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3rd Aug 2013 1:15pm | By Andrew Westbrook
TNT heads off to Trinidad and Tobago to dive headfirst into the islands’ cool underwater world and the hot and heavy nightlife
Squinting into the distance, I spot the giant silhouette taking shape. Suddenly wide-eyed, I wake from my lazy drift along the coral wall, no longer content to simply let the current take me on its tour of vivid colours, swaying sea fans and a grumpy hawksbill turtle.
I’m now on red alert, aware the current, tractor beam style, is bringing me face-to-face with a creature many times my size. Heart fluttering, I cross my fins and hope it’s friendly.
Several unnerving seconds pass and the distance between us halves. It’s then that I realise the shape is not merely swimming towards me, it’s flying. Huge wings several metres wide flap through the water until suddenly, out of the darkness and into focus, it emerges. I realise what my new dive buddy is – it’s a massive manta ray.
I’m diving off northern Tobago, the smaller of the two major islands that form the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Found just a few miles off the South American coastline, it’s a country famed for its cultural mix and the sort of biodiversity that has nature lovers drooling over their binoculars.
It’s a place where by day you can explore the Western world’s oldest protected forest, a haven for more birds per square mile than almost anywhere on the planet. After dark, meanwhile, you can immerse yourself in the Caribbean’s wildest party scene, a reputation that’s unsurprising considering these islands are the birthplace of Carnival, steelpan bands, calypso, limbo and current dancehall favourite, soca.
Right now, however, I’m exploring some of Tobago’s lesser-known treats, those found under the water. Fighting the current around Black Jack Hole, off the sleepy town of Speyside, I watch as the manta continues to glide, its curving body rippling flirtatiously like a windswept Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch dress. Drawing level, the giant ray then sashays up and over me, heading directly for the surface, dominating the clear water overhead like a Gotham bat signal scanning the sky.
Switching between the northern Speyside sites and the many southwestern reefs, we encounter moray eels and nurse sharks, scorpion fish and spiny lobsters, the largest brain coral in the world, plus the excellently preserved wreck of one-time ferry, the Maverick. “It’s like being in Avatar,” enthuses my Kiwi dive buddy Brendan after returning to the surface one time. And I don’t disagree.
In between two of our north-side dives we swim to Goat Island. It’s home to a derelict house we’re told once belonged to James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Later research suggests the claims may not be true, with most 007 experts adamant the Jamaica-based spy-turned-writer never owned property in Tobago. But, however it began, the story is hard to resist.
Stumbling out of the surf and onto shore, I don’t quite pull off the Daniel Craig impression I’d desired, but luckily the setting is enough of a distraction. Perched on the private island’s craggy rocks, overlooking a white sandy beach and some of the best reef you’ll find, is the spacious three-bedroom villa, which was supposedly Fleming’s holiday home.
Little imagination is needed to picture the super-spy creator living here and, stepping cautiously between the crumbling rooms, I half-expect to chance across an underground lair, or find a Bond girl sipping a cocktail. Fact or fiction, the rest of my day is spent pondering how to raise the US$3m price tag for my own slice of double O heaven.
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