounded by a lively sea, leave you in awe, as the rising sun breaks over the top of the island, creating dramatic rays of light through the spray and mist. The boat skips along the surface, with the excitement building over every swell.
After around a 45-minute journey, we arrived at ‘Manta Point’ earlier than a lot of the other boats that were heading there, thanks to Pure Dive Resort working to create the best experience for their guests and aiming to beat the crowds. Ark was my dive guide for the dive and one other diver would join us. After a thorough dive briefing, where you could tell Ark was very knowledgeable about the area, dive site and mantas, we dropped in and were soon graced by the presence of a black-morph manta ray. Honestly, it couldn’t have been much more than 2 minutes into the dive and the manta went gliding over my head. What a start! Two more manta rays were seen during the dive, but they didn’t seem to want to stay around. That’s wildlife for you; you can’t guarantee the manta rays will circle above you for the whole dive. We still got guaranteed manta rays and saw three, along with a fever of blue spotted stingrays all huddled together on the reef floor. A great start to my trip, and seeing a manta ray within 2 minutes of entering the water is pretty incredible.
Our manta fix wasn’t quite finished though. While we headed back along Nusa Penida to our next dive site, we stopped at a known manta feeding spot for juveniles. It’s an area where a lot of the snorkelling boats go to experience manta rays, and sure enough, we could see a lot of activity in the bay. Ark made the decision to take us over and see what kind of action was happening. It wasn’t long before we spotted a large black shape breaking the surface, and Ark asked if we’d like to jump in and snorkel. It was a unanimous decision and we were dropped in the path of the manta ray. More incredible manta moments were had, as it passed by circling the bay area as it fed. I managed to grab some cool shots showing the contrast of the top of the manta to the seafloor. Nusa Penida really is a unique place and great for manta ray interactions.
After a brief snorkel, we were soon back on the boat skipping across the surface to our next port of call located on the North West side of Nusa Penida. Our next dive site of choice was ‘Pura Ped’, a sloping hill reaching down from the surface creating a gradual descent broken up with stunning hard and soft coral spread throughout the site. The visibility was just amazing, and while Ark kept an eye on the depths in the hope of seeing Mola Mola, I concentrated on the reef and marvelled at the amazing coral on show. While we had no luck with Mola Mola, Titan triggerfish, huge pufferfish and three hawksbill turtles kept me entertained throughout a thoroughly peaceful dive.
Before I descended for my third dive of the day. We ventured back to the dive centre and enjoyed an incredibly tasty lunch, included with a dive day package. The Soto Ayam in the restaurant opposite the dive centre was bursting with flavour and well needed after two great dives.
My third dive was to concentrate on some macro critters that call Nusa Penida home, and Intan was highly recommended to be my guide. Intan had a big reputation with the other guides who said she was incredible at finding the small stuff. I wasn’t originally planning on doing any macro, so it was lucky that my room wasn’t far, and I rushed back to change my lens. The dive site also wasn’t far, as we made a short journey out to ‘SD Point’. I’m so glad I switched to macro and could witness and document the diversity of diving here. Intan’s reputation was well deserved, as she continually pointed out some amazing critters, with leaf scorpionfish, peacock mantis shrimp, scorpionfish, nudibranch, porcelain crab and more spotted throughout another amazing dive.
My trip to Nusa Penida with Pure Dive Resort was short and sweet, and left me wanting a lot more. A day of diving was nowhere near enough that’s for sure, with Ark confident he can find Mola Mola within a few days during the high season of August and September. I feel a trip must be planned for that time next year to explore so much more that this area has to offer. I feel I also missed out on exploring more of the island and its rugged beauty. A trip across to Kelingking Beach is a must next time (even though it is the quintessential tourist view of Bali). While I enjoyed meals at Penida Minang and Penida Colada, a week of culinary exploration is also much needed while I take in the sites. The only question I have now is – ‘Who’s joining me and Pure Dive Resort for an amazing week in Nusa Penida?’
For more information about diving in Nusa Penida:
Whatsapp: +62 811 3999 852
Sean Chinn Instagram: @greatwhitesean
Dive the Philippines : Scandi Divers Puerto Galera Trip Report
The Scuba Place visited Scandi Divers in Puerto Galera Philippines hosting a group of divers. This is their trip report from their visit in April 2023.
The question I am asked most often is of course, ‘What is your favourite dive destination?’
I have tried to be smart and answer with a number of responses encapsulating types of diving, such as wreck, big marine life, liveaboard etc, but in truth, I have never really known the actual answer. I have favourite dives of course, but not necessarily a favourite destination.
Until now that is!
So, I am going to start this trip report with a summary, and briefly outline where and why, so you don’t actually have to read the rest of my diatribe.
Scandi Divers, Puerto Galera in the Philippines. There – it is out there, I’ve said it, now here is the Why.
The beachfront location is perfect. The rooms are super comfortable. The service is impeccable – like a 5* hotel and beyond. The food is excellent, and the people are just amazing. The diving is world-class, and most importantly, in these current times, the exceptional value cannot be ignored. Honestly, it doesn’t cost much more for 9 nights, with 8 days diving, full board, flights and transfers than it does for a 7-night safari on one of the mainstream boats in the Red Sea.
Granted – The Philippines is a bit further to go, and might involve taking an extra day or two off work, but is it worth it? The details follow, and I will leave you to make your own decision.
Different airlines give a choice of route and timings, and as such, the costs are pretty competitive. We flew with Emirates from Heathrow via Dubai to Manila. Our first leg was an overnight flight and took just shy of 7 hours. The next leg to Manila is similar, and the baggage allowance was 30kgs. Emirates get it right too – great seats, excellent entertainment, and the transit in Dubai was just 2 hours.
Once you arrive in Manila, the transfer to the resort is dependent upon the time you arrive. If it is before lunch, then you can head straight to Batangas and catch the speedboat to Puerto Galera. If arriving later in the day, then it is an overnight stay in Manila as the boats aren’t able to cross after 4pm. We stayed at the Dusit Thani, but there are other similarly priced options close to the airport. We were picked up the next morning after breakfast. The trip to the Batangas marina takes 90 minutes or so, dependent upon traffic, and the speedboat is 30 minutes, arriving directly on the beach in front of Scandi Divers. We arrived at Scandi in time for lunch and an afternoon dive.
The first thing that struck us was the welcome – a huge flag with our logo on the beach made us feel special, and this is something Scandi do for all clubs arriving. Staff lined the beach, welcomed us with shell necklaces, cold facecloths and a welcome drink, and our bags were immediately taken to our rooms.
A welcome meeting in the bar upstairs by the resort and dive centre staff gave us all the resort information we needed: where to put our kit, when we wanted to dive, dining info and the like – and even a neck and shoulder massage whilst the briefing was taking place! And more gifts too; a refillable water bottle for each guest with name tags. What a welcome – we have never experienced better in all our travels.
It was then on to our rooms, and as a group, we had pretty much every room type. Across all rooms, expect good storage and good air-conditioning, together with ceiling fans and an en-suite. The poolside rooms had just been refurbished and were decorated beautifully, giving a real light and modern feel. A serious refurbishment plan has been put into place in the summer of 2023, and if the standards are the same as the previous roll-out, the rooms are going to be pretty special to say the least.
Others in the group had larger penthouse rooms right on the seafront – beautiful views from up high over the whole bay, and the brand new beachfront cottage rooms, perfect for single occupancy without a supplement, provide a neat and tidy space spitting distance (literally) from the sand. We had a good tour around the suites above reception and these are perfect for a little touch of luxury. If travelling with a family, there is a three-bedroom suite that would be perfect for four to six people and has the best views over the beach too from its own balcony.
Sadly, I didn’t lose any weight whilst staying at Scandi – it’s always a hope, and sometimes achieved, but definitely not on this trip – the food was delicious. Full board is the standard fare, and this includes a full cooked breakfast, and a choice of starters, mains and dessert at lunch and dinner. Beer or soda is included with meals, but if drinking at lunchtime, no diving in the afternoon! And happy hour before dinner was great for sharing our daily diving stories. All meals are cooked to order, and if the daily specials aren’t to your liking, then there is a huge a la carte menu that you can order from without any penalty.
And the quality? Excellent. Asian, Thai, Korean BBQ and western meals were all available – we took advantage of every flavour and had a Chinese feast one night just for variety. Seafood is as fresh as it can be, the soups offered daily are amazing, and tasty pizzas, pastas and burgers too. All our meals were absolutely delicious, and all dietary requirements are catered for.
And the diving? WOW – just WOW!
The dive centre is on the ground floor right on the beach. You touch your kit once at the beginning of the trip to unpack it, and then at the end of the trip to pack up again. In between, the exceptional staff build it, carry it to and from the boat, help you kit up and de-kit, and rinse everything for you at the end of each dive, hanging wetsuits up to dry too.
There are separate rinse tanks for suits, BCD’s, masks, boots, and of course cameras, along with a climate-controlled camera room for storage, charging and swapping batteries and cards between dives.
The dive boats – four of them – vary in size, from a 4-diver skiff through to 12-person outriggers. Each experienced all of them and can honestly say they all are comfortable, have plenty of space and offer easy access to the water. Backward rolls for entry, and then you de-kit in the water and climb a good ladder to exit. Warm facecloths are provided to each diver after the dive to rinse off the salt – such a nice touch!
Puerto Galera is said to have a greater density of biodiversity than the Caribbean Sea and the Great Barrier Reef put together, and even being aware of this prior to our arrival, we were quite simply gobsmacked by the underwater environment. Every dive brought a huge smile to our faces.
There are close to 50 dive sites within a very short boat ride, offering exceptional variety. Big drift dives are offered, where you can hook onto the reef and watch big schools of jacks and tuna hang in the blue. There are also numerous wrecks – not big wrecks with penetration opportunities, but fishing boats that have become artificial reefs – full of ornate ghost pipefish, painted and warty frogfish, cardinal fish with their mouths full of eggs, jawfish, nudis and shrimps of several different types.
The numerous reef dives offer a gentle descent over extremely healthy hard and soft corals, giant sponges, and we saw morays of several different types, turtles, catfish balls, anemones, and their inhabitants (including porcelain crabs), and so much more. Mantis shrimp scuttle across the sand, frogfish hide amongst the sponges, and we even found ghost pipefish with a full egg pouch. Nudibranchs of so many varieties crawl over the reef surfaces, seahorses hide in the weeds, and the list goes on and on.
Included in every dive package at Scandi is a day trip to the amazing Verde Island. This three-dive, lunch-on-the-beach-included day trip takes in this famous collection of dive sites where the drop-off is just extreme. The Verde Island Passage has been called ‘The Centre of the Centre of Marine Biodiversity of the World’ and yes – this day delivers the goods! Beautiful corals and sponges, and schooling fish galore, with a good current to boot made these dives very special. There were times that the drop-off was totally obscured by the marine life, and yet we still found a couple of octopus, loads of different nudis and little critters inside of the plethora of feather star and crinoids. This is a day not to be missed!
Finally, there is the muck or macro dives. Here are plenty of choices, but we found the best to be in the channel just 5 minutes away from the resort. We found pretty much everything anyone could want! We had a bucket list of course, and the only thing that didn’t turn up was a polar bear.
Flamboyant cuttlefish, squid, tiny cuttlefish, octopus – and yes, blue ringed, wonderpus AND mimic. Nudis galore, tiny frogfish the size of a thumbnail, a few small bobbitt worms, rhinopias, two Ambon scorpionfish, more cardinal fish, seahorses, pygmy seahorses, orangutang crabs, crinoid shrimp and crabs, emperor shrimp, skeleton shrimp, squat lobsters – this list really does go on and on – and then some more!
As keen photographers, this really was heaven for us, and in all of our experience to date, this has been the highest-yield destination we have been to. Here are a few of our favourites and check out our full gallery here.
On top of all of this – the quality accommodation, the food, the spectacular diving – there are two more things to really focus on when substantiating this as a firm favourite destination.
Firstly, it is the little things that the resort does to make you feel welcome – right from the very start. A bar of chocolate in your room with a personalised label, thanking you for choosing to stay there. A friendship bracelet, waiting in your room after a diving day. Your personalised water bottle, a t-shirt that is co-branded with Scandi and your own dive club logo – again the list is long.
And lastly, the thing that really made it difficult to leave is the people. They know your name from day one, know your favourite food, favourite drink, and cannot do enough for you, but it is more than that. The people are just lovely! Happy, passionate, super-friendly and they really care – really! They just love to celebrate with you too – birthdays, anniversaries, dive milestones and generally, everything that needs to be celebrated! The energy that they put into the fire dancing performance evening and the live music evening is representative of their genuine passion, and we just loved it all!
We left at the end of two weeks, and to be honest, waving goodbye was emotional.
You know what that means – we have to go back!!
In fact, we’ve already made plans and are hosting another trip in May 2024. Come Dive with Us! Check out the brochure with the full itinerary here.
- Getting there : Our flights were with Emirates flying from Heathrow to Manila via Dubai. Total flight time was 18½ hours landing in Manila the following evening. A taxi to the Dusit Thani took a little over 30 minutes and cost about £35. We’re going to try an airport hotel next time. A little sleep then breakfast in the morning before getting picked up by Scandi staff at 10am for transport to the marina. Luggage was loaded onto the speedboat and we settled in for a quick 30 minute crossing to Puerto Galera. The ramp from the speedboat was dropped right on to the beach in front of the resort where we were greeted by Scandi staff.
- Air temperature : Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 24-30°C. The warmest and driest months are April and May and the wettest months are usually July and August.
- Water temperature : 26-29°C. A 1-3mm full suit or shorty will suit most.
- Visa requirement : UK passport holders are permitted to enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days.
- Health protocols : If you’re fully vaccinated you can enter the Philippines provided you have proof of vaccination, proof of return journey, 6 months of validity left on your passport and have registered for an e-Travel pass within 72 hours of arrival.
- Currency : Philippine peso or US Dollar are accepted in resort. Cash or credit card with a 4% fee.
- Electricity : 220V with 2 or 3-prong sockets. Our adaptor worked without issue.
- Internet and Wi-Fi : There is wifi in resort and worked well in our room which was furthest from reception. We were able to email, WhatsApp and post on social media without issue.
Price Guide: Expect from £2250 per person based on two sharing a standard room for 9 nights with 8 days diving – 3 dives per day offered, plus one night or blackwater dive and excursion to Verde Island. A one hour complimentary massage was included and was the perfect treat after a few days of travel or at the end of the holiday.
Our Advice: Go to the Philippines! It is a destination that we love and look forward to visiting time and time again. Affordable with diving fit for every level and it’s a goldmine for any underwater photographer.
Rechargeable fan(s) : If you’ve read any of our recent trip reports we recommend these over and over again. We can’t believe we travelled without them for so many years! Join the fan club and grab one off Amazon… you won’t regret it!
Insect repellent : We’ve made a habit of throwing some repellent in our dive bags every trip but with the lovely breezes we didn’t suffer the mozzies much at all!
Scandi had it all, specialty coffees whenever you need a caffeine hit and an ice cream cooler with treats if you fancy, so just know you’ll want for little while you’re there!
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