Ribbon Reef with Da Blue Juice

Words: Francois Flamengo | Photos: Various Contributors

Scuba Diving

I recently visited Ribbon Reef with my wife, Elri, and some friends for a weekend dive excursion with Da Blue Juice, a dive operator with a deep love for the marine life and Sodwana. I have dived with them for many years and keep going back as they have this uncanny ability of making each and every trip unique and special.

Ribbon Reef with Da Blue Juice

Arriving at the beach, Digger and Mich, the owners of Da Blue Juice, and their crew warmly welcomed us and then proceeded to sort out all our pre-diving needs. Once we had checked all our equipment and kitted up, we were briefed on Ribbon Reef and what to expect. The weather conditions were perfect for diving, with the water visibility expected to be well over 20 metres and the temperature above 25degrees. Our group would be dropped on the small 'round' part of the reef and from there, we would make our way across to the bigger part once we had inspected the nooks and crevasses for the elusive blue ribbon eel. They are not easy to spot because they’re usually well hidden and with their thin body that is no longer than 100cm, they are able to entrench themselves in the reef so that only their small heads are visible.


With the briefing done and everyone clued up again on what signs would be used once in the water, it was time to launch the boat. Digger, in my book, must be one of the most qualified skippers in Sodwana, as he is able to get his boat through the surf with the least amount of ‘bump’. In no time at all, we were beyond the backline and heading north towards Ribbon Reef, our excitement mounting with each passing mile.


On the way there, Digger pointed to a school of dolphins that were frolicking in the deep blue. He then gave the command for us to ready our snorkelling gear, so we could go in for a closer look. We were all eager to swim with these amazing mammals, as it is always a wonderful and truly memorable experience. Once Digger had brought the boat to a stop just in front of the approaching dolphins, he gave the command to enter the water. As we rolled from the boat, everyone tried to make the least amount of splash so that we wouldn't startle them and send them hurtling in another direction. Everyone gathered behind the boat and we were rewarded when the dolphins came towards us for a closer look - clearly they were just as curious as we were. Digger then started to ride in a big circle around us to create a ‘bait ball’ effect and, as a result, the dolphins became very excited and started swimming in a circle. We watched in awe as these amazing creatures showcased their excellent manoeuvring capabilities just below us. Then one of the bigger dolphins decided it was time to move on and the group followed swiftly behind, leaving us bobbing around and savouring this amazing experience that had lasted for about three minutes. When everyone was safely back on board, still awestruck by what we had just witnessed, Digger continued northwards.


We reached the dive site and the water lookED magnificent; it was crystal clear, the temperature was perfect and a more inviting dive you could not ask for. The group plunged into the water as soon as Digger gave the command and set about adjusting their buoyancy as we reached the reef. The aim was to be able to explore the reef from as close as possible without touching anything.


As we started searching for the blue ribbon eel, a massive turtle crossed our path. The leatherback looked very relaxed and laid back as he slowly glided between the divers on his way to what felt like destination anywhere. If that was not enough excitement to get the dive going, we saw massive schools of big eyes and kingfish weave their way around and through the reef, enhancing its brilliance even further with their amazing colours. There was so much to see as we moved over the reef and everyone was constantly pointing at some or other marvel, including many different nudibranchs decorated in the most fascinating colours and detail, paperfish, harlequin shrimp, rock lobster hiding in the reef and so it went. It‘s amazing how much more there is to see on a reef if one just takes the time to look a little deeper.


As we were about to swim over to the largest part of Ribbon Reef, Elri casually pointed to an eel that was partially hidden in a crevasse in the reef and signalled the dive master if that was what we were looking for. Everyone paused and judging by the dive master’s response, we knew that we’d hit the jackpot. With great excitement, we all made our way over to where the ribbon eel was doing its best to remain inconspicuous. When it was my turn to feast my eyes upon it, I was amazed by how small it was and could understand how easy it would be to swim over an eel and not notice it. These eels can grow up to 100 cm long and I remember thinking that if they were two or three metres bigger, they would be very scary creatures. Now that we’d found what we had been looking for, anything else would be the cherry on the cake.


Ribbon Reef, the largest part of the reef, was buzzing with marine life and we were once again treated to sightings of more turtles, large and colourful parrotfish and honeycomb eels. As our dive came to a close, almost an hour later, we came across three massive potato bass (each more than a metre long) that were swimming along without a care in the world. However, these incredible fish can be quite intimidating when they start moving into your space, their massive heads and large bodies resembling that of a bouncer. Without asking for it, they demand respect from you and thoughts of ‘I should move now and get out of your way’ started to creep up in the back of my mind as they swam closer and closer. The one that passed directly beneath me was almost the same size as me (and I’m 1.8 metres), and with those large mouths I can just imagine how vicious they must be when they start hunting fish on the reef.


With everyone nearing the 50 bar air limit and the surge starting to pick up, it was time to leave this magical underwater world. We stopped at five metres to do our safety stop for three minutes before surfacing and climbing into the waiting boat. As soon as we hit the deck, everyone started talking about how awesome the dive had been and what they had seen. After engaging in all the feedback and treating everyone to a Fizz Pop, Digger started the engines and headed back to the beach.


This is a mere snippet of what we experienced on our weekend diving trip and words barely do justice to how incredible this part of the world is when it comes to sheer diving pleasure. The only option is to book a trip with Da Blue Juice and go dive this amazing reef yourself. You won’t be disappointed!



• Occi Lodge - The lodge has a lovely outdoor pool and braai area that will ensure you get the most out of your humid Sodwana evenings. Alternatively, there's an entertainment area and lounge where you can sit and relax indoors while watching DSTV. The open communal kitchen is fully equipped and the comfy rooms have en-suite bathrooms. Wifi is available to all guests.
• Drunken Tree - This new bar is perfect for some local Sodwana R&R. It delivers on great entertainment and is where you can meet the locals and share great stories over a cold one, in the hot African sun. And if you are brave enough, ask the barman to fix you a Sodwana Grenade. It will definitely get the party started ... Boom!


Issue 25 May '13
Francois Flamengo