Connect with us
background

News

Wining and Diving – The Azores

Published

on

The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


The Azores comprises nine volcanic islands which have been pushed up above the surface, far out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The islands lie some 850 miles east of the coast of Portugal and 1,200 miles from Canadian shores. Everything about these islands have been shaped by the ocean and the wind. They are warmed by the Gulf Stream, pounded by storms and all the island’s activities are dictated by waves and wind. Despite being such a remote spot, traveling to these islands is very easy. We headed to Pico for our tour and flew from Manchester to Lisbon and then on to Pico, with the 2 flights only just over 2 hours each. Pico’s volcanic peak is the highest point in Portugal and is a spectacular sight as you come into land; that is when it is not shrouded in cloud.

The first part of our 10 day trip was to discover the wines that are made on the island. The vineyards here are very different to those found elsewhere in the world. Here the vines grow at ground level, protected from the elements by black, volcanic dry-stone walls, which have earned these slopes the honour of becoming UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Our first stop is our wonderful hotel, Pocinho Bay, which is right on the seafront and built in the local traditional style. It is set in the heart of the wine making region and is also surrounded by some of the most important breeding grounds for Cory’s Shearwaters, whose mating calls entertain throughout the night.

A short drive away is one of Pico’s main towns, Madalena, and it is here that you can tour the wine co-operative, where most of the islands grapes are brought to be made into wine. You can taste the different varieties, but we would advise that you stick to the white wines and stronger, sweeter fortified wines. They are delicious and a real surprise, the Frei Gigante, in particular, is a truly refined and refreshing wine.

Should you get the chance to visit Pico, take time to tour the island, both by car and by foot. You never know who you may meet, either, as we bumped into the President of Portugal at the wine museum! One of the highlights for us was seeing all the public pools. On Pico, there seems to be an obsession with swimming and so pools, with fabulous facilities, are scattered all around the island. They are usually built close to the shore, and are sea water pools. With activities so dependent on the weather, it is always best to have a back-up plan. The walk up to the top of Pico, a hard 3 hour hike each way, can only be done if visibility is good and in our 10 day stay on the island, it was only possible on 2 or 3 mornings.

The Azores are famous for their whales. Up until the 1980s, the islanders still hunted whales for their oil, but now, thank goodness, the islands make their money from resident and passing whales and dolphins by taking tourists out to see them. Whale Watching headquarters of the Azores is Lajes on Pico. A mouth-watering list of species that can be spotted in these waters. Alas the weather beat us and our trip was postponed due to high winds and huge waves.

As the wind dies down, it is time for us to start diving. We have chosen a different type of diving from the normal on offer in Pico. Most companies use RIBs to get to the local dive sites, but we have decided to take things a little slower and dive from an 8 berth yacht. The boat has a dive deck, which forms part of the back of boat, and this lowered down to give an excellent platform to dive from. These islands offer varied diving, with volcanic underwater seascapes that are dramatic. Numerous caves and caverns have been carved by wave action, cutting into the hard, black rocks. As these islands peak out of the Atlantic, far from any other land, they are a haven for a huge number of pelagic species, as well as offering a great stopping point for those migrating north and south through this vast ocean. Our yacht, serving both as a dive platform and hotel, means that we can move to different areas, and moor in different harbours, depending on where we want to dive. We dived two caves off neighbouring Faial Island, where eagle rays swoop out as they are disturbed by our group. Orange scorpionfish rest on algae covered rocks, unusually standing out from their positions. The Azores is one of the best destinations for diving with blue sharks, although many locals fear that over-fishing of these beautiful sharks is reducing the chances of these encounters.

Some 50 miles off Pico lies Princess Alice Bank. You cannot see it, but rising up from the seabed to around 30m, there are several underwater pinnacles that attracts huge numbers of mobula rays. For most divers, getting here means a 3 hour (each way), sometimes spine-crunching, journey by RIB that can only be made in the best of weather. For us, it meant a more sedate overnight sail. With no light pollution, the stars alone were worth the journey! As we slept, our crew completed the 9 hour trip, so that we woke out at sea, with no land in sight, already at our destination. The currents, can be very strong here, so after fuelling-up on some breakfast whilst listening to our safety briefing, we jumped in. The current was ripping! We had plenty of lines to hang on to and we needed them. But we were rewarded, as after just a few minutes, a group of over 30 mobula rays cruised past us.

They seem curious, and smaller groups then spent the next 2-3 hours coming round to get a closer look at us.  With happy divers back on board, we set sail for Pico with all sails full of wind. This meant an afternoon of sailing and relaxing in the sun. This was truly a perfect tonic to the high adrenalin dive.

The volcanic islands of the Azores have a huge amount to offer. There is so much to do and see, and we only set foot on one of the islands. It is perfect for those who want to dive all week, but also offers more than just diving for groups that are traveling with non-divers. The islands are a haven for marine life and are littered with wrecks. It offers diving in clear, blue waters and there is always a chance you might see something truly incredible.


Links

  • For more information about Frogfish Photography click here.
  • For information about visiting the Azores click here.
  • For details on the diving liveaboard featured click here.
  • For more information about the wine we sampled click here.
  • For details on the accommodation click here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

News

Diving below the waves of the Western Cape, South Africa – Windmill Beach (Watch Video)

Published

on

Head under the waves of False Bay and explore the incredible diversity that is found along the Western Cape. The bay has popular dive spots from diving amongst the biodiverse underwater kelp forests to jumping in with the playful and friendly cape fur sealions (Arctocephalus pusillus). The bay along with the rest of the South Africa coast is known for the range of shark species that are found from the shallow coastal shores out into the open oceans. The coast is also home to numerous endemic shark species such as puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii) and Pyjama shark.

Situated a short drive out of Simonstown is the shore dive at Windmill beach. A short swim over the sand and through the large boulders you enter the incredibly diverse and colourful kelp forests (Ecklonia maxima), a species that can grow up to 12m tall. Life is found in abundance from the base of the kelp where many sea urchins and species such as abalone can be seen then heading into the canopy many shoaling fish species can be observed.

Diving with the local dive club – Cape Town Dive Centre.


Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

Continue Reading

Gear News

Fourth Element to make diving tools from recycled PPE

Published

on

Fourth Element has partnered with recycling and repurposing experts, Waterhaul, to retask the mask; turning single-use plastics into the tools we use in pursuit of underwater adventure. Face masks and other items of PPE from hospitals are melted down into blocks, sterilising the material which fourth element purchases, recycle and transforms.

These cave line markers are the first of what fourth element hopes will be many products using this waste material to give it a new life beyond protecting the lives of our frontline healthcare workers. Each marker re-uses the equivalent of two disposable masks. Waste is given a new direction.

The end product is completely safe. The PPE is heat treated by the hospital: the plastic is heated to high temperatures multiple times; first to make the blocks within the recycling process, and also whilst injection moulding the parts.

What makes this OceanPositive?

In the UK alone, 58 million single-use plastic face masks are thrown away every day, littering landfills and polluting the environment. Globally, we use 129 billion per month – that’s enough to wrap around the world 550 times! Over the last 12 months, a recorded 1.5 billion have entered the ocean, disrupting our ecosystem and endangering marine life across the globe. And that’s just what has been recorded.

These lines markers are made from recycled PPE, each one saving two masks from entering landfill or our oceans. Part of fourth element’s Zero Waste and Zero Plastic initiatives; to re-purpose as much plastic as possible and find new uses for products at the end of their lives.

We believe that this is the way,” said Jim Standing, co-founder of fourth element. “We are all going to have to tackle the challenges of a post covid world and one of these will be how we deal with the waste we have created as part of keeping ourselves and in particular, our frontline workers protected. We intend to play our part.”

For more information visit the Fourth Element website by clicking here.

Continue Reading

E-Newsletter Sign up!

Competitions

Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

More Less

Instagram Feed

Popular