Tag Archives: diving

Byron Bay: One of the best diving sites in Australia

22 Nov

The only way to enter the open water from Byron Bay is by launching off the beach. It makes for peaceful waterways with few fisherman and lots of big fish.

The highlight of diving at Julian Rocks in Byron Bay is getting up close to these guys: grey nurse sharks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Read about my encounter with a whale while diving at Byron Bay.


I enjoyed the world’s only dive rig

25 Sep

My scuba diving hobby has taken me to many exciting places and the greatest, so far, was Seaventures Dive Rig – an old oil rig that was converted into a diving platform and hotel, located just minutes from one of the hottest diving destinations in the world, Sipadan.

Seaventures Dive Rig at Sipadan in Malaysian Borneo.

The idea of staying out to sea on an oil rig intrigued me. It was fully fitted out for convenient diving, with several rooms up top and a large bottom deck that had diving gear for grabs and a lift straight to the water below.

The Seaventures operators also arranged daily diving trips to nearby Mabul Island and Sipadan, which lived up to the hype created by famous Jacques Cousteau’s top review. The dramatic wall, large schools of fish, reef sharks, turtles and anemones were even better than those I’ve seen on television.

Me diving under the Seaventures Dive Rig.

Diving along the wall of Sipadan Island.

A giant school of Barracuda at Sipadan.

A Whitetip reef shark at Sipadan.

Visit the Seaventures website for more information on oil rig accommodation and diving at Sipadan.

By Marissa Toohey

Indonesia’s underwater safari: Lembeh Strait

1 May

Diving closely behind our guide, we wait excitedly for him to reveal unusual creatures hiding in the dark volcanic sand of Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. Using a long thin rod, he gently shifts the sand before us as he detects movement underneath. Suddenly a frenzy of goofy legs and arms spring into sight and we see one of the underwater creatures Lembeh is famous for: a wonderpus octopus.

Lembeh is different to other diving destinations because it doesn’t attract people for spectacular reefs or crystal clear water. In fact, the water is littered with incomprehensible amounts of rubbish. What Lembeh offers, though, are some of the most unusual and interesting underwater creatures on Earth and, in only around 15m depth, they’re accessible even for beginner divers.

Let me introduce you to some intriguing creatures I saw during my recent trip to Lembeh in Indonesia, with photography by Shea Pletz.

Hairy frogfish are difficult to find because of their camouflaged appearance.

Coconut octopus use coconuts and seashells for shelter.

Pygmy seahorses, only around 10mm long, are found 30m deep at Lembeh.

Stargazers bury themselves in sand and wait to attack prey above them.

Flying gurnards spread their wings and walk along the sea floor.

Ornate pipefish are rare and difficult to find.

Dwarf lionfish are as beautiful and attractive as they are venomous.

Covered in dark volcanic sand, it's difficult to tell which type of scorpion fish this is.

Pygmy seahorses blend in with the fans they cling to.

Other strange creatures you can encounter in Lembeh include: mimic octopus which contort their bodies and change colour to mimic other creatures; flamboyant cuttlefish which have long arm suckers that are brightly coloured; rhinopias which use camouflage to blend in with their surroundings; and juvenile batfish of a number of varieties.

How to get there
Lembeh is around one hour drive from Manado airport in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Flights go to Manado daily from Singapore and other domestic locations.

Where to stay
I stayed at Twofish Diver’s Resort on Lembeh Island. The resort is designed to cater for recreational divers and offers packages including daily dives and meals. Twofish also operate a resort on nearby Bunaken Island and arrange transfers and packages for both locations.

By Marissa Toohey

2010 year in review

29 Dec

2010 YEAR IN REVIEW  I am due to splash into the New Year while dancing up a storm on Sentosa Island in Singapore! At just over an hour away from Ho Chi Minh City by plane and with budget priced tickets, it’s an easy trip to make for just a couple of days, and it prompts me to reflect on all of the spontaneous journeys I have been able to take since I moved to Vietnam in July.

During August I ventured on my first field trip with Habitat for Humanity. My Tho City in the Mekong Delta was the scene where I joined a group of American volunteers who built two houses for needy families.

Mui Ne was my second destination and another trip with friends from Habitat for Humanity. The country’s wind surfing mecca was a fun destination for team bonding and brainstorming activities and the perfect way for me to get to know my new friends.

In October I spent a day in Kuala Lumpur on route to Malaysian Borneo to meet my partner Shea. We dove what was described by legendary scuba diver Jacques Cousteau as “one of the greatest dive sites in the world”: Sipadan. With countless sharks, turtles, anenome fish and dozens of interesting species I’d never even heard of before, it certainly topped my list of adventures.

The following weekend I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a relaxing retreat with Shea. We stayed at eco-friendly resort, Mango Bay, with no phones, computers or televisions and went diving with Rainbow Divers on the southern tip of the island.

Click here to see photos of some of my adventures.

One of my favourite weekend journeys was to Soc Trang province in southern Vietnam. My friend Jess had been doing great work in the area of water and sanitation in the region and she took me on a heartening motorbike ride through the local villages.

The weekend trip I was most looking forward to since learning of my position in Ho Chi Minh City, was to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The purpose of the trip was actually to join friends for a floating birthday party on the Mekong River, but I made the most of spare time to see the sights of the city and to gain more insight into the nation which causes me the most heartache.

November saw my first solo trip to Bangkok in Thailand. While the first day was jam-packed with around 18 hours of sightseeing, I saved Sunday for indulging in things I’d been missing, like strolling around western shopping centres in air-conditioning, eating McDonalds and relaxing in the cinema.

My parents came to Vietnam for a whirlwind 8 days during November, including a few days in Danang and Hoi An in central Vietnam. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as happy as when they held hands to cross busy roads, explored Cham ruins at My Son, climbed hundreds of stairs at the Marble Mountains and laughed at me as a local tailor felt her way around my body to take measurements.

The day after my parents returned to Australia, I flew to Vietnam’s capital: Hanoi. As I’d already seen the sights during my first week in the country back in July, this time I got to know more people in the volunteer network and experienced the wicked effects of Hanoi Vodka. It was the first time I celebrated International Volunteer Day.

My second trip to Phnom Penh was in December to support the efforts of friends who organised a charity Christmas ball to raise funds for youth-focused NGOs. After living five months without make-up or hair maintenance, it was heavenly to straighten my locks, wear heels and to enter a glitzy venue without feeling guilt.

My latest retreat was to Cua Dai beach near Hoi An, where I joined my sister and her friend Carlia for the Christmas holiday. I planned to snorkel Cham Island but it was cancelled and I was happy to remain on the beach to be consumed with the pages of a new book.

Click here to see photos of some of my adventures.

Now embarking on the eve of the new year, I’m saddened that my departure of Vietnam is becoming closer. I’ve fallen in love over and over again with South East Asia, and especially with the ability to travel frequently, affordably and effortlessly. During 2010 I have worked really hard but clearly I’ve been able to play really hard as well.

So then, looking forward to my upcoming departure and with no plan of what’s ahead, what do you suppose my new year resolution should be? To settle down? No way! To travel more? That might be considered selfish. To ditch a few of the kilos I’ve gained over here? I think there are greater things I could focus my attention on. What do you think it should be?

By Marissa Toohey

The fiji shark dive, up to 40 bulls

9 Jul

THE FIJI SHARK DIVE, UP TO 40 BULLS   Shea and his fellow divers are embarking a vessel bound for the famous Shark Reef in Beqa Lagoon. Shark Reef lies adjacent to Beqa Passage which is nearly one kilometre deep – deep enough for several species of man-eating sharks to live and breed. Feeders attract large sharks up from the deep abyss and hand feed them as a small group of divers watch from only a few metres away. They are all uncaged and all that lies between Shea and ten man-eating sharks is clear blue water and my hopes and prayers.

Divers see up to 40 bull sharks during a single dive at Shark Reef and, occassionally, get up and close to a resident tiger shark that is over three and a half metres long. Bull and tiger sharks are two of the most dangerous shark species to humans. Grey reef, silver tips and white tip reef sharks are also commonly seen at Shark Reef.

But Shea doesn’t feel threatened for a single moment during the dive (footage at the top of the page). He later describes it as organised and familiar. “The sharks appear comfortable with the routine. They circle in water nearby and approach us one-by-one to take some food.”

“The dive is not difficult,” he adds. “In fact, there is not much diving involved at all. You simply descend 20 to 30 metres and sit on the bottom to watch the action unfold. It’s that easy.”

Shea completed his dive with Beqa Adventure Divers. They operate the shark dive every two days and lead reef and wreck dives on all others days. The dive shop is at Pacific Harbour which is located just 30 minutes east of Suva and there is plenty of accommodation in the region.

By Marissa Toohey

Spa deals

Scuba diving downunder!

8 May

Check out this video Shea filmed and I edited. It’s a good introduction to sea creatures you might encounter while diving around Australia.

I had a whale of a time at NSW’s Sapphire Coast

27 Apr

I HAD A WHALE OF A TIME AT NSW’S SAPPHIRE COAST  I usually retreat north on long weekends and holidays to seek warmer water and sunshine. But I spent the ANZAC long weekend at the Sapphire Coast in southern NSW and feel like I have been missing out on one of the state’s greatest treasures. It has seductive turquoise water and towns with much more character and charm than most on the north coast.

It’s a long drive from Sydney but the scenery makes the journey a treat. The coastal highway winds right and left and up and down which feels similar to driving around New Zealand’s mountainous landscape but, thankfully, its not plagued with winnebagos (which, on New Zealand’s single-lane highways, make the calmest person curse like a drunken pirate).

Eden was our main destination which is marked on the map with a deceptively large title. The town is actually very small. I assume the large title remains on the map from the early 1900’s when Eden had a flourishing population and a successful local economy that was heavily reliant on whaling. Today the town maintains remnants of the old whaling industry, with a charming old harbour full of fishing trawlers, quaint lighthouses and the best part: the killer whale museum.

Killer whales hunt baleen whales (humpback, fin and blue whales) all over the world. But what’s special about the killer whale story in Eden is that it’s the only reported place where killer whales and humans have hunted together. For more than a century three pods of killer whales would lead a local family, the Davidsons, out to sea to join their hunts for baleen whales that were traveling past on journeys up and down the Australian east coast. The museum says a few members of the pod of orcas would even swim right into the mouth of the river where the Davidsons lived and they would thrash their tails to encourage the whalers to join them. When the prey was dead, the Davidsons would leave the carcass for the killers to eat the tongue and lips as payment and then the remainder of the whale was taken to shore. You can read more about the killers of Eden at www.killersofeden.com

Merimbula is another popular destination on the Sapphire Coast. It’s slightly bigger than Eden and is located about 20 minutes north. Merimbula operates one of few dive shops in the region and they often lead dives on wrecks scattered along the coast, including the Tasman Hauler (you know the famous picture of a scuba diver hovering over a huge propellor?). There are also many popular shore dives. I dove underneath the Tathra historic wharf and along the reef nearby and highly recommend it. The dive is scattered with colourful fans, starfish, moray eels and a huge bull ray that made his presence known under the wharf. There’s something transcendent about gliding through rows of pylons that I just love. You can contact Merimbula Divers Lodge at www.merimbuladiverslodge.com.au

Unfortunately a long weekend wasn’t enough to uncover more secrets of the Sapphire Coast but I’m certain there’s more gems to find. I’m planning another trip there shortly, to dive with seals at Montague Island near Narooma. Can we have another long weekend soon, please?

By Marissa Toohey

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See Sydney's dragon in real life

19 Apr

SEE SYDNEY’S DRAGON IN REAL LIFE  You don’t need to drive 500 kilometres out of the city or spend one thousands bucks to experience something unique and Australian. You just need to look around Sydney a little more closely.

Many locals don’t realise Sydney is home to a special species that is closely related to the sea horse, known as weedy sea dragons. They are only found in south and south-east Australia and are one of the most elaborately camouflaged creatures in the world. Weedy sea dragons, or “weedies”, grow up to around 45 centimetres long, they have long, thin snouts, slim tails and tiny transparent fins that are used for steering. They are sometimes difficult to find because, unlike their sea horse relative that wraps its tail around nets and easy-to-find objects, weedies slowly drift along with the current just like seaweed. However, if you scan the ocean bed closely with a torch, they reflect stunning crimson and sapphire colours.

I found three weedies during the weekend at Inscription Point dive site (also known as The Steps) at Kurnell in south Sydney. With a maximum depth of only 15 metres, it’s easy even for beginners to explore. The dive takes you on a journey through a field of large boulders and sponge gardens with blue gropers, bullseyes and shrimp hiding in the shadows. Around 20 metres directly off shore, the boulders and sponge gardens give way to a sandy ocean bed, and that is exactly where weedies are found; along the edge of the reef, often floating between kelp and boulders.

Sydney diving enthusiast, Michael McFadyen, provides detailed instructions for diving Inscription Point at the following website: http://www.michaelmcfadyenscuba.info/news.php

Learn to dive

Shiprock Dive is only ten minutes drive from Kurnell and offers the PADI Open Water Diver course from $359 (April 2010). The course fees include resources for theory (book or CD-ROM), one pool session and four open water dives (on weekends or during the week). Shiprock Dive also offers competitively priced gear hire for casual divers. Visit the Shiprock Dive website, at http://www.shiprockdive.com.au/

Additional dive centres in the south Sydney region include: Pro Dive Cronulla and Aquatic Explorers.

By Marissa Toohey

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