The Cayman Islands are considered a prime diving destination, and those of us who live here would agree.
But how many of us have only explored Grand Cayman’s bountiful waters? Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Wall is world-famous, so perhaps it’s time we visited the Sister Islands. When you check into the Southern Cross Club, Neil Van Niekerk will be there to greet you.
Neil was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and grew up with an affinity for the water. A keen surfer, the high population of sharks off the coast did not deter him, and at the age of 13 he decided to give Scuba diving a try.
The visibility wasn’t terrific and the water was cold, but he completed his Open Water certification and then later attained Class IV level – more geared towards scientific and commercial diving.
This was particularly useful when he worked at an aquarium for a while, determined to surround himself with fish at all times.
In 2002 Neil realised that he wanted to see some new sights. He took a trip to the Cayman Islands and found employment with a local company on that same vacation. He worked at Red Sail Sports’ Hyatt location for four years, and then Tortuga Divers for three, so of course he was here for Hurricane Ivan, enjoying no power or water for 80 days of the aftermath.
In 2007 he went off to Turks and Caicos, but Cayman was harder to shake off than he’d thought, and he returned to join the staff at Reef Divers in Little Cayman and then the Southern Cross Club where he has been assistant manager for the last two years.
It may be small over there, but it’s got loads of character, friendly people, no traffic jams, no crime and dive sites that are beyond spectacular. Little Cayman is also the only place that has an organised community cull of Lionfish on a weekly basis.
All the divemasters get together and actively catch them, passing on data and specimens to the CCMI (Central Caribbean Marine Institute). Right now they are conducting a population density study to see how effective the culling process is in lowering the number of Lionfish, which is vital to reef protection for years to come.
Now a Master Scuba Diver Trainer capable of training students in specialty diving such as nitrox and navigation, Neil fills his days with new and exciting sights just off the shores of Little Cayman.
Neil’s top dives
Lea Lea’s Lookout
Boat dive (Little Cayman)
The pin is in 25 feet of water. Head East to the larger of two swim-throughs which will pop you out at about 100 ft off the wall. Turn west and head along the wall to get to the second swim-through which will bring you back out under the boat (very convenient). Look out for hammerheads and seahorses. Large schools of fish are prominent here, with pipefish in the swim-throughs. Coral and large sponges abound.
Shallow Mini-Wall off East End (Grand Cayman)
The pin is in about 20 feet of water. Head towards the inside of the mini-wall which resembles Swiss cheese. There are so many chambers and swim-throughs at this site it’s hard to see them all in one visit. In the summer months the chambers are filled with thousands of silversides, so expect to find bigger fish like tarpon and barracuda hanging around in the hope of a meal. Don’t miss the old Spanish anchor, and maybe you’ll even see a resident Goliath grouper! This site is only worth visiting at certain times of year thanks to rough seas prominent in the area, so take advantage when you can!