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Published: July 19th 2009
I'll start by putting this trip and its experiences into context... I've completed almost 800 dives in 50+ dive locations around the world and one of the dives we did on this trip ranked up there in the top 10! As Ali
says in his blog Awesome, Awesome, Awesome!
This is the second of our forays into East coast Penninsula Malaysia diving. The first was Pulau Tioman a larger island with the mass tourism that makes things comfortable yet a bit inefficient. The diving was 'Ok lah' but nothing special... maybe we were a bit unlucky with the weather we thought but the general experience was a fun time. Some of us drove to Mersing over night some took the bus. The drive took 4 hours, the bus 5hrs. The ferry then took over 2 hours including the endless waiting around after check-in.
In contrast we took 5 hours from KL to Dungun where we stayed in reasonably priced accommodation and drove on to the jetty for our 'fast boat' connection to Pulau Tenggol. What was to be a 1 hour journey turned into 2 hours as a result of one of two engine failure and the speed of
the fully laiden boat dropped from 20 knots to 8 knots. We were apprehensive of what was in store. It turned out that dispite the engine failure, which perservered through our time there, the diving was unaffected. The accommodation we had chosen (1 of 4 places on the island) was ample (fan, clean sheets and kampong food) and a 10 second walk from the dive decking.
The 400m long beach reminded me of Sipadan with no roads and established trees up to the high water mark. This place really has retained its rustic charm. I only hope it stays this way - we heard rumours that Berjaya group was trying to buy the whole beach. This is the only substaintial beach on the island (bar a 50m section in the next bay.) The rest of the island is totally untouched from the high virgin rainforested peaks to the rocky shore line. We spotted many sea eagles on our way to and from dives.
The diving was a broad spectrum of experiences and relatively advanced level between high and low tides. From the beautifully clear waters (30+ metres) of 'Tonkong Timur' (a rock saddle that only just breaks the
water) to the fantastic underwater topography of the drift dives at 'Highway' - such high octane fun - to the hidden secrets of rajawala bay!
However, as I eluded to at the beginning of this blog, there were 2 experiences that surpassed most others I have ever had..... Whale sharks! Now I've dived with whale sharks on 2 other occasions (Galapagos and Phillippines) and snorkelled with them on 2 others (West Oz and Phillippines) so they are nothing new but each time they have been transient experiences packed with lots of frantic swimming. Here it was different. The first day we went out we had a juvenille pass close to the boat and thought our luck was in... alas no sightings underwater, only lots of shots of jelly fish drifting by. The following day 6 of us waited patiently for half an hour with only a fleeting glimpse of some mantas passing through to break the drifting of mind and body. (Hanging in the water for long periods of time without any firm reference point your point of focus occillates between plankton several inches away to several metres away and you begin to not know which was is up.)
Then out of the blue a 5m spotted giant gracefully appeared head on to me and then, after passing by, dived deeper - the adrenaline levels were elevated but it was over too quickly. Then 15 mins later a 3m juvenille appeared covered in baby remoras and proceeded to bath in our bubbles. At one point the steady stream of bubbles from my octopus caused the little fella to hang almost vertical in the water in ecstasy. This guy hung around for some time until we all ran out of air. A fantastic experience yet the best was to come....
The following and final day, with all but me and Ali worn out and keen to dry their gear before heading off in the afternoon, the two of us chugged round to the north of the island again to try our luck with the big fish. We know the chances were against us but we knew the size of the prize fresh in our minds from the day before. We dropped in at roughly the same place and hung around at 5-8m for what seemed an eternity. We chanced on a huge jelly fish trailing its stinger in a
V shape vertically for several tens of metres. We moved location to avoid. Just before we were about to call it a day, as if by teleportation system, a 5m fish appeared behind Ali. We swum to keep up and the touch of our bubbles only disuaded him deeper and out of sight only leaving behind a lonely looking remora looking for a host. We waited and waited and he didn't reapppear. Was this our last encounter? Then some 15 mins later a 4m shark silently appeared inches behind me with several cobias swimming along side. This time interest levels were more equitable and he circled around and around us slowly getting more and more comfortable with our presence and satisfying his curiosity and coming closer and closer. Only 10 minutes later we were amazed to see the 5m fella reappear and start circling in the wake of the other. We enjoyed this heady fly by for 40+ minutes having the time to both observe and take shots.
It amazed me the nimbleness of these huge creatures. As each passed I would lift myself up and see him pass less than a foot away (yet avoiding contact in the
awareness that touching them skin to skin can cause bacterial infections.) Amazingly they would do the same. As the huge tail fin (possessing enough power to knock me out) passed by they would briefly pause its movement so as not to hit me... this happened time and time again. After a while they began to get bored of us just as we were running out of air. The last dived and we surfaced with 5 bar some distance from the island with huge grins, both mellow from the connection we had made with these awesome creatures.
Only critisism for the diving at Tenggol was that the macro was not abundant but hey, when you have whale sharks to play with, the macro can wait till the next trip right?!
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