Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Staff Report: Sarah Wight in Southern Oman

A magical land, full of history, culture, rugged mountains, bustling souks, desert landscape and beautiful beaches stretched along the 3,165km coastline all only a seven hour flight from the UK. The Sultanate of Oman is located on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Gulf surrounded by the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, both attracting an abundance of marine life in their nutrient rich waters.

There is plenty of adventure and discovery in Oman from the fjord like scenery in Musandam to the Bedouin camps outside of Muscat and the lush temperate climate of Salalah in the south. Underwater, divers enjoy untouched reefs and an abundant marine life of plenty of healthy corals and large pelagics such as devil rays, leopard sharks and grouper. It is common to see dolphins chasing tuna, turtles and whales off the coast. The Daymaniyat Islands out of Al Sawadi and the Hallaniyat Islands out of Salalah are of particular interest. Wreck enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the Al Munnasir and the City of Winchester wrecks. It’s also a great place to learn to dive.
http://www.diveworldwide.com/holiday/oman_liveaboard_mv_saman_explorer.htmlThe Saman Explorer liveaboard is mid-way through its second season offering week long trips to the Hallaniyat Islands (November to May). Departing from Mirbat, she heads out east in search of pristine dive sites with an abundance of marine life; the highlights being manta rays, humpback whales and the wrecks. Dive Worldwide were recently invited on board to experience this wonderful part of the world, unexplored by most.

After an overnight flight, a quick stop in the Duty Free and a short flight south to Salalah, we met our fellow divers and were driven to the harbour, passing camels and not much else. It was great to be in the warmth of the sun and back in 25°C water for the check dive, whilst my friends and colleagues suffered in the cold back home. 

 We woke up the next morning to panoramic views of mountainous Al Sawda, the most westerly of the small group of islands, and not a soul in sight. Easing us in slowly, the dive sites here are shallow and full of life swimming around and hiding in the coral bommies and gardens. My camera was kept busy on our exploratory dive; table corals, moray eels, puffer fish, lion fish, blennies, grouper and a crocodile fish posing during our safety stop. The best experience of the day? A chance encounter with a massive pod of wild dolphins at sunset!
Divers with a pioneering spirit will enjoy this week at sea, the itinerary liable to change to suit the needs of the passengers and their thirst for marine life!  The second day was spent moored by more of a giant rock than an island, in hope of manta ray encounters at Schmies rock. We were mesmerised and if we could have stayed in the water all day observing these beautiful creatures, we would have!  Although we didn’t see them on all four dives, the chance was definitely there.

Al Qibliyah island, the furthest east offers a mix of rocky sites to explore both in the protected bays and on the outside, where the currents can be fairly strong but the marine life very rewarding. Amongst the kelp covered rocks, hard and soft corals, we saw lobster, Arabian angel fish, schools of trevally and goat fish, moorish idols, grouper and shovelnose guitar fish hiding in the sand.

All 120 metres of the City of Winchester wreck lies at a depth of 28 metres in a bay off the coast of Hallaniyah island. For most, this was the highlight of the trip. Although the visibility wasn’t that great, plenty of time was spent exploring the cargo ship, the first casualty of WWl. She’s covered in soft corals, anemones and fans; home to scorpion fish, honeycomb morays and lion fish and is a very interesting dive both during the day and in the dark of night.

We ended our week at sea with a morning dive on the wreck of a broken up cargo boat lying on the reef just off the coast from the Marriott at Mirbat, where we spent our final night. It was hard to find a spot to rest without disturbing the waking parrot fish and gaze at the hundreds of schooling fish around the mast. I had to stop counting species and just watch the marine life get on with its daily routine. Amazing!
A visit to southern Oman was on my list ever since my first trip in 2005. It’s definitely off the beaten track and a great way to get away from the world for the week. We headed back to the ‘hustle and bustle’ of Muscat for our final two days, spending time visiting hotels, shopping in the souk and exploring the Grand Mosque. If we’d had more time I would like to have gone back to the Daymaniyat islands and inland to explore the forts and wadis. Next time I hope to be able to visit the turtle reserve and perhaps go out on a dhow to spot whales and dolphins. Then of course, there’s the whole of the Musandam peninsula to consider!

Inspired and looking to visit Oman?
Sarah travelled aboard the Saman Explorer in the Deep South in Dec 2012.
Thank you to Extra Divers and everyone on board!
We feature the key dive areas and can help you create your perfect holiday itinerary to discover why this is a fantastic destination to visit throughout the year.
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