Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Snorkeling on the South Coast

This weekend was dedicated to snorkeling. I love being in the water and try my hardest to swim most days … provided that my meetings don’t get in the way and that the water temperature is, in my book, swimmable. I am generally quite successful and make it to the beach … this is helped by the fact that my office is all of 800 metres away.

Last year we spent a lot of time in the water snorkeling off various rocks around the island… thing is that there are hundreds of rocks off our island and we hardly managed to make a dent on the map … much like taking a long trip around Australia when you’re there and you have driven hundreds of kilometres you think that you’ve done quite well… it’s only when you get home and have a look at the map that you realise that you hardly moved at all. So, in an effort to cross a bit more off the map and to see what else was out there, we attacked the South Coast.

My husband has a thing for Google Earth, it’s almost as if for him Google Earth is a dirty magazine full sexy ladies, he likes to look at it for hours and hours on end. In the old days this was more for work than play, he was normally hunting out new tracks to take our clients down. These days, however, it’s more for play than work.  Last week he had been out with some local friends who had pointed out a few beaches which, to be honest, without good old Google Earth or local knowledge you would be forgiven for thinking did not exist.

The thing about finding things on Google Earth is that the imagery is not always as wonderful as you would like and while you can see where you want to go, it’s not always obvious how you get there… this weekend we became mountain goats.  Snorkeling gear, cameras, towels, water, mats and everything else you need to sit on the beach for a while was crammed into bags – we are not good at going to the beach lightly packed – and thrust onto our shoulders, the bag which I was carrying was not exactly designed to go on your back, it was also rather full. Consequently, I felt like at any given second I would be lying on my back resembling a tortoise who had attempted a climbing manoeuvre - failed, fallen on its back and was flapping its feet in the air … I managed to clamber down the cliff in my trade mark flip flops, without injury, which I have to admit for the first time in my life were perhaps not the best footwear choice for “mountain goating” around. 

My husband was on a mission and getting to sea level from the road some 150 metres above was not the only thing we had to do – it would have been easier to abseil. Despite the fact that there was a rather nice looking entry point at the base of the cliff he had decided that we were going to the hidden beach … and to the hidden beach we went. The other thing about my husband is that he is tall and has much longer legs than I, also when he is on a mission there is no stopping him, no waiting around, no halting for pictures, we must move with formula one car speed. I decided to let him go for it, the area was far too pretty not to photograph, which also left me with a problem. My camera was nicely packed in its underwater housing with all the right filters ready to go … good for underwater, not good for above water, taking the filters off is such a lengthy process that I resorted to the camera on my phone – the camera was also in the bag on my back somewhere and the thought of imitating an upside down turtle was not all that appealing.

The landscape was amazing, once at the bottom of the cliff we were walking along what could best be described as a shelf. The shelf had been worn away by mother nature into some rather interesting patterns, past storms had carved the rocks out leaving shallow pools which the sun had baked and were full of natural salt.

Eventually we rounded the right corner, walked past a few pillar like stones that were standing up like the Queen’s guard at the entrance to the beach. The beach was beautiful and well worth the walk. It had a number of caves for shade and the best part was the fact that we were almost the only people on the beach, there was one other chap and his dogs who had come in - as if to prove how hard the beach was to get to - by boat.

We stripped off, geared up and jumped in. I wanted to hone my fish photography skills.  This would have been much easier if there were a). any fish left in the med and b). if fish swam still! There were neither. The sea, on the other hand, was so clear that it resembled more a giant aquarium than anything else. We did manage to find a Moray Eel. Morays are peculiar creatures that tend to live in small crevices or in amongst coral reefs. They are grumpy beasts who stare at you with a “get out of my space” evil eye type attitude - almost as if they are permanently hung over. This one was clearly lost or extremely hungry and was cruising about the sea floor. Photo time, thought I, Morays are not to be crossed they may look slow and lethargic but they are far from it, they also have barbed teeth and once they bite you they are a brute to get off. With this is mind, I tried to get as close as possible … yet stay far enough away so that it wouldn’t decide I was lunch!

While the underwater landscape was stunning there really weren’t too many fish, the fish that were around were about the size of my thumb and quite skittish … the only other fish was my husband. So while the beach was worth the trek the snorkeling, not so much.

Slightly disappointed we decided to climb back to the car … we did however stop along the way at what we thought would be an interesting place to enter and with any luck there may actually be some fish. The entry point was very cool… to be honest there was no obvious entry point you simply had to jump … which we did. It was deep and it was excruciatingly freezing, so much so that the thermocline (fog in the water which indicates a change in temperature) was only a few inches from the surface, which meant that swimming around felt like you had forgotten your glasses or were horrifically intoxicated. There were a few decent swim troughs but they where quite deep. We abandoned the swim early due to not really being able to see. We did however find a very beautiful shell. The only thing that saved it from coming home was the fact that there was someone living inside.

That was Saturday’s snorkeling; we ended it with a stop at our friend’s taverna in the mountain village of Pefki for a very late lunch.

Sunday’s snorkeling was a little bit more eventful. We took a friend with us. My husband was again in the driving seat and chose another beach that he had heard about. This one was even further away than the last one. It was also right across the water from the diesel guzzling power plant, which when there is no sun or wind (not very often – about 65 days of the year) is fired up to take the slack from the wind and solar green energy producers that we normally rely on.

Our friend and I looked at one another, said a few words, and then thought - what to do - we are here now! So in we went, it was crystal clear - I reckon we had about 100 metres of visibility which, in most parts of the world is unheard of, I was most surprised by this due to the fact that the power plant was just over the bay.

In a very strange way I think it is the power plant that has saved the area. I am not normally one to come up with such profound statements but there were fish in the water! My theory became that it was the power plant that was deterring the fishermen and keeping the fish population at a reasonable level – above three!


The boys found a hole heap of rocks and cliffs to jump and dive off. I was more interested in photographing the fish. It is, as I have said before, not the easiest thing to do, especially when there are hardly any fish in the first place and all they do is swim away from you … I have a fair few pictures of fish tails! I did somehow manage to catch a few faces and just when I really did think that there were only five fish in the Mediterranean, a school of about two hundred fish swam under me. I was so shocked I floated for a moment just taking in the sight… then thought I had better photograph them to prove the point … of course if you are the only school of two hundred fish in the Mediterranean and you saw a rather large yellow finned creature chasing you, you too would probably swim off at a reasonably fast pace … I did manage a few shots before they were far far away.

The area was great for swimming, more fish than the day before and more rocks and cliffs to jump off. There were also a number of swim troughs … not to be attempted by the faint hearted and lots of caves to have a look around … again not to be swum into if you a cannot hold your breath for over a minute and have no training, I have both and think this is more a case of do what I say and NOT WHAT I DO!

The sea was amazingly clear given the proximity of the power plant, which was quietly powering away.  The beach itself was very clean and very quiet, including us I think there where only eight people on the beach.

The beach is about a 50 minute drive from Sitia or 20 minutes from Makri Gialos heading towards Gudaras, drive through Gudaras and take the road towards the power station but take a right at the T junction which would lead you down to the plant. Drive down this for about two hundred metres and then take the small track on your right, past the olive trees, which heads down the mountain towards the sea. Follow the road down to the beach. The road will go from tar to gravel but you don’t need a 4x4.

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