Some Like It Hot by Mike & Sarah Harding

Mike and Sarah Harding tell us about their recent trip to Marsa Nakari in the Southern Red Sea. The diving sounds great and the visiting camels an added bonus!

  • Touching down at Marsa Alam airport we were met by a Red Sea Diving Safari rep, who promptly handed us our entry visas. We then made our way through immigration and collected our luggage. A short delay to scan bags through security, then we were outside the terminal where we quickly found the driver who was taking us to Marsa Nakari Dive Resort.

    The comfortable transfer in an airconditioned minibus took about one and a half hours, dropping guests at the larger sister resort Marsa Shagra, on the way.

    As our flight from Birmingham landed in the evening, it was about 10pm when we finally checked in at Marsa Nakari reception. Despite most other guests being in bed, the friendly receptionist took time to explain where everything was and at what time we needed to be at the dive centre the next day. Both our bags were then swiftly carried up the track to our chalet by a small guy with massive shoulders.

    As we knew it would be hot in June (35+ degrees Celsius), we had booked one of the Deluxe chalets which had air conditioning. This proved to be a lifesaver and allowed us to get more comfortable sleep at night. Most other guests at the resort seemed to have the same idea although one or two brave souls were staying in the tented lodges, which must have been pretty roasting!

    One of the main benefits of staying out of the high seasons (Spring & Autumn) is that there are fewer guests, making everything that much more laid back. No queues for food at the buffet, plenty of space to spread out all your gear in the dive shade and fast, attentive service from the staff – all of whom seemed genuinely pleased to see us. Towards the end of our stay there were just 6 divers at the resort – it was like having your own personal reef!

    After a tasty breakfast the next morning we checked in to the dive centre, picked up weights and crates then made our way down to the dive shade, next to the small sandy beach in the bay. All divers are given two guided orientation dives on the first day, to get to know the reef and routes before venturing out unguided. While we were kitting up, there was some excitement in one of the changing cubicles. Ahmed our dive guide had found a small snake chilling out in the shade. On concluding that it wasn’t dangerous, he managed to skilfully wrangle it into a bottle, eventually letting it out further away from the dive shade area. Sarah’s face was a picture and we agreed to change in the main benched area!

    Ahmed then took us both out on the first orientation dive. We walked a few metres straight into the warm sea in front of the dive shade, popped on our fins and after a quick weight check, headed out along the south side of the bay. A couple of minutes later and we were at the start of the south reef wall which we followed slowly out towards the mouth of the bay.

    It was pleasing to see that the reef was teeming with fish life; Coral Grouper, Butterfly Fish, Masked Puffers, Reef Bigeyes, Goatfish schools - plus there were so many Blue Spotted Stingrays I almost lost count. The reef consisted of gigantic rocky coral walls and outcrops, reaching from the seabed at 20+ metres all the way to the surface. It was full of hollows, crevices and swim-throughs, presenting a real labyrinth to explore over the next few days.

  • After a light buffet lunch, it was time for our second orientation dive, for which we took a zodiac out to the corner of the north side of the bay. Dropping into the sea and descending, we immediately saw a difference in the topography of this side of the reef, with more rounded rocks and many soft corals and sea fans waving in the light current. We spotted our first Crocodile fish, lying in wait, motionless on the sand and enjoyed a fly-over from a Green turtle on the surface above us. The swim back to shore from the drop point was very relaxing, with the small but fast zodiacs making it much easier to cover a larger section of the reef in one dive.

    On returning to the dive shade, we were reminded that when diving unguided, all dives were to be recorded on the big white plan board so that staff were aware of who was diving where, and for how long – a good safety procedure to ensure each buddy pair or group were being monitored from shore. DSMB’s are recommended in case a boat pick up is required.

    With the sea temperature averaging 30 degrees even at depth, it was almost too warm for our 3mm full wetsuits – shorties or just a rash and swim-shorts would be enough. Visibility was better in the mornings, with afternoon currents tending to stir up more sand & sediment. On most days we could easily see fifteen to twenty metres which improved the further out of the bay we went. Current was very light and hardly noticeable in the shelter of the bay, although the wind tended to pick up as the day went on until about 4pm, when it dropped.

    One of the main reasons we chose Marsa Nakari resort was the flexibility of unlimited house reef diving. I’ve recently taken up underwater photography, so I wanted to spend more time practising my buoyancy, composition and lighting skills without feeling under time pressure, which can be an issue when diving in group guided trips.

    With so much potential to photograph on the house reef and with no real time limit (other than your own pre-dive plan), it was a perfect place to hone my skills. The amount of life on the reef, particularly in the first 5 metres meant there was plenty of natural light to take advantage of.

    We found that diving on the north side in the mornings and the south side in the afternoons provided good light onto the reefs with the sun overhead or slightly behind. Sunset dives were also magical, despite the lower visibility as the setting sun cast deep shadows across the bay to create more atmospheric compositions. Apart from desert and sea, there isn’t much else surrounding the resort. There are a couple of other resorts to the south and a small urbanised area servicing these, with evidence of larger hotels being constructed further along the coast.

    So, imagine our surprise when late one afternoon, we were joined at the dive shade by a herd of camels! Not to dive, but to quench their thirst in the rinse tanks! This was apparently a regular event and the staff seemed happy to accommodate them for a while – even hosing out some fresh, untreated water into an empty tank for them. However, when they started to munch the border shrubs the staff got the hump and the camels were hastily shooed away.

    As with many dive resorts around the world, reef conservation is a key focus and at Marsa Nakari this is no different. However, there is plastic waste present, with wind, tides and currents pushing flotsam into the bay, onto the reef and shoreline. This is being tackled by resort staff as we witnessed regular beach clean ups, but the scale of the problem means that it needs visitors to do their bit too. During dives we grabbed as much floating plastic as we could, transferring to the bins when we returned.

    Bringing your own water containers is strongly encouraged by the resort to reduce reliance on plastic bottles, with plenty of free drinking water stations placed around the site.

  • On a couple of occasions, we dragged ourselves away from the house reef to venture farther out on boat trips to the offshore reefs nearby. As the boats were small, it meant the dive groups were kept to a maximum of six plus a guide and skipper. Our first destination was ‘Habili Nakari’, which was about a ten-minute boat ride from the dive shade jetty.

    The site is a collection of pinnacles rising from the seabed – one large pinnacle and four to five smaller ones grouped together. Each was covered with beautiful soft and hard corals, sea fans and brimming with schools of Barracuda, Trevally and even a few large Tuna shooting between them.

    There was so much potential for photos here with clouds of orange Anthias, secluded Scorpionfish and graceful Lionfish, but being with a group limited my time available to compose. A strong current on one side of the main pinnacle had the effect of reducing our air considerably, so we were only in the water for forty-five minutes. Despite that, the volume of fish life here was another step up from the house reef, so definitely worth the trip.

    Our second boat ride was further out to ‘Dori Elkeber’, another pinnacle site but about forty minutes ride to the south of the resort. On the way out we crossed a small school of flying fish and one even landed in the boat – a proper ‘Life of Pi’ movie moment! We were also paid a fleeting visited by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins just as we were kitting up. But unfortunately, they’d moved off by the time we flipped into the water.

    If you have ever been impressed by those classic Red Sea glossy magazine images of colourful corals, majestic fish schools and Anthias a go-go, then this site presented exactly that vision.

    From Black Spotted Sweetlips and Barred Trevally to characterful Anemone Clownfish. Surrounded by all those Anthias, there was so much to see it was difficult at times to know which way to look. Even on our safety stop at 5 metres, the top of the pinnacle was alive with colour. Bathed by the stronger light and current surge, soft corals and anemones danced in the morning sun. By the time we were back in the boat, the wind had picked up and the ride back was an exhilarating but bumpy one.

    During our six night stay, the staff looked after us extremely well and any questions we had were swiftly answered in full. The restaurant was clean, cool inside and the head chef, on realising we were not meat eaters (only fish & veg), went out of his way to prepare special dishes for us.

    All the food was freshly prepared and of good quality, especially the salad bar which was a popular choice in the hot climate. I would say that Marsa Nakari isn’t the place to go if you don’t dive or snorkel, as there is very little else to do, apart from some day trips out which can be expensive. Also, do not expect much in the way of nightlife or entertainment – we were quite happy just chilling out and gazing at the stars.

    By the end of our weeks’ diving, we’d managed to complete 15 dives each and seen enough new flora and fauna to make it a truly memorable trip. My photo composition skills definitely improved over the week - aided by the relaxing, no rush, unlimited dive schedule. Our late-night flight home even allowed us time to dive the day before departure. Drying kit in the desert heat was a cinch so no problems with damp suits to pack!

    I would recommend Marsa Nakari without hesitation as a dive resort for any level of diver, but particularly beginners and intermediates as the house reef diving is so easy and relaxed. Staying in June, which is low season means less people, so everything is that bit more chilled – apart from the temperature!

    Images courtesy of Mike Harding

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