Nick and Caroline visit St Helena to dive its many wrecks and rocky reefs that are teeming with wildlife…
St Helena is one of the most remote islands in the world, often referred to as the Secret of the South Atlantic, where it lies 1,200 miles off Namibia and 2,500 miles off Brazil. How we got to visit this incredible island is a story in itself.
A few years ago we were asked by a team of MOD salvage divers if we would supply them with some underwater photography equipment and teach them how to use it. They were, it turns out, heading to St Helena to dive, survey and work on the DarkDale wreck. Having mentioned this connection to the St Helena Tourist Board, a plan was hatched to get us out to complete our story by diving the same wreck ourselves.
Soon we found ourselves on a flight to Johannesburg in South Africa, and then onwards, via Namibia to St Helena. The runway had only been open for a year and the approach is one that can have the most experienced traveller glancing nervously out the window as the wing tips seem to get impossibly close to the rocks.
The good news for divers is that new flights from Cape Town are being launched later this year, making this a perfect destination to do a dual centre diving trip. And the best time to go is January to March, when the island is visited by large numbers of Whale Sharks.
Maybe it is the remoteness of this island, or perhaps it is because these waters are protected, but the first thing you notice when you put your head underwater the water here is the number of fish. Clouds of the endemic Cunning Fish cover both rocky reefs and wrecks. One of our first dives was on the wreck of the Papanui, sunk in very shallow water in the bay. Craig, from Dive Saint Helena, accompanied us and pointed out bottles and crockery still on the sea bed, even though this wreck has been down for over 100 years!
Above water the island is packed with things to do. If you love history, well, St Helena has that in spades, including the final chapter of the story of its most famous resident – Napoleon. St Helena also boasts the oldest terrestrial animal, Jonathan, a tortoise who is 187 years old. The scenery is stunning and the island is covered in trails and walks covering the hills, forests, valleys and coastline. For those who are really fit, there is Jacob’s Ladder. This dizzyingly steep set of steps climbs from Jamestown to the cliff above to Ladder Hill Fort, some 699 steps and 183 meters high. The record to climb the steps is just over 5 minutes!
Want to know more? Have a look at our full feature in the latest issue of Dive Travel Adventures HERE.
Watch out for more blogs about St Helena coming to Scubaverse soon where we will talk about our wreck dives, marine life and reef dives.
For more information about our trip:
Jeff chats to… Esther Jacobs from Fire Island Conservation in Mozambique (Watch Video)
In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Esther Jacobs from Fire Island Conservation – Mozambique.
Once ravaged by poachers, Ilha do Fogo is now the centre of conservation on the north-east coast of Mozambique. Soon, it will be opened up as an exclusive, luxury retreat, focused on scuba diving and eco-tourism. You can read our story on this HERE.
Find out more at www.fireislandconservation.com
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Diving Mauritius in 2022
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
Images by Chris Sleap and Gunter Haag