WINNING TIP: Muck diving, Lembeh, Indonesia
For some excellent muck diving (on organism-rich but murky sediment), head to the Lembeh Strait in Indonesia, home to critters such as the mimic octopus, hairy frogfish and flamboyant cuttlefish. The Kungkungan Bay Resort (doubles from £116 B&B) has a private jetty (you can come back to the hotel between dives for a nice hot shower!), a house reef which can only be dived by guests and special photo pros in residence who will share their photography tips. Diving is best towards the end of the dry season in September and October.
Sustainable Great Barrier Reef
Diving the Great Barrier Reef and seeing the world’s largest living organism has always been my scuba dream. I was advised that Pro Dive Cairns was serious about sustainable tourism and reef conservation and I was not disappointed. The feeling of being completely surrounded by life, from the vast walls of pink and purple coral to the diverse multicoloured fish, made for the most immersive dives I’ve ever done. I recommend the three-day liveaboard experience (about £640 all inclusive) as you get 11 dives and see a number of outer reef sites.
Ningaloo Reef: Wow, wow, wow
Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is a divers’ paradise. It is unspoilt, unlike the Great Barrier Reef. We actually swam with the whale sharks but there is so much more to discover. The water is pristine and the dive companies full of young people with so much experience and enthusiasm. Great places to stay, eat and have fun in the evening, too.
The cuttlefish of Dragon’s Lair, Queenscliff
During a trip to Melbourne, I took a detour to dive off the coast of Queenscliff, a small town at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. The dive boat took us to a site known as Dragon’s Lair. It was there that I found by far the largest and most passive cuttlefish I have ever seen hiding in the kelp. I was able to swim right up to it. In fact, practically the only time it moved was when I shone my dive light on it. Clearly it sensed the light and would move away from it in the opposite direction. I later learned that cephalopod skin is full of light-sensing cells typically found in eyes.
Fun and safety, Gili Air, Indonesia
The crystal clear sapphire blue waters surrounding Gili Air, a secluded island in Indonesia, provides the very best scuba diving I have experienced. Pristine coral, abundant marine life, toasty-warm waters and a beautiful setting make for an unforgettable diving experience. Countless majestic turtles were a highlight. My top tip is to seek out a company called Dive Zone and in particular an instructor called Kuss. He is one of those people who has an infectious positivity about life and I cannot recommend his services enough!
Psychedelic frogfish, Tekek Ambon, Indonesia
In the heart of the Malukus is a famous muck diving hub. We visited to find the elusive psychedelic frogfish, which was discovered in 2008 and only resides in these waters. During our five-night stay, highlights spotted were a paddle flap rhinopia, iridescent bobbitworm and a beautiful peacock mantis shrimp. We spent our days diving with Bluemotion, who said that they would try their hardest to find what all divers dream to find: the psychedelic frogfish! We eventually found him hiding among some rubble, looking rather shocked that he’d been disturbed.
Gentle giants, Maldives
I’ve been fortunate to dive in many locations but my most breathtaking was the Maldives in 2016 with Blue-o-Two. It was a seven-day liveaboard visiting some of the best dive sites I’ve ever been to. On the third day, we started having brief sightings of whale sharks and the following day, as we took a giant stride off the boat, they were two just metres beneath us. These gentle giants were effortlessly gliding by, barely seeming to move, cruising at a speed I could only dream of keeping up with. Then they circled and came back beneath me before slowly dropping away into the blue, leaving me with one of the best experience of my life.
Wreck of the Kyokuzan Maru, Philippines
It was awe-inspiring to sink slowly into the holds of the Kyokuzan Maru, off the northern coast of Busuanga Island. She’s a 135-metre Japanese cargo ship, sunk (or perhaps scuttled) in September 1944. She now sits perfectly upright in astonishingly clear water at a depth of about 22 metres. As a dive site, it is relatively quiet by comparison with the sites on the southern side of the island and offers excellent opportunities for swim-throughs to explore the holds and passenger areas. Club Paradise Divers is a professionally run establishment.
UK AND EUROPE
The great thing about the Cirkewwa coast is that you can dive there any time of the year with hardly any experience. The water is clean, crystal clear and energising so just throw yourself in. Under the surface there’s a real treasure chest of caves, tunnels, shipwrecks and even an underwater statue of the Madonna. Coming up, you might easily find yourself in the company of moray eels, tuna and sea bream. Just smile through your snorkel – you’ll probably be eating them for dinner later: well, I did!
Playful seal pups Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
I’ve enjoyed some warmer holiday diving, but a dive memory that never fails to make me smile was experienced in the UK on a drizzly October Sunday. We headed out to Skomer Island, where seals and their pups can be found. One played peek-a-boo through the seaweed, some followed us and one was even tugging the fins of another buddy pair as they attempted to pose for a photo.
Wreck of the HMS Hazardous: West Sussex
The UK waters don’t always appeal to the diving mass market, but they have a wealth of history in their many shipwrecks. On a recent dive organised by Wreckspeditions, we joined the Nautical Archaeology Society in exploring the protected wreck of the HMS Hazardous. The wreck was in great condition considering it sank in 1706 and there were lots of artefacts to discover including large cannons, cannonballs and barrels containing animal bones! Visibility was poor but this only added to the eerie atmosphere.
Fun in Farne, Northumberland
Performing an underwater ballet with a group of friendly, speckled-faced seals off the coast of the Northumbria was the highlight of my family’s diving holiday last summer. The cartoon-like creatures insisted on flip-flopping in front of our eyes and nibbling our fins as we said goodbye. The sea around the Farne Islands is full of chances to meet magnificent marine life in the warmer months and you can even see the huge, docile basking sharks in July and August. Take a boat from Seahouses, near Newcastle, and rent a cottage for four from £400 a week.
Cenote diving in Mexico
Telling people my favourite diving holiday was in Cancún doesn’t come as a surprise but the revelation that I didn’t set foot near the coastline usually does. The jungles of the Yucatán peninsula are home to natural limestone sinkholes called cenotes, filled with deep, clear, mineral-rich waters that open up into underground caverns. Pack a GoPro because you’ll be hard pushed to find dive sites as photogenic.
Warm-water diving for all levels, Cayman islands
Surrounded by clear, warm, mainly shallow waters, Cayman is a destination for divers of all abilities. From snorkelling, shore dives out to the reefs or to the numerous wrecks that litter the coast (including the USS Kittiwake, sunk as an artificial reef in 2011) to wall dives out over the Cayman trench to stare into the abyss. Marine life is abundant with corals, anemones, starfish, tube and barrel sponges alongside yellowtail snapper, wrasse and parrot fish together with larger barracuda, grouper, rays and even the occasional turtle. My daughter went on a trial dive (Eden Rock Dive, south of George Town) and is now hooked.
Diving on a shoestring, Utila, Honduras
Big fish, blooming corals and small prices make Utila the place to begin, or quench, your diving addiction. Utila lies on the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and it provided us with an unexpected Caribbean coral dream. At Alton’s Dive Centre, open water packages including accommodation and two fun dives start at around $275.
Musa Isla Mujeres, Mexico
This underwater sculpture park acts as an artificial reef to counteract the effect of climate change. With over 400 statues in 12 “galleries” – some by Jason deCaires Taylor – you’ll find sculptures cast in the likeness of locals as well as a VW Bug teaming with marine life and “The Dream Collector” who guards dozens of bottles divers have left messages in. The visibility is very clear, and some exhibits are only four metres down, meaning even non-divers can slip on a snorkel and view from a boat.|
• Carey Dive Center has visits for $70pp