A classic location in the southern Red Sea, Elphinstone is for many divers equivalent to the Mount Everest of the Red Sea. Offering some of the region’s best wall diving, as well as seasonal sightings of most of the sharks spotted in the Red Sea, this reef should be on every diver’s bucket list.
A small, oblong, submerged reef some 7.5 miles (12 km) off the coast of Marsa Alam, Elphinstone has become one of the premier dive sites in the Red Sea. This is due not least to its spectacular near-vertical walls, descending from just a feet from the surface down to a plateau at some 262 feet (80 meters) before plunging into the abyss. Diving here will definitely test your buoyancy skills. The reef itself isn’t very big, only some 1,000 feet (300 meters) long, and about 100 feet (30 meters) at its widest point, tapering off at both ends. The reef is bookended at both the northern and southern tip by two plateaus, starting at around 66 feet (20 meters) and descending gently to a drop off, offering good chances of spotting various pelagic and large reef species.
At the south end, at a depth of about 213 feet (65 meters), there’s an archway all the way through the reef, but this is tech-diver territory only, of course. It’s known as Sarcophagus Archway, as local legend has it that one of the Egyptian pharaohs was interred on the reef. This is highly unlikely though, as the ancient Egyptians didn’t really take to the sea, had no recorded history of burials at sea, and generally lived and built their structures along the Nile, not the Red Sea coast, which was all but deserted at that time. Also, with no diving equipment, it seems impossible that they would be able to place a sarcophagus at that depth, but nonetheless it makes for a compelling story.
Elphinstone is known for shark sightings in spring and autumn, when some divers spot them by the dozen; sightings are infrequent other times of the year. When they are there, species often include thresher sharks, grey reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, hammerheads and more. They cruise by alone or in groups, some distance off the reef itself. Any dive here should be done with one eye on the blue. Look for hammerheads in the cooler months, as they spend the warm season either at greater depths on the reef, or out in cooler, deep water. But even with no sharks, the reef is still a spectacular dive. With walls encrusted in soft and hard coral, plummeting into the abyss below, this is true, classic Red Sea wall diving.
All dives on Elphinstone are boat dives. You can reach the reef via zodiac or day-boat from Marsa Alam, or from any of the hotels, resorts and dive camps near town. Expect about a 30- to 45-minute trip from the coast. As seas can often be somewhat choppy, especially during windy periods, Elphinstone is often best dived by liveaboard. Boats coming from Hurghada frequent the reef, and many use it as their southern turning point.
Currents can be strong, and somewhat unpredictable. Divers should be comfortable in current, and know what to do should a current carry them off the reef. Many tour operators require divers to have a minimum of 30 dives to visit Elphinstone.