Asia’s best diving destinations

THERE is always a piece of coral out there somewhere for underwater aficionados, but there are dive spots and dive spots and some simply should not be missed.

For lovers of pelagic species, coral, and all things marine and wonderful, here are some places you should consider on your next underwater Asian sojourn.  Encompassing Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and even Papua New Guinea, these also offer a broad taste of the cultures, food and locations of the region.

Yongala, Queensland
You can’t have a list of dive sites in Asia and not mention the Great Barrier Reef. While there has been some coral bleaching in this region due to rising sea temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef still remains the worlds most incredible stretch of coral.  Stretching for 2,600km it is littered with islands, reefs and marine species. The Yongala is a shipwreck 90km southeast of Townsville and many rate it simply as the best dive in the world. If you want to experience what it’s like swimming in an aquarium this is the place to go with manta rays, octopus, turtles, sharks, fish of many varieties and coral coral coral!

Pic: yongaladive.com.au

Sipadan, Malaysia
Also rated highly amongst divers around the world is this oceanic island one hour from the east coast of Sabah. There are 14 amazing dive sites here but Barracuda Point is the most famous where the barracuda feed. The 2000 foot drop in the water is filled with abundant sea life including barracuda of course but also sea turtles, eels, shark, bat fish, parrot fish – you name it, it’s all there and we haven’t even started on the coral there is to see.

Pic: cnngo.com

Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
A trip to Indonesia usually involves some encounter with its underwater life and there are a number of great sites to dive, including others listed below. However this tip off the West Papua province is awash, literally, with marine life. It contains 1500 small islands, cays and shoals and has the highest marine diversity in the world. The richness of the ecosystem here is fortunately largely unspoiled by humans but coral bleaching does remain a threat.

Bali, Indonesia
Two of the best dives in Bali lie near each other on the island’s north side. The USS Liberty is about 30 metres off shore and 120 metres in length. While there’s much to see – guns, toilets, boilers, anchors and so on, it’s not that deep which makes it very easy to dive and even a possibility for snorkelers.

The Tulamben wreck off the village of Tulamben is also close to shore. The shipwreck is 120 metres in length and also quite shallow in the water. The sand here is black which does cut down the visibility but also makes for some dramatic contrasts with the colours of the corals starkly beautiful in comparison.

Tulamben wreck divers. Pic: www.panoramas.dk

Kavieng, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea remains well and truly off the tourism map in the Asia Pacific which just makes its dives that much more  spectacular – you can guarantee thousands haven’t been there before you. Kavieng is renowned for its diving thanks to the numerous WWII plane and shipwrecks in the area.

Pic: www.diveadventures.com.au

Kavieng is particularly well known for its current-swept passages too. These attract real big pelagic fish and you can drift drive along  reef walls past sponges and hard corals. Popular dives include the Albatross Passage, Echuca Patch, the Wreck of the Der Yang and the Stubborn Hellion.

Similian Islands, Thailand
Divers continue to rave about the Similian Islands, an archipelago of nine islands in the Andaman Sea largely because of the great visibility, abundance of corals and sea life and some incredible underwater rock formations that require swimthroughs – always a bit of fun. They also rate the drift diving with some pretty incredible currents going on here.

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
The other place to go diving in Australia is the world famous Ningaloo Reef where you can see whale sharks – the enormous pelagics that can be up to 12 metres in length. One of the great things about Ningaloo, perhaps when compared to the Great Barrier Reef, is its relative isolation. It’s a long way from anywhere and that keeps down the diving numbers while still providing as much to see under the water – manta rays, turtles, sea snakes, fish, sharks and of course the whales…

Pic: Brian J. Skerry, National Geographic