Hallaniyat Islands, Oman
To celebrate my birthday and to escape the cold we decided to head South for a week, exploring the Hallaniyat Islands. These islands 40 km south of the Omani coast are basically barren and rugged rocks rising out of the sea. Despite their very hostile appearance, the biggest of the islands “Al Hallaniyah” is permanently inhabited with about a 150 people, living off fishing and collecting birds eggs. These islands however offer relatively untouched and unexplored dive sites, definitely belonging to the category of off the beaten waves. Getting to the islands is not easy and without a boat it is hard to reach the dive sites. So the diving here is off one of the two liveaboards operating in this area. Diving the islands is generally a relatively new concept as it started only about a year and a half ago and its active only during the dry winter seasons as the summer monsoons bring rough seas and strong currents. New dive sites are being discovered all the time and they don’t yet have a solid alternative sites in case of unexpected winds! So if the weather isn’t perfect it is a hit and miss on the dives but you do get a dive in regardless!
The first day we spent in the area of Mirbat. Our first/check dive was on a small broken up wreck called Marriott. There is not much information about the wreck itself, even the name is derived from a nearby hotel, but the dive gives us very quickly the general idea what the marine life in Omani waters is going to be like. As soon as we drop down following a shot line labelling the wreck we see huge schools of different kinds of fish that are completely unfazed by the presence of bubble blowers and let you swim right through. Schooling grunts, sweetlips and sweepers swarm all around us, making it very difficult to focus and choose your object for photography. At the far end of the wreck we met a huge moray eel, half out of her hiding hole, almost as if posing and showing off her size and beauty. The next two dives are also in the area, Ras Mirbat and Hamdis block, not too far from the coast. On these dives we again saw different kinds of moray eels, starting to get a feeling this is a true moray eel land. Particularly one species, the dragon moray eel, specific to Omani waters gets us very excited, they are not as big but very pretty with colourful pattern and little horns reminescent of baby dragons.
After the first day spent along the Mirbat coast we headed to the actual Hallaniyah archipelago. The winds picked up quite a bit so our first stop was near Hasikiyah island, where we had to find some more tucked in spot for diving to avoid the big swell and currents. The “Aquarium” and “Coral Garden” were just perfect for that. The sandy bottoms with a garden of table corals and soft corals, with lots of nooks and cranies to explore for lots of fish and crabs. In the sandy patch we explored the stone fortified holes inhabited by quite shy jawfish.
On the night dive Giulia finally gets to try her blue light set up for fluorescence photography and it gets us both so excited that we spent the entire dive in a 10m square patch of coral/sponge garden figuring out which species emit the mesmerizing fluorescence. G forgot to instal the yellow filter on the GoPro to actually take pictures or videos of it, which is a bit disappointing but left us super excited for the next night dives.
The strong winds persisted also the next day therefore we repeated some dive sites that were more protected, before a bumpy passage to the next island on the itinerary, Al Sawda. The coral garden dive here offered us a very different scenery, with huge mountain like corals with schools of fish and moray hiding underneath.
Next day we explored the dive sites around the Al Qibliyah island the eastern island of the archipelago and the eastern-most point of our itinerary. Landscapes on these dives are very rocky, with walls and huge boulders, including several swim throughs. It seems like every place we visit is completely different and although all the dives are scenic, you do not get a chance to get bored (if thats even possible) because of that.
This holds true also to our last island the Schmies, with more sandy landscape with fingers of coral gardens extending from the the main island. Here in the morning we spotted a big pod of dolphins playing in the surf around the islands and our boat. They kept us company pretty much the whole day and finally came to check us out even under water on our afternoon dive. The visibility was not great but you could hear their sounds all around us and then the pod emerged several times and gracefully swam by checking us out. Seeing dolphins on a dive was a completely new and very exciting experience. They continued to play around the boat even as the sun was setting and colouring everything in soft and warm orange light, until they finally swam off into the night.
Last diving day we spent exploring relatively unknown dive site off the mainland, Ras Qinqari. This place once again offered a completely new landscape with a rocky canyon completely covered in purple soft coral on both sides and with so many wonderfully colourful and different nudibranches hiding in between.
Diving in Oman filled us with excitement and a pioneering spirit every day, as we were discovering ever changing landscapes and pristine coral reefs. Everything seemed bigger here, from the moray eels to parrotfish and vast schools of many types of fish. Maybe the corals were not as colourful as in other places and the visibility was not always crystal clear, but the places we visited offered very rich and healthy ecosystems
Click here to read the blog post about our adventures above the sea.