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8 great places to go snorkeling with seals and sea lions

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Snorkeling with seals is one of the most fun underwater experiences of all. These charismatic and curious animals are renowned for coming close to snorkelers, nibbling their fins and creating perfect photographic opportunities. Whether you want to snorkel in Antarctica’s brisk waters with leopard seals, relax in Mexico’s warm waters with sea lions, or take a road trip along Australia’s eastern coast to several top seal swim destinations, you can. Whatever your preference or location, there is a seal or sea lion hotspot just right for you. Read on to find out more.

1) Baja California, Mexico

The Sea of Cortez in Baja California is renowned for its fantastic snorkeling, with thriving marine life and vibrant coral reefs in sheltered waters. La Paz, the tranquil capital of Baja California, is fringed by the Sea of Cortez and has a colony of over 200 California sea lions at Los Islotes. It is one of the most popular places to go swimming with sea lions in Mexico. You can also swim with these charming animals at Cabo Pulmo’s Isla San Pedro. Either way, the sea lions are present all year, though you can spot playful pups if you visit in September.

Species: California sea lions.

 2) Kaikoura, New Zealand

Backed by snow-capped mountains in winter and washed by bright azure waters in summer, Kaikoura is a stunning place to snorkel with seals. Kaikoura’s lush kelp forests are busy with diverse marine life, including plenty of New Zealand fur seals. The nearby continental shelf has created a biodiversity hotspot, where whales, dolphins, sharks and fish life also thrive; making Kaikoura very popular for snorkeling and diving in New Zealand.

Species: New Zealand fur seals.

 3) Antarctica

If you want to explore the world’s last untouched wilderness and swim with an iconic apex predator, visit Antarctica. Hop on a cruise boat, wrap up warm, and you will discover a world of  clear blue waters with jaw-dropping underwater ice formations. There is an abundance of marine life to see, including impressive leopard seals and up to five other species of seal: Ross, Weddell, crabeater, fur and elephant seals.

Species: Leopard seals.

 4) United Kingdom

Visit the United Kingdom and you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to swimming with seals. This easily-accessible destination is home to some of the best-known places to snorkel with seals and is perfect for a summer getaway.

The Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast are renowned for their puffins and have a population of around 5000 Atlantic grey seals, which you can snorkel with. Sitting in the Bristol Channel off Devon, Lundy Island is a Marine Conservation Zone with a thriving grey seal population and offers summer snorkeling safaris with these beautiful seals. If you want to spend your days lazing on soft white sand beaches and snorkeling with seals, don’t miss a trip to St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly.

Species: Atlantic grey seals.

 5) Western Cape, South Africa

False Bay in the Western Cape, with its rich waters and curving coastline, is a paradise for marine life large and small. It is frequented by numerous whales, sharks, dolphins, orca, thousands of seabirds, and tens of thousands of Cape fur seals. Take a 20-minute boat ride to storm-washed Seal Island to watch the seals frolicking in the water, leaping in the waves and evading the clutches of broadnose sevengill sharks.

If you want to snorkel with these acrobatic animals, you can do so at Duiker Island in Hout Bay and from Simon’s Town in False Bay. These seals are known for coming close to snorkelers, checking you out as they pass by, so make sure you take your camera. Afterwards, you can enjoy the fantastic food, wine and culture that Cape Town is known for.

Species: Cape fur seals.

 6) Hornby Island, Canada

People flock to Hornby Island’s shores every winter to go swimming with Steller sea lions. These huge sea lions can weigh up to 2,500 pounds and are an impressive sight in the clear cool waters off Hornby Island. Stay on Hornby Island and you can swim with these sea lions, as well as California sea lions during winter and Harbour seals year-round. Known as the ‘Little Hawaii’ of Canada, Hornby Island is also known for its glorious white sand beaches and excellent diving.

Species: Steller sea lions, Harbour seals, California sea lions.

 7) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos diving is a bucket list activity for any underwater naturalist, but you don’t need to be a certified diver to make the most of this incredible destination. There are countless wildlife spotting opportunities above water and these remote islands offer world-class snorkeling as well.

Rich in nutrients, the waters off these famous oceanic islands are teeming with life and offer an experience like no other. You can snorkel with both Galapagos sea lions and seals there, plus huge shoals of fish, sea turtles, sharks and more.

Species: Galapagos fur seals, Galapagos sea lions.

 8) Australia

When it comes to year-round sunshine destinations with wildlife experiences for the whole family, it’s hard to beat Australia. There are idyllic destinations strewn along the eastern coast, where you can swim with seals and enjoy world-class snorkeling, so plan a road trip and enjoy!

Montague Island in New South Wales hosts both Australian and New Zealand fur seals and has a colony of little penguins as well. Take a trip to the island to explore the lighthouse, visit the island’s significant Aboriginal sites, and snorkel with fur seals in clear turquoise waters.

Head north to Jervis Bay to swim with Australian fur seals and humpback whales in sheltered waters. September to October is the peak season for swimming with the whales and the fur seals are resident all year.

Continue on to Sydney to enjoy the surf culture and beaches of this famous Australian city, then hop on a flight to Cairns to snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef. This enormous reef system might not have seals, but with over 1500 fish species and one-third of the world’s soft corals, it is an unmissable highlight of any Australia vacation.

Species: Australian fur seals, New Zealand fur seals.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

Scuba Schools International (SSI) is the largest professional business-based training agency in the world. For over 50 years now, SSI has provided the ultimate training experience for millions of certified divers, not only in Recreational Scuba, but in every training category; Freediving, Extended Range, Rebreather Diving, Mermaid, Swim and Lifeguard.

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Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part II

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Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote islands that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough snorkeling destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous snorkelers. In part II of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next snorkeling trip here.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia has some of the world’s most famous destinations in Oceania, including Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. Between them, they offer snorkeling among colorful reefs in warm, calm lagoons and the chance to meet a variety of marine life.

Go snorkeling with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks at Moorea Lagoon or swim with humpback whales a little further offshore. Snorkeling and diving in Bora Bora are high on the wish list for many people and don’t disappoint, with pretty coral gardens and dozens of snorkeling spots in warm, azure waters.

At the nearby Tuamotu Archipelago, you can experience the thrill of drift snorkeling through Tiputa Pass and meet the pelagic fish, dolphins and sharks this pass is famous for. At Tikehau, a small atoll near Rangiroa, you can swim with graceful mantas at a shallow cleaning station.

The Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every snorkeler there.

Most snorkeling is conducted at resort house reefs of by boat tours to nearby islands and reefs. At Mary Island, you can go open-ocean snorkeling among dramatic coral-covered landscapes, home to sharks and large schools of fish.

The awe-inspiring Marovo Lagoon is the largest saltwater lagoon in the world and is made up of a chain of coral reefs and islands that are absolutely stunning. This popular tourist spot hosts some of the best coral gardens in the South Pacific, with deep and shallow snorkeling sites and remarkably clear waters.

To experience snorkeling over wrecks, make sure you visit the Florida Islands. The Solomon Islands have hundreds of WWII ships and aircraft, with many shallow ones that snorkelers can explore.

The Cook Islands

When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.

This wonderful country, with its warm, calm waters and excellent facilities, is the perfect place to teach your kids how to snorkel and maybe even get your Open Water Diver certification. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms.

There are plenty of snorkeling spots off the beaches, with coral bommies, diverse tropical fish, giant clams, and occasional sea turtles. Muri Lagoon is one of the most popular places for snorkeling, as is the Fruits of Rarotonga Marine Reserve. This well-known reserve is absolutely teeming with fish.

New Caledonia

New Caledonia is a wish-list destination known for its spectacular scuba diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.

There are several snorkeling trails at New Caledonia, built to allow you to meet the diverse array of marine life that calls the New Caledonia Lagoon home. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy snorkeling trails busy with marine life. Simply follow the underwater trails and enjoy!

With dozens of islands to choose from, there are numerous other snorkeling options around New Caledonia. The extensive marine reserves ensure the waters are teeming with life, including mantas, dugongs, dolphins, stingrays, sea turtles, and an array of corals. With few people in the water and great conditions year-round, it is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Oceania.

Vanuatu

Nearby Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes, and excellent snorkeling.

Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many accessible simply by walking off the beach. The amount of marine life in Vanuatu is impressive and similar to New Caledonia, though the landscapes are quite different.

Tanna Island has breath-taking snorkeling among deep blue rock pools and coral gardens. At Lemnap, you can snorkel in the sun-dappled waters of a huge grotto. There is excellent snorkeling with sea turtles at Tranquility Island and you can go snorkeling in jaw-dropping inland blue holes at various islands.

Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique snorkeling destinations and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. Boasting wrecks in 15 to 25 meters of water off the beach, you can simply grab you snorkeling kit and explore.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.

Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic and is an exceptional place to go snorkeling, with huge corals and large reef fish.

Milne Bay has great conditions for snorkelers, with gorgeous beaches and sands full of bizarre-looking critters and plenty of fish life. New Ireland Province boasts snorkeling among war wrecks, big fish, thriving reefs and sharks, whilst East New Britain has a spectacular drop-off at Tavui Point.

Some of the best snorkeling sites are at Tufi. These fjords are covered in lush rainforest and have crystal-clear waters. There are beautiful corals, countless fish and sea turtles, plus Birds of Paradise in the surrounding forests.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part 1

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Encompassing over 8 million square kilometers, Oceania hosts some of the world’s most idyllic snorkeling destinations. There are untouched reefs and shallow wrecks, countless forest-draped islands, and volcanic landscapes with rich black sands full of weird and wonderful critters. With abundant marine megafauna, including manta rays, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and thousands of sea turtles, it is a paradise for every ocean fan. Read on for part I of our round-up of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania.


Australia

Drop a pin on a map of Australia’s vast coastline and you will likely land close to some epic snorkeling spots. There are dozens of places to experience the best of Australia’s rich and varied underwater landscapes.

In the remote northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, there is a sea turtle nesting area that hosts more than 60,000 green turtles each nesting season. A little further south at Cairns, there is classic Great Barrier Reef scuba diving and excellent snorkeling, with reef sharks, friendly dwarf minke whales, and vibrant coral reefs teeming with fish. If you’re keen to try diving, this is one of the best places to get your diving license and then hop on a short liveaboard to explore.

The southern Great Barrier Reef hosts Australia’s best-known manta ray hotspots, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island. Diving in Australia isn’t just about the Great Barrier Reef though. There is excellent snorkeling close to many of Australia’s coastal towns and cities.

You can snorkel with beautiful weedy sea dragons near Melbourne, go cage diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln, or swim with enormous stingrays in Port Philip Bay. Ningaloo Reef’s many whale sharks are one of the top reasons to go snorkeling in Australia, but you will be spoilt for choice wherever you choose to explore.


New Zealand

New Zealand may be a lot smaller than Australia, but it packs a punch when it comes to snorkeling. With over 600 islands, 44 marine reserves, and the 9th longest coastline in the world, snorkeling in New Zealand is diverse, unique and fascinating.

Sun-soaked Northland is the best place to start your snorkeling trip in New Zealand and features the famous Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands were rated as one of the world’s top ten dives by Jacques Cousteau and offer sub-tropical snorkeling among sun-dappled kelp forests that huge shoals of fish and stingrays.

Further south, the Mercury and Aldermen Islands are a summer playground for Aucklanders and tourists alike. This picture-perfect area is dotted with white sand beaches and has fantastic warm-water snorkeling. There are volcanic rock formations with an abundance of marine and birdlife. Seasonal visitors include whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos, marlin and other prized finds.

You can go swimming with wild bottlenose, common and dusky dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds or head south to Kaikoura to meet some ocean giants. Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where you can see sperm whales all year and is a great place to go swimming with seals. Make sure you spend a few days there to snorkel the coastline and join a local boat tour to meet Kaikoura’s albatrosses, dolphins and sharks.


Fiji

Fiji is a classic destination in Oceania, offering a wealth of forest-draped islands and snorkeling highlights worthy of any bucket list. If you’re looking for a destination that has something for every snorkeler, and plenty for non-snorkelers too, Fiji could be for you.

Viti Levu, the main tourism hub and largest of all Fijian Islands, is famous for its bull and tiger shark diving, and has beautiful coral reefs for snorkelers. Go island hopping from Viti Levu and you’ll be immersed in a world of rainbow-hued soft coral landscapes, pelagic fish, and manta rays. You could easily while away your days simply drifting over Fiji’s many thriving coral gardens.

Just make sure you leave some time to explore topside. The friendly Fijian welcome, excellent jungle hikes, lush rainforests and waterfalls are not to be missed.


The Federated States of Micronesia

Micronesia is high on the wish list for many divers and consists of over 600 islands strewn across the western Pacific Ocean. This stunning destination is best-known as a wreck diving mecca and hosts dozens of World War II wrecks calm lagoon waters.

The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are renowned among divers and some of the wrecks are accessible to snorkelers. This calm, warm lagoon was the site of a fierce battle in World War II that resulted in hundreds of ships, planes and submarines sinking. The wrecks remain there to this day and are covered in rainbow-hued corals and surrounded by fish. Diving among the tanks, trucks and airplanes of this special lagoon brings history to life in the most vivid way.

As well as an enviable list of wrecks, Micronesia also has countless shallow reefs, manta rays at Yap, and some of the world’s most pristine snorkeling at Kosrae Island.


Palau

Palau is a snorkeler’s paradise with dazzling coral gardens and over 1300 fish species. Made up of 340 coral and volcanic islands, this stunning destination offers exceptionally good snorkeling.

The Rock Islands hosts the most popular snorkeling spots in Palau and can only be accessed by boat. This UNESCO World Heritage Centre is dotted with forest-draped islands surrounded by coral reefs. There are diverse underwater landscapes to explore, including drop-offs, walls, channels and sheltered bays.

With over 1300 fish species, 700 coral species and numerous prized critters, there is plenty for underwater naturalists and photographers to enjoy at Palau. Being the world’s first shark sanctuary, Palau’s waters are also busy with sharks.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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