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Orchid Island


Situated 65K off the SE coast of Taiwan it has an area of 46 sq km, and was formerly known as Red Head Island, it is best accessed by plane from Taipei or Taitung. There is also a ferry service from Taitung and one from Hobihu Harbour near Kenting. The Hobihu service is the fastest, but it only runs from April to July.

Orchid Island is home to the Yami tribes’ people, one on of Taiwan’s 12 indigenous tribes, they have a unique oceanic culture based on fishing and agriculture. The Yami still build traditional fishing canoes using adzes and axes to fashion the wood. The canoes use 27 different pieces of wood and are held together with wooden pegs, no metal pins or screws! Click the Naruwan link on the front page for more general info and background about the island. The Wikipedia also offers some information.

For the diver Orchid has the best overall diving in the whole of Taiwan and rivals all but the very best destinations in Asia. As Orchid is a volcanic island with few rivers running to the ocean, the visibility is an exceptional 30m to 40m + year round. There are 3 dive operations on the island and gear rentals are available. Diving is seasonal, the west coast is best dived during winter and the north and east coasts during summer. April to July is flying fish season. The marine life on Orchid Island is outstanding; Hawksbill and Green turtles are usually spotted on every dive, barracuda, grouper, jacks and tuna are often seen. This year (in April) a Manta ray glided past. Local divers have told me that whales may be seen; also, Whale shark and various other shark species can be glimpsed in the waters around the island at the right season. There is a gorgeous and easily accessible wreck of a 200m Korean freighter, which went down in a typhoon some 22 years ago. The wreck was salvaged and now lies in three pieces in about 35m of water with the upper levels at 20m. The area around the wreck is home to a pair of large Blue-spotted stingrays, large jacks flit in and out of the wreck, Dogtooth tuna dash past and a few huge Lionfish and Map puffers have made their home there. The whole wreck is covered with soft and hard corals, fans and crinoids, making it an excellent site for UW photographers. See Perry Kuo’s photo essay in the Feb/March 2004 edition of Asian Diver magazine.

Orchid has excellent wall diving as well as the shallow fringing reefs found around the island. Just near Kai-Yuan harbour, there is the Blue Hole swim through, once on the other side this opens out onto a spectacular reef. There are splendid soft and hard corals everywhere, with huge 3m tabletop corals and large barrel sponges, off along one wall, before a drop off, is an enormous 3m Gorgonian fan. Last year I saw a truly massive Giant moray a good 2m long and as fat around as my dive buddy! Also found are those masters of disguise, but curious, Broadclub cuttlefish. Live shells are all over; especially noticeable are Tiger cowries and a large resident Triton a good 18 inches long. There are a couple of spectacular drop-offs and some truly great drift dives. Another feature are the dozens of sea snakes, seen everywhere. For macro photographers there are numerous species of nudibranch as well as squat lobster, commensal shrimp, and Harlequin shrimp populating the crinoids, anemones, urchins and soft corals. Most of the diving is boat diving but there are a couple of shore locations on the east side near the town and the main harbour, which make great night diving sites. Water temperature in spring and summer is a comfortable 26 to 28C. In winter, it goes down to 22C so a hood and a 5mm vest are advisable.

Topside Orchid Island has spectacular scenery, unusual rock formations and large caves dotted around the coast. There is only one road approx’ 60km long, around the island, and a couple of steep and winding, narrow roads going up to the weather station on the ridge overlooking the coast that gives panoramic views. Orchid is quite a contrast to Green Island, it does not have as many visitors so it has a much more laid back atmosphere, the locals are very friendly, though little English is spoken and hotels are relatively expensive for what they offer. However, a couple of cheap hostels provide clean but simple accommodation. There are several excellent seafood restaurants but if you visit in winter, finding restaurants that cater to western tastes is a problem. In summer a couple of small bistros and beach bars, catering to western tastes, run by young people from Taitung, open for the tourist season, April to August. Scooters can be rented for $500 per day

I will organize diving trips for small (5-6) and large groups (10-15) of divers to Orchid year round weather permitting, (winter, November to the beginning of March) is the only season to guarantee diving on the wreck, please contact me one month in advance if you would like to go.

Project Aware
More articles related to Taiwan’s marine ecology can be found here:
Tide tables for Taiwan can be found here. Also, see the navy charts for the Kenting Marine Park area, depths are in meters.

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