Travel Writers: The Big Blue by Laura Bennett

Location: Dahab, Red Sea, Egypt

image: the blue holeSounding like the title of the next Star Trek movie, the name is enough to strike fear into the hearts of the uninitiated. The Blue Hole is thankfully not a portal to another galaxy, but an infamous dive site on the Red Sea, just north of Dahab, in Egypt.

The name is pretty straight forward, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. The Blue Hole is a “drop off” in the coral reef which forms a deep pool just off-shore. Its actual depth seems to be a matter for debate, one local told me it was 60m deep, but guide books seem to guess at anything between 80m and 120m!

Whatever the statistics, the Blue Hole has a fearsome reputation, it claims the lives of a number of inexperienced divers each year. Memorials carved into the nearby rock-face remember those who met their end there.

It’s quite a build up. After a week spent snorkelling at some of the other reefs around Dahab, my father and I decided to squeeze in a trip to the Blue Hole on the morning of our flight home. Although challenging for divers, the coral lips at the top of the hole attract an abundance of fish and are renowned for great snorkelling.

The weather that day wasn’t great, the wind was blowing strongly on-shore, creating a light swell, but the snorkel guide assured us that we’d stay close in at all times and would hardly notice the waves once we were focussed on what was happening below the surface.

As we swam out, the sea turned an ominous dark blue colour as the coral fell away to unimaginable depths. A vertigo sufferer on dry land, I was unsettled by the thought that there was possibly more than a hundred metres of water between me and the sea bed. It was an eerie feeling as we floated across the surface, gazing down into the hazy vastness below.

After a few minutes we arrived at the reef’s edge. Suddenly we could actually see the wall of coral as it sank down steeply below us. The reef was teaming with colour and life. Fish were everywhere. As we looked down to parrotfish swimming beneath us, it was almost like watching them fly across a cloudless blue sky. We saw countless species of wrasse and butterfly fish, not to mention colourful bannerfish, thin flute fish, and inquisitive sergeant majors, which would come to within inches of my mask before darting away.

Eventually, the wrinkled skin on our fingers alerted us that it was time to make our way back to the sure. As we sat sipping Egyptian mint tea on the colourful rugs erected shore-side by Bedouin café owners, I was on a high. Mixed with a slight touch of relief, was an overriding sense of privilege at having been given the opportunity to see first hand some of the best that nature has to offer.

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