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Planet Dive, Anilao

shore diving macro muck budget

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#1 Glasseye Snapper

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 09:08 PM

I just got a friendly reminder that my trip report was 6 months overdue. Don't you hate it when live swallows you up again. Anyway, here goes, and with thanks to all who helped me pick this dive spot.

Let's start with what sold me on Anilao in general
- Easy to get to (direct red-eye Vancouver/Manilla flght)
- Affordable cost of diving and living
- Good macro and fish diversity

Anilao, or better Mabini, has a large number of dive operations stretched along the coastline. Some with names familiar if you have been following discussions on wetpixel, but there are many more, probably without web presence and catering to local divers (but that is just my guess). Towards the end of the stretch is Planet Dive. I chose PD for one main reason, it was said to have the best house reef on the strip and unlimited shore diving. Normally I would add one more priority and that is the ability to solo dive but this time I was lucky to meet up with a UK buddy who likes to dive as much, as slow, and as long as I do. I believe officially they have a buddy diving policy, but one person was solo diving I after they got to know us I could have gone solo if I had wanted to. However, check before you go if that is important to you.

We visited at the end of May/start of June, which is the transition into the rainy season, and the low season for diving. Apparently conditions are best in the Feb/Apr, which is not an option for me, but on a next trip I will aim for early May. That said, we were diving every day averaging almost 5 dives a day. One good thing is that on many occasions we had the entire house reef to ourselves, especially during the week. We also had a panga, captain and dive master just for the two of us much of the time with 60-75 minute boat dives. The rates vary depending on the number of divers but even with just two it was only ~US$60 for a two tank boat dive plus unlimited shore diving, going down to ~US$40 for four divers, and $15 for just unlimited shore diving. Hard to beat prices. I don't remember the all-inclusive accommodation cost but it was equally affordable, although accommodation and food are pretty basic. However, it is clean and save, and if you are like me all you need is a place to sleep and charge batteries. Another advantage is that you get to meet a lot of local divers, unlike most other places I have ever been to.

The shore diving starts right in front of PD. The dive locker is on the beach with tanks always available. We would head down just after 5am and be in the water by 5:30 for our pre-breakfast dive. Boat dives were either two tank trips leaving right after breakfast back by lunch or one after breakfast and a second after lunch. Two more shore dives filled out the day. The beach and shore entry consists of rounded large pebbles/rocks up to hip deep followed by a bank of shallow corals sloping down to about 4m, followed by a slight drop to about 7-8m. That is where you have to make the hard choice, go right on the more scenic route following the slight drop-off towards twin rocks or left to areas of staghorn and other coral with many damsels, cardinalfish and other critters. It is really a fish lovers site and you can probably find well over 200 species on your trip right there. If you like grand vistas and wide angle then twin rocks themselves are the only standout feature but on the whole you are going to be disappointed. Big fish lovers will enjoy the ever present bigeye jack school that can darken the sun if they move like a tornado over and around you. It is hard not to get excited by that, even after you've seen them a dozen times. Friendly batfish, a half-dozen spiny lobsters, giant clams, one hunch-backed turtle and the odd grouper make up the other large animals. Not everyone will enjoy many repeat dives on one site but I dove PD 21 times in two weeks and would be happy to go back for more 90-100 minute dives floating around and observing live as it happens.

Boat dives were 10-20 minute trips to various sites along the coast or across a channel. There were two muck diving sites, mainit muck and coconut muck, the latter is prettier the former is muckier. We dove both several times and they always offer surprises. Another site I liked a lot but I don't think gets used that much is Danilaut. It is highly protected behind an island and has a shallow sandy plateau running to a slight drop-off that slopes deeper to where there is the metal frame skeleton of a former casino boat. I found a lot of fish there that I didn't find anywhere else, which is why I liked it. There are many other sites, many of them have been discussed here before. My only "Pacific" comparison is with the Marsa Alam area in the Red Sea. Visibility, reef structure, and general UW landscape beauty is much better in the Red Sea. But when it comes to fish life I've never seen as much variety as in Anilao. The final count is not yet in but well over 300 fish species in two weeks. Twice a typical harvest in the Caribbean and 50% better than the Red Sea.

So if you are a fish lover who wants unlimited and varied house reef diving at a good value it is hard to beat PD.

Cheers, Bart
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#2 Steve Williams

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 04:58 AM

Thanks Bart,
Lots of good info, but it begs the question. Can you share a couple of images?

Cheers,
Steve

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#3 Stewart L. Sy

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 07:38 AM

Good review Bart, I'm surprised you liked Darilaut, we did it once and it was pretty silted over. I much preferred the dive over at the next cove, Bethlehem. We could do the any of the sites north of the Resort as wave action was pretty bad due to a typhoon parked off Guam and a low pressure area near Hong Kong.

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#4 Glasseye Snapper

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:15 AM

Good review Bart, I'm surprised you liked Darilaut, we did it once and it was pretty silted over. I much preferred the dive over at the next cove, Bethlehem. We could do the any of the sites north of the Resort as wave action was pretty bad due to a typhoon parked off Guam and a low pressure area near Hong Kong.

S.


Hi Stu,

The first time they took us to Darilaut was due to strong waves on our side of the channel and I had the impression this site was used as a "plan B" for such situations and not considered a prime dive site. Because we had our own DM and could call the shots I specifically requested a return trip and liked it just as much. Maybe we got lucky but the visibility was great on both occasions and like I said, I found a lot of fishes that I didn't see anywhere else. Different kinds of damsels, cardinals, angelfish, moray, surgeonfish, pipefish, tiny gobies etc. Nothing spectacular like the "weirdos" on the muck dives but I am a sucker for these typical reef fish and am always looking out for new ones or ones with different colors or behavior.

If you like fish and are making a lot of dives in the area you should give Darilaut a try.

Wrt to images, due to my strobes breaking down on me I ended up diving with a borrowed sealife camera and struggling mightily. Since there are so many great images from the area I didn't bother to add mine. But since Steve asked, I'll have a look tonight to find a few worth sharing.

Bart
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#5 Steve Williams

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:48 PM

Looking forward to seeing your new images Bart. Can you help us with what happened to your strobes?

Cheers,
Steve

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#6 Glasseye Snapper

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 08:40 PM

Here are some pictures from the house reef of Planet Dive. I'm afraid I don't normally take wide angle shots to give an idea of the landscape. Sorry.

Large school of bigeye jacks at PD house reef forming a large vortex near Twin Rocks. Small groups peel off to visit nearby cleaning stations.
PDjacks.JPG

False clown anemonefish
Amphiprion.JPG

Tailspot squirrelfish on face of Twin rocks
PDsoldierfish.JPG

There is cluster of giant clams. One of them, not this one, displayed a large area of "coral bleaching". I didn't know they could do that but they do have symbiotic algae, like corals.
PDgiantClam.JPG

Smooth pebbles/rocks in the shallows between shore and reef. Not as pretty but not without interesting stuff to find, like this posse of shrimpfish, if you take the time to look.
PDpebbles.JPG

Bart
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#7 Glasseye Snapper

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 09:00 PM

Hi Steve,

On a trip to the Red Sea the DS50 strobe fell out of the housing while the boat crew where handling it. They must have accidentally pushed the release button on the Ikelite handle. I don't blame them because they were careful with the equipment and accidents just happen. The fall must have put enough stress on the synch cable to break it. I should have just replaced it but since I was planning on upgrading to different camera & strobe I intended to use a dual-strobe synch cord that I already had for the Philippines trip, assuming that I could just put the metal end-cap on the one synch cord I would not be using. Just before the trip I found out that you can flood cameras through the synch cable and that the end-cap is not supposed to be waterproof. Too late to get a new cable so rather than lug around the heavy DSLR with no strobe I opted for the SeaLife with single strobe from a colleague. Travel with the SeaLife is great, so tiny and light, but diving not so much. I am sure others can do better but focusing, confirming that you have focus, and lighting were hit and a lot of miss. The only positive thing is that it makes it easier to shell out the multi-thousand $ investment in a good camera and housing for my next trip.

Bart
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#8 Steve Williams

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 10:06 PM

Thanks for the update Bart. I'm always interested to know how we manage to break things so we can try to avoid it in the future. I feel for you. Way back in the old days of the chemical stuff I managed to flood a Nikonos 4 with a broken synch cord. (1982) The silly design had the cord coming out of the bottom of the camera case and everytime you set it down you stressed the connector.

I'd encourage you to play a little with processing some of your pics. The Sealife looks like it can stand to have a little noise reduction and to bump the contrast a touch;

Bart blue.jpg

I love being in the middle of a fish tornado, thanks for sharing them. Posted Image

Cheers,
Steve

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#9 Uli Kunkel

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 10:23 PM

Awesome!
Fantastic report! Ive been looking at heading to Anilao for a long time. Thanks for sharing.

#10 Glasseye Snapper

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 09:10 AM

I have selected a couple of images from the Darilaut “wreck” site to give an idea of what it is like. The site is located between Maricaban and Caban islands, on the Caban shore, which makes it well protected even under poor weather conditions. Near the shore is a sandy area with corals sloping from shore to about 4m deep. At that point it drops 2-3m to a sandy slope that takes you to the wreck at ~15-25m. I normally don’t enter wrecks, even very simple ones, but this one is really just a large rectangular frame of steel beams with large square openings on all sides. In my memory there were three horizontal levels; bottom, roof and one in the middle, creating two compartments. The lower compartment had some small schools of snappers and other mid-sized fish loitering about, but close inspection of the substrate yielded some dwarfgobies on a rocky part. I don’t quite remember the second compartment, perhaps the longnose hawkfish was found there on the outside of the wreck. However, the most interesting part is the top, which has a lot of growth and fish that hide behind and below the beams keep popping up. Just hang on one spot for a while and see what appears.
After you’re done with the wreck you can make a nice long safety stop on the shallow reef. I found the shallow part just as interesting as the wreck, and since few other dives include a shallow reef like this one it is nice to check out.

Not pretty but it gives an idea of the wreck structure. You can find some other images on the web at http://diveshoppe200...lao/daryl-laut/
DarilautBottom.JPG

blue-striped and yellowhead??? dwarf gobies in the bottom compartment
DarilautGobies.JPG

Longnose hawkfish, there were at least two. I think this was on the mid-level at the outside edge of the structure
DarilautHawkfish.JPG

Just some pictures of the roof with nice growth and a variety of fish

Two-spined angelfish
Darilout1.JPG

White-eye moray
DarilautMoray.JPG

This warty frogfish didn't get the memo on camouflage technique
DarilautFrogfish.JPG

Here are two more from the shallow reef

Spotted snake eel
DarilautEel.JPG

Threespot cardinalfish
DarilautCardinal.JPG
Olympus OM-D EM5/Nauticam, 12-50mm & 60mm macro
Sea&Sea 110a, iTorch, GoPro3 BE





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