We move on to a second pinnacle and a grouper joins us for a few minutes, a playful beast and one of many that we pass on the dive. I’m impressed by the site, which offers hope for other areas of the sea that are under strain but not yet enjoying such protection.
I immediately like this place, and if I didn’t have diving commitments elsewhere in a few days’ time I would happily stay for at least a week. We explore no deeper than about 30m on this first dive, but I’m told there is more to see deeper still.
Grasping coffees the following morning, Guido and I discuss our dive-plan with the aid of a site-map. It’s cave time, and even fewer divers join our boat this morning.
The sun is still low in the east, the sea flat, silky and the air cool. I love this time of day, and enjoy the boat-ride, chatting to Guido as the islands grow larger.
The statue that gives Dolphin Cave its name.
The boat moors on a buoy near a cliff on the east side of the island. We head down to 18m to find the cave entrance and the site Dolphin Cave, named after the statue sitting on a rock-shelf nearby.
In diving terms this is a cavern, an overhead environment that requires no formal cave-diving certification, and where daylight is visible at all times.
Side by side we disappear through the entrance. It’s dark beyond dark, and
I leave my torch switched off to help my eyes to adjust. Guido has told me that the cave is 50-60m long, and it is enormous. There is easily space for five divers to fin side by side, and probably five high.
I can just make out a slightly lighter blue hue at the other end, which I guess must be our exit point. The cave passes right through this part of the island.
There isn’t much going on inside – rocks and boulders on the floor, bare rock walls and I assume that the same is true of the ceiling – but the simple experience of being inside is the attraction.
The blue hue grows bigger and brighter, eventually opening into a gaping entrance where we find ourselves now down at 24m. They also call this site the Cathedral, a more fitting name in my opinion.
The famous sea-fans enjoy living at this exit point, surrounding the cave mouth like a yellow handlebar moustache, and filtering food as water flows through and beside the cave.
I’m scouting for grouper, having told Guido before the dive that it would be great to get a few shots of him with one if possible.
Diving back into the cave, we scan the inner mouth with our torches. We catch a shadow of a fish here or a tail there, but they’re not in a playful mood. Perhaps they’re not early risers?
We’re not super-deep, but on single tanks we need to move on. We turn back the way we came and cruise the 50-60m of overhead environment once again.
I hadn’t noticed on the way in, but our original entry-point also has two other entry / exit points of its own, with far lower roofs.
The grouper are grumpy here too, and all we see is one slipping out of the cave entrance and into the blue. Guido shrugs, and we write off the fishy photo-shoot.
I love the atmosphere of this place, spooky yet tranquil, the diving easy but adventurous. We stop at the dolphin statue on our way out and give it a pat.
I guess that with no grouper models available, the dolphin will have to do.
Back on the boat, I ask Guido when he thinks is the best time for a visit. “From June till September,” he says. “During this time visibility and biodiversity reach their peak. September is the right compromise between water vis, life and number of divers. But take into account that because the marine reserve is well-managed, the sites never feel too crowded.”
I feel I have rocked up at the right time, although I do later hear that it’s possible to witness baitballing fish here as well.