Maldives Trip Report 2022

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Maldives Trip Report 10-17 September 2022

This amazing liveaboard trip was designed specifically for Nautilus Scuba Club Members to experience the best of the Maldives. Over 7 nights, with 17 dives on the MV Emperor Voyager, club members dove a variety of sites seeing mantas, morays, octopus, turtles and so much more!

Here is a trip report from Danielle Riethmiller (to make us all jealous) and eager to jump aboard the next boat in the Maldives.

 

Danielle Riethmiller – Maldives 2022

Day One of our trip started a bit hazy for me as in a stroke of genius, I decided to forgo sleep for alcohol poisoning on my final night in Singapore before an early flight to the Maldives. Warmly greeted at the airport by Jim who told me point blank “You look like shit, have you slept at all this week?” I felt prepared and eager to take on my first overseas trip with the dive club. Thankfully due to a seven hour flight with multiple meals, I was feeling much more human on arrival to Male where we arrived around 11.30am local time. With plenty of time to kill before our 4pm boat transfer, but no air-conditioning to be found in the airport, a few of us chose to hop in a taxi for a mini-tour of Male. Our impromptu tour guide (just a regular taxi driver who agreed to drive us around for a couple of hours) gave a running commentary on changes in Male since their relationship with China had grown and showed us both the new and old cities. Now featuring the Chinese Friendship Bridge, the cities of Hulhumale, Male, and Hulhule are accessible via land instead of water taxi – previously the only way to access the city from the airport. Our tour included mostly sights of government buildings, including their parliament, prison, president’s residence, as well as their Central Park and local beach. It seems that those who did not come on our adventure mostly sat and ate Dairy Queen while we were gone. At 4pm it was finally time to head to our boat departure and we were collected by Bryony and Shuan who helped us onto our dive dhoni for our quick transfer to our liveaboard boat, Emperor Voyager. In the Maldives, most dive liveaboard boats are actually two boats that drive next to each other, one on which you eat and sleep and the other upon which you actually dive from. We were instructed to set up our dive gear and then head inside for the first of many safety briefings and casually informed that we would be waking up at 4am for our dives the next day. Silence ensued. Luckily this turned out to be a joke, and the marginally better wake up time of 5.40am turned out to be the standard for this trip. We then met our dive team, comprised of Chris – our trip director – and Bryony and Shuan, and told our cabin assignments. We were then treated to a wonderful welcome dinner, including a cake for Darren’s birthday, and then Jim was left to his devices to choose dive buddies and teams; and immediately became overwhelmed.  This was directly followed by the first mention, of approximately 300, Jim made of the guarantee he was given that he in fact did NOT have to write the trip report. Jetlagged and exhausted from a day of travel, everyone was off to bed before 10pm.

Day Two began with the discovery of tuna coconut sambal – or in Maldivian “mas huni” – a traditional breakfast food served with roti, that quickly became a boat favorite. Our first dive of the trip was a “check dive” with not much going on – except some runaway dive groups – and set the bar a little low. Luckily our next two dives were incredible. Dive two saw us descending immediately above a hunting black tip reef shark and then within a minute, two beautiful mantas so cruised around us for upwards of 20 minutes. We also saw hawksbill turtles, dozens of morays, more black tips, and quite a few critters. After a quick nap on the sun deck, it was back into the water for what can only be described as an aquarium dive. Thousands of fish in every direction with a mild current coming from the channel, which meant about a dozen reef sharks cruising right along the edge of the dive site. We all used our reef hooks to attach to the reef and just enjoyed the show. 

Day Three saw us heading West to Rashdoo for another shark centric channel dive which quickly became a thirty minute cardio class as we fought against a current before turning around and drifting back to the boat. Two large stingrays were the stars of this show, along with white tips and more morays than could be counted. A seven minute open water swim was our second dive of this day, where every group managed to completely miss the dive site, before resurfacing and moving the dive dhoni back to the actual location of the site, which luckily we did manage to find. This site was our first “thila” the Maldivian word for a pinnacle and was critter central; peacock mantis shrimp abound, nudibranchs, stonefish, lionfish, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, even a frog fish! After a short ride down to North Ari Atoll we had our third dive, which was somehow even better – octopus, cuttlefish, turtles, many sharks, eagle rays, a stingray, and nudis – this site had something for everyone. Our final activity of the day was to put a very bright light off the back of the boat and then pray for mantas. Chris had informed us that if mantas came to say hi, we would be doing a night dive where everyone held torches over their heads to attract plankton and the mantas would swoop over our heads. You can imagine everyone’s excitement when Alfredo – our new manta friend –  arrived. Alfredo did hundreds of flips off the back of the boat eating her buffet while we were told in no uncertain terms by Jim that Akiko (“that bloody Japanese girl,” as he lovingly referred to her) said no one got to night dive until someone signed on to write the trip report. Seeing as how I am now writing this trip report, I’d say the threat was pretty effective. We jumped in the water and kneeled on the sandy bottom. Everyone delighted in how close Alfredo and her friend Carbonara came to each of us before we surfaced to enjoy the show again from the boat. We were even awarded with a show from a large group of devil rays who cheekily fed off the back in formation between manta swoops.

Day Four saw Emile sleeping through a dive brief and then the dive dhoni *mysteriously* malfunctioning. While I am not suggesting that he sabotaged the dhoni, I’m also not, not suggesting it. With our dive dhoni down for the count, we were very successfully bribed with a double happy hour with two-for-one beers, wines, and cocktails before another amazing dinner. Honestly the food on this boat was ridiculously yum. Every meal was a mix of Western and local foods, with heaps of vegetarian options, and thanks to Russel (our excellent waiter) lots of fresh chili.

Each dive day was somehow better than the last, with incredible site architecture, coral cover, so so many sharks, fish life, and a lack of other divers – that is until dive site Kuda Rah Thila – known as one of the best sites in South Ari Atoll with thousands of blue striped yellow snapper and other schooling fish. What we actually stumbled upon was schools of other divers; including one man diving in jean shorts with some choice words sharpie-d on his fins. Luckily the site was big enough to share and we still managed to spot many colorful Pseudocerotid flatworms, stonefish, ever present reef sharks, nudis, crabs, and a leaf scorpionfish!  This evening we were ferried to a local island for a massive barbeque feast and our dhoni team made us an incredible whale shark out of charcoal dust and sand. This unfortunately was the only whale shark we managed to spot on our trip (they allude me still) but it was a wonderful way to spend an evening.

Day Six saw Shuan getting into a hand signal argument underwater with a guide from another boat who allowed his divers to kneel on top of coral at a manta cleaning station. Luckily, the mantas didn’t seem to mind the vulgar hand signals and as we hooked on the mantas swam directly above our heads, even spooking one diver into accidentally shooting to the surface. The majestic nature of this dive was only increased as one manta chose me for the special privilege of being shat on. A true honor. This day was made even better as we cruised down for a very chill dive with nurse sharks. This dive site was directly off the jetty of a resort that “used to” feed the hundreds of now resident nurse sharks and when we were told that the nurse sharks were awkward and would sometimes lie on top of each other, I was not expecting the full cuddle puddle experience that we found here. As we laid across the sandy bottom, the nurse sharks just started to pile up directly in front of us. This site also had heaps of critters, including a Donald Duck shrimp, nudis, crabs, dancing and sexy shrimp (yes, those are real things) and black lionfish. I personally thought that was cool, but no one else seemed that excited.

Our Final Full day on the boat started with two nice, easy dives. Dive one we lost Ro who had dropped her camera, and with the lowest vis we’d had on any dive, no one knew where she had gone off to. Our dive guide quickly retrieved her luckily as this site was not one to be missed. As typical of almost all of our dives, there were sharks all around, as well as hawksbill and green turtles, an eagle ray, short-bodied pipefish, octopus, and most importantly, lots of nudis. Our last dive of the trip saw us visiting a purposely sunken ship just off of a stunning little pinnacle in South Male Atoll. The ship was covered in vibrant and diverse coral, with many critters, and made plenty of places where divers could penetrate if they chose. Our depth limit of 30m (a Maldivian-wide rule) meant we weren’t supposed to go to the bottom of the ship – but I hit exactly 30.0m and there were definitely people below me. Maybe there was something really cool down there… At our safety stop, we were surrounded by small squid swimming around our heads and it felt like a nice way to end our diving for this trip.

We then had 19 hours to chill on the boat while we sat in Male Harbourmostly we packed, napped, and chatted, and napped some more, until I was accosted by Jim who informed me it was not okay to mention him in this trip report – well Jim, maybe you shouldn’t have told me I looked like shit. One final dinner with amazing table decor and we were off for our final sleep before departing the boat at 7am for another long wait before our flights.

All in all this was an incredible experience filled with amazing dive sites, a wonderful dive team, new friends, and now a desire to get on the waitlist for Tubbataha. Special thanks to Akiko & Diveplanit for all the planning required to plan and then reschedule this trip multiple times, as well as to Jim, who while he was annoying, made sure things ran smoothly while we were there.

 

Nautilus Dive Club thanks Danielle Reithmiller for writing this fantastic trip report, and to all trip participants for the magnificent photos (seen on this page).

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