Taiwan might not be an obvious choice for a dive holiday for Europeans, given what other dive destinations exist a similar distance away, but a little research confirmed it was worth travelling to the south of the island (after a brilliant 5-day mountain trek in the north) for some warm, colourful dives south of the Tropic of Cancer. We booked 6 days of diving with Sheffield expat Andy Gray (www.taiwandive.com), who operates through Dive Pro (www.divepro.tw) in Houbihu in the Kenting National Park. We stayed in Dive Pro’s accommodation (basic, clean en-suite single rooms with AC and TV, but they also have a dorm) above the dive shop.
On our first day of diving we drove in the back of a pick-up truck the short distance to the harbour and boarded the Nanjing, a dive boat with plenty of space and cover. Andy was amiable and had the right attitude towards wildlife conservation. Dive Pro staff kindly did most of the shifting of kit for us, and cold water and snacks were available. After that good start, things didn’t go so well – there was no safety briefing before the dive, Andy drifted off at the start of the dive before we had completed our weight checks, and to join him we had to surface swim a considerable distance (without SMBs or our flagged boat nearby) across water being used for jetskiing and inflatable banana boat rides. Gareth from our group had trouble descending, and after Daniel rejoined him on the surface, they were picked up by another boat. It was only 20 minutes into the dive that I was asked where 2 of our group had gone.
Needless to say, words were had before the next dive, and although we still weren’t entirely convinced we were diving safely, the 4 other dives we did with Andy passed without incident, however after 1 dive there was a long wait for a pick-up, due to our boat attending to a group of freedivers some distance away. All these dives were from the Nanjing, and were scenic dives over corals and interesting rock formations. I don’t think I’ve seen such a wide variety of different types of coral on a single dive before. Moray eels, lion fish, clown fish and other critters were also seen. Visibility was good to excellent – up to 20 metres. Waters were 27 to 29 degrees.
Day 4 was blown out due to Typhoon Dujuan (aka Typhoon Jenny in the Philippines). Although we avoided the worst of the cyclone (it passed over the north part of Taiwan), it made the waters in the south too choppy to dive.
Andy was not available for the rest of the week, and we did our remaining 4 dives with Dive Pro’s Taiwanese staff (Mike, Rudy, Olga and others), who gave us illustrated briefings, and who were very good at pointing out features and creatures during the dives, including a tiny thing that resembled a scrap of seaweed (possibly a sargassum fish), 2 nudibranchs and many barracuda. These were all shore dives, one known locally as the “outlet”, where water used for cooling the nearby nuclear reactor is pumped out, resulting in visible thermoclines where the 30 degree water met the cooler (as low as 25 degree) sea water. The other dive site was the “feeding area”, so-called because many of the dive guides operating in the area unfortunately bring bread to attract fish with.
9 dives, 7 nights in a single room, kit hire and 3 lunches cost me NT$27,430 (about £553). Eating options in Houbihu are limited but not bad, and on some evenings we took a 20-minute taxi ride to Kenting Main Street, which is brilliantly hectic and brash, and worth a look. If you get blown out, there is the nuclear power station visitors’ centre and local fish market to visit, otherwise the massive Museum of Marine Biology (out of town – get there by taxi or bus) is recommended.