Cruising the central atolls
Cruising the central atolls
For our latest liveboard safari in the Maldives we made our check dive at Fedu Finolu as normal but with only twelve of our fourteen guests. One buddy team had been held up at home with bush fires raging around Canberra, Australia. Thankfully though they managed to get on a much later flight, to arrive later that night, shaken but very ready to get into the thick of the diving action the following day! We made our crossing to Rasdhoo. Starting out at the beautiful Bando’s house reef we continued on our way making our last dive in North Male at Maas Thila before crossing to do a late afternoon dive at one of my particular favourites! Unarguably the best dive site in the tiny Atoll of Rasdhoo is Madivaru Corner. On a bad day you will see large schools of Anthias, Midnight Snapper, red tooth triggers, Jacks, Giant Trevally’s and Barracuda. On a good day you can see just about anything. Today was a good day with sightings of grey reefs, huge Napoleon Wrasse and the friendliest Batfish a diver could wish to encounter.
The next few days were spent in Ari Atoll. Ari gets busy with divers in the high season for a very good reason; the consistency of good dive sites makes it a Safari boat company’s dream itinerary. With only a few miles to cross between great diving many of our rival companies simply cruise round the Atoll. We also take our pick of the best that Ari has to offer. Hafza, Maaya and Fish Head are some of my particular favourites and we dived all three! Dropping in on Hafza Thila with any sort of current flowing over it is like diving into a cloud of fish soup. Schooling Neon fusiliers greedily feed on the zooplankton rich water that rushes over this tiny pinnacle. On its own this small fish is a rather unremarkable specimen but in the numbers that congregate over Hafza Thila a spectacular deadly performance is played out. Moving as one the schooling fish occupy the full 9 meters between reef and surface. The only gaps in this writhing mass were those made by divers and the much larger predatory dog tooth Tuna. With a back drop of grey reef sharks we hung out on the reef to watch the ferocious looking Tuna hunt. The density of the fusiliers means that when they move evasively to avoid being eaten a large body of water is displaced. Being in the heart of this action you can hear and sometimes even feel the whoosh as hundreds of frightened bodies seek shelter closer to the corals. Exhilarating!
Trainee cruise director Krista Espelein’s favourite little dive buddy made an appearance also. Resident on Hafza is probably the sweetest and definitely bravest little Eagle Ray I‘ve ever seen. With its tail missing (probably due to his overconfidence) he quite happily swims within a meter of divers perched on the reef edge. The afternoon before leaving Ari for fresh new waters we made a stop of at what turned out to be a highlight of the Trip. By Machafuhi Island resort lays the 40 meter wreck of a Japanese fishing vessel. It’s well preserved wheel house and deck crane shelters hundreds of tiny transparent glass fish, and on this occasion a large Nurse shark was sheltering under the bows.
The following day we had a little unscheduled stop where we took advantage of the fantastic weather to visit a picnic island on the very western edge of Vaavu Atoll. I have passed this island without a thought tens of times throughout the last year and only now been to visit. Manned by one friendly staff member from the Alimata resort the beaches and seating areas are kept pristine. Stepping onto its virgin whites sands was comparable to stepping straight into a post card. In the evening we dived what is by far the best night dive in the Maldives. ‘The Jetty’ is now world famous for its schooling nurse sharks, marbled rays, black tip reef sharks and giant trevallies.
It’s been a whole year since I dived in Meemu Atoll and I was desperate to get back to what is my favourite site in the area. Kurali Corner right of the southern tip of the Atoll is well known for manta, so much so that I can almost guarantee sightings, Jumping into a medium current with very limited visibility I was a little anxious however as after 10 minutes nothing was going on. Right as we were drifting towards the biggest cleaning station though we saw them! Seven, fully mature reef manta were hovering only a couple of meters from the sandy channel floor. Cautiously, so as not to scare them, we made our way across the current to get within touching distant of the gentle giants. They were not intimidated in the slightest and even didn’t mind our bubbles running over their mottled bellies. This is truly an incredible experience and every one held on transfixed until the low air limit was met and we had to surface. No problem though as with two hours we dived in to do it again!! This group had been an amazing group of people to travel with. Although a little tired my sides still ache from the laughs we had together. Cheers guys. Tom