WHERE THE WADIS meet the sea, sandy-bottomed bays are uncharacteristically green with mangroves; those bizarre salt-tolerant trees that not only protect the coastline but offer refuge for a complex assortment of animals above and below the surface.
Marsa Nakari is one of three resorts that have been at the heart of shore-based diving in the Red Sea for many years. It is centred around a sandy bay with a small timber jetty for access to the RIBs, with the palm-frond-covered kitting-up and briefing area just above the high-tide line.
Back a little from the shore sits the tent accommodation and, on a rise, a line of Nubian-style chalets.
Diving on the house reef at Nakari is free and essentially unlimited. There are a number of options that you can mix up to vary your dives and provide for different amounts of exploration and varied profiles, from shallow, hour-long dives to 25m-plus dives around coral pinnacles reaching from the seabed, surrounded by pure white sand.
You can go north or south on the reef that fringes the shore, using RIBs to take you out or pick you up. As you can imagine, if your plan is to go to the very furthest part of the reef you’ll want a RIB for both ends of the dive, and a delayed surface marker buoy. If you’re feeling a little less adventurous, a simple “go shore/ out shore”, as it’s known, is the way to go.
It’s this simple system, reinforced by a straightforward map and sign in/out board, that’s at the heart of Nakari’s offer.
FOR EXPERIENCED DIVERS, simply walking from the shore to a coral-rich reef might not hold much excitement, but for a newly qualified buddy-pair keen to test their mettle, hoping to try out a new camera or simply marvel at the fish, the corals and all the rest, this is a seriously attractive proposition.
I was unsure what to expect from the house reef. Fringing reefs are some of the most easily damaged, being at the mercy of land-derived pollution and coastal development as well as ill-timed fin-kicks from inexperienced snorkellers and divers.
I was pleasantly surprised, however and, as we left the ropes that guide divers past the area where the RIBs come and go, we passed a gathering of blue-spotted rays hunting in the sand: the coral I saw there was in great condition.
Small fish, from black and white half-and-half chromis to striped humbug damsels, hid among the coral-heads.
Bright yellow butterflyfish nipped away at the corals, and a crocodilefish did its best impression of a piece of old rock.
Overall, I’d rate this as a pretty good house reef – in fact, one of the best I’ve seen. And this is, in no small part, due to the Red Sea Diving Safari philosophy of keeping diver numbers low, to avoid placing undue stress on the reef. The resort’s simple construction and low-key development reflect this aim.
That evening, I chatted to some of the other guests, many of whom return to these resorts year after year, or intersperse their stays with liveaboard diving. They relished the freedom and space offered – and the avoidance of seasickness.
A 45-minute night-dive offered more evidence that the local reefs were rich in life, especially around the sandy-floored pinnacles and bommies to the south.
I had the time of my life, photographing everything from cuttlefish to large hermit crabs, lumbering round the reef carrying masses of anemones on their shells.
The anemones benefit from the crabs’ messy eating habits, and offer protection in the form of an arsenal of sting-laden tentacles.
Later that night I heard that the wind was expected to pick up in the following days, and we were going to make the best of it by heading out to an offshore site, Habili Nakari, before the weather turned.
This would be my first chance to witness the spectacular colours and life on the offshore reefs on this trip.
At seven o’clock the following morning we were in the RIB and speeding east. The captain had his phone in hand to follow the GPS. He did a remarkable job of riding the already-building wave crests, whipped up by the northerly.
It was a blessedly short trip, and within a matter of minutes we were in calm, clear waters, passing what appeared to be an artificial cylinder the size of a house, upended on the seafloor. It was almost perfectly circular in cross section.