Hurghada's Island Hideaways
The islands and reefs around Hurghada provide an opportunity to enjoy brisk drifts and easy bimbles in close proximity. Here's two Red Sea classic dives…
1 Small Giftun Drift
Looking across the sea from Hurghada, the view is dominated by the Giftun Islands. Small Giftun Island is, naturally, the smaller of the two and is host to this wonderful drift along the southeastern wall. It is usually called Small Giftun Drift, but is sometimes referred to as Police Station due to the small police outpost set in this corner of the island which conveniently marks the entry point for the drift – not that there are a lot of criminals to chase on this otherwise uninhabited island!
Normally, you will start along the eastern wall and drift back towards the plateau on the south. This allows you to start your dive in the deep water of the drop-off and see the huge forest of gorgonian fans and whip corals that feed from the nutrients flowing past. If the current allows, look closely at the fan corals and spend some time searching for the elusive longnose hawkfish that hide among them. Their colouring allows them to blend in with the coral at depth, but if you take a torch you’ll be able to see the bright red lines that make up their camouflage.
The current also creates potential for spotting some larger life in the blue. Tuna, jacks and barracuda are regularly seen, and there have been sightings of sharks and large rays on occasion.
As you decrease your depth, you’ll notice the south plateau taking shape as the step in the wall starts to widen. There can be a strong down-current here and it’s important to take care when approaching the saddle. The edge of the plateau has a carpet of both hard and soft corals that make the most of these fast-flowing waters on the corner. There’s every chance that much of it will pass by in a blur, but if you move closer to the reef wall, you can take more time and explore the nooks and crannies for moray eels or schools of squirrelfish.
The final section takes you over the plateau itself and back to the mooring lines for the boat. This is a shallow area of sand and hard corals in calm waters that plays host to many species, from scorpionfish to blue-spotted rays – it is the perfect complement to the deep water drop-off that is the start of the dive.
2 Ben El Gebel
For an afternoon dive in this area, I favour Ben El Gebel. It’s Arabic for ‘between the mountains’, which is an apt name, for its location is in a channel between the two islands. This is a gentle dive in a beautiful coral garden, yet it has the potential to surprise even the most experienced Red Sea diver.
This is a site that can also be dived as a drift, but to provide a contrast with Small Giftun Drift, I prefer to moor in the shallow lagoon beyond the police station and focus on the southwestern area of the reef. Jumping from the boat, you first head to a channel between the main reef and one of three large pinnacles. The current can often be running as the water is squeezed between the two reefs, but it’s a short swim through to the calm on the other side.
Once through the channel, you quickly realise that it was worth the effort of a short swim in the current. The covering of soft corals and small fans on the pinnacles is a sight to behold and thrive in this gap between the islands. The abundant corals also attract a wide variety of marine life and it’s not uncommon to see eagle rays or turtles here.
You can always be sure of the glassfish swarms, as they balance their feeding with a healthy fear of the jacks that will dive into the school every now and then, as well as cleaner wrasse and many shrimp species operating the cleaning stations. Closer to the sea bed, you can expect to see blue-spotted rays, moray eels and, for the eagle-eyed among you, possibly octopus.
Ben El Gebel is a perfect dive site for a ‘bimble’. There’s no need to swim far and it’s possible to spend a whole dive just watching one pinnacle. As you head back to the boat, save some time for the lagoon. At the base of the reef wall near the mooring points, you may be lucky enough to see a Red Sea walkman. This spectacularly ugly scorpionfish has vivid colours on its pectoral fins and tail to ward off any threats.