BLUEWATER PHOTO WORKSHOP
AT A LUXURY BOUTIQUE RESORT
ATMOSPHERE RESORTS IN DUMAGUETE, PHILIPPINES TRIP REPORT
BY TRIP LEADER, RON WATKINS
For the third straight year, I was fortunate enough to lead a Bluewater Photo Workshop to Dumaguette, Philippines at Atmosphere Resorts, but now the word has gotten out about just how nice this place is and rumors about gourmet food, negative edge pools, relaxing spa treatments, valet dive service, and incredible macro and wide-angle photography are spreading. After reading all of the guests’ raving reviews of the photo workshops, Bluewater owner Scott Gietler decided that he needs to check this place out for himself and see what all the excitement is about. Despite me downplaying just how amazing this place is and insisting I could handle all future workshops there myself if I had to, he insisted on going and has trips planned later this year July 22-29 and July 29-Aug 5.
Arrival and Orientation
After a 15 hour direct flight from LAX to Manila, I changed planes and took a 1 hour flight to Dumaguette City where I was transferred to Atmosphere Resorts in about 30 minutes. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and immediately you realize just how special your stay is going to be. Attention to detail is evident everywhere from the two swimming pools, well stocked poolside bar, the bakery and espresso bar, nicely appointed bungalows and the world-class spa. And since I was there for diving and underwater photography, let’s not forget the fully equipped PADI dive center and large climate controlled camera room with large individual work stations with plenty of US type power outlets. I arrived a day before the workshop started so was able to go diving the afternoon I arrived after setting up my gear and getting settled in.
On Saturday, guests started to arrive and got settled in and did some checkout dives and I assisted them in setting up their equipment and answering questions. On Sunday we started what would become our daily routine for the next 5 days. After a made-to-order delicious breakfast (all meals are ordered off of the menus) and custom made espresso drinks, we set out on two traditional outrigger boats for 2 morning dive sites along the Dauin Coast before returning to the resort for a delicious lunch. Then there was an optional afternoon dive as well as a dusk/night dive for a total of 4 possible dives a day. But with all of the other things to soak in at the resort as well as the 1-2 hours of workshops and photo reviews, it was hard pressed to do all 4 dives. The biggest challenge of the week seemed to be the logistics of coordinating when to have the workshops to accommodate everyone’s spa treatments, land tours, pool time, personally guided beach dives and Mandarinfish dusk dives. To end each day, three course dinners were served from 6-8 and included homemade desserts from their bakery. This year they had also expanded their wine cellar with good bottles from around the world. The food and drink selection offered is truly first rate! So how was the diving?
Diving and Underwater Photography
Dauin Coast Diving
The diving along the Dauin Coast consistently rates as one of the top muck diving spots in the world and home to some of the strangest and rarest critters that are masters of camouflage and ambush predators. Most sites are reached within 10-15 minutes and the boat attaches to a mooring line a short distance from shore. Most dives lasted 60’+ minutes and started in the shallows about 20’ deep and drop down to 60’-80’ before going back up into the shallows for the safety stop and more critter hunting. Each group of two or three divers was assigned a dive master (DM) who is excellent at spotting tiny critters. The dives sites consist of brown volcanic san and had names like Cars, Pyramids, Blue House, San Miguel, Thalatta, and Masaplod. Some of them had man-made structures in addition to the small coral patches and grassy shallows, which were all havens for critters. There was mild current on some dives and viz ranged from 20’-40’ and water temperatures 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit with people wearing everything from a light skin to a 3mm and even 5mm wetsuits with hoods.
Some of the critters we spotted and photographed along the coast were numerous nudibranchs, pipefish (ornate, robust w/eggs), cuttlefish (flamboyant, pygmy) pipe horses, sea horses, frogfish, cardinalfish (w/eggs), and various shrimp (Donald Duck, sawblade, crinoid, popcorn, mantis, etc), crabs (candy, porcelain, decorator) and a blue-ringed octopus.
Diving at Apo Island
A short thirty minute boat ride from Atmosphere is the small marine preserve known as Apo Island teaming with healthy coral gardens, steep walls, schooling tropical fish, sea snakes on the hunt and both hawksbill and green sea turtles of all sizes. The turtles can be spotted nearly everywhere feasting on the coral and sponges, getting cleaned by fish, scratching their shells against hard coral to keep them clean and just swimming around. Our group opted for doing three dives at Apo Island and enjoy a freshly made lunch on the boat and visits from the local women selling shirts, sarongs and jewelry (so bring some cash). We dove Chapel Point, Katipanan and Rock Point West in mild current and viz ranging from 30’-40’. Unfortunately the day we were there, the winds and waves were affecting the only side of the island to dive on so conditions were less than ideal for wide-angle photography, but it allowed the group to refine their strobe positioning. The other side of the island is closed for recovery due to a devastating typhoon a few years ago that wiped out most of the coral. We all enjoyed Apo Island and here are some images from our dives.
Oslob Whale Shark Snorkel:
An optional whale shark snorkel excursion to Cebu Island is offered from Atmosphere and everyone in the group signed up. The day starts with an early 5AM departure to arrive before the crowds and also before the marine park reaches capacity and closes. The journey involves a 30 minute van ride to the ferry terminal, a short ferry ride and then another 20 minute ride to Oslob where an orientation and marine park conservation briefing is provided. Although these whale sharks are in the open ocean, they are drawn to shore and the local dugout canoes because of the fisherman tossing handfuls of shrimp into the water. Prior to this becoming a marine preserve, the whale sharks would get caught in the fisherman’s nets and damage them or worse hurt themselves or fall victim to angry fishermen. The local fishermen decided the whale sharks should not be harmed and instead protected them, but still needed a way to make a living. So, they converted to ecotourism by letting people swim with the gentle giants and charge a fee. Research has shown that most of the whale sharks only stick around in the shallows a few hours and return to the deep ocean to feed, because the small handouts are not nearly enough to sustain the 15’-25’ long sharks. Although the area can get quite crowded at times, it does provide an excellent opportunity to get up close to whale sharks and take some great photos.
No trip report would be complete without including a few images of the beautiful grounds at Atmosphere and some of the amenities that make it so special. I also want to thank the management and all of the staff for making everyone feel welcomed and taking care of our every need. If you every needed anything, all you had to do was ask and it arrived with a smile. This included cakes to celebrate some of our guests 200th, 300th and 400th dives as well as a brand new certified diver! Atmosphere prefers to call itself a luxury resort and spa that has really great diving instead of a dive resort and all of our group agreed with this assessment after our eight days in paradise diving and being pampered. The proof is in their high percentage of return visitors that come back year after year or sometimes even multiple times a year.
Join Trip Leader Erik Lukas at Atmosphere in June 2018
Join us from June 23 - 30, 2018 on this family friendly trip. Erik will also be on hand to help with any photo questions you may have. Email us at email@example.com to join us on this underwater photo workshop.
How to Book a Trip to Dumaguete
Bluewater Travel can book you a resort in Dumaguete for the same cost or less than booking any other way. We know the diving, accommodations, and when to go better than anyone else! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book your next dive trip to Dumaguete.