DRIFTING through a curtain of bubbles, I spot the Yolanda Reef for the very first time. The majestic coral cliff is a scene of vibrant orange cr
DRIFTING through a curtain of bubbles, I spot the Yolanda Reef for the very first time.
The majestic coral cliff is a scene of vibrant orange creatures, green plants and fluorescent yellow bannerfish, which loop around the rocks oblivious to my presence.
Unlike many regions around the world, which have been heavily affected by climate change, the reefs here are thriving[/caption]
I’d only tried diving for the first time just a few days earlier and I’m now inside what feels like the world’s largest tropical aquarium, Ras Mohammed National Park, just outside the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt.
To my right, an enormous blue Napoleon fish is floating near the sand while rainbow-coloured parrotfish nip tentatively at the bright corals.
Unlike many regions around the world, which have been heavily affected by climate change, the reefs here are thriving. It’s this, combined with gentle currents and incredible visibility, that makes the Red Sea the ultimate diver’s paradise.
Relieved and elated
Eager to explore the spectacular underwater sights, I’d booked a week-long diving course with the Reef Oasis Dive Club. Renowned for being one of the best schools in the region, it offers a host of activities from snorkelling excursions to scuba day trips.
My Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course, which includes five confined water dives in a pool, and four open-water dives in the sea, promised to teach me all the essential skills in just a few short days, although it did require some homework. The lead up to my holiday meant trips to the local pool to prove I could swim 200 metres without stopping (a requirement for the qualification), and brushing up on my diving theory to pass a set of exams beforehand.
So by the time I arrive at the Reef Oasis Blue Bay Resort and Spa, I’m desperate to hit the sea.
I don’t have to wait long as my PADI group is whisked straight to the deep ocean for some practice. Launching myself under the ocean’s surface, I frantically gulp in water.
My first diving attempt is disastrous and I quickly learn that some things, like mastering how to clear your mask underwater, can’t be taught at home.
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But there’s plenty of opportunity to practise back at the hotel, where, for me, the shallow scuba pools feel safer, making it easier to master the basics.
Away from the dive pools, the rest of the resort is brimming with relaxed holidaymakers as well as diving enthusiasts keen to take advantage of the luxurious infinity pool, private beach and family-friendly restaurants.
Bedrooms are airy, come with a balcony or terrace and feature bright blue bedding that matches the views of the sea through the window.
It’s not just the decor that draws inspiration from its surroundings either.
Over at the spa there are seaweed body wraps and Dead Sea clay masks and there’s a seafood restaurant serving delicious fish dishes and cocktails.
After a few days familiarising myself with my kit at the hotel’s dive pools, I feel more prepared for our next trip to Dahab, a coastal town about an hour north, where rocky mountains surround a rustic shoreline.
Fitted with my mask, I plunge into the ocean, somersaulting as I try to make my way deeper, before face-planting into the sand — another fail.
While I can see plenty of marine life at 12 metres, it is hard not to feel a pang of jealousy spotting the more experienced divers below me enjoying close encounters with more interesting creatures.
But with a bit of determination and perseverance, it wasn’t long before I join them, coming face to face with a spectacular but deadly lionfish and a conger eel that is even bigger than me.
Back on dry land, I’m both relieved and elated — not just because I had completed the PADI course, but also because I could now simply enjoy the ethereal beauty of the ocean.
And with Yolanda Reef on the cards, there is a lot to be excited about. But first, a well-deserved G&T poolside.
A shipwreck is a great place to explore[/caption]
The Red Sea beach at Ras Um Sid[/caption]
GO: SHARM EL-SHEIKH
GETTING THERE: EasyJet has return flights from Bristol to Sharm El-Sheikh from £146pp for departures in November. See easyjet.com.
OUT & ABOUT: The Open Water Diver certification is from £471pp, which includes theory and practical skill development in a pool with London School of Diving and PADI open-water referral dives at Reef Oasis Dive Club in Sharm El-Sheikh. See travel.padi.com.
STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ full board at the 5H Reef Oasis Blue Bay Resort and Spa, including ten boat dives per diver is from £709pp, for selected dates in November. See travel.padi.com.