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Taiwan, Green Island, trip report

Discussion in 'Taiwan' started by Makhno, Dec 7, 2009.

  1. Makhno

    Makhno Divemaster

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    I recently returned home from a 4-day weekend on Green Island (Lyudao or Ludao) and I can happily recommend it as the best diving I've done yet in Taiwan. We all had a really great time; the diving was quite good, and the island is nice topside as well. It being winter, thankfully the island lacked the big crowds that come during the tourist season so we had the dive sites to ourselves, and didn't have to worry about a typhoon blowing out our vacation. I can't vouch for Green Island during the summer or early fall, but in the off-season it's great – a must-dive destination in Taiwan.


    Two buddies and I were in the process of arranging our dive trip on our own when another buddy of mine, an expat who runs a dive center in Kenting, suggested that we join his group who were planning to go to Green Island that same weekend. The price was right and the group would have the boat to ourselves so we agreed that it was a good idea.

    My two buddies and I drove to Taitung (Taidong) Wednesday night and took the 9:30 a.m. ferry over to the island. The wind had been blowing hard and the sea was choppy (some 2m - 3m swells), so a lot of the ferry passengers were seasick, but I don't get seasick so after driving all night I just snoozed through much of the hour-long journey. We napped for a couple hours after we checked in, woke up and had some lunch at a nondescript local noodles joint, then did a shore dive at Shihlang, in Nanliao Bay. We'd decided that with it being winter and the sun setting so early, and us not having slept much, we'd just do one easy dive that day and then do three dives on Friday.


    We didn't bring our cameras on that first dive, so of course we were greeted almost immediately after our descent by a curious broadclub cuttlefish that swam right up to us and posed for as many great photos as we could have taken, changing colors and wiggling its tentacles at us.

    We did all four of our shore dives at Shihlang and were quite pleased with them all. The sea state on the east and north sides of the island ruled out shore diving there, and we didn't feel like going any further south to other west coast sites, as Shihlang is big enough to offer at least 5 or 6 different dives. On Thursday and Friday we saw at least four or five different species of nudibranchs – not including phylidiids – at Shihlang. An abundance of soft corals and anemones of various species carpeted the reef, and many of the hard corals were among some of the healthiest I've seen. They shared the reef with small sponges, loads of tunicates (sea squirts or ascidians), the occasional corallimorpharian, a resident turtle, etc. I only saw 3 or 4 moray eels but otherwise the fishes were numerous and diverse. Just off the top of my head, I can recall many big spotted unicornfish and a couple of big humpnose unicornfish and sizeable populations of a number of other species of surgeonfishes/tangs; many orange-lined triggerfish as well as a handful of others such as titan and yellowmargin triggerfish etc. (including my first blackpatch trigger), and a lot more colorful parrotfishes and wrasses then I've seen elsewhere in Taiwan (positive IDs include crescent wrasse, juvenile and adult sunset wrasse, pastel ringwrasse, juvenile rockmover wrasse, and others). Angelfishes and sweetlips and anemonefishes/clownfishes were also fairly numerous and diverse. Miscellaneous anthias and damsels and small wrasses flitted back and forth over the top of the shallower parts of the reef, and dartfish were also present in noticeable quantities. A few species of puffers made an appearance, but we only saw one banded sea krait – in contrast to Orchid Island (Lanyu) where snakes are everywhere. I didn't spot any commensal shrimps but my buddy the photographer, who went looking specfically for them, said he got some good shots of anemone shrimps.

    We stayed in a "homestay" in the little village of Gongguangbi, about smack-dab in the middle of the northern shore, but it's more of a hostel or a small hotel than what I think of as a "homestay," even though the owners live there. There are maybe eight or nine bedrooms with two or three beds each. Ours had a double bed for each of the 3 of us and a TV, and the bathroom had a shower with plenty of hot water. The couple who own the place were very friendly and welcoming, as were some of their local friends whom we met. My buddies and I went out for dinner with them and some of their friends on Friday night, then went with them for a good long soak in the hot springs – one of only two or three saltwater hot springs in the world. Including our party, there were fewer than 15 or 20 people in the big hot springs complex which has several separate pools of differing temperatures. I've heard that it's very crowded during the high season for tourism, so I was glad that we pretty much had our pool to ourselves plus a few occasional others. The moon was almost full and the night was beautiful; after the hot springs closed around 10 p.m., my photographer buddy and I stayed up into the wee hours to have a couple beers and to enjoy comparing our photos to our collection of marine life identification books.

    On Saturday the trip organizer and the five others in the group arrived around 11:30ish, checked in, had lunch, etc., and then we all went to the harbor to depart for a couple of boat dives. After four quite good shore dives, I was eager for some great boat diving.

    Unfortunately the first dive sucked: the boat captain put us in deep sand instead of on our requested dive site. We were unhappy. After the dive, the trip organizer had some words with the captain and we successfully ended up on our requested site for the second dive: the Pyramids, a metal artifical reef structure which has attracted a lot of fishes and invertebrates and makes for a nice dive. After we returned to dry land, the trip organizer spent some time on the phone with the local dive operation. As it turns out, the usual boat captain is in Palau or Sipadan or somewhere, so we ended up with a skipper who evidently doesn't really know the dive sites very well. So, the trip organizer arranged three boat dives, rather than the originally-planned two, for us on Sunday (and on a different boat with a different skipper this time) to make up for the pretty-much wasted first dive on Saturday.

    On Saturday night most of us went for a relaxing soak in the hot springs after a big Chinese barbecue dinner, then turned in relatively early as we had to wake up before dawn on Sunday to get three dives in before catching the 2:30 p.m. ferry back to the main island of Taiwan.

    On Sunday we had our kit loaded onto the truck by 6:30, stopped briefly to pick up our breakfast sandwiches, and were on the boat with our gear by 7 a.m. Our first dive was at a site called Chicken Head. On one side of the site, the rock drops down to maybe 50m or 60m, and we were hoping to see some hammerhead sharks below us in the deep water, but it's still too early in the winter for the hammerheads which usually are seen during February when the water's colder. Even without any sharks it was a very nice dive site, better than a lot of sites I've dived in countries which attract many more diving tourists than Taiwan does. Other than some massive gorgonian sea fans, an octopus, some schooling trevallies/jacks, a juvenile black snapper, etc., the marine life was similar to what we'd seen at Shihlang, so I won't repeat that description here. We were all quite happy with the dive, even if we were a little too sleepy to show our enthusiasm. Our second dive was at a site called Dulijao (also called Dabaisha which is the name of the nearby Big White Sand beach) – not to be confused with the other Dulijao in Kenting National Park. It's a series of conjoined pinnacles rising up from a depth of about 28m or 30m. I think this may have been my favorite of all the boat dives we did. Again, apart from some clown triggerfish, juvenile oriental sweetlips, etc., the marine life was similar to what I've described above so I won't repeat it … but again, there was a whole lot of it, both in terms of quantity and in terms of diversity. For our third dive we decided to go back to one of the sites that my two buddies and I had dived on Friday at Shihlang, the Big Mushroom, which is reportedly (I'm skeptical) the world's oldest single living coral formation, about 15m high by 30m wide, estimated at around 1200 years old. One of the others in our group, an inexperienced diver, ended up with a bottle filled to only 160 bar so she and I stayed on the boat to swap cylinders while the others splashed … and by the time we got into the water she and I had missed the turtle that the others saw, but we still enjoyed a good dive. The garden eels off in the sand were hiding, so after waiting a while in vain for them to appear, we gave up and returned to the “mushroom” to inspect the coral and the many fishes swarming around. After a couple of fairly long multilevel dives starting as deep as 27m or 28m, we had a lot of nitrogen in our tissues, and the divers wearing 3mm suits were cold, so this third dive was only about 45 minutes or so, including long stops just to be on the safe side.


    After we got back to the island we rinsed our kit and grabbed a quick lunch before we checked out and caught the 2:30 p.m. ferry. Thankfully, the sea was much calmer on the ride back than on the ride over to the island, and most of the passengers were able to keep their lunches in their stomachs.


    To sum up, Green Island offers some really good diving and shouldn't be missed by any diver who's in Taiwan. If I weren't already in Taiwan and were planning to travel abroad for a dive vacation, and had plenty of money to burn, I wouldn't choose Green Island over the very best diving destinations like Palau or Raja Ampat or Tubbataha, etc., but it's certainly as good as some of the places I've been in the past which attract divers from far away. And it's markedly better than Taiwan's two other main dive destinations, Kenting National Park and Orchid Island (Lanyu). On the drive back from Taitung on Sunday, we were already discussing when we might next be able to go back for another long weekend of diving at Green Island.


    A few negatives must be noted: first, there weren't a lot of pelagics to be seen – other than some trevallies, snappers, etc., it was just the occasional unidentifiable gray-colored blur off in the distance. Other than the February hammerhead shark dives, it just ain't a big-fish destination. Second, the water in early December was around 24 or 25 degrees C (that's maybe 76 F on average) which meant that those in our group with 3mm suits got cold (in my 5mm and hood, I was also a bit chilly on the third dives of Friday and Sunday,). Third, in the summer or fall when the water temperature is a warmer 27 or 28 degrees C (low 80s F), there tend to be either big crowds of tourists, or typhoons. Fourth, the ferry ride from Taitung to Green Island is infamous for the risk of seasickness (however, pharmacies in the bigger cities sell motion sickness medication, and there is a small airport if you have time to spend a day offgassing before flying). And finally, there isn't a lot of English spoken on the island, so if you can't speak Chinese then it's best to organize a trip with someone who can.


    But overall, I give Green Island a quite positive recommendation.


    (By the way, here's a plug for my expat buddy who organized our trip – and who kindly set us up with that third boat dive on Sunday to compensate for the lousy first dive on Saturday: he can be contacted via https://shellbackdiver.com/ He might still have a few spaces open for his next dive trip to Green Island for the long weekend of January 1-3. Another native English speaker expat dive instructor also organizes Green Island trips, and he's a great guy who has been diving in Taiwan for many years; he can be contacted via www.taiwandive.com - Kenting - Green Island - Orchid Island - XiaoLiuChiu He organized my Orchid Island trip in the spring, and it was also very professionally run. You wouldn't go wrong with either of those guys.)
     
  2. xariatay

    xariatay Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Singapore
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    Will keep in mind... The hot spring sounds especially good... :p What is the water temp. during winter?
    Heard that it is possible to see hammerhead sharks at Green Island?
     
  3. Makhno

    Makhno Divemaster

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    The water was 24-25 degrees C last weekend; I haven't dived there later in the winter but I've heard it gets down to as cold as 22. Or did you mean the water temperature in the hot springs? There are several pools -- the hottest was 42 or so, and there's a cold pool to go into when you're getting too cooked in the hot ones; I think it was in the mid to low 20s. There's a natural pool on the beach itself but that wasn't open last weekend. I've heard that it's the hottest.

    Hammerheads are most likely to be seen in February, at one site in particular. I haven't dived it yet, but from what I hear it's an advanced dive: enter negatively buoyant and drop down quickly to about 35m and time things just right so you can grab ahold of the rock ledge before the ripping current takes you away, then attach a reef hook. I've also heard that the sharks can also be seen in other months and at other sites, if you have the tech diving training and experience to dive down to about 60m.
     
  4. xariatay

    xariatay Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Singapore
    691
    22
    18
    thanks for all the info! Guess the hammerhead dive is too advanced for me...
    Yes, i meant the temp of the sea... :wink:
     
  5. Makhno

    Makhno Divemaster

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    Not necessarily -- that'll depend upon your training and experience and what you feel comfortable with. I see that you've already logged >100 dives, so if you've done an advanced open water diver course and/or can show logged dives in the ~30m range, then you're considered qualified to give it a go. (As I said, I haven't done this hammerhead dive yet, but I've heard that the boat captain normally won't let divers with <100 logged dives do it -- not a concern for you.)

    But the reason I posted my trip report was to let others know that even without the famous hammerhead dive, Green Island offers some quite good diving, on par with a number of diving destinations around the world which are a lot more famous and which attract divers from far away.

    Taiwan doesn't draw a lot of tourists, which in my opinion is a shame because it has a lot of natural beauty in addition to some great cultural attractions. For example, the historic city of Tainan has some fantastic Taoist temples (as, of course, does Taipei); there are ample opportunities for good mountain biking in Taiwan; hikers can spend a few days in the forests around Yushan and elsewhere; Taroko Gorge (Tailuge) is well worth seeing; there's a museum in Taipei displaying many of the ancient Chinese imperial treasures the Kuomintang brought to Taiwan when they fled China in 1949; and there's much more.

    If all I wanted from my vacation was great diving and budget were no concern, then I'd be looking at Palau or Raja Ampat (or Cocos/Malpelos/Galapagos for hammerheads), or the Red Sea, or whatever. But Green Island shouldn't be missed by any diver who's already in Taiwan or who can easily get here, and it's also a good option for a diver who wants a vacation which includes a few days of diving and a few days of land-based activities.
     
  6. badkao

    badkao Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: here
    15
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    Makhno,
    Thanks for your amazing report. There are a lot of good information. I have been to Green Island two years ago in March and i knew about the hammerheads too. But where exactly are they? which site?

    Thanks.

    Ken
     
  7. shellbackdiver1

    shellbackdiver1 Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Linwood Township, Mn
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    Look at a map of the island, find the most southern site and that is where the sharks are. 2 weeks ago they were at 30m of water at temps of 25C.
     
  8. badkao

    badkao Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: here
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    Thanks Shellbackdiver1. Sounds pretty cool. Do you have any hammerhead photos by any chance?
     
  9. broadreach

    broadreach BKK Divers

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: San Joaquin Valley, California
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    The Green Island is a great diving destination, and I would like to go back there some day.

    There's only one dive shop operator that is willing to take divers to try the hammerhead dives. Everyone else say that it is too dangerous and refuse to try.

    When I was there in February '09 that guy was away in Taipei and I was not able to do that dive. Since it is the off season, many shop owners take their vacation in the winter and there are fewer alternatives.

    Lesson learned - don't expect to show up and be able to see hammerheads.

    If you plan on going there to see hammerheads - your best bet is to plan ahead in detail and join a group with someone like Andy Gray that has been doing it for a while.
     
  10. ambertiger

    ambertiger Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives:
    Location: Taiwan
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    Hi, The scalloped hammerheads school at the SW corner of Green Island, just offshore from the famous seawater hotsprings, the site is called Gun Swuei Bi, from December through to early March. I have been leading dive groups to see them most winters for the past 18 years. It is an advanced dive with possibly strong currents on the surface as well as underwater. It is recommended that you do a negatively buoyant entry and fin down as you may easily be swept away from the site if you hang around on the surface. It is a perfect EANx dive as the sharks are generally at about 27M~30M and the visibility is usually 25M~30M. Surface conditions at the site can change rapidly from chop to 1~2m swells within 30 mins. If you hit the site at the wrong time it can be like a washing machine underwater going through the canyons to get to the shark point and this is why local operators will take divers with less then 100 dives. I would advise taking a reef hook to keep both hands free to take photographs or hold your regulator in your mouth if the current picks up. That said I have seen upwards of an estimated 150~250 hammerheads at this site over the years. However sometimes you may only see 6 or so and the others stay well out of range of excited noisy divers, but you may see their shadows in the distance. Sadly I have noticed fewer and fewer sharks showing up in the past few years. Victims of the shark finners?
    I did not go this year and have been asked by several divers to run a trip in 2011 at Chinese New Year so if I get enough divers interested I will. PM me if you would like to go and I will put you on my list of divers. :cool2:
    www.taiwandive.com - Kenting - Green Island - Orchid Island - XiaoLiuChiu
     

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