Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

28th May to 3rd June 2013

I arrived in Manila Philippines on the 26th May with Tom W and Mark S. We spent one night in Manila then headed to Puerto Princessa where we boarded the Stella Maris Explorer liveaboard.

My first impressions of the Philippines was 1. It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, but quite humid. 2. The food was disappointing, surprisingly after our friends had told us it was amazing, and this made me think we weren’t frequenting the right places. 3. sixty percent of the population is in complete poverty and Mark and I got ripped off on the taxi to the hotel which we were charged nine hundred pesos for and tipped another one hundred where in fact the ride averages about one hundred pesos.

But in the greater scheme of things it equates to twenty Australian dollars for a half an hour taxi ride through a crazy city. It’s hard to judge the people for trying to get what they can out of tourists, when they earn so little.

The average daily wage for a local is two hundred pesos which is about four dollars Australian dollars. 4. There are no road rules in the Philippines, and mostly no seatbelts in the backseats either. I find it helps to avoid watching the roads as this can take years off your life! Laughs. Also locking the doors is essential to avoid getting robbed, supposedly kidnapped or harassed by children and people haggling in the middle of four lanes of traffic.

We were disappointed that we couldn’t do the underground river tour at the Puerto Princessa, which was a newly added wonder of the world and looked amazing. It was booked out and would have taken all day to complete anyway which we didn’t have time for. We experienced a pretty dismal dinner in Puerto Princessa despite the local’s recommendation, and at this point where itching to get on the boat!

The liveaboard consisted of eighteen divers, and the crew, of which I am not sure how many there were because someone new seemed to pop up each day from somewhere. I was happy with my room especially having a nice double bed, and rooming with a pretty cool Japanese chick Sutoko who was a dive instructor and great fun. We were lucky to have a great group of people, no idiots and all good experienced divers.

We dived the Tubbataha Reef which is a World Heritage site and is a no take zone. It consists of two atolls, North and South. We did twelve different dive sites of which my favourites were Seafan Ally, Gorgonian Channel and Staghorn Point. These sites were wall dives, covered in every colour of the rainbow and then some. Simply Stunning and breathtaking.

The wall dives, all drift dives averaged twenty five metres to thirty metres on EAN32 for most dives for an hour. The walls dropped off to sixty plus metres and when you would look down you would always spot White, Black tip or Grey Reef sharks patrolling the wall below, beautiful shiny Trevally and hundreds of Triggerfish floating about like bubbles.

I was surprised at how healthy the soft Corals were. I noticed little bleaching if any on the hard coral and the soft corals were bright, plentiful and beautiful.

The trip reinstalled my faith in night dives. Finally I saw some things of interest. Although I skipped a few because the temperature got a little cooler at night and I only had a 1mm body suit with me.

We got close to a triangular mass of Barracuda at The Delsan Wreck. Here I also managed to get separated from the group with Jim in a cross current that was very swift. We buddied up and ended the dive and signalled for a pick up.

We searched Black Rock twice for a whale shark and Tiger shark that had been spotted by another liveaboard the previous day. Unfortunately we couldn’t find them. On the T Wreck dive it was Tom’s one hundredth dive and in tradition he did this nude.

No surprise he was deserted at the end of the group of divers and I felt I should hang back to make sure he didn’t drown whilst taking off his boardies and fins out in the blue!

Thank god for crotch straps Tom! It was unnerving on this dive to hear dynamite go off three times. It sounded thunderously loud and I couldn’t help but panic a little wondering how far away from us they were dynamite fishing.

As previously mentioned Tubbataha Reef is protected, and we were told the dynamite fishing was probably about ten kilometres away. There is a small ranger island by the reef which is manned all year round by nine men, some rangers, some army men, who share one room with nine small bunk style beds, a small kitchen, deck and vegetable patch.

There are no trees or anything for that matter on the island but a tad of sand. We frequented the island to show our support we bought some t-shirts for the cause. I was thinking that wearing just a bikini here was probably not appropriate despite the fact it was a surface interval, as I got the sneaky suspicion that these men may not have seen a woman in a while! Laughs.

I saw my first Pygmy seahorses and by the end of the trip thanks to Carmelo my guide and Sutoko I started to get an eye for finding them. I even managed to fluke capturing one jumping on the seafan on video!

We did a blue dive which as it states was a dive where we went deep and into complete blue in order to find Tiger or Hammerhead sharks. The guides did pump plastic bottles to mimic a feeding frenzy but unfortunately we only managed to attract a school of White tip sharks and a very friendly fish that would not leave us alone!

The crew were absolutely amazing. It was the best service and best liveaboard I had experienced to date, although a few of the others complained about their rooms, mine was perfectly fine.

Everything was done for you, changing over your tanks, washing your gear, even handling your camera equipment on and off the small boats were all done by the crew. They were extremely hard working and we enjoyed the food which re-installed our faith in Philippines cuisine! I even got addicted to Turon which is a sweet banana snack and I managed to get the recipe from the chef before I left. Surface intervals were spent relaxing by the Jacuzzi in the sun.

I would definitely recommend Tubbataha Reef for diving, it can only be done by liveaboard but the sites are truly spectacular. Even doing five dives a day, I did not feel tired at all. I completed twenty dives on the trip, missing out on the last two because of a last minute flight change. Thanks to the crew on the Stella Maris who worked their absolute arses off for us! Would love to go back there.

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