Guy Buckles on The Dive Sites of Indonesia; Bob Halstead on Papua New Guinea; Jack Jackson on The Philippines and also Malaysia and Singapore; Anton Koornhof on South Africa; Paul Lees on Thailand; Lawson Wood on The Cayman Islands; and Alan Mountain on Mauritius - these titles represent the opening salvo from New Holland (Publishers) Ltd in the battle to capture the market in divers guides.
Sadly, most guides to diving areas tend to give only a flavour of a place rather than being comprehensive, but it is the latter style that distinguishes the New Holland series from less effective rivals.
The brainchild of Nick Hanna, the books follow a rather successful formula, including maps and numbered sites with their location, diver access, underwater sea conditions, minimum and maximum diving depths and a brief summary of the features that make a particular site unique.
Added to that are symbols indicating whether a site is: best visited by scuba; can be reached by boat; can be reached by liveaboard boat; makes a good shore dive; is suitable for snorkellers; and is suitable for divers of all levels of ability.
The maps themselves show the positions of the dive sites, jetties, wrecks, hills, lighthouses, paths, reefs, and roads, together with places if interest.
Two separate star-rating systems, one for snorkellers, the other for scuba divers, are designed to classify sites from first class (five stars) to poor. With The Dive Sites of the Caymans, to take one example, I found it difficult to find anything rated as poorly as three-star for diving, while for snorkelling it seemed always to be the same story, or no star at all. I guess this must reflect the standard of diving in the Caymans rather than any lack of discernment on the part of the author.
Guy Buckles, on the other hand, in his equally comprehensive guide to the Indonesian islands, manages to find sites with star ratings from one to five.
In each volume the main body of the text is prefaced with an introduction to the area and a brief history, followed by a chapter on how to get there. This includes the sort of information any tourist would need to know. Subsequent chapters deal with general aspects of diving and snorkelling, with information about the important organisations that might be relevant to divers.
How to get there, where to stay, where to eat, film-processing, diving facilities, emergency numbers and local highlights are covered. All the volumes in the series follow the same rather regimented format, which is so suitable for directories of this type. However, they are punctuated by easily read mini-features and, for instance, the Cayman Islands guide has items dealing with such aspects as cleaning stations, commensalism, and the unique site at Stingray City. The Indonesian guide has a mini-feature on the Indo-Pacific biosphere; the guide to Thailand includes one on the Koh Lanta National Park.
Finally, in each case there is a guide to the reef fish most commonly seen by divers, a brief guide to underwater photography and a comprehensive section on health and safety. Each book has around 170 pages stuffed with facts and thankfully fewer than a couple of pages of waffle.
These are publications packed with colour. I liked the format, the way the information was so clearly presented and those seductive underwater photographs. In each case I felt I was handling a workmanlike tool, and although I have not yet had the opportunity to check the details of each volume (though I intend to!) they certainly looked and felt accurate.
The individuality of each author is subordinate to Nick Hannas over-riding concept and New Hollands design style. This format is followed so closely throughout that one could be forgiven for thinking these books were written by a single author. Even the choice and standard of photographs throughout is uncannily consistent.
The only exception is Koornhofs The Dive Sites of South Africa, and that is only because he deals with sites that tend to be more temperate than tropical.
The New Holland Guides series is set to be extended in the future to cover most parts of the world we divers like to visit - given half the chance! John Bantin

  • The Dive Sites of... series from New Holland (Publishers) Ltd (0171 258 1293). Softback£15.99 each