A Taste of the 'Exotic'

Oonasdivers Director Tom tells all about his tough job of embarking on a trip to an 'exotic' location in the Philippines where he hoped for a close encounter with the infamous Thresher Shark..

  • During my trip I visited Cebu city which is a bustling commercial town and the port hub of the island. The city offers a great insight into the local economy and what life is like away from Manila. As I travelled north from the city towards Maya, where I was to join a Bangka boat for the transfer to Malapascua Island, the towns became less built up and the landscape more tropical.

    On arrival I boarded the Bangka boat for my 45-minute trip to the island. I bobbed along on the waves taking in the hot sun and the sand bar island gradually came into sight, it is then you know your paradise awaits!

    After checking in at the Exotic Dive & Beach Resort and getting my dive gear ready for the morning I headed off to the other side of the island through some sand tracks to watch the sunset, which did not disappoint.

    The resort is set right on the beach and the restaurant area has a coral sand floor really giving you the feel of being on a desert island. The staff are organised but relaxed, making you feel at home. Breakfast was buffet style with the egg station set up in the restaurant, food is then served throughout the day on a request basis from their menu of local and western food. I highly recommend the satay sticks from my stay! I was in a superior room which was spacious and tastefully decorated. The resort has a good range of rooms to suit different budgets and types of traveller.

    Exotic runs many day trips to the different sites around the island. As it was my first day, I was heading off to some local sites to do my check dive and get comfortable in the water. The diving in the area offers many macro species, including several huge nudibranchs that were around the sites on the coral pinnacles.

    During the afternoon my buddy and I went to explore the house reef. This is an artificial reef that Exotic has been developing over many years, they are essentially growing their own dive site! There are several metal structures and a huge concrete Thresher Shark. The site has a great number of species now resident and is a great place for some afternoon photography or video training. Me being a video guy meant I enjoyed spending time exploring and taking footage of some beautiful creatures such as frogfish, nudibranchs, an orangutan crab, bubble coral shrimps, skeleton shrimps to name but a few. The guides are very experienced and knew the best places to find the fish life for me to capture on video!

  • The next morning I was off for the Thresher Shark dive so had to get up at 4:30am. The 30-minute ride to Monad Shoal, a 1km rounded reef at around 20 metres, provides a huge cleaning station for these amazing creatures. We jumped in as the sun rose and swam down to one of the viewing areas. Shortly afterwards a Thresher Shark went past behind us and I heard a shout from another diver, so I turned quickly but only got a glimpse of the tail as I was busy watching a hermit crab build its home on the reef floor. We waited and then moved to another area on the station, and low and behold we saw this majestic creature, it was only a few metres away from me but I was too slow to get my camera on to take a video so just enjoyed the view! We were back in resort for 8:30am and digging into our breakfast with some cheer having seen the infamous Thresher Shark.

    Next on the list was a day trip to Gato Island. The island is merely the top of the reef pinnacle poking out of the water. We jumped in and went down to about 25 metres through a few swim throughs until we reached the place where the nurse sharks were resting. We got an amazing view of the sharks and there were a number also swimming around outside the cavern as we peered out into the blue. I found this an awe-inspiring experience and that was only the first 10 minutes of the dive!

    We encountered a long arm octopus, mantis shrimps and countless nudibranchs. The reef is covered in soft corals confirming the view that this location, in the centre of the coral triangle, is without a doubt a highly diverse eco-system.

    In the evenings we walked around the island having a few beers and eating out at the various local restaurants, some attached to the local’s houses, often with all members of the family playing a part in the business. It is a great atmosphere and rare in the modern developed world.

    Back to the diving now, and we were off on another day trip, this time for 3 dives and lunch on a deserted island. Kalangaman Island is a 1km sand bar around a deep walled reef. The sand bar is without a doubt one of my top picture postcard moments, for the younger divers this has to be the perfect place for their Instagram selfie shots!

  • The diving did not disappoint with schools of various types of reef fish. The reef was very healthy and there was an abundance of marine life to enjoy. The walls were covered in soft corals with some huge tree type corals with thin branches, here there were a number of rare longnose hawkfish. Being a keen fish spotter, seeing these creatures was a real treat. We had lunch on the island and then some time to relax and enjoy the sand bar and lay in the water with the gentle waves lapping over us.

    We did a shallower third dive around the top of the reef edge and explored the many mounds of corals on the reef floor. I enjoyed taking some video of a porcelain crab on the edge of an anemone, who seemed happy to oblige. We finished our dive watching a few stingrays who were scouring the floor for snacks.

    Another interesting experience to round off the trip was the Mandarin fish dive, we set off for the lighthouse at around 5pm and were in the water half an hour later just as the sun was setting. I have done many of these types of dives and had a little apprehension as to if many would be visible. I was positively surprised when we saw a good number of couples mating, I was able to take video as well as have some time to experience nature at work. We then did a night dive, after the show finished, as the evening drew in. There were so many creatures it was like the reef was alive. Crabs, shrimps and worms were all active and you never had to look far before finding a new subject to track with your torch.

    All in all, I had a great trip, it was very fulfilling and whilst being further away than the Red Sea, I felt the diversity offered was worth the extra travel time and additional budget. There are many unique aspects to this destination that make it a great value long haul option and I will most definitely be going back soon!

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