The Andaman Islands, located southeast of India in the Bay of Bengal, are home to some of the wealthiest marine life on the sub continent. Lying in warm tropical water with abundant coral reefs, scuba diving here is a very rewarding experience. It’s a great place to see Manta rays, Reef sharks, Tiger sharks, Sting rays and even Whale sharks if you’re lucky. This post is about the diving off the coast of Havelock Island. South Button Island Lying about 1.5 hours from Havelock, this small island is actually just a big rock formation but a healthy coral reef just under the surface. This also makes it a good place to snorkel as everything is visible close up. The sloping nature of the reef means that depth can go up till about 22 meters, but the main marine life is between 5m and 15 m, making it a good place for beginners too. The waters are incredibly calm and visibility sometimes goes till 20m-25m. Here you’ll see Napoleon Maori Wrasse, Lionfish, Crown of thorns starfish, and even an occasional small Leopard shark. Depth 5m-20m. Beginners and Snorkelers.
Tamarind Camp Close to South Button Island, the coral reef here is close to the beach of Henry Lawrence island. The visibility isn’t as good as the former due to the sandy floor, but the depth is much less. The corals are home to Cuttle Fish, Moray Eels, Gorgonian Fan Coral and Octopuses. The beach is also a good place to unwind. There’ a good hike on the island for non swimmers. Depth 1m-15m. Beginners and Snorkelers.
The Lighthouse Lying just north of the jetty lighthouse, this coral formation is close by the island and with a steep slope. You’ll get to see Scorpion fish, Trevaly, Banner fish, Puffer fish and the usual assortment of small colourful reef life. Just don’t mind the speedboats that race above on the surface ferrying passengers to elephant beach from the jetty. Depth 5m-20m. Beginners and Snorkelers.
The Wall Located in the middle of the channel north of the jetty, this underground elongated ‘hump’ formation is a good place to see the bigger marine life that is sometimes missing from the shore reefs. So, while you are observing Octopuses and Stonefish’s, huge schools of Chevron Barracudas and snappers will swim above. You’ll also find Bluefin Trevaly, Seal Face Puffer fish and for macro lovers – the Peacock Mantis Shrimp. The current here is stronger than other sites and can be a challenge for beginners, but is also the reason that large fish are attracted to this place. Depth 5m-55m. Beginners and Advanced, depending on depth.
Johnny’s Gorge Definitely an advanced level dive with quite a bit of current and a depth of about 30 meters. The rocky outcrops are home to Reef sharks, Stingrays, Mackerel, Giant Grouper, Manta Rays, Eagle Rays and other predators. For the more adventurous types, a night dive here will surely raise the hair under your wetsuit. Surrounded by the ocean floor on all sides and huge dark objects swimming in the distance, it’s a great experience for the more advanced divers. The area also witnesses dolphins in the evenings. Depth 25m-30m. Advanced Level.
OTHER DIVE SITES – Pilot Reef, Minerva Ledge, Dixon’s Pinnacle, Inlet Wreck and Whitehouse Rock. THINGS TO DO IN HAVELOCK Radha Nagar beach Voted one of the top 10 beaches in Asia and definitely the best in the Andaman Islands, it’s a long stretch of powdery sand backed up by an equally dense tropical rain forest. If it crowded, just walk a little towards the north and you’ll be completely alone. I’ll recommend going in the evening just before sunset, when you can have a dip while the sun is half immersed in the water. The crowds tend to thin out after that. There are a couple of road side eateries as well as the Barefoot restaurant just on the hillock above, for a quiet dinner. Buses leave the jetty area and no. 3 village for Radha Nagar beach regularly.
Elephant beach This is the best beach for water sports and snorkeling in Havelock. Boats leave the No.1 village jetty in the mornings and come back by about 3.30 pm. It’s a 20 minute ride away. The boatmen have snorkels and life jackets and 15 minutes of guided snorkeling is included in the boat price. Beyond that it’s about Rs 200 or so. The visibility is very good and marine life along the reef is abundant. The only problem may be the noise from all the jet boats nearby and it’s a pity that you can’t snorkel unsupervised. You can also hike to Elephant beach from a path through the mangroves on the way to Radhanagar beach. It’s about half hour and some parts require you to go though the mangrove roots. But the upside is that you can hire snorkels and swim for as long as you like.
Rajan He’s just an elephant, nothing more nothing less. But he is unique. He is the last of his breed of ocean swimming elephants and lives in Havelock. Originally employed to load logs onto boats, he was supposed to be sent to the mainland before his owners took a loan and bought him. Now he entertains photographers and tourists alike as he swims in the ocean just for the pleasure. He walks down the beach into the water, and as it gets deeper he raises his fore legs and then his hind ones and just dog-paddles. Sometimes he dives and uses his trunk as a snorkel. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Barefoot Scuba will have details on this, but booking in advance is required as these trips are kept low in number.
Eating out Lots of restaurants and roadside eateries are located in No. 1 and No. 3 village areas. For cheap and tasty seafood fare try Golden Spoon near the fish market on No.3 village. For gourmet seafood there’s nothing better than Red Snapper, just before the Dolphin Resort turn. Most hotels and resorts have restaurants in-house. INFORMATION DIVE SHOP AND HOTEL There are many professional outfits but I found Barefoot easily the most professional and fun. They have that typical dive-resort vibe with great divemasters, good equipment and experienced staff members who know the dive sites well. PADI courses are also offered here. The Barefoot Havelock is on Radha Nagar beach and is bigger and more luxurious, but the Barefoot Scuba Resort near no. 3 beach is where the dive shop is. The accommodation here is good with sea facing duplex cottages on one end of the scale and simple bamboo huts at the other. Like every other hotel in Havelock they too have an in-house restaurant called Cafe Del Mar. The resort is about 30 meters from the beach, but the beach itself is quite unswimmable due to rocks and dead coral formations. HOW TO REACH Port Blair, the main island, is connected to Delhi, Kolkata, and Chennai by flight through Jet Airways, Spicejet, Go Air and Indian Airlines. From Port Blair there are two options for ferries to Havelock – a government one and the private (and faster) Makruzz. Contact Barefoot for an all-inclusive transportation package which includes pickup at the airport, drop off to the ferry, ferry ticket, pickup at Havelock and vice versa all the way to your flight back at the airport. Its trouble free and you don’t have to wait in the endless line for a ferry ticket. Three wheeler autos are available everywhere on the island and motorcycle/scooter rentals are near the no. 3 village and the jetty area. Your hotel will be able to guide you.