Boats, sun, warm blue water and the mesmerising sights of the ocean – a diving holiday can combine the laid-back feel of a mellow holiday with the thrill of exploration. Tropical waters offer gorgeous jewel-bright vistas, along with brilliantly-vibrant sea creatures. Some of these destinations have much to offer even the seasoned diver.
The main reason tourists visit this archipelago in the western Pacific is for the diving. The marine life is incredibly varied, of course, and there are shipwrecks from the second world war to investigate along with drift dives and enticing reefs of coral. Officially called the Republic of Palau, the nation is made up of islands, the largest of which is Koror. The island of Babeldaob is where the capital, Ngerulmud, is found. Tourism is important to Palau, which was originally settled on by people from the Philippines around 3,000 years ago.
The climate is tropical rainforest and the nation has suffered very little environmental damage, which means its waters and many of its island habitats are pristine. In 2009, Palau created a shark sanctuary in an area of ocean about the size of France; in 2012, the country received an award for being a world leader in protecting marine life and ecosystems. Many of the diving areas are near the Rock Islands and around Peleliu, and these can generally be accessed on day trips from Koror. There are also packages available whereby tourists can stay aboard a specially-equipped vessel that sails to all the best dive spots over several days. On a trip such as this, enthusiastic divers can often complete up to four dives a day. The best dive sites include Blue Holes, which has an enormous cavern accessed from four deep shafts in the coral through which the sun dapples schools of fish. Blue Corner has a large reef and plenty of marine creatures, including barracudas and grey reef sharks, while Chuyo Maru is a fascinating wreck, crusted with coral.
This south-east Asian nation has lots of coast, lots of sun, and lots to see in its sparkling waters. Last year Malaysia established the Tun Mustapha Park – the largest protected marine area in the country, encompassing one million hectares of ocean off Sabah on the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. With lots of coral reefs, this marine park offers more than 350 species of fish and around 250 types of hard coral; in addition, there are dugongs and green turtles to swim with. The park will not only help the conservation and preservation of the area's biodiversity but also the white sandy beaches and many gorgeous little islands mean that there is much for visitors to enjoy.
The east coast of the Malaysian peninsula also offers a number of popular places for beach and diving holidays. Tioman Island and the surrounding area is popular with divers and suitable for snorkelling and kayaking. Terengganu Marine Park is also in this eastern area and can be accessed from a number of places, including the mainland on a day trip or from Redang Island. Don't visit between October and March, however, as this is monsoon season. Beginner divers will probably enjoy Perhentian Island, which is also off the east coast, as the water is calm, there is lots of marine life to see, and there are many dive spots in the area where new skills can be practised. The island itself is pretty, with a relaxed atmosphere, and the waters offer turtles, coral and shallow reefs. The prices are very reasonable, which makes this island popular with the backpacking crowd.
Back on Borneo, in western Sabah off the coast around the city of Kota Kinabalu, is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. There are lots of dive sites to explore here and plenty of dive schools, with the conditions welcoming for beginner divers.