Lists of the world’s top spots for diving regularly feature the Seychelles, Maldives and Mauritius – often, all three. They’re the exotic places you see in brochures and always fantasise about visiting one day. The good news is, these days flights are more affordable than ever, and with an increasing number of airlines entering the Kiwi market, it’s not necessarily just a dream. Here's what you should know if you're thinking of experiencing these underwater paradises for yourself, from diving experts who've been there.
The Seychelles, a group consisting of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, are known for the friendliness of the people as much as the incredibly beautiful scenery, both on land and undersea. Learner divers will love this as much as more experienced folk. The water is warm and clear, and full of life - expect the unexpected from this enchanting piece of paradise.
Benjamin Marshall captains superyachts and has cruised around the Seychelles extensively. As a PADI dive instructor, he rates the region as excellent for diving and still relatively unspoilt. “It’s great around the main island group of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue for fish life and from June till November there’s a good chance of seeing whale sharks. Diving at the wreck of the ex Royal Naval auxiliary ship the Ennerdale, which sunk in the 70s, is incredible, with varied and interesting fish life, reef and bull sharks as well as many species of rays.
“If you are lucky enough to get to the outer regions, such as the Amirante islands, the diving is wild with many large species of pelagics and virtually no other divers. The water temp on average is at least 27 degrees Celsius!
Jessica Muller has lived, worked and dived in the Seychelles. “I used to live on Mahe in the south where the diving is definitely better than the north,” she says. “Better visibility. A great dive site is Shark Point which consists of massive boulders that create a huge canyon where you see reef sharks and lots of crevices with nurse sharks or big marble rays underneath. In the bay nearby you see big schools of large humphead parrotfish - sometimes as many as 40 - and you can swim among them if you don't move around too much!”
Located east of Madagascar, and about 2000 kilometres off the southeast coast of mainland Africa, is the tiny island nation of Mauritius. The country, consisting of two main islands and a handful of tiny atolls, is surrounded by white sandy beaches. The lagoons on Mauritius, the main island, are protected from the open sea by the world's third largest coral reef, which stretches all the way around the island.
There are diving spots all around the island, with the shallow lagoon created by the barrier reef an ideal place for beginners to find their feet. If you want to go boat diving you’re in for a treat: you’ll often sight sharks pelagic fish, dolphin, and humpback whales in the winter. Mauritius also boasts more than 20 submerged wrecks to explore.
On the West Coast, La Cathedrale is one of Mauritius’ most popular dive sites. You may have seen pictures of this huge underwater cave with lots of light penetrating through the walls making it look like a church cathedral. Boulders is another favourite, especially if you’re a fan of rather large eels! Some people favour the north and west coasts as the south can be a bit rough and windier but there are incredible sights all the way around.
No matter where you go you won’t be disappointed. Surrounded by hundreds of brightly coloured fish, you’ll love this undersea treasure trove. Diving in Mauritius is great all year round but if you go in summer you’ll be blown away by the sheer amount of parrot fish, groupers, wrasses, sweetlips, angelfish, sergeant majors, trumpet and insanely bright coral you can see without much effort at all.
The Maldives have always had a reputation for being a stunning tropical paradise, and for good reason. It’s hard to believe that the beaches on all 1200 islands (not all inhabited) can be that consistently postcard perfect but it's true. Wherever you stay, the Maldives is a must for divers: with its mantas, sharks, wrecks, big fish or schools of colourful smaller ones, this remote island nation has something to please all divers.
The central region is made up of Malé and Ari atolls, Felidhoo, Faafu and the smaller Rasdhoo Atoll. This is the popular area for both liveaboards and dive resorts, with incredible shore diving from house reefs (reefs that are easily accessible from dive resorts) and large pelagics common at drift dives.
Jessica Muller worked on Biyaadhoo, a south Malé atoll, and loved it. She also enjoyed Kandooma Thila and Ghuraidhoo Islands. “There were plenty of reef sharks, barracuda, eagle rays and large stingrays as well as gorgeous coloured fish life. I’d also recommend South Ari if you like mantas and whale sharks - they are there all year round and there are excellent overhangs covered in beautiful soft coral. The diving is amazing in that area.”