Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental, Philippines
Visited: May 2019
Travel in the Philippines has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among scuba divers. There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, with more than a thousand dive sites and counting with the ongoing discovery of new sites.
Nembrotha lineolata nudibranch spotted at the WellBeach house reef during a night dive.
Dumaguete City, capital of the Negros Oriental province, is the port of entry for those looking to dive near the shores of Dauin and Zamboanguita. The area is famous for muck diving and the abundance of bizarre creatures that can be found. On the other end of the spectrum is nearby Apo Island, where divers will find large schools of jackfish and stretches of thriving reefs covered in over 400 species of bright, healthy coral.
Snowflake moray can reach up to 100-cm/39.5-inches in length.
The name Apo means “grandchild,” in Filipino Tagalog. Apo Island is a volcanic island, and I was told by our boat crew that it is named Apo due to its proximity to nearby volcano, Mt. Talinis, which is older and considerably bigger than Apo Island.
The volcanic gas of Apo Island releasing from a geothermal vent at Largahan.
You can see the geothermal vent releasing volcanic gas during dives at a site called Largahan. If it does not seem steady enough just back off and hover for a minute and it will begin bubbling up from the sea floor.
During our dives at Apo we also encountered giant schools of jacks, green turtles, map pufferfish, wrasses and triggerfish. However, the stunning coral reefs are the what most find to be most jaw dropping.
Giant schools of jackfish are a common sighting at Apo Island.
In 2011, Typhoon Sendong wiped out the coral around Apo Island. Now, less than a decade later, it appears never to have been touched in many areas. Enormous table corals and soft corals are growing fat and healthy, and though the coral recovery has not occurred as rapidly throughout all reefs that surround Apo, they are all coming back.
The prestine coral of Apo Island is a turtles paradise.
The water seems much richer in this area than nearly anywhere we have been diving. It’s a deeper blue, and even photography in shallow depths requires more light than we are accustom to. We found this to be the case not only at Apo Island, but also Dauin and Zamboanguita.
Leaf Sheep sea slugs (Costasiella kuroshimae) are also known as Shaun the Sheep nudibranch, though there seems to be some debate over whether or not they should be categorized as nudibranch. Perhaps, the most fascinating characteristic of the Kuro Sapsucking Slugs is its use of photosynthesis. The sea slugs retains chloroplast from the algae they eat and use the energy it produces to fuel themselves.
Growing quieter with every minute, our chatty group geared up and eased our way into the dark ocean for our night dive. Our fearless leader, Marevic, plays the videos from her dives on the flat screen in the bar, and now as we followed the glow of her neon yellow wetsuit into the sea, the anticipation of spotting strange and rare life for ourselves was almost unbearable.
Undetermined macro rock crab.
We were soon fully submerged and moving toward the house reef with our torches lit. The reef was constructed by WellBeach Dive Resort only about four years ago, but it is already covered in coral and full of life. On this particular evening, the water was saturated with palolo sea worms, known to swarm in shallow reefs when spawning. Lucky me, diving without my hood during this peak insemination period. With my ears and hair exposed, I was quite grateful to be distracted by what was a fantastic dive beginning to end.
The Donald Duck Shrimp (Leander plumosus), also called a Plume Shrimp, is a small cleaner who attracts customers by waving its antennae around. Its beaklike snout aids in the cleaning of fish gills and mouths. However, the shrimp’s main source of food is small sea worms and larvae.
There was a lot to see, including spiny squat lobsters, Donald Duck shrimp, ghost pipefish, abnormally large Spanish dancers, nudibranch, and a frenzied, roving ball of striped eel-tailed catfish. Diving during the day in Dauin and Zamboanguita is equally rewarding. This is muck diving, with a high concentration of nudibranch and invertebrates that are said to get over a foot long.
Like the rest of the Philippines, you can dive this area year-round. If you are looking to book a quiet holiday with a bit more solitude, June is the quietest month. Marine life is said to move between Dauin and Zamboanguita at no specific time of the year. WellBeach is friendly with their neighbors, so they track what’s where and plan dives accordingly.
Guido and Marevic Wellig own and operate WellBeach Dive Resort.
Owners, Guido and Marevic Wellig, lead the dives. They are incredibly hospitable and fun to dive with. I think sometimes leading experienced divers can be challenging for guides, but Guido and Marevic were very good about giving us independence to look around and knowing when to call our attention to rare and unusual creatures.
The very inviting WellBeach swimming pool, just steps from the ocean and the bar.
The lush beaches of Zamboanguita attract those seeking a truly relaxing tropical haven. This is not an area overrun with tourism. Nearby Dumaguete serves as the port of entry, and though it does have several shops and restaurants, it remains very local and friendly. We do quite a bit of research before deciding who we want to dive with, especially if our lodging and diving will be with the same place. Our priority is first the dive shop, next we look for basic comfort, good service and reasonable pricing. The level of service you receive and the overall experience at WellBeach are exceptional and affordable.
Marevic Wellig is the first female boat captain around these parts. She and the crew assess conditions and guide the captain to the mooring line.
WellBeach exceeded our expectations. Everything is top notch. The rooms, the boats, the equipment, the service, and the facilities are meticulously maintained and looked after. There were good vibes all around and the staff did everything they could to make sure guests were happy and comfortable on land and at sea.
Scuba divers should check out the diving packages and factor them in when comparing prices. They are very budget-friendly, especially when you look at the quality of service offered at WellBeach. However, you do not have to dive to enjoy the resort. Snorkelers came along on our daytrips to Apo Island and a guide was arranged for them. Even when a large group joined us, and the boat was full it did not feel overcrowded. There was always plenty of space for everyone and the level of service never faltered.
As travel in the Philippines attracts more travelers each year, getting away from the crowds, even for just a few days, can do wonders for a holiday. Getting to WellBeach by ferry or plane is straightforward and easy.
Scuba diving around Apo Island, Dauin and Zamboanguita is an entirely different experience than you will have in places like Coron and El Nido. The area is peaceful and relaxing and there is a lot more life to see, whether you appreciate scenic coral dives, muck diving, or both.
To get to Zamboanguita or Dauin you must first get to Dumaguete. The main mode of transportation around the area is by tricycle; an open air passenger sidecar attached to a motorcycle. There are always several drivers at the ferry terminal and airport. Some travelers prefer to rent a car.
Cebu Pacific has daily flights to Dumaguete from Manila and Cebu City. Philippine Airlines also had daily flights from Manila. We have found that once luggage is factored in, Cebu Pacific is less expensive.
Traveling by ferry is easy and can be cheaper than traveling by air. The direct ferry between Dumaguete to Cebu is an overnight ferry that offers beds in tourist class for PHP 600/USD 11.50.
If you don’t want to travel overnight you will need to take an OceanJet ferry from Dumaguete to Tagbilaran then transfer to a Cebu bound ferry. We did this and it was surprisingly easy. We just showed up to the ferry terminal in Dumaguete a little before 9:00 a.m. and purchased tickets for the 9:50 a.m. ferry to Tagbilaran, which arrives at 11:50 a.m.
In Tagbilaran the ticket office is just to your left when you get off the ferry. We purchased seats on the ferry departing Tagbilaran at 1:00 p.m. for a 3:00 p.m. arrival in Cebu. All boats leave from the same pier so you just hangout. Tagbilaran is also the port for Panglao, for those who are planning to visit here as well.
All schedules are approximate. Transportation is often delayed a bit in the Philippines, so it’s always wise to give yourself some extra time to get around.