1. Rocktail Bay, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
The water in the Maputaland Marine Reserve can be on the cool side, but there are plenty of tropical fish and excellent chances of seeing some really big pelagic species. Rocktail Bay Lodge has the only dive boat on this stretch of fabulous coast, and I even saw bottle-nosed dolphins and humpback whales on the way to the dive site. Clive and Darryl, the dive team, now send me regular emails detailing their encounters with everything from whale sharks and even tiger sharks, as well the more endearing species such as clownfish and manta rays. Between November and February you will see nesting leatherback turtles along the wild sandy shores of Manzengwenya.
Dive details: The Lodge costs from £125pp a night including all meals, with diving around £35 a dive. More information from .
2. Rangiroa, Polynesia
Few places have captured my imagination like Polynesia, and the beautiful islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago about 250 miles from Tahiti felt incredibly remote. Rangiroa means “Long Sky” and it is the second largest atoll in the world. Two passes, or channels, named Tiputa and Avatoru, allow the Pacific into and out of the lagoon twice daily when the tides turn. I remember being carried through by the incoming tide and sharing the ride with scores of grey reef sharks, dolphins, mantas and sometimes large hammerhead sharks, too. It is high adrenalin diving, but above water, the atoll is one of the most laidback places in the world.
Dive details: Dive with The Six Passengers and stay in a locally run pension such as the for around £50pp a night.
3. Sulawesi, Indonesia
The dive sites around the small cluster of islands off the tip of Sulawesi have some of the greatest marine biodiversity on Earth. I spent most of my time here looking for pygmy seahorses, but there are more fish, nudibranchs, flat worms and healthy corals than anyone can name, not to mention the chance of bigger things swimming in from the blue. The Bunaken National Marine Park is a world leader in sustainable tourism with every diver paying a park fee that is shared among local communities. Staying with the eccentric but lovable fish-obsessed Christianne Muller and her team at Froggies Divers on Bunaken is unforgettable, with communal dinners each night where everyone talks about the day’s diving, fish, sharks and where they will dive tomorrow.
Dive details: from £15pp a night and expect to pay £40 for a two tank dive with a maximum of two divers per guide. More information from .
4. The Maldives
The best way to see the Maldives is on a dedicated live-aboard boat: you get as many as four dives a day and it works out good value for money. From May until September (during the south-west monsoon) you are pretty much guaranteed to see manta rays but they are there all year round. North Male atoll and South Ari atoll provide reliably good diving around the atoll walls, with healthy numbers of sharks, turtles and schooling game fish as well as all the small colourful reef life you expect to see. The Maldives still have the best all-round diving in the Indian Ocean, and I feel the adventure begins the minute I get picked up from the airport for a speedboat ride to the dive boat.
Dive details: run two excellent live-aboards – MV Sea Spirit and MV Sea Queen with some special expeditions where divers can help with manta ray research - from £1,350 for a week’s all inclusive diving including airfares from London.
5. Little Cayman, British West Indies
Most Caribbean diving is not what it once was, having fallen prey to pollution caused by overdevelopment, golf courses and general over-fishing, but Little Cayman still has a special atmosphere. The island is small – about ten miles long – with just 200 permanent residents. On the northern shore there is the spectacular Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson’s Point, where a sheer coral cliff drops 2,000 metres (7,000ft) into a submarine trench. The wall made me feel dizzy the first time I swam over the edge because the water is so miraculously clear. It is not where I would go to see big fish or loads of sharks, but for relaxing warm water diving in fairly easy conditions this is very hard to beat.
Dive details: Unspoiled diving does not come cheap this close to the USA, so expect to pay around £1,500 for a week’s diving and accommodation. The best place to stay on Little Cayman is the .
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