UNLESS YOU’RE A LED ZEPPELIN aficionado, you may not know that the song Stairway to Heaven, written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, was inspired by natural beauty.
The 1970s rock anthem, named one of the best rock songs of all time, was born in the beautiful wilderness of the Welsh countryside when Page and Plant were staying in a small cottage without electricity or running water.
It was never even released as a single, yet it’s a song that permeates through generations. Youngsters still wear Led Zeppelin T-shirts and the sheet music of the song continues to sell tens of thousands of copies each year.
The song has not only been an inspiration to generations of music-lovers and musicians, but also to divers in the deep southern Egyptian Red Sea.
They found a site with a view they must have felt compared to the rugged landscapes that caused Page and Plant to pen the song.

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN is actually a part of a dive with the rather uninspired name of Lahami South, which doesn’t do the place justice at all. Hands down, this is one of the best Red Sea dives I have ever done.
Wadi Lahami (pronounced lakmi) is an eco-dive camp run by Red Sea Diving Safaris, which also runs the popular Marsa Shagra resort near Marsa Alam.
Wadi Lahami and another resort run by the company, Marsa Nakari, lie further south towards the Sudanese border. Wadi Lahami is the nearest to Sudan and about as far off the beaten track as you can get in Egypt. It’s a place where the stars welcome you at night and ospreys give you a wake-up call in the morning.
It’s probably an overused statement but Wadi Lahami is a step back in time – it’s Red Sea diving as it used to be.
Lahami South is a reef about six miles straight out from the resort, within the Fury Shoals. It’s a 10-minute RIB-ride from the resort and looks, from the surface, like all the other reefs in the shoal, but it is not.
The start is ordinary enough by Fury Shoals standards, bearing in mind that Fury Shoals is arguably one of the best locations in the Red Sea.
It’s why liveaboards stop here on the southern itineraries. So it’s as ordinary as a magician pulling white doves out of a hat while humming the national anthem and peddling a unicycle uphill on gravel.
The hard corals are in superb condition and all the usual marine life is around. Being so far south there is always the chance of a shark sighting, but even without one the marine life is as good as an icecream sundae with not just a cherry on top, but chocolate sprinkles and mini marshmallows.

ONCE SETTLED INTO THE DIVE, you grow accustomed to the sheer brilliance of the hard corals and the endless stream of fish. Experienced divers may feel a dip in their enthusiasm for the site, but that is temporary.
Imagine, if you will, walking down a normal British high street. All the usual shops are present. There’s a Boots, WH Smith, M&S, Costa Coffee, Next and so on. Then you turn a corner and are confronted by Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, all next to each other and all in their Christmas finery. That’s the best way I can describe how this reef changes. You pop around a corner and are confronted with what the dive-guides call the Stairway to Heaven.
It’s a sort of gully with hard corals rising in a series of steps from 18m to about 6m. The coral is so packed together that you can’t see where one ends and another starts.
Up and up you go, flanked on three sides by pristine collections of branching, brain, star, and table corals of many different types.
It doesn’t end at the top either, as the Stairway to Heaven comes to a close under a dramatic archway that reaches out from the main reef.
The sun sends lances of dancing light across the seabed through the aperture, creating a magical scene you’d perhaps expect to see in a big-budget sci-fi movie. The dive ends in spectacular style too, because the reef-top is full of healthy corals bathing in the glorious never-ending Egyptian sunlight.
I exited the water elated and with a smile that didn’t abate until I was back on shore. It really is an awesome dive.
It isn’t, of course, the only dive worth doing out of Wadi Lahami. Unlike Red Sea Diving Safari’s other resorts, Lahami offers no shore-dives – it’s boat-diving only. A couple of high-powered RIBs are there to whisk divers off to the near-shore reefs. The centre runs a couple of dives a day, and some are up to an hour away, others just a few minutes.
Apart from Lahami South, there is also Lahami North, Abu Galawa, Iron Garden, Sarayah, Malahl and several sites just off the shore.
All the above are familiar names to southern Red Sea liveaboard divers, and I have dived several over the years, but a new one to me is actually one of the smallest sites in the area.
Salah is a large pinnacle with a cleft in the middle of it. The seabed is about 18m down and is a flat plateau. You start diving around the bottom of the pinnacle and work your way around and up.
All pretty standard stuff really, but it is incredibly beautiful.

A SHOAL OF GOATFISH hang out in the cleft and they are worth a couple of visits, because you can swim through the shoal and have them open around you, which is a lovely feeling.
In my opinion, however, this dive only really gets going towards the end.
In the shallows, where most people start thinking about what to do for the next three minutes, is a pinnacle-top as spectacular as any I’ve seen.
Many reef-tops are pretty barren, with tired and bored-looking parrotfish scratching a living from the dead algae-covered coral, but not here. This is a lush, healthy reef system with hard and soft coral, seafans, whips and a moving blanket of fish life so lush it sometimes block out the sun.
This is a perfect afternoon dive, as the sun dapples light across the scene. I may as well try to describe the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as this reef, because none of my words can come close to describing its jaw-dropping beauty.
One of the benefits of land-based southern Egypt is the shore-diving. Lahami offers none because there’s a mangrove stand in front of it and the water is about as deep as a baby’s bathtub – but just up the coast is Marsa Nakari.
This resort is set in a small bay with deep water close to shore. There is a north reef, a south reef and you can book boat dives too.
I opted for the shore, because I like the relaxed nature of this style of diving. There is no timetable to follow; you just write your name on the board and wander into the water.
The bay forms into a gully very quickly and the sand falls away quite sharply, so rough weather up top is soon forgotten.
Shore-dives are usually pretty samey affairs – they can be “smash you in the face with a wet rag” impressive but they tend to be fringing reefs and form the same sort of pattern. a fairly barren reef-top and a wall of hard coral giving way to a patchy sand and coral garden.
Not at Nakari. The southern reef starts as a pretty standard wall, but as you get to the outer reaches of the bay the coral goes all Gaudi on your visual cortex.
All of a sudden huge stacks appear, with gullies and swim-throughs. It’s as if someone gave the coral some pretty weird substances several thousand years ago, and it went bonkers and creative.

THE SHAME OF IT WAS that we had decided not to book a RIB back to shore and had to swim back, so we didn’t get the chance to explore more here.
On the upside, on the way back we encountered a hawksbill turtle that seems to be a resident as it’s become something of a YouTube star (it’s in every video of Marsa Nakari).
Also on the way back, right in the shallows, was a large barracuda that lives under the centre’s resident safari boat, plus a myriad of reef critters all over the reef. The slow bimble back was both relaxed and gave us plenty of time to seek out the smallest reef inhabitants.
It was yet another dive that slapped me in the face with a wet sponge, then gave me a big sloppy kiss for good measure.
I’ve only given you a taste of the diving on offer in this part of the Red Sea. Ordinarily divers would visit here on liveaboards, but land-based operations such as Red Sea Diving Safaris offer a completely different experience.
Wadi Lahami, for example, is no 5* hotel. It’s a place to get away from the trappings of western society, a step away from the bustle of the world and immensely better for it.
Even the new crop of posh resorts has pretty much run out by the time you get this far from the main airports.
On land it may not be as lushly green as the inspirational hills and valleys, but under water the riot of natural beauty would, I’m sure, have caused Led Zeppelin to pen Stairway to Heaven had they come here instead of Wales.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Flights to Marsa Alam and you are bussed to the resorts.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Wadi Lahami and Marsa Nakari are both operated by Red Sea Diving Safari. Full-board stays can be booked for each resort or you can go for a combination trip. Each centre has a restaurant area serving buffet meals, bar, shop and dive centre, www.redsea-divingsafari.com
WHEN TO GO The resorts are open year-round, but the summer is very hot, so spring, autumn and winter are perhaps the best times to visit.
MONEY Credit card, pounds or euros.
PRICE A week at Wadi Lahami starts at £880 and at Marsa Nakari £795 with Oonasdivers, which represents Red Sea Diving Safari in the UK. This includes flights, transfers, seven nights’ full board in a Beach Safari tent (upgrades to a stone-built chalet are available) and five days’ offshore RIB diving (Wadi Lahami) or five days’ unlimited house-reef diving including four guided dives (Marsa Nakari), www.oonasdivers.com
TOURIST INFORMATION www.egypt.travel