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Perth Scuba

Brunei Tour 2013

written by Joey Pool – Perth Scuba Tour Leader

Part 1. Well, when you get asked to lead a tour to a destination where you’ll be staying in a 6-star resort what do you say? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING – IT’S YES OF COURSE!!! I must say I had so much fun on this trip and unbelievably found out that Spider-Man can swim!!! But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning – that’s usually a good place to start…

Perth Scuba Brunei Tour Group 2013

Our journey started in Melbourne… Slowly… Very slowly… All due to some tinkering required on the front end of the plane – bird strike or some such. But when the engineers are messing around with plane repairs so you’ll arrive at your destination safely – you tend not to argue! So after 4 hours waiting for a new windscreen and all the checks that are associated, it was finally time to be loaded into our Royal Brunei Airlines 7 hour flight. Our well dressed Perth Scuba Team (bowling team perhaps?) headed to our seats and laid back for our  journey – dreaming of the giant rooms awaiting us at our 6-star hotel in Brunei…

Sooner than expected (6.5 hours later) we arrived at Brunei airport in the evening. The airline crew wished us luck for our sporting event as we got off the plane – we think our trendy Perth Scuba Tour shirts tricked them into thinking we were there for some kind of championships – we’re going with lawn bowls! We were pretty much the only people going through customs entering Brunei and the ONLY people with alcohol to declare. Brunei may be a dry country, but if you’re a non-muslim, you’re permitted to bring 2 litres of alcohol every 24 hours for your personal consumption. I figured as we were here on a dive holiday, there was NO CHANCE we’d get through 12 litres of spirits split amongst 7 people right?!? Yes, yes, occasionally I’m proven wrong!

We grabbed our luggage, went through customs (the officials couldn’t believe that we had so much alcohol for 8 days) and were met outside by our transport – Poni Divers. We piled into the vehicles and headed for our accommodation – The Empire Hotel and Country Club. After a short 20 minute drive we arrived at our home for the next 8 nights… OMG! This was the second time I’d been here, but it was still just as impressive to walk through the double glass doors – held open by two well dressed fella’s – and walk into the 24 carat gold encrusted foyer WOW! The hotel is so far removed from any other place I’ve stayed when on a dive trip. The Empire is 6-star accommodation at 3-star prices – our entire trip including return flights, diving and accommodation was only $2700!!! Our group was quickly checked into our accommodation and shown to our rooms – so nice to have someone else carry my bags to my room and NOT expect a tip! All of us unlocked our over-sized room doors and BANG – we entered the most luxurious hotel room I’ve ever entered on a Perth Scuba tour. The rooms were big with plenty of room for my camera gear to be comfortable, a giant King size bed all for me, a mini-bar filled daily for free, and a bathroom that was so big it had two phones – one at either end! Plus, the bathroom finishes were gold plated and to top it all off the curtains opened at the push of a button. After all this travel, the bed was looking VERY inviting, but we all decided to join up for balcony party as we wouldn’t be going diving until 1pm the following day – woohoo sleep in!!! Now thankfully, we soon found out that the Brunei people were very understanding, and we received no complaints about the noise we were making until the wee hours of the morning… Security didn’t even mind when some of the crew decided to go for a swim well after hours in the hotel lagoon! And here I was worrying that we were all going to get booted out on our first night in the country.

We all started off for bed and too soon it was time to get up and head for the hotel breakfast that was included in our package. Yum!!! The hotel had a huge spread for breakfast, even including “fake-on”, for those not familiar, this is the beef product that muslim countries try to pass off as bacon for us westerners. We had a very chillaxed morning eating pancakes, omelettes, noodles and chicken floss (yeah – I don’t know what it is either) and once we’d filled our belly’s it was time to get ready for our first dive in Brunei. We were soon picked up by our driver Bolkiah, who was quite capable of breaking the land speed record of Brunei, and taken to Poni Divers dive shop in the harbour. We quickly geared up and were briefed by our dive guide Afiq on the dive sites – today we were off to Pelong Rock – a reef dive site only 15 minutes away from the dive shop. The dive boat was brand new and had only come out of the boat builders the week before. Our skipper Kenny zoomed out to the dive site at warp speed, leaping over waves and keeping us well and truly awake on our journey out. The boat had heaps of room for our crew plus good shelter from the sun and there were plenty of sweet spots around the boat where you were hidden from the spray – unless you were Rob and then it didn’t matter where you were the spray always found you!

We pulled up at our dive spot which was a little lumpy from the afternoon sea breeze and dropped the anchor. We quickly geared up and headed for the water before the motion of the ocean could do its damage to our stomachs. Some of us jumped in fully kitted up and then others (like me) jumped in and got our gear passed down – I’m sooooooo lazy! Then after a quick okay it was time to descend for everyone, except me… In my rush I hadn’t checked my air gauge properly on the boat and I must’ve picked up an empty cylinder with a whole 60 bar – well done me! So I headed back to the boat whilst everyone went off for their dive. As I waited on the boat for our group to return the wind picked up and the swell along with it. What had been a reasonable afternoon was quickly deteriorating with the pick up in weather pushing us off our anchor site. Skipper Kenny was on the ball and started the engines and moved us back into position whilst we waiting for their return. After nearly an hour the crew started surfacing from the 30 degree plus water – NICE – and told the visibility wasn’t great but what they’d seen was pretty cool. Lots of healthy coral, schooling fish and different critters too! It looked like the weather wasn’t on our side so we turned back for the dive shop to try again the following day.

We arrived back at our 6-star hotel to have a few drinks and then head to dinner at the swankiest restaurant at Empire – Pantai Restaurant – on the beach in a very nice setting. Self professed Tour Leader extraordinaire (me!) got us a reservation with much begging and pleading with the reception desk and we headed down to see what all the fuss was about. Wow! I thought there was a big selection for breakfast, Pantai had an even bigger selection for dinner. There was even an entire bar of deserts with about 20 different varieties to choose from – there goes the diet girls and boys!!! Though the Bruneians don’t have alcohol they made up for it with awesome mocktails – perfect for topping up with our “water bottles” at a very reasonable $4 each. We ate our fill and then headed back to our rooms – no balcony party tonight only food comas and to ready ourselves for a big day of diving the following morning – 6:30am start people!!!!! We went to bed listening to the wind and rain going crazy outside our rooms – hmmm that wasn’t a good sign for the following day.

The following morning we were greeted by the sun but it was still very windy. Our first dive was at Abana Reef, thankfully I checked my air today, and we descended onto a lovely reef dive. It was full of clownfish of all sorts of varieties including spine-cheek, false clowns, banded clowns, pink skunk clowns, and plenty of others I don’t know the names.  Whilst the visibility wasn’t very good because of the wind from the previous evening there was plenty to see with untouched corals of all different varieties and teeny tiny squat lobsters, decorator crabs and crinoid shrimps. The macro lens was the order of the day and it was lovely to be cruising casually on a dive in 30 degree water when it’s a chilly 15 degrees at home in Perth. You can check out some of the critters we saw in the photos below – and you’ll have to wait until next week for an explanation on Spiderman’s swimming…

Part 2. To be continued next week…

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