Lower than two-and-a-half hours away from the UK, Croatia gives some chilled out, relaxed diving alternatives. Stuart Philpott went to see it for himself.
Listening to so many good reviews about Croatia, I couldn’t resist planning a go to. Nicely-known model Euro Divers had opened a dive centre at Stara Baška on Krk Island, positioned manner up north far-off from the hustle and bustle of well-liked vacationer resort Dubrovnik.
Checking on-line I discovered common flights departing from the UK to Dubrovnik, however this was a whole lot of kilometres from my last vacation spot, making transfer occasions impractical.
The airport at Riječka was rather more handy, though flight choices had been restricted to a weekly Ryan Air service departing from Stansted through the summer season months. At the very least my air ticket didn’t value me a fortune, and with flight occasions of solely two hours and 20 minutes, I wouldn’t be shuffling about on my seat for too lengthy.
After clearing customs, I jumped in an area taxi and made tracks for Stara Baška, an hour’s drive down the highway, relying on visitors. The fare value 52 euros every manner, so subsequent time round I’ll put the cash in the direction of a full week’s car rental rent.
This could give me rather more freedom within the evenings, and I may additionally go sightseeing on non-diving days. On the reverse finish of the size, I spoke to a younger German couple, Stefan and Irena, who had been very happy to remain on the town for a whole two-week interval.
Stefan mentioned he had a high-pressure job in Munich and most popular to go diving all day and simply sit and veg within the evenings.
Stara Baška is positioned in a sleepy bay on the south facet of Krk Island roughly 10km from Punat, dwelling to the third greatest boat marina in Europe (essential be aware – the marina restaurant serves up the very best cheeseburgers).
I had booked into Pansion Nadia however was unaware that there have been two buildings with the identical identify. This completely threw the taxi driver, who initially took me to the mistaken one!
The city itself has a grand complete of three bars/eating places and a variety of low-rise house blocks all fronted by a small pebble seaside and a concrete jetty, which supplies moorings for round 50 or so boats. There may be additionally a grocery store of some types, but it surely was fairly a stroll from my accommodation so I didn’t get an opportunity to test it out.
The PADI-affiliated dive centre is conveniently positioned alongside the seafront just some steps under Pansion Nadia. Euro Divers opened for enterprise on 1 April 2013 (hopefully April Idiot’s Day wasn’t an omen?).
I met the supervisor and part-owner, Kai Behrend, who had spent ten years within the German particular forces earlier than altering his profession to the dive trade. For the following ten years he labored as a diving teacher and supervisor at numerous resort islands within the Maldives earlier than settling in Croatia. Kai mentioned: “It takes 100,000 volts of power to make a dive centre profitable. Service and security are paramount.
I’ve by no means had an accident, ever”. There have been two different full-time members of employees. Vinko doubled up as Divemaster and boat driver, whereas Maria managed reception. My identify appeared to offer Vinko the giggles. The one ‘Stuart’ he had heard of was an animated white mouse known as ‘Stuart Little’. Perhaps there was extra of a resemblance than I assumed?
Kai mentioned: “We’d not have the very best boat or the very best facility however we care extra for our divers. We give the competent divers extra latitude and assist the weaker divers”. Over 85 % of Kai’s clients are repeaters. Some have been loyal followers since his Maldives days. A good proportion of Kai’s clientele got here from Germany. With Munich solely six hour’s drive away, this was fairly comprehensible. Kai mentioned: “Many of the highway is Autobahn all the way down to the bridge at Krk Island”.
Euro Divers Croatia supply roughly 40 dive websites inside a ten- to 60-minute boat journey vary. Usually, there’s a morning dive at 9.30am adopted by second dive at 3pm within the afternoon. On events, Kai gives two-tank morning dives and full-day journeys to the favored Lina wreck, which is a few two-hour boat experience every manner. Drysuits are a great possibility or a full 7mm wetsuit, though Kai mentioned that he had a gaggle of Brummies visiting final yr carrying simply shorties!
Water temps can hit highs of 26 levels C but it surely often hovered round 18-24 levels C. Kai beneficial visiting in September, when the climate continues to be heat and there are fewer divers about.
Throughout my keep, I met an entire mixture of European nationalities. Some had been locals who simply turned up for the day, whereas others had been on vacation and staying on the town. The entire environment was actually relaxed and pleasant. All people would revert to talking English after I was round.
I obtained off to a flying begin with a scenic dive at Prvic Tunnel. The principle characteristic was a swim-through/tunnel adorned with vibrant sponges. The tunnel sits at a depth of 10m and is roughly 50 metres lengthy with room sufficient for 2 or three divers swimming facet by facet. There was additionally a wall dominated by vibrant yellow sponges and the odd purple sea fan thrown in for good measure. Fish life primarily comprised of small damsels, flying gurnard, scorpionfish and a few black and white noticed nudis.
I rapidly settled right into a each day routine which started with a leisurely breakfast. Sipping espresso and consuming freshly made chocolate croissants whereas admiring the glowing Adriatic was merely idyllic. One morning I watched a solitary bottlenose dolphin leaping throughout the bay. Between dives I’d catch lunch on the neighbouring restaurant known as Marinara after which return to Pansion Nadia for dinner.
Bizarrely, not one of the meals menus had been written in English. After some looking out round, Goran – the waiter at Nadia – managed to search out an outdated dog-eared paper copy, but it surely was actually the one one on the town! I like to recommend attempting out the native Croatian specialities, particularly a dish known as ‘mucka licka’, which is mainly a beef stew with greens, however beware – saying the phrases as they’re written has a completely completely different which means!
Kai mentioned that final yr he counted eight completely different seahorses on the home reef and so taking over the problem, we went trying to find seahorses. The underside composition was primarily sand with the odd patch of sea grass. Black sea cucumbers had been in every single place. I additionally discovered an outdated boot, a discarded wine bottle and a lorry tyre. We searched fruitlessly for 45 minutes after which, as promised, Kai discovered me a seahorse. Other than the home reef, there aren’t any different shore diving websites at Stara Baška.
After our morning dive I heard the church bells ringing incessantly. This appeared to be a wierd time to listen to bells. I checked out Vinko and he gave me the slash throughout the throat sign, which means there had been a demise within the village.
Kai mentioned there have been fairly just a few aged residents, so this occurred a number of occasions annually. Quickly afterwards the wind picked up, which didn’t bode effectively for diving. Kai mentioned there are two most important winds affecting the dive websites. Bura blows from the northeast and isn’t often a present stopper. Hugo blew from the south and though fairly uncommon, often whipped up the waves and stopped nearly all of diving actions.
Sadly, I obtained dealt a Hugo however Kai promised me the tough climate would solely final for 2 days. As ordinary, I managed to interrupt the report and get the very first three-day Hugo! Galun Island is the one dive web site accessible throughout a Hugo (quarter-hour boat experience from the dive centre) so I obtained to know Galun extraordinarily effectively over the following three days.
At Galun Lanterna, there are the stays of a speedboat. The strict was filled with outdated dive cylinders, which had been loaded as much as cease the little wreck from transferring across the seabed. The steering wheel and gauges had been all intact. A large tubeworm made a terrific point of interest for my footage.
Within the different course at Galun Anphsa, I discovered a drop-off coated in shiny yellow sponges and pink starfish. On the alternative windward facet of the island, there was a backyard of small sea followers and rocky outcrops coated in black and white nudis. Massive fish sightings had been fairly uncommon.
I paired up with a German diver known as JJ for a dive at Brazol, which began with a wreck at a depth of round 30m. I didn’t know the wreck’s historical past but it surely appeared to be an roughly 20-metre-long cabin cruiser or an outdated dive boat.
I managed to get by the hatchways, however many of the inside had already disintegrated. Marine life consisted of a conger eel and a lobster hiding behind the prop. Vinko talked about that there was one other comparatively untouched wreck in the course of the bay at 50m, however the climate circumstances had scuppered all potentialities of a go to.
On our journey to the favored web site, Prvic Coral Backyard, Kai paired me up with Polish diver Renata. At a most depth of 42m, this turned out to be my deepest dive of the week and had the very best visibility.
The location was mainly two seamounts that dropped off into the deep blue yonder. I adopted Renata all the way down to a really fairly wall full of big purple sea followers interlaced with pink and yellow sponges. Through the ascent we watched shoaling bream dodging our exhaled bubbles.
The dive ended on the tip of the pinnacle, round 10m beneath the boat, the place I discovered scorpionfish, starfish, hearth worms, just a few wrasse and extra sponge formations. There are round six dive centres working within the area however Euro Divers are the one centre at Stara Baška.
Kai mentioned: “We not often see one other dive boat at a web site”. Kai’s favorite web site was known as Zala Draga. This was by far the very best macro web site with quite a lot of nudis, scorpions, blennies, wrasse, mullet and a number of octopus sightings. Utilizing Renata as a marine life spotter actually helped me clock up my image quota.
My final dive at a web site known as Skuljca was finest for wide-angle alternatives. There have been a variety of deep gullies making a sort of underwater maze. This opened out by a rocky outcropping coated in shiny orange cup corals. The late-afternoon solar filtered across the rocks, making the proper backdrop for my footage.
On the finish of the week, Kai gave me again my cert card and an inventory of all of the dive websites I had visited, together with depths, occasions, and so forth. This was the primary time anybody has ever achieved this for me, and what a terrific thought as I’m all the time forgetting to write down down the small print.
Stara Baška wasn’t essentially the most adrenalin-fuelled diving destination I’ve ever visited however I got here away feeling completely satisfied and contented. I couldn’t fault the dive centre or the employees. The dive websites I visited had been filled with vibrant flora and general had excellent underwater visibility.
There was additionally a home reef to discover with nearly assured seahorse sightings and even a few small shipwrecks. Pansion Nadia supplied a great unfold of meals and wine (at very affordable costs, I’d add) and my room, which had just lately been refurbished, was fashionable, clear and cozy.
Most significantly, the beers had been all the time served in frosted glasses, so all in all not a nasty end result!
Drysuits are a great possibility or a full 7mm wetsuit, though Kai mentioned that he had a gaggle of Brummies visiting final yr carrying simply shorties!
The tunnel sits at a depth of 10m and is roughly 50 metres lengthy with room sufficient for 2 or three divers swimming facet by facet
Images by Stuart Philpott