The sun was shining, it was the last week of October and the temperature of the turquoise water was stil more than 24 C. Haltun, our Turkish dive guide, beckoned us towards him.
We were about to dive at Amphora Point, near Oludeniz in Turkey. It seemed bizarre to be operating out of one of the most idyllic sites in the eastern Mediterranean, certainly one of the most photographed sites in the holiday brochures, yet a place where few people dive.
We where privileged on several counts: not only were conditions perfect but we were getting a rare glimpse of pristine diving with a renowned operator in the region, the European Diving Centre. Known for its professionalism in Marmaris and Fethiye, this was EDC’s first season operating out of Oludeniz, about 12 miles from Fethiye.
With a single cylinder apiece, no hood or gloves, we descended slowly down the side of the submerged rock pinnacle. We were spoilt. The visibility was well in excess of 20m. At 24m, shards of pottery came into view, but below 26m lay a treasure trove of antiquity, with post of all shapes and sizes scattered around. Most were encrusted with sea life and firmly fixed in position on the rocky slope.
It was an archaeological wonderland, with torpedo-shaped amphorae, different styles of distinguishing handles and various other ceramic remains, such as enormous slabs of a boat’s main cooking pot. I wished that ı knew more about the subject, but a later visit to the museum in Fethiye proved disappointing. Apparently the best museum in southern Turkey is that at Bodrum.
As we would discover on subsequent days, archaeological remains are profuse off Oludeniz and certain areas remain out of bounds to divers. The region is so rich in artefacts that the most practical method of conservation, pending a thorough investigation, is to note the location and simply ban all activities.
Woe betide violations! We were warned that the authorities do not take unauthorised access, indeed any infringements, lightly. Confiscation of equipment is the least of one’s concerns. Back at the centre, we were shown a pres cutting about one unfortunate tourist who had received a prison sentence when his son was found trying to ‘’smuggle’’ a small Stone artefact out of the country.
West from Oludeniz (which means ‘’Still Sea’’) lies an area where diving is stil out of bounds and where one can only muse about what might await the visitors. On one small island, fabled locally as a base for pirates, there lies an ancient ruined settlement dating back thousands of years. Thanks to dramatic earth movements in the region, the outline of some walls can also be seen disappearing beneath deeper waters. This is a fascinating area, with so much to complement normal underwater interest.
Fish life in the region is not as rich or colourful as in, say, the Red Sea, But at the sites we saw in Oludeniz it was far more plentiful than in similar situations in the western Med.
Close to Amphora Point lies Cannonball Reef, which our guide recommended for the afternoon. We had been told that cannonballs were scattered liberally over this small bay, but seeing them in situ was something else. Assorted sizes of munitions quickly came into view, and in a couple of places we found them by the wheelbarrow-load!
The finest set lay in just 12m of water. Here, just metres from land, a ship presumed to be Ottoman and dating from the 15th or 16th century had finally broken up, discharging its implements of war harmlessly into the depths.
Haltun led us on down to 24m, where there lay the remains of a massive metal anchor. Here we found smaller lead balls, cricket-ball in size, and other artefacts. Clearly souvenir-hunters have not pillaged the place, and again we felt lucky to experience such rare sights.
Cavern-diving had been one of my goals on this trip to Oludeniz, and places such as Grouper Lair, although short in lenght, proved stunning. This site was only a short boat ride from shore and I thoroughly recommend it for a recreational experience.
Grouper Lair is accessed at roof level at 24m, the flor being 10-20m deeper. The wonder of this site is not so much the distance to which it may be penetrated ( less than 20m ) or the depth; it is the sheer luxuriance of the marine life adorning the walls. Quite apart from delicate white lace coral, in the twilight world of the daylight zone the colours were fabulous:purples, reds, yellows, and orange. It’s all here to enjoy if you have a light bring the scene to life.
Aware of our fascination with archaeology, en route back to shore Haltun asked the captain to cruise around while he sought to locate another ancient artefact in some 20m of water.
Several mounth earlier he had chanced on a circular stone anchor, something like a small mill-wheel used for grinding corn.
Thousands of years ago mariners would have set a sharpened stake through the centre of the Wheel and this would effectively anchor the vessel at sites with a soft bottom. We had not seen anything like this before, and it rounded off a brilliant day.
The finest cavern site accessible from Oludeniz is the Secret Garden. Sheer limestone cliffs overhang the sea here but Haltun’s chance discovery was certainly special.
We dropped off the boat into water of a deep cobalt blue, with depths clearly in excess of 30m. Descending to just 10m on the cliff face, the wall suddenly receded, disappearing in the form of a roof into blackness. As we stopped to take stock,and our eyes adjusted to the lower light levels, it became apparent that we were floating in a cavernous void.
Before us stretched an immense tunnel, more than 20m wide, running back beneath the land. The flor was lost, somewhere in excess of 30m. Impressively large tube-fans clung to these outher walls. Further in, the tunnel narrowed and shallowed slightly, until at 30m there was a distinct murky halocline.
Here we ascended through brackish haze to gain crystal-clear, fresh water above. There was a substantial air surface here, and to one side a narrow ledge where it is possible to stand and chat beneath the stark creamy-grey walls.
This is a wonderful recreational dive, with the darkness of the huge cavern reduced to comfortable levels by the reassuring blue glow of the open sea some 30m distant. A spectacular site!
We made several visits to the caves in this locality. Close by and deeper at 24m lay the interesting Coral Cavern. The passage size was significantly smaller than at Secret Garden and, given the potential for silt disturbance,this is a site where, before entry, one should seriously consider laying or following a line.
Our final day at Oludeniz was memorable not so much for the diving as for a salutary incident. On the boat out to the site we were sitting chatting to Alf Chappell, the owner of European Diving, about the huge popularity of paragliding in the area,and the amazing number of fatalities that had occurred recently.
A small speedboat crossed our path.’’You wouldn’t believe how many of those just run out of fuel hereabouts,’’interjected our host. I have immense respect for the sea, and the thought of the impending sea-sickness that such an event would bring about had me turning green. ‘’ It happens regularly’’, went on Alf.
I found this a little hard to believe until, less than half an hour later, we were anchored at the cavern, about to dive.
The same speedboat closed on us and a forlorn voice piped:’’ Hello! Do you have any spare petrol?’’
‘’We’re diesel,’’ replied Alf.
‘’Have you got a mobile phone then?’’ It was a comedy of errors, larger than life: two guys and two youngsters in a small hire boat, with no radio,no food, drink or emergency provisions, gunning the craft miles from anywhere, until they ran dry!
We had mobiles, but there was no signal. European Diving took the holidaymakers aboard, and for a couple of hours they sat sheepishly awaiting a signal before the hire company came looking fort hem.
We spend a brilliant, varied week at Oludeniz. There’s something to suit everyone-smiling faces, superb scenery and walking, and some of the finest diving in the eastern Med. There’s no language problems, and your money goes a long way!
It’s a 3-5 hour flight from the UK to Dalaman, about an hour from Oludeniz.
When to Go
The season is effectively March – November (the end of cheap charter flights). Over the year water temperatures range from 18 – 250C, in a season a 5mm wetsuit is adequate.
Publish Date: January 2004
Writers: M. Farr / I. Bastan / C. Hadwen