The excitement had been building for months, our trip to the Maldives was nearly here, well you can imagine how excited we all were when the day finally arrived.
For me it started really well, my friend and dive buddy for the holiday managed to get me into the lounge with her at the airport, now this is the way to start your holiday, no shops, no hustle and bustle… bliss
We were all off to Paradise, with the promise of Palm trees, white sandy beaches and sunshine.
Paradise yes, sunshine NO!
The day we arrived in Malé, the area was experiencing a Tropical storm, it seems we had bought the British weather with us, sideways rain and gusting winds met us at the airport, the boats were bouncing all over the place in the harbour to take their guests to their beautiful Island resorts.
This isn’t quite like the pictures in the guide books… well… maybe like a guide book to the UK 😉
We eagerly waited at the airport for our transfer to MV blue Voyager, which was to be our home for the next 12 days. We were picked up on Blue Shadow, the Dhoni for Voyager, the ‘Dhoni’ is essentially a smaller boat that all the dive gear is stored on, which takes you off to the dive sites, so we had two boats at our disposal for the holiday, now I’m feeling spoiled.
After introductions, boat briefings and of course lots of unpacking, we had a relaxed dinner and an early night to make up for the long journey, we were all looking forward to the first day of diving.
1st December 2017
Waking up at 6am was made easier by being handed a cup of tea whilst in bed, off for briefings and the first dive of the holiday, thorough briefings make the dives so much easier. We were still moored in North Malé Atoll, awaiting two more guests who had been delayed by the storm the previous day, so Back Faru was our first dive, this was an easy bimble for our check dive, with moray eels every few meters, a good start to the diving. Second dive of the trip was to be on Lanken Manta cleaning station, we were of course all hopeful for a glimpse of a Manta given the dive site name, we were not disappointed, the moment we dropped onto the station we had a Manta cruising around for us to watch, all mesmerized. There were a few shark shaped shadows at the edge of the reef, but they didn’t come in too close.
The grinning faces back on the Dhoni confirmed that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed their encounter with the first manta of the holiday.
Day one was topped off with the most sublime curry for dinner, I think we will be bringing the chef home, if we make it on the plane with our big bellies at the end of the holiday.
A much better start to the day, the sky was a lot brighter. An early start again, time for briefings and dives. We had now moved down to South Malé Atoll.
First dive of the day was at Karumba, this lovely slow drift gave us lots of life to enjoy, we dropped in straight into a small shoal of Bat/Banner fish, early into the dive we were graced with an Eagle Ray gently drifting past us, closely followed by 2 or 3 black tip reef sharks, happily swimming around for our cameras, they weren’t shy either, coming in quite close. Also lots of the little critters too, octopus, Banded Shrimp, a lovely baby moray eel hiding in its little hole.
It felt like no time before we had to head for the surface, but hey, it was time for breakfast!
For our second dive of the day we were taken to Valassaru Caves, which are actually overhangs rather than caves, they provided plenty of places for the fish to hide. Our awesome guide Ali was trying to point something out to me in one of the deeper overhangs, I really thought he was shining the torch at a big rock… until it opened its mouth, I actually jumped underwater as I wasn’t expecting the ‘rock’ to move! What Ali had spotted was a huge Marbled Grouper.
Dive three was a bit faster, this is practice for what’s to come…. weeeeeeeeeeeeeee
If you blinked, you missed a lot, you have got to love fast drift dives, they are exciting.
We were then very happy when we were told that we could have a night dive today, a chance to catch some different fish out. Heart Tilha is a small pinnacle inside one of the island lagoons which meant there was no current, a nice easy bimble around a small pinnacle made for a relaxing end to the day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many feather stars, such beautiful colours and patterns.
The mango sauce at dinner seemed to be a winner all round, so a great day was finished off nicely.
We stayed in South Malé Atoll for another day. Today was time for the practice run for the channel diving, we dropped down onto Cocoa Thila with a small current running, once down behind the pinnacles at the edge, it eased off to allow you to slowly make your way along the bottom to find a spot on the edge, once hooked on we could wait and watch. This dive we had just a couple of sharks cruising by, but it was a great taster of what was to come.
After breakfast, dive two was the same spot, the current had dropped a little, so it was easier to settle and watch, at least five Reef Sharks were cruising around, sadly it was all too soon before we had to come up off the ledge, and hook into a plateau further along the reef to watch all of the little fish going about their daily lives.
Todays diving was topped off to the max… Alimatha for our night dive.
This is where we witnessed a throng of nurse sharks and rays looking for their dinner in the sand, quite frankly they don’t care who they bump in their quest for food, it was all quite exciting, and non-stop.
There must have been about 8 sharks swimming around and maybe 4 or 5 rays. At one point though they all lined themselves up in the middle of the group, it was like they were having a mid-meal nap!
We had a few uninvited dinner guests as well, the appearance of a few Lion Fish at the edge of the group proved to be a pain, unfortunately literally for one of our guests, whilst in his quest to shoo one away with his torch to stop it from touching another diver, he got stung on the thumb. But all was ok the next day, he still had his thumb in-tact, just worse the wear for a very painful few hours.
So it seems we can’t escape the rain just yet, but it could be worse, it could be cold and rainy like home, but we are still at a balmy 28 degrees, so it’s all good.
We dropped onto the edge of the channel Miyaru Kandu, hopeful for the sharks, but unfortunately today was not the day, little to no current meant they weren’t out to play, so a very easy gentle reef wall dive, lots of little stuff to look at.
We then moved on to find another dive site to explore, always with the hope that some sharks or rays would glide past. The final dive of the day was at Fotteyo Muli, a site known for its amazing soft corals. Sheer walls with small indents and swim throughs with beautiful soft corals hanging from the ceiling of the overhangs made this a feast for the eyes. A fair amount of anemone and clown fish always provide entertainment.
Our itinerary is now being determined by the storm that has been going through the Maldives, the storm is heading North, so we are heading South, hoping for Mantas, more Sharks and if we are lucky some Whaleshark encounters… let’s see what the next 8 days offer up to us. We can’t control the weather, so we will be making the most of what we are offered.
We started the day at the same site as yesterdays last dive, time to see the beautiful soft corals in the morning light. Fotteyo proved to be a very pretty dive again, the soft corals in the morning light were lovely, lots of life buzzing around, we were lucky enough to see a free swimming moray, that then made its way into the hole of another moray, there was no aggression, so they must have been good buddies.
During the day we continued heading further south, we left South Malé Atoll, moving into Vaavu Atoll, which given the appearance of that lovely round yellow object in the sky is definitely the right way to be heading, we are leaving the storm behind us now and are seeing the results, blue water and bright skies, this is what the Maldives is meant to look like.
We were then in for a fun filled start to the second dive of the day, a steady current running along the side of the reef at Rakeedhoo gave us a great fly-by looking at lots of fish, once at the corner of the channel, the current eased right up to allow us to bimble along the reef to take in all the little critters making the sheer wall their home. We were graced with a huge Napoleon Wrasse at then end of the dive just before we had to come up.
Because of the weather affecting the visibility etc, our guide has tried not to put peoples expectation up too high, on our final dive of the day, this paid off.
We dropped in on Mulaku Kandu not expecting too much but were delighted to encounter Grey Reef sharks, White Tip Reef sharks, a Marbled Ray, schools of Barracuda, and the show was stolen by a very cute baby Eagle Ray, who was gracefully gliding above us.
We had now progressed further south into Meemu Atoll. Dive one today was a fantastic dive. Dropping onto Gaahura Kandu, we started with a gentle swim down the side of the reef, this soon elevated into an exciting hook in on the corner of the channel to watch schooling barracuda, schooling jacks and of course a few sharks cruising around, flitting in and out of the schools of fish. As usual it was a disappointment when we had to unhook to go shallower, damn that NDL, we would have stayed all day if we could. However coming slowly up the reef wall at the very edge of this channel was a stunning array of coral heads, with nooks and crannies for hundreds of fish to hide in and go about their lives, giving us so much to look at whilst we hovered around on our safety stop, we even had a lovely Marbled Ray cruise past us at 5m, however due to having his head in a hole getting a picture, Dave completely missed it!
If we were going home today, we would all be very happy campers after dive two on Muli Corner. This goes down as one of the EPIC dives of the holiday, if you were in the right place that is… he hemmm
It started as all epic dives do, with no camera! We were expecting a strong current on a channel dive, no point having expensive kit bouncing around on the rocks when trying to hook in, however in true sods law style, we had… wait for it… Grey Reef sharks at about 25m right at the start, with the silhouettes of mantas high above us on the reef plateau, good vibes from the start. As we levelled up a bit we had a stunning shoal of Harlequin Sweetlips, with the grey reef sharks cruising along below us now, as we came up over the top of the gently sloping reef we had an array of exciting events waiting for us, lots of the usual little stuff buzzing around, shoal of Fusileers, a huge octopus in it’s hidey-hole, one that Ali the guide probably knows well to have found him in there. We were graced with a juvenile Black tip reef shark, all of 2 feet long, circling us, I felt like a helicopter above a coral head trying to keep track of it, such a lovely encounter. We then had an abundance of Turtles either sleeping under small coral head ledges, or swimming around joining in the fun, I’m sure I saw about 8 different individuals, we were then graced by two Mantas floating past and through us, it was a case of not knowing which way to look, Mantas in one direction, sharks in another, turtles over there, goodness we didn’t think it could get any better, until whilst watching one of the many turtles, we spied a mêlée off to one side, coming our way, should we be concerned that a large beigy-grey mêlée of sharks, quite large ones, on the hunt, having a bit of a tussle were heading towards us, I think Natasha and I had the same thought… but we’re ok, they are just nurse sharks, the larger ones were in excess of 3m long, wow…. what a dive. With most of it pretty shallow, we all had plenty of air to last the full hour we were allowed, none of us wanted to come up, but all good things must end… for now.
Luckily, for the disbelievers among you reading this saying “no pictures no proof…” Nat and Annette captured most of it on GoPro, hurrah!
The last dive for the day was rapid, but uneventful by the standard set on dive 2… however little did we know the best was yet to come.
We moored up for dinner, whilst everyone else was happily scoffing their beautifully crafted desserts, that I couldn’t eat, our guide rushed through the door to announce that there was an exciting visitor at the back of the boat, I was able to go and get the first shots of our unexpected dinner guest… directly off the back of the boat, a Whaleshark had decided to come and have his dinner too.
Of course I was very quickly joined by 23 other very happy gleeful people taking in this amazing creature, it probably took all the restraint we could muster to not get straight in, but all being respectful of this stunning animal in front of us, we went up to the Sky Lounge for our briefing on the guidelines for this encounter, if we were to get into the water to snorkel, there were some rules, which I am very happy to see!!
There was a limited number of guests allowed in at a time, minimum distance to be kept etc etc.
The first group were allowed in to gently encounter this amazing animal. Quite amusingly, he pretty much ignored us whilst he ate his dinner. To say we were emotional is an understatement. To our surprise, he stayed at the back of our boat for several hours, I can only imagine the MV blue Voyagers lights attracted the best plankton. We were relieved and lucky to see that there were only 3 boats in the area, the animal was not swarmed, at one point there was a small set of red lights making its way to our boat, we amusing realised that one of the other boats was flying over a drone to see what was happening… we waved gleefully showing off our 5m long guest!
We can only hope that it might give us a swim by on one of our dives tomorrow. This sure did make up for the dodgy start we had due to the unforeseen weather at the beginning of the trip. Sweet dreams all round after this encounter I think!
We are leaving the most southern stop of the trip today, sadly heading back up through the atolls back to Malé, which of course means the end of the trip is approaching, but there’s still a few days left yet!!
Our first dive was on Dhiha Magili corner, on this one it was lots of the smaller stuff, including a turtle here or there, you can see they are the master of disguise, for the few who stayed on the boat, they were treated to a pod of dolphins playing on the surface near the boat. Difushi Kandi, our second dive also provided lots of the little stuff, lots of time to practice my signature picture, the backside of clown fish as they disappear into their anemone, I’m getting really good at that shot now!
The whole day paled into insignificance during the third dive of the day, we were going to chance a Manta Cleaning Station, Kurali. The best time to do this dive is usually the morning, but it was worth a shot, if not a bimble along the reef would do us just fine. We dropped onto the main cleaning station and all was quiet, so off we went after a while thinking it was going to be a quiet one, a little bit further along the channel, we were told to drop down next to a much smaller rock, and were duly treated to a good 30-40 minutes of manta action, from my spot at the back of the rock, I could see it playing over the divers at the front of the rock, then gliding round the back, and the first time it came past, it swam right over me, what a treat! At one point I managed to get a shot of its belly blocking out the sun.
I watched with glee as one of them swam right over Gareths head, it came so close, that I’m sure it buzzed him. At one point I was filming a manta at the main rock, I looked over to Naserra and Glen to see Glen pointing behind me, I panned round with the camera to see another manta being sneaky hiding behind the main group, then what would you know a third one turned up, but as the main attraction was in front, most people didn’t know it was there, I’ll share the video so they can see what they missed, just like buses, 3 come along at once!
Before we knew it, we had to leave to do our safety stop, as we were gliding along, gently drifting upwards, another manta came into view below us making its way along the channel to the mini cleaning station, I had enough air to have stayed for another 20 minutes… why do these dives have to end after an hour??
We are now hoping that tomorrow morning will deliver a similar event. Fingers crossed!
After the dive yesterday afternoon, we were hopeful, but the mantas decided to elude us this morning, to amuse us we had the eel garden spread out in front of us.
People saw lots of different stuff on dive two, we had Mantas gliding past us at about 25m, pretty cool.
The last dive of the day was on a lovely wall at Vatterru, with the treat of a huge Anemone colony, there were clown fish everywhere! But they are masters at disappearing at the precise moment you press the camera button, either no fish, or their backside…. hmmmm my speciality again.
Nassera and Glen were treated to a rare sight of a Guitar Shark on the corner, quite a lucky find for the few who saw it, nice one!
Jumping in on Vatteru again this morning, a nice easy bimble along the wall with many overhangs to explore, with some Octopus action on our safety stop, we watched as a slightly larger octopus basically evicted a smaller one out of his little hidey-hole, I was fascinated with them, they move with such grace.
After several hours motoring back up to Vaavu Atoll, we were ready for dive 2 of the day, we were jumping in on Niyaru Kandu where grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, an eagle ray and a school of jack fish were on the list of sightings.
We had a bit of a fight against a current to get to the corner, once there we had a few reef sharks cruising around over the flat and out in the blue, but they soon disappeared when the ‘pro-photographers’ came along 10m off the reef to make sure they got the good shots of them, and as if by magic, poof, the sharks were gone, so we had nothing left to see. No other real big stuff turned up. There is always the next dive.
Dive 3 was much of the same, a battle across the channel mouth didn’t yield the results hoped for, just a lot of air used.
We are well on our way back now sadly. Back to South Malé Atoll, we re-visited a spot we dove on the way out a week ago, hoping for some more shark action.
Cocoa Thila did not disappoint. We dropped down onto the end of the Thila in the channel, at first we thought we were in for a quiet one, hooked in at the corner we didn’t see too much, just a ray going past, so we all un-hooked and drifted back a long the wall a short distance, as we reached the indentation in the side of the Thila, we were all in for a fantastic treat, as a shoal of sharks were cruising past. The large grey reef sharks were coming in pretty close, for me the baby black tips were the highlight, cute sharks!!!
Our second dive of the day was the Kudu Giri Wreck, this was definitely one for the smaller aquatic life, including Pipe fish, shoals of Glassfish, Trevally, Hawkfish, Scorpionfish and turtles.
The Kudu Giri was purposefully sunk as an artificial reef, next to a small pinnacle, it is a great little wreck, that can easily be covered end to end in one dive, still allowing time to explore the reef walls of the pinnacle.
The third dive of the day was a very odd one for me, it is called Fish Tank, it is known for the huge abundance of feeding aquatic life, because it is off the jetty of a tuna canning factory, there is always some leftovers for the local fish to get an easy meal.
It was pretty crowded down there, fish everywhere feeding on the carcasses of the tuna. The Moray Eel population is massive, as are the morays themselves, they look like they are on steroids they are so large, clearly they have an easy living there, the highlight for me was when Sophie came and took me away from the main spectacle to show me a baby yellow box fish she had found, cute doesn’t cover it!
That was one of only two bits I enjoyed on this dive, the second was finding two juvenile sweetlips, they are so cute as they appear very confused, swimming around fast and erratic like they’ve had about 20 cans of red bull!
This is our last day of diving on the liveaboard, so of course we are all hoping for something special.
Being so close to Malé now, what could we expect?
Well we weren’t disappointed!
We were back at Lanken Manta cleaning station, sadly there were also several other boats around, so it was very busy with divers.
For most of the last week we have been the only ones on the dive sites… we had been spoilt! Until this dive we hadn’t realise how spoiled we had been, it was diver soup down there, it felt really crowded. But the show in front of us more than made up for it, and what a show we had.
We were all dropping in and before we could get settled we were treated to the ballet of the mantas, this went on for a good 45 minutes, at one point I counted 7 Mantas circling the small cleaning station, they seemed to be playing more than being cleaned, they were having fun, and so were we!
As usual, it was with a heavy heart that we had to leave the mantas and come up to the surface again.
What a way to end the trip!
We had one more dive allowable, so a small Thila was chosen for the final dive of the holiday, after the Mantas, it was very sedate, a nice easy bimble, the viz wasn’t as good as we had been used to, Gareth likened it to Wraysbury… steady on there… we could see at least 8-10 metres!
For me the highlight of this last dive was finding a long nose hawkfish hiding in the coral.
As an end of trip treat, our last night on the boat meant one more meal, and we had been promised the curry again… And it was Goooooooood, the chef makes the BEST Dhal!! full bellies all round, it was fantastic!!
We then finished the evening off with a game of Cards against Humanity, for me this was my first encounter with the game, I’ve of course heard of it, but never played it. What was even more weird, is that previous guests had put their own stamp on the game and made some changes to the answers… Hmmmm, well I can safely say I know a few of the guests sense of humour a bit more now, and I will be afraid… very afraid.
For some of our group, this was the end of the trip, airport in the morning, and off home. However there is 3 days of R&R at Bandos Resort booked in for six of our group, some snorkelling, massages and lazing by the pool coming up, with perhaps a few cocktails thrown in for good measure.
MANTAS SHARKS TURTLES WHALESHARK
What more could you want!?!
How about white sandy beaches, palm trees and sunsets….
I believe by the end of the three days on Bandos Resort we had all had a great time!
Sue had managed to squeeze in as much snorkelling as possible, Gareth had managed to get some tranquil reading time in and enjoyed snorkelling off the beach right by the rooms, Nassera and I decided to get some Paddle Boarding lessons and had a good go at the watersports on offer, along with sampling the spa and cocktails.
We had regular sightings of the Crane, who was quite happy to fish with all the guests nearby, he’s obviously used to the attention.
Did I mention that we were thrilled on day one to see juvenile reef sharks in the shallows just off our beach, basically learning how to hunt in the shoals of fish lining the beach, being just half a meter away from them was amazing.
I won’t go into just how much food we all ate, all-inclusive means seconds and as many desserts as you can handle!
The last day finally arrived, it was with a heavy heart that I had to say goodbye to the sunshine and unlimited food.
Now just to decide what movies to watch on the plane!