Tubbataha Trip Report

On the 31st of March I arrived at the Brisbane International Airport with an excited group of people who all share a mutual passion for diving and travel adventures. Many had travelled with me previously and were ready for the shenanigans to begin.

After some pre-planned duty free shopping it was time for one last good coffee to celebrate the start of our journey. It was time to board our Philippine Airlines flight at 10.40am for an 8 hour flight to Manila via a quick stop in Darwin to stretch the legs after 4 hours.

Everyone seemed to get a few movies under their belts; some snuck in a few kids movies but they will remain nameless.

Disembarking in Manila at 6.35pm everyone was ready for some heat and a few drinks after a long day’s travel. Our journey to our hotel was interesting with 2 lanes of traffic quite often becoming 6 lanes. Once at our hotel we met the remaining tour guests, two which came all the way from Canada to join us. What an amazing effort.

A quick stroll around the corner from our hotel we found a suitable restaurant. It had food and beer, perfect. It was pretty impressive that dinner for 14 including drinks was less than $100 Australian.

Day 2 was an easy start with our scheduled Philippine Airlines flight at 1.10pm being moved to 4.20pm. A few of us decided on checking out the museum which had a gold artefact exhibition which was very impressive from a craftsman point of view as well as the items themselves. The orifice covers were definitely an eye opener.

We made our way to the airport, checked in and 30 mins before boarding they changed the gate so no problems we move to the new gate. Everyone boards the plane we and we push back from the gate only 25 mins late. After sitting on the runway for another hour we finally get underway. I think we boarded the plane that carried refrigerated freight, surely a passenger plane cannot seriously be that cold????

10 mins out from our destination the pilot announces we have to turn back as the runway lights are not working in Puerto Princesa. Back to Manila we go on the flying fridge. At first I thought ‘nice April Fools joke’ but then the plane turned around.

Philippine Airlines was quite efficient in transferring everyone to a hotel for the night which was nice. I did feel for the poor chefs having to feed a lot of hungry, frustrated people.

After dinner a few of us decided lets relax and have a few extra drinks. It was very civilised sipping some Chivas Regal scotch on the rocks listening to the piano man. After a while I decided let’s turn it into karaoke with the piano man. He was a great sport and allowed us to join in. He tried to finish his set by around 10pm. We managed to keep him until midnight. Great fun for us, but I’m not so sure about the other hotel guests.

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The next day back to the airport we go. We check in and make it to Puerto Princessa on the flying fridge. After defrosting on the tarmac we collected our luggage and met the Discovery Fleets representatives. The boat was not due to depart for a few hours so the Discovery team took our bags to the boat and dropped us at a very good restaurant for a lazy lunch.

Before we knew it the boat staffed transferred us to our massive floating hotel for the week, which is very spacious in the common areas and the top deck. The rooms are a little tight however I have been on a lot worse.

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Photo: Steve Cartledge

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Photo: Steve Cartledge

 

While completing all the paperwork and going through the boat safety brief we departed port for the World Heritage site Tubbataha Marine park.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is comprised of two huge atolls and one seamount in the middle of the Sulu Sea. It takes roughly 12 hours of open-ocean cruising to reach it — and that’s in good weather. The heavy, solid nature of the boat makes for a welcome soft passage. Being this remote, the region is accessible only by liveaboard yachts during a short, three-month-long weather window each year.

The park was established in 1988, making it one of the oldest marine parks in Asia, and this long-standing protection promises prolific marine life and exceptional reefs. Researchers have discovered that this submarine eden is a nursery for a huge portion of the Coral Triangle, including Indonesia, Malaysia and, of course, the Philippines. There are few places on Earth that serve up such density of life.

It wasn’t long and dinner was served on the open ocean on the top deck. After eating too much and a few refreshments it was time for bed, ready for paradise when we woke up.

Pulling up at the south atoll of Tubbataha reef made all that travel worth it The pictures on the internet certainly don’t do it justice.

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Photo: Kate Willson

The boat held 32 divers which were split into 4 groups and each tender rotated the first dive  time of the day. Two groups dive at the same on different sites. You felt very safe as they had the two tenders plus a chase boat and we all had life lines attached to us for an emergency situation. Thankfully we didn’t need to use them.

A quick light breakfast and we are off for our first checkout dive. As part of the checkout dive we had to complete a few skills, full mask clear, out of air, reg retrieval and neutral buoyancy. That took our group about 5 minutes then off we went exploring. We saw plenty of white tip reef sharks and fish, not a bad start to the day.

Back on the boat it’s time for a hot breakfast then dive 2, morning tea, lunch, dive 3, afternoon tea, dive 4 and repeat for the next 6 days.

All delicious and sumptuous meals are served in buffet style on the open air top deck of the boat.

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Tubbataha served up walls, caves and overhangs draped with soft corals and sponges, lined with plush coral, brilliant sea fans. There are few places where a diver can see schools of big eye jacks, barracuda, big dogtooth tuna and giant trevally jacks prowling on the reef edge. There were a few very scared sea turtles of varying species due to a 5-meter tiger shark, heaps of very fat white and black tip reef sharks, humphead wrasse, mantas, coral trout, box fish,  a few small reef fish, triggerfish, morays and gobies, garden eels,  plus much more…

At Tubbataha such sights are common, with a few lucky divers bringing home a story of seeing hammerheads and the massive tiger shark. All of the divers were lucky enough to see and swim with a huge whale shark, most certainly a highlight of the trip.

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Photo: Sheryl Wright – Model: Jason Morden

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Photo: Brett Colley

 

We had a great week of diving and shenanigans! My famous costume dive day was a fun day especially for the boat crew and now the shark researchers as they had motion-sensor cameras on the reef that we had to swim past in costume. I would love to see their faces when they watch that footage.

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The MV Discovery Palawan is a great boat with excellent staff, good food, a great dive crew and a very well stocked bar!

An awesome adventure with an outstanding group of individuals.

To the tour group, I sincerely appreciate your friendship and continued support.  I thank you for entrusting me with your travelling adventures, for sharing the laughs and creating lasting memories.

Brett Colley & Jason Morden
Advanced Specialty Instructors