Trip report: Nuweiba, Egyptian Red Sea

Red Sea muck?

Egypt’s Red Sea is synonymous with fantastic coral reefs, blue water and brightly colored schools of anthia goldfish, but curiously seems to not to be highly regarded for macro or super macro underwater photography. Over the past few years however, I had heard of some of the big names in UK underwater photography leading trips to a relatively obscure resort in the Northern Red Sea and returning with images that were unique for the area. I resolved to visit Nuweiba myself to see if this could be the destination for Red Sea muck diving.

Nuweiba is a port town situated in the Gulf of Aquaba about fifty five miles South of the resort of Taba, which is reachable via direct flights into the Israeli constructed airport of the same name. It is well served by flights from the UK mainland. I stayed at the Hilton Nuweiba Coral resort which has an attached dive centre run by Emperor Divers.

Location map of Nuweiba, Egypt.

In most areas of the Red Sea, the majority of diving is conducted from boats. These vary from day-boat to liveaboard, but in almost all instances the dive operators tend to offer an itinerary of different sites, to cater for what is really a tourist market who prefer to dive a different site on every dive. However, I have found that I tend to more productive photographically when I can dive repeatedly on the same reef and get to know it’s inhabitants somewhat. I think this is especially true of macro photography as the subjects are often reclusive and small; both of which makes them hard to find. The diving at Nuweiba is all conducted from shore, with a small but vibrant house reef just off of the beach of the hotel. Emperor Divers are happy to allow for unguided diving once an orientation dive has been carried out. These two factors allow for multiple dives on the same reef and, in my experience, an opportunity for some excellent photographic potential.

The house reef, known as Abou Lou Lou, is accessed via a beach entry, followed by a short swim over a sandy bottom. The reef itself bottoms out at about 20m (60 feet) and has a series of coral pinnacles and outcrops spread out along the slope up to about 6m (18 feet).

I was fortunate to have a number of guided dives with Emperor guides Tarkan and Kathrin. These guys spend pretty much every day diving the reef and hence have a profound knowledge of it and its inhabitants. They are both capable of providing “shopping list” dives; tell them what you wish to see and they will know where to find it! I appreciate this may not seem unique to those used to Indo-Pacific diving guides, however this amount of local knowledge, due to preponderance of boat diving, is not always available in the Red Sea.

Marble shrimp (Saron marmoratus)

Painted frogfish (Antennarius pictus).

Juvenile octopus. Photographing small, hard to find creatures is helped by having local guides.

The set-up for diving is very simple: Pick up equipment at the diving centre, assemble the gear and load it onto a trolley:

Walk along past the pier/jetty (remember to bring wetsuit boots as the paths get hot underfoot):

Gear up and enter from a gently sloping beach. We had one day when the wind had blown up a reasonable shore break, but this presented no issues with the entry, even with large camera rigs.

Beach at Nuweiba.

Once underwater, work your way Northerly along the shore, descending gradually. It is well worth keeping your eyes peeled as you swim over the sand.

Red Sea walkman (Inimicus filamentosus).

Magnus’ partner goby (Amblyeleotris sungami)

The shallow sandy area is home to large schools of silversides, which are occasionally hunted by schools of jacks. In turn, larger predators like tuna and dolphin are also visitors.

During daytime, the reef is home to large numbers of lionfish, resting on the sand around the various pinnacles. Other larger reef inhabitants include moray eels of several species:

As well as octopus:

Scorpion fish:

Large porcupine puffer fish:

And many clown or anemone fish:

Night diving is available and as always this brings out different creatures and photographic opportunities.

The nature of the reef tends to offer limited scope for wide-angle images, and it would be hard to recommend Nuweiba as a destination for them. The pier pictured above hosts large schools of fish, and does offer some creative potential. The area is lit by powerful floodlights at night, which creates some interesting hunting behaviors.

I would suggest that if logistics were an issue, this is a destination where a small dome, or even simply forgoing any wide-angle equipment may be appropriate.

Nuweiba certainly offers a very different diving experience to that encountered on most Red Sea destinations. I am not sure whether the reef is more plentifully supplied with macro subjects, or the style of diving allows more access to them, but it does seem to offer photographic opportunities that I have felt have been lacking somewhat in other areas. Certainly, Emperor Divings policy of allowing multiple unguided dives on one small reef bears dividends in terms of getting to know and catalog the inhabitants.

Photographically, unless you are devoted to macro photography, it may not be ideal as your first introduction to the Red Sea. I would describe it as atypical and hence somewhere to visit after a few trips. Conversely however, it critter spotting is what you want to do, I think it is hard to beat.

It should be stressed that despite the recent political instability in Egypt and the region in general, the tourist areas seem pretty much unaffected. Certainly, I saw no signs of any form of trouble, and the Egyptian people seem, as always, to welcome both us and the revenues we bring. Nuweiba however was very quiet, with large parts of the hotel complex accommodation shut and most days there being no more than 4 or 5 divers on the reef all day!

I purchased an all-inclusive accommodation and diving package from Longwoods Travel. As mentioned above, the dive centre at the Hilton Nuweiba Coral resort is run by Emperor Divers, with Chris Le Plongeon as manager. Prices for the resort start from about £500 (UK sterling) for flights and all-inclusive accommodation for a week, and 5 days shore diving is currently £135. The dive centre does run shore based dive trips to other sites around the area. During my stay, I was able to conduct a fair amount of testing of various new items of equipment, please stay tuned for these reviews shortly. Many thanks to Tarkan and Kathrin for their guiding skills.