The warm Pacific Ocean currents give Vancouver Island one of the mildest climates in Canada and that's why the local waters are so sought-after not only by cold water divers. Jacques Cousteau once described the area as "the best temperate water diving in the world, second only to the Red Sea" and that might be the second reason divers flock to Nanaimo rather than traveling the distance to plunge into the blue of the Indian Ocean.
Orlebar Point on Gabriola Island, lying 5 kilometres east of Nanaimo, has a spectacular wall dive
The waters of the coast of Vancouver Island are rich with wild life. Here in Nanaimo seals occupy the rocks and you can see them only 10 odd minutes of a boat ride from downtown. Seals are for sure a highlight reel of anyone's visit, but local divers are of a different opinion; they will tell you that the real treat is to be found underwater. Nanaimo is very close to many other Vancouver Island communities with great scuba diving opportunities that can be divided into two general categories: natural reef dives and artificial reef dives.
Snake Island - home to a colony of harbor seals
Home to three fascinating wreck dives, Nanaimo has been for long recognized as one of the world's premier artificial wreck reefs. All wrecks were sunk in variety of depths, the shallowest being close to the 60 feet so you don't have to be an advanced diver to discover what many had before you. Sunk in 1997, the HMCS Saskatchewan, a 366-foot navy destroyer sits at about 45 feet with the keel at the bottom at about 140 feet.
The HMCS Saskatchewan's turret covered in Plumose Anemones
Four years later, The Saskatchewan was joined on the ocean floor by the HMCS Cape Breton, one of the largest naval vessels ever purposely sunk, now recognized as the World's Largest Artificial Upright Reef. In 2005, the Nanaimo Dive Association sank a third vessel, the RivTow Lion, a 157 foot rescue tug, resting just off of Newcastle Island in Departure Bay. Sunk in a sheltered location, she is always a safe alternative to diving the bigger wrecks the Cape Breton or Saskatchewan are, making it perfect for novice divers or those looking to start a wreck diving program.
Apart from the artificial wreck reefs, Nanaimo boast an array of natural reef dives as well where divers often spot octopus, sea lions, seals and wolf eels. See pink coral, purple starfish, and orange sea pens are other residents to spend some bottom time with. Jesse Island offers caves, swim through, rock pillars, and a wide range of sea life including Nudibranches, Crimson and Plumose Anemones, to name a few. No Nanaimo dive trip is complete without seal plays and especially non-divers seem to lately fancy snorkeling with playful seals at Snake Island.
All in all, diving in Nanaimo is an experience like no other that will make you quickly come back whether it's awesome diving or scenic nature that attract your attention. But it's more than just recreational diving here; what this area is excellent for is people train people how to dive on wrecks. One of the local diving businesses that offer year round, complete dive services is Sundown Diving.
The company started in 1984 and Ed Singer, the current owner, got involved in 1985 when he started teaching diving. He bought into the business a year later and has owned it since. The company offers charters, instruction, repair, rentals air and nitrox fills as well as technical fills. Providing portable boat availability, Ed can give you destination access to anywhere.
Photos: © Darwyn Moffatt-Mallett unless otherwise stated