OASIS RESORT IN MARSA ALAM perches on the edge of the desert. It glowed in the warm evening light as I approached it, and it looked a picture.
Its a smart development with new-looking traditional stone apartments sprinkled with knee-high uplighters. It looked minimalist and grown-up in the half-light. Indeed, it is a resort for grown-ups, as those under 14 are not encouraged to stay.
Oasis Resort looked pretty good by the morning light, too. After a breakfast stop, the dive centre was just downstairs, manned by wonderfully efficient Germans who explained in detail my week ahead.
Resort and dive centre are the brainchild of Werner Lau and Sinai Diverss Rolf Schmidt, both experienced operators in Egypt.
The sea is just a stones throw over the infinity pool from the dive centre. Designed to withstand the punishing temperatures of the desert, the resort complex is laid out on simple lines, with its series of interconnecting buildings, dive centre leading to equipment room and then to the van pick-up and, after that, straight to the restaurant and bar.
As a photographer I have always found rich pickings in the Egyptian Red Sea, and regard it as the closest area to the UK for top-drawer dives and picture opportunities, but this trip was to exceed my expectations.
Sharm Shuni (Sharm: V-shaped bay like a camels lips; Shuni: an ancient doctor from Pharaonic times exiled to the desert for his religious beliefs) consisted of two reefs, inner and outer, linked by an interconnecting hole.
Entry was hairy, involving a waist-high 10-minute wade and a sit-down fins-on job in an increasing swell on the edge of the reef, all while holding an expensive camera. But once in the water, the flavour of the week began to unfold.
Good buoyancy control is essential through the interconnecting reefs, but then the outer reef slopes down to 30m into an eel garden.
Fin south for a few minutes and you find two pinnacles with plateaus at 18 and 25m. Parrotfish, wrasse and lionfish lurk here and there, and I found a particularly handsome blue-spotted ray, which realised my purpose and lay still obediently.
Marsa Gabel Rosas is a former distribution centre for fresh water, and you can still see the barrels, now colonised by coral, lying on the seabed.
It was a very relaxing dive. I didnt find much at depth, but at around 6m the hard corals, patrolled by butterflyfish and barracuda, were impressive. For a wide-angle specialist it was manna from heaven.
A 15-minute bus ride to Marsa Assalai through the blazing heat of the desert led us to our equipment, laid out neatly in boxes on carpets on the sand. This did present a few issues for me, with a small percentage of the desert finding its way up to, though no further than, my O-rings.

BEACH ENTRY AND SUBMERSION at first presented us with poor visibility, but as we finned further from the beach and deeper, the views became sublime.
A blue-spotted ray again allowed me to get extreme close-ups, and the table corals were to die for. One was so beautifully placed as it protruded from the reef that I could see beneath and on top of it all at the same time.
A friendly juvenile hawksbill turtle kept me company for the next 10 minutes or so, and as we surfaced a huge shoal of yellowfin goatfish circled the exit to the dive.
Then it was on to one of my top 10 dive sites. Shaab Marsa Alam is one of those rare places where you buzz all day; under water, on the dive-boat and on the trip home.
A 30-minute coach journey took us to a local port to pick up the well-furnished day-boat Only You for a short distance to the dive-site, with a transfer to a Zodiac for the entry itself.
At 25m I found nothing remarkable, but as I ascended and got closer to the reef, I saw hordes of yellow snappers, butterflyfish and an eagle ray. The coral head was small but beautiful.
Back on Only You, you try not to eat too much of the delicious buffet because youre soon back in the water. Just as well, because I found the second dive sensational.
My faithful buddy Roland and I entered a wonderful cave complex where the light dances down through slits in the cave roof. You can gaze at its beauty and marvel at the tranquillity of it all, and you can stay there keeping cool out of the fierce mid-day sun, just like the fish, but keep moving, because there is a lot of it to admire.
Outside the cave, Roland guided me to the long wreck with no name. Dont bother asking, I asked everybody. Its timbers are being stripped away by the elements, but it put me in mind of a galleon.
Then we were back in another underwater cave complex for more eye-watering views and the moment I hoped would not arrive, reserve air and surface.
Marsa Abu Dabbab has fallen victim to its own success. Its an area of shallow (10m or so) seagrass where dugongs (the resident ones are called Dennis and Dougal), guitar sharks and green turtles come to feed. We left our beds at an unspeakable time and were in the water at 7.30am, hoping to glimpse a dugong.
The number of snorkellers and tourists who do the same later in the day make the early start a very good idea.
The visibility was not great but the search area is, so luck plays a large part in locating the creatures. Within 10 minutes, two or three green turtles were in front of us munching on the seagrass, some with remoras attached.
These beautiful giants were far more interested in eating than in me, so the encounters with each turtle lasted a long time.
A second dive an hour or so later in the same place proved dugong-free too, though there were more green turtles as compensation.
The snorkellers had arrived by now, and were chasing away everything they could. So bring an alarm clock.

TOWARDS THE MIDDLE OF MY STAY, I tried the house reef. This is a very hot walk from the dive centre down the beach and up the jetty, culminating with a giant stride into the water.
I think its worth it, because in a relatively short distance you can see a vast array of life. I observed and photographed butterflyfish, blue-spotted rays and other attractive species such as filefish and the fabulously coloured broomtail wrasse. There are anemonefish here too.
The house reef is a wall dive essentially, so you can choose your depth, but I found all the good stuff above 15m. It makes a very good second and last dive, as its not far from the bar and a cool beer when its over.
Elphinstone has two main reefs, North and South. My buddy Malte, who had several years experience in the area, reckoned North was the best bet for big stuff, an exciting prospect. We descended slowly with our main objective to see sharks, keeping our eyes seaward, but were luckless, though I did get to see the biggest gorgonian fan coral I have ever laid eyes on.
Weighing up the chances of seeing no sharks against possible sharks and the famous fan coral, I indicated my intentions to Malte and we descended to about 48m. It was deep but it was worth it.
After a few minutes we started upwards to find some lovely soft corals at a more conservative 15m.
I felt vindicated by my decision, as no one saw any sharks to my knowledge that morning. Elphinstone is a mighty dive site, so it was just my bad luck. However, the best was yet to come.
Dolphin House, or Shaab Samadai, was designated a protected National Park in 2003 so that the resident pod of spinner dolphins could breed in safety. Its a large dive site in the shape of a horseshoe.
The area is sub-divided into four zones. Diving is permitted only in D and C. Zone C is for diving with zodiacs, B for snorkelling, and A for the dolphins.
I was extremely keen to photograph the dolphins, and we had two dives and a snorkelling session here in a few packed hours.
Only You had to leave by 3.30 in the afternoon and everything was marshalled closely by wardens in boats.
We descended into another fabulous cave system, but tighter and more compact than the ones at Marsa Alam, like something you might expect to find on Mars.
You need good buoyancy control to avoid stirring up the silt, and get a good view of quite rare species of coral such as dark cup, and sea sponges.
Leaving the caves (it is recommended that you go with a guide) you come across coral heads populated by more species of fish than I could list.

THE MAIN EVENT came at a slight price, as you have to put on an embarrassing life-vest and wear only mask, snorkel and fins before being dropped off by an inflatable in zone B.
It seemed to me, from my position about 10cm above a slight swell, that all the other 50 people doing the same were seeing the wild dolphins, and I became intensely jealous, and resigned to my bad luck.
I formulated a clever plan to stay away from all the others snorkellers, believing that the dolphins would eventually tip their cap at me alone. This strategy proved useless, and I soon rejoined the frothing mass of humanity trying to get a glimpse of the spinners.
Sure enough my turn came. My big clunky camera must have interested them, because they danced in front of me for what seemed like hours, but was in truth no more than five minutes or so. It was a great moment.
Oasis Resort Marsa Alam offers fabulous diving for all abilities, with a rich variety of experiences.
I saw a lot of varied sights on my 12 dives, more than I might have expected in further-flung places, to which end Marsa Alam, with its reasonable prices, five-hour flight and 30-minute transfer time from the airport, is always a good prospect for divers in the UK.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Zac Macaulay flew with Thomson Airways from London Gatwick direct to Marsa Alam. Excess baggage charges apply over 25kg.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION:Oasis Dive Resort, www.oasis-marsaalam.com, www.wernerlau.com
WHEN TO GO: Year round.
MONEY: Egyptian pounds or euros.
PRICE: A week half-board at the Oasis costs from 252 euros. Five-day Dive Box (10 dives plus five on the house reef), 250 euros. Thomson flights from £320. Regaldive offers seven days half-board with flights from £538, www.regal-diving.co.uk.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.touregypt.net. For a full list of legal diving operators and a blacklist of illegal operators in Egypt, visit www.cdws.travel