Diving the Hallaniyat Islands of Oman
I have been told by many people that Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea diving is underrated and presents a high density of marine life. In November, I had the opportunity to dive off the coast of the Sultanate of Oman. Oman is located in the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. On land, Oman is boarders UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Oman’s climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast making for a perfect from New York’s cold weather.
Traveling to Oman was quite easy. As they say, finding exceptional diving requires flying on at least 2 airplanes. We flew out of JFK (Terminal 7) on Qatar Airways. Our first flight to Doha, Qatar was about 12 hours. And after a short 2-hour layover, we boarded our final flight to Salalah, Oman where we would meet the liveaboard. The Salalah flight was just under 2 hours. Qatar Airways delivered a decent economy product on both flights. And we were lucky, our flights were not that full. So, we were able to stretch out a bit with a seat free in between.
An Oman Visa is required. It can be easily purchased online 2-3 weeks before travel for $52. Or you can wait on a line and purchase a visa upon arrival in Salalah.
Once in Salalah and after we collected our luggage we transferred to the host hotel which was about a 30 to 40-minute ride. The transfer was quite pleasant. We were presented with lovely desert views and free roaming camels along the highway.
We arrived a few days earlier to acclimate to the 90-degree desert weather. We stay at the Salalah Rotana Resort which is a short 5-minute walk to the marina where we later met the Oman Aggressor. The Rotana Resort is a very large property which can accommodate about 400 guests. The hotel has several pools, restaurants, along with a very large beach. Our only regret was not to take the hotel’s all-inclusive add-on package as the exchange rate unfavorable to the $USD ($1 Omani Rial to $2.60 USD). The Marina has a few restaurants and shops. On Friday night, the marina presents local entertainment in a very safe environment. On our transfer day, the hotel drove us and our luggage to the marina on a golf cart.
The Oman Aggressor is the only liveaboard that covers the region with two itineraries. In mid-November the yacht travels south to tour the Hallaniyat Islands. The Hallaniyat Islands is a chain of 5 islands located about 85 – 125 miles north of Salalah.
The Oman Aggressor is a relatively new yacht in the Aggressor Fleet. It’s been in service for just about 2 years. This has been the nicest Aggressor yacht I’ve been on. I lodge on the lower deck in a comfortable stateroom with two single beds, side by side, private shower, private bathroom, porthole and air-conditioning. It was very comfortable having the shower separated from the toilet. The dive deck was large and very functional. Each dive station had ample space and a box below to store personal belongings. Also, the deck had plenty of cubby holes for dry gear and two large camera charging stations. The main dining room and salon was quite large and spacious. Two large TV monitors made dive briefings very easy to follow. On the upper decks, there was an additional lounge area with bar and the sun deck featured a hot tub which I never used. The food met typical Aggressor standards and the crew on board was quite friendly and helpful.
During the week diving conditions were great. The average air temperature was 80°F, average water temperature 78°F, visibility underwater was about 25-50ft, and wind speed was about 6-18 knots. Diving in a 3 or 5 mil wetsuit was comfortable even on night dives. Most of the divers executed between 20-23 dives.
We spent 5 ½ day diving around the Hallaniyat Island chain after our local check out dives. Each morning most of the divers on board arose from their slumber around 6am for a light breakfast following by the dive briefing and we were in the water by 8:30. Nearly all of our dives were off 2 tenders. Some dives we able to end our dive under the main yacht. And most night dives were executed off the main ship.
During the first day of diving we spotted many different types of eels, cuttlefish, blue spotted stingrays and many other species of fish. However, this was only the warm up for the second day of diving. We arrived at Al Hasikiyah Island and on our first dive we met very large Bowmouth Guitarfish. On our second dive we met a Leopard Shark resting along the reef. (I’ll post video of the Leopard Shark soon my Youtube page). And to top it off after lunch a Humpback Whale decide to swim around the boat forcing me to abandon dessert. It seemed the crew was just excited as us to see them. We quickly grabbed camera and into the tenders to get a closer look. We spent about 2 hours watching the large whale swim around the dark blue bay.
A day later we dive the slightly north of the Hallanyiat Islands. We are complete in the open sea. We cannot see any island formation or main land around us. This area hosts a site rightly named Fish Highway. Here we spot thousands of fish here – Malabar Groupers, Snappers, Fusiliers, Moray eels, scorpionfish, porcupinefish, rays and much more. The dive site is quite intense due to the density of fish. Plus, visibility is great – a good 100ft. And after lunch, we were visited by a pod of dolphins. And again, we jumped in the tenders to get a closer look.
On the second to last day of diving we were at a site called the Hasikaya Coral Bay. Here we found a ton of Moray Eels, Octopus, two curious jawfish and a big school of Mobula rays which I was too far away to capture on video.
On our final day of diving we sailed back to the mainland where we dived a site called Ras Mirbat. Visibility at the site was not that great for taking video or picture of schooling fish. But it was perfect for finding nudibranchs, slipper lobsters, dozens of moray eels, octopus and scorpionfish.
During the week, my top animal sighting were the Guitarfish, Leopard Shark, Dragon Eel, Cowrie Snail and Humpback Whale (during the surface interval).
I would highly recommend this dive trip during the November time frame. The Oman Aggressor offers trips in the North and I’m looking forward to exploring that region in the upcoming seasons.
Photo’s from the week of scuba diving can be found here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmoqAfWf
A complete video journey will be posted on Youtube over the next few weeks.
This review was originally submitted to The Scuba Sports Club of Westchester and appeared in their quarterly newsletter.