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Dive into history in St Helena

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Our visit to St Helena was instigated by a story that revolves around one particular wreck – the DarkDale, but over a few days of diving we soon discovered that the coastline offers those who love a little history behind their dives a host of other opportunities. We dived four of the seven listed wreck dives on offer. Some were sunk deliberately to create artificial reefs and others met their watery end in more unfortunate circumstances. Our first wreck dive off the rugged coast of this remote island was on the Papanui.

St Helena Butterflyfish around the stern post of the Papanui

The Papanui lies in just a few meters of water just in front of the harbour and some of its structure (the stern post) even sticks out above the water, so this is an easy going dive and could even be snorkelled. The wreck sank in 1911 after a fire broke out on board. The captain drove it as close to the island as possible and then evacuated the crew safely, but the ship was lost. It is a big wreck site and the artifacts still on board this 131m long steamer built in 1898 is incredible. It is also now home to a host of marine life and we could have spent hours exploring the site over several dives.

The Darkdale wreck has a special place in history as the first British ship to be sunk in WWII south of the equator. It was struck by by a German U-Boat on the 22nd October 1941 and her casualties are remembered on the cenotaph in the harbour. She lies in deeper water just in front of the harbour with the shallowest point at around 33m. Once again, a feature of St Helena diving, she was covered in the endemic Cunningfish, a beautiful white butterfly fish that creates swirling clouds around all of the wrecks.

We also dived two artificial reefs,  the Bedgellet which was damaged in a storm and sunk in 2001, and the Frontier which was a drug smuggling vessel sunk in 1994.

Both these artificial reefs are now home to marine life living around the structures and within the nooks and crannies within. Mobula Rays pass by this area and so you can combine diving the wreck with looking out into the blue for pelagic encounters, or head inshore to explore the caverns that line the coast.

We did not get to dive the White Lion wreck, a cargo ship sunk in a conflict with the Portuguese in 1613. Whilst there is not much left to see, the ship was rumoured to be carrying diamonds and whilst no-one has admitted to finding any – it must be worth a visit!

If you want a diving destination that is a little different, then St Helena is well worth a visit. We loved it. Find out more about our trip in the latest edition of Dive Travel Adventures in shop now, or online by clicking here.


For more information visit:

St Helena Tourism: www.sthelenatourism.com

Dive Saint Helena: www.divesainthelena.com


All images and text by Frogfish Photography

Equipment Used

  • Olympus OMD EM-1 MKII
  • Nikon D800
  • Nauticam housings
  • INON strobes
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Diving Mauritius in 2022

Jill Holloway

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Mauritius, a dive destination in the heart of the Indian Ocean

Britain is, hopefully, winning the battle against COVID, and Mauritius is waiting with open arms to welcome divers from the UK to enjoy our magnificent Indian Ocean reefs. After the dramatic crash landing of the 300 metre bulk carrier ship Wakashio the island is fully restored to its pristine glory.

From the moment you arrive, you are among friends. English, French and Creole speaking, Mauritius has the best of many cultures. British, since from 1815 until 1965 Mauritius was administered by Britain, who took over from the French so the French flair and culture has remained, and the gentle influence of the dominant Hindu religion creates a harmony that makes it a wonderful, serene place to live.  I wake up every morning to the scent of frangipanni outside my window, and walk down to the beach with my dogs, where we swim in the palm fringed lagoon. The air is clean and fragrant, with a whiff of cinnamon, a breath of curry and a hint of expensive sunblock.

You check in, and its time to explore. There is a wonderful site called https://bryandiscoversworld.com/blogs/  that will show you around Mauritius, so you can plan after diving activities.

Then its time to go to the dive centre, which is 800 metres from my house. We meet at 8.30, so I have plenty of time for breakfast. The dive centre is clean, well equipped and hospitable, with a coffee shop on the premises that serves food as well. Most diving centres in Mauritius are similar.

We are greeted at the front desk by a knowledgeable young woman who asks us to complete a qualification and health questionnaire. Mauritius diving centres like to be sure they provide the most appropriate service. If you travel alone and need a buddy, they will provide one. If you are nervous after a long break, they will gently assist you through a lagoon refresher session. If you want strong currents and drifts they will make sure these are part of the planning for your visit. Best of all, Mauritians love to dive, and it shows in their passion to show you their fabulous undersea world.

Diving in the North is year-round, with excellent visibility, plentiful variety and easy boat access. Many of the macro reefs are within five minutes from shore. But the best diving and most pristine reefs are to be found on the Norther off-shore islands. We dive with sharks in circling washing machine waters in cathedral- like hollowed out caves.

We dive on Djabeda, a coral encrusted wreck that was deliberately sunk and lies at 30 metres. Or the Silverstar, and advanced dive at 40 metres, where batfish shoals hang out.

We dive the spectacular drop offs on Coin de Mire Island, where sea fans and butterfly fishes abound. Rays and turtles, huge shoals of fusiliers, blue banded snappers and glow fish blend with white and yellow goatfish on many of the reefs.

We dive a reef 3 minutes from the dive centre where morays are plentiful, and there are at least 11 species on one of the reefs, some un-described.  Look out for the beautiful lionfish and scorpionfish, there are some species here that are very rare indeed.

The West coast has an abundance of rays dolphins and whales, but care has to be take if you want to book diving there. The bulk of the Mauritius rivers drain into the ocean on the West coast and visibility can be poor to very poor.

The East and South coasts also offer excellent diving, but again, care has to be taken with booking dive packages as tide, wind and weather can be a prohibiting factor.

Most dive boats are comfortable, and all are registered and licensed with the Mauritian Tourism Authority, so there are few cowboys, and every dive centre must show its credentials on its walls.  

This is the best time to book diving in Mauritius, where a wealthy First World environment meets Third World pricing for dives. The Mauritian diving industry is way behind the curve and has not yet registered that paying £150 for a 10-dive standard package is way lower than the norm for first class boat diving. Accommodation prices vary from £20 a night for a registered basic studio apartment, to £ 100 plus a night for 4- and 5-star resorts, all within easy distance of the dive centres. Its worth noting that apartments are booked by the room and can in some cases sleep up to 3 people.

You need a vaccination card, and a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before boarding. Flights are around 11 hours, and subsidized by the Mauritian government so shop around.

Words: Jill Holloway

Copyright Ocean Spirit Ltd

www.osdiving.com

Images by Chris Sleap and Gunter Haag

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Wining and Diving – South Africa

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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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.

South Africa’s coastline is wild and rugged and has some of the best marine encounters and diving in the world! It is also home to some superb vineyards and so this is a top destination for Wining & Diving! If you have enough time, then try to fit in several destinations on a tour; take in the Sardine Run, go Great White Shark cage diving, snorkel with Blue and Mako Sharks, try to find Sevengill Sharks in the kelp forest, meet the raggies and oceanic shark species near Aliwal Shoal and make sure you dive with the Cape Fur Seals just down the road from Cape Town. Head north for the stunning reefs of Sodwana Bay and even fit in a land safari too! But make sure you make time to visit some of the top vineyards at Stellenbosch and Constantia too, which are just a stones throw from Cape Town and can be done on a day trip.

Our tour took in the lot and this is an experience to be shared with friends. You have to be lucky with the Sardine Run, but the rewards are great if you are there at the right time, with dolphins, sharks, whales and seabirds all competing for the feast of sardines that migrates up the coast in early summer. It is fast and furious, but can also involve long days out on the boat bobbing and waiting for the action to happen.

Flying into Durban you can often combine Aliwal Shoal to start your Sardine Run trip, to get the chance to dive the famous Cathedral Rock and then drift out into the blue for Blacktip and Tiger Sharks.

Gaansbai is the most famous place for Great White Shark cage diving, although recent years have seen numbers falling away, possibly due to the presence of Orca.

Cape Town offers penguins, Blue and Mako Sharks, Sevengill Cow Sharks, Great Whites and the chance to mess about with Cape Fur Seals, who will seek out divers and play among the kelp fronds for as long as you can stay in the cool water. It is here that you can add a few days visiting vineyards and touring the stunning countryside before you head home.

We would love to go back and spend more time in South Africa, as we did not have time for the Mako Shark snorkeling and would like to try again for the cow sharks too. South Africa has so much to offer it is very hard to fit everything into a single trip! It is a high energy and super-productive trip under the water and a wonderful place to relax with your favourite glass of wine in the evening.

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