Emerg­ing Dive Des­ti­na­tions

These up-and-com­ers have ev­ery­thing re­quired for your next epic hol­i­day, in­clud­ing the world’s largest tur­tle rook­ery, tons of se­cluded beaches and 13 species of whale

Sport Diver - - Dive Travel - BY B ROOKE MORTON

1. Solomon Is­lands

Only re­cently has the Solomon Is­lands govern­ment shifted its at­ten­tion from log­ging, min­ing and other fi­nite re­sources to tourism.

“They re­al­ized that the truest nat­u­ral re­sources they have are the peo­ple and cul­ture,” says Shannon Kozak of Solomon Is­lands Dive Ex­pe­di­tions, op­er­a­tor of the M/ V Taka live­aboard.

Right now, the south­west Pa­cific coun­try sees just 30,000 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally, although Kozak ex­pects this to rise now that the govern­ment has sent the in­ter­na­tional in­vite.

Those who ac­cept will find World War II his­tory and wrecks to ri­val Truk, co­ral reefs with species di­ver­sity to ri­val the Great Bar­rier Reef and the chance to reach vil­lages so re­mote that a meet-and-greet feels like a step back in time, as lit­tle has changed for cen­turies.

Nor will it. “These vil­lages see out­siders just 10 times a year,” says Kozak. Which, some might ar­gue, only strength­ens the push to go now.

2. Sri Lanka

It’s hard to imag­ine that one lo­cale could be home to 13 species of whale, but Sri Lanka is pre­cisely such a place. Blue whales, sperm whales, hump­backs, beaked whales, melon-headed whales, pi­lot whales, false killer whales and even whale sharks are among the cetaceans and large pelag­ics cruis­ing off the is­land’s coast in the In­dian Ocean. And if that doesn’t suit your fancy, visit the plethora of ship­wrecks — an es­ti­mated 200 are in Sri Lankan waters. Or head to a site like Goda Gala Diyamba, where you can visit with hump­head wrasse or scout for nudi­branchs.

“[The Solomon Is­lands] re­al­ized that the truest nat­u­ral re­sources they have are the peo­ple and cul­ture.”

It’s hard to imag­ine that one lo­cale could be home to 13 species of whale, but Sri Lanka is pre­cisely such a place.

3. Raine Is­land Aus­tralia

The world’s largest tur­tle rook­ery is the main draw of Raine Is­land, found along the north­ern­most stretch of the Great Bar­rier Reef.

On ex­ploratory trips, divers with Mike Ball Ex­pe­di­tions found up to 100 tur­tles far from ju­ve­nile in size on a sin­gle dive.

Says Laura Waters, part of the most re­cent trip, “Each was a good 5 feet across — I didn’t know tur­tles got that big.”

4. Mar­que­sas French Poly­ne­sia

The South Pa­cific has long been known for black­tip sharks, whitetips, hump­back whales and a host of other big stuff, and with the de­mand for cu­rated ex­pe­ri­ences with these an­i­mals grow­ing, it’s not sur­pris­ing that a bou­tique live­aboard — cater­ing to just five divers per sail­ing — stepped in to do ex­actly that. En­ter Item­ata. With stops rang­ing from the is­land of Nuku Hiva to Hiva Oa, the sched­ule is flex­i­ble aboard this scuba-cen­tric ves­sel.

5. Si­padan Malaysia

For Amer­i­cans hooked on DIY cul­ture, it’s a nat­u­ral fit to choose Seav­en­tures Dive Rig — a for­mer oil plat­form con­verted into the ul­ti­mate scuba base camp and chill-out pad in the mid­dle of the Celebes Sea — as the place to bed down while ex­plor­ing the reefs of Si­padan. A low­er­ing pad brings suited-up guests right to the wa­ter­line, mak­ing the start of every self-guided dive as easy as rid­ing an el­e­va­tor. If say­ing good­bye af­ter the typ­i­cal four-night stay — the min­i­mum num­ber of nights nec­es­sary to se­cure a Si­padan div­ing permit — proves too chal­leng­ing, don’t. The com­plex is also a PADI IDC, so you can bump your stand­ing to the next level, all while mix­ing with cut­tle­fish, napoleon wrasse and fun­nels of bar­racuda.

6. Nor­way

As soon as pho­tos of or­cas pow­er­ing through shoals of her­ring off Nor­way’s coast made the rounds, the next ques­tion on every diver’s mind was: How soon can I take time off? Be­cause it’s one thing to spy an orca from be­hind glass, and quite an­other to share the icy Nor­we­gian Sea with the apex hunter. For many, it’s a trek to reach the vil­lage of An­denes, found in the coun­try’s north­ern­most smat­ter­ing of is­lands ( but to­tally worth it). The sea­son for sight­ings runs De­cem­ber to Fe­bru­ary.

7. Pemba Is­land Tan­za­nia

For those seek­ing a post-big-five-sa­fari beach hol­i­day, Pemba is not only qui­eter than tourist-fa­vorite Zanz­ibar, but its reefs have seen no im­pact from hu­mans or de­vel­op­ment. “The first thing most divers no­tice are all the ju­ve­nile fish,” says Fil­bert Nathan, in­struc­tor at Fundu La­goon. Fol­lowed by nudi­branchs. “Pemba has every species that you can find in the In­dian Ocean.” The other ex­pe­ri­ence to grab on Pemba is an en­counter with hump­back whales, Au­gust through Oc­to­ber. Says Nathan, “Some­times it sur­prises peo­ple when we see hump­backs, but then again, the is­land it­self is such a sur­prise.”

8. Gili Is­lands In­done­sia

For some Indo-bound trav­el­ers, the idea of a two-hour boat ride to reach a fi­nal dive des­ti­na­tion is too much of a turnoff — that is, if they’ve even heard of the three Gili is­lands, Trawan­gan, Meno and Air, found off Lom­bok, neigh­bor to the tourism hub that is Bali.

Col­lec­tively, the is­lands are known espe­cially for tur­tles, thanks to two sanc­tu­ar­ies de­voted to grow­ing lo­cal pop­u­la­tions. The reefs here are also home to ev­ery­thing you’d ex­pect in the species-rich coun­try, in­clud­ing frog­fish, ghost pipefish, cut­tle­fish and a host of nudi­branchs.

And when it comes to small and quiet, the Gili Is­lands of­fer an ex­pe­ri­ence com­pletely un­like Bali. Con­sider that the to­tal area of all three is less than 6 square miles.

Says Vi­ola Ele­nious, man­ager of Oceans 5 Dive Re­sort on the is­land of Gili Air, “Be­cause of the size of these is­lands, it’s easy to be part of the com­mu­nity quite quickly.” The Mid­dle East has long held sway over divers in­trigued by drift dives, pop­u­la­tions of oceanic whitetips and other big an­i­mals, and the ro­mance of the desert it­self. With Egypt be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly com­pli­cated coun­try for trav­el­ers to nav­i­gate, Oman has stepped in to wel­come divers.

The Aggressor Fleet saw the ap­peal of of­fer­ing trips through the Ara­bian Sea and Gulf of Oman, espe­cially af­ter men­tions of mola mola, whale sharks, hump­back whales, manta rays and mob­ula rays came back on early trip re­ports. Start­ing this Novem­ber, the fleet will be sail­ing the re­gion reg­u­larly.

10. Cuba

Thanks to newly loos­ened travel re­stric­tions and just-launched di­rect flights, Amer­i­cans are dis­cov­er­ing what Cana­di­ans, Euro­peans and other trav­el­ers have long known: The Caribbean’s largest is­land of­fers reefs un­ri­valed in the re­gion for their pris­tine na­ture. Be­cause Cuba hasn’t en­joyed the same in­flux of tourism dol­lars that many other neigh­bor­ing des­ti­na­tions have, it lacks the de­vel­op­ment of a place like the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, or the in­fras­truc­ture of the Cay­man Is­lands. In­stead, it’s still wild. Places such as the Bay of Pigs off the is­land’s south­ern coast, sched­uled to be­come the new­est of­fer­ing of the Aggressor Fleet start­ing in 2018, are home to walls, reefs and blue holes that divers have yet to ex­plore and name — for now.

The reefs here are home to ev­ery­thing you’d ex­pect in the species-rich coun­try.

The Mid­dle East has long held sway over divers in­trigued by drift dives and more.

The Bay of Pigs is home to walls, reefs and blue holes that divers have yet to ex­plore.

stromshol­men.no aggressor.com aggressor.com ocean­s5­dive.com gili­men­odivers.com fun­du­la­goon.com

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