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St Helena – The Secret is Out!

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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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.

Marine Salvage Team training in NDAC

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!

The Papanui wreck of St Helena covered in endemic Cunning Fish

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!

Ancient Tortoises live at the beautiful and historic Plantation House

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.


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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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