Mat’s Philippines Trip 2015: Part 4

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Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here.

Magic Island

It wasn’t difficult coming up with a title for the final instalment of my Philippines trip report. The resort we spent our last few days at is evocatively called Magic Island; located in a beautifully calm bay in Moalboal on the island of Cebu it is a peaceful and tranquil place. We arrived after dark and enjoyed a lovely alfresco dinner overlooking the sea; the water was so flat it could have been a lake reflecting the shining stars and moonlight overhead. We instantly fell in love with our intimate and charming new home and after a long day of travel on public boats and buses from Malapascua we hit the sack ahead of our first dives in the morning.

 

Magic Island Bay by night and by day – a peaceful place.

Before breakfast I had a wander around the resort, this time with the help of the glorious sunlight rather than subtle outdoor mood lighting. Ten traditional thatched style bungalows make up Magic Island along with a small pool, open air bar and plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the views of the bay. Across the water is Moalboal’s very own chocolate hills; Bohol is the island famed for having so called chocolate hills but the scenic back drop here is every bit as beautiful. After a hearty plateful of scrambled eggs and toast it was time to prepare our gear for the first dive of the day. There was a Belgian dive club who dominated the resort while we were there, a friendly bunch but we kept ourselves to ourselves mostly – we even had our own boat just for the two of us. The equipment area is spacious and well thought out with personal hangers and boxes for all your gear. I was excited to discover that Pescador Island was first up on the agenda – widely regarded as one of the best sites in the area…not a bad start.

A short 10-15 minute boat ride away, Pescador Island can be seen from the bay. A huge bait ball of sardines used to take up residence around Pescador but they have since moved. Fortunately for us they simply moved to another local dive site and so we hoped to dive amongst them at some stage. If I’m completely honest I had set my expectations pretty low with regards to the diving. Moalboal is not known for encounters with the ‘big guys’ of the ocean and my understanding until now was that the dive sites are somewhat modest to put it politely. Well I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Pescador. The shallow reef that encrusts the island is filled with pristine hard coral and countless Anthias – the goldfish of the sea – have made it their home. My first thought was quite simply “well this is very pretty”. The sunlight pierced the surface of the water and making our way from the shallows to begin our descent along the wall was like cruising through a giant aquarium.

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The clear waters and healthy reefs make Moalboal like diving in an aquarium.

We reached a depth of around 40m in the hopes to catch a glimpse of the white tip sharks that usually lurk there but they didn’t come out to play unfortunately. As we circled the island hugging close to the wall we made our ascent within a wide vertical swim thru called ‘The Cathedral’. It has a number of window-like openings, and looked less like a Cathedral and more like the carved features of a Halloween pumpkin. An abundance of fish life inhabit the dive site which probably attributes to its name – translated from Spanish, Pescador simply means ‘fisherman’. Our safety stop was spent playing in the bubbles that escaped from the fissures of the rock – I’m not sure if these bubbles were from divers in the swim thru below or whether they are produced from some kind of volcanic activity but I expect it was simply divers (I should have asked!).

Volcanic activity, or divers in a swim thru?

The Cathedral Swim Thru at Pescador Island

We only had 4 nights at Magic Island with two days of diving – I wish we could have stayed for longer. The order of the day is wall diving in Moalboal; the clear water and healthy reefs make for very pleasant experiences underwater. We saw an astonishing number of turtles, nine on a single dive in fact. Some were very bold and quite content to pose for a close up; clearly familiar with bumping into divers on a regular basis. We took to the water after dark on our second day to see what the house reef had to offer on a night dive. Rather than taking a guide we navigated the simple site ourselves; 30 minutes one way, turn around and 30 minutes back. As we always do we spent the second half of the dive with our torches off enjoying the natural environment without the intrusiveness of an artificial beam of light. When we came across a group of four divers searching for critters along the face of the wall with their underwater lightsabers we swooped beneath them – unseen like aqua ninjas! If you haven’t dived this way before I highly recommend it if you really want to immerse yourself in the experience.

An abundance of turtles are as good as guaranteed in Moalboal

Remember the bait-ball of sardines that disappeared from Pescador Island? Luckily they didn’t make it very far. Just 10 minutes or so away from the resort and close to shore is a dive site called Panagsama Beach and it is here where the huge cluster of tiny fish have decided to set up camp. We intended to spend 10 minutes or so playing amongst them and snapping a few pictures but actually we ended up spending a full hour mesmerised by them. The ball tends to stay within about 5m of the surface and never seems to drop below 12m or so; it makes for a fun dive and some interesting photos so I’d definitely factor it in.

The sardines that hang out at Panagsama Beach are great fun to dive with

Our last day was spent out of the water, well…out of the sea at least. We drove 45 minutes or so to Kawasan Falls; a beautiful place with a number of waterfalls. It’s possible to climb up to 6 different stages and there are a number of opportunities to jump in the pools below from heights that some may find unsettling. The local people will often visit the falls to cool down and enjoy a swim; the children show no fear as they perform hair raising back-flips from the highest of jumping points – truly nosebleed worthy! It was a great afternoon and well worth the visit.

         

An exhilarating dip in the Kawasan Waterfalls makes for a refreshing change from diving.

It wasn’t long before our time in Moalboal had come to an end, and to make matters worse this also signalled the end of our trip altogether! Just 3 flights, a night in Manila and 35 hours later and we would be tucked up in our own beds. Island hopping in the Philippines makes for a truly amazing itinerary; the diving opportunities are rich and varied providing encounters with critters both great and small. If you haven’t read the previous instalments to this article (or you have but could do with a re-cap) here are some quick ‘hashtag’ highlights of the 13 blissful days we spent in the stunningly beautiful seven thousand (plus!) island country that is the Philippines.

#sogodbay #whalesharks #sunsets #threshersharks #happyhour #hammerheads #mantas #matingmandarin #sambawanisland #sardines #octopus #gatoisland #kawasanfalls #whitetipsharks #padresburgos #nightdives #sogod2malapascua2moalboalin2weeks

Seeing it on paper like that makes me want to do it all over again!

If you would like to know more about planning an island hopping diving holiday in the Philippines then you can contact Mat at Dive Worldwide where he works as a Dive Specialist Consultant.

Mat Howell-Reeve

Mat Howell-Reeve

Mat Reeve is a photographer, travel writer and all round adventurer. Currently a consultant at UK-based tour operator Dive Worldwide, Mat is a qualified Divemaster, Martial Arts instructor and fitness trainer. Mat has a huge passion for exploring and experiencing all that life has to offer. He has travelled more than 3000 miles throughout Europe by boat, train and road without spending a single penny while raising money for a number of charities. Mat has camped for weeks in the wilds of Africa. He has paddled the treacherous waters of the Zambezi amid crocodiles and hippos, and has led divers on incredible underwater excursions, introducing them to apex predators including bull sharks without the protection of a cage. The Sardine Run in South Africa remains his most exhilarating experience to date and included incredibly close encounters with enormous humpback whales, super-pods of dolphins, and a feisty group of dusky sharks at feeding time. Over the years Matt has been charged by a hippo, chased by a lion, stalked by a shark, and stung by a tiny but painful Portuguese Man of War. A hugely passionate animal and nature enthusiast, Mat likes to get as close to the action as possible.

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