Nanaimo might be best known for the Nanaimo bar but for those into aquatic recreation, the city is just as popular for diving.
The late Jacques Cousteau was said to have referred to Nanaimo as second only to the Red Sea in terms of the best temperate water diving in the world and there are plenty of good dive spots off the shore, including three artificial reefs.
According to Nanaimo diving instructor Ed Singer, the HMCS Saskatchewan was sunk in June 1997 and the HMCS Cape Breton and an old British navy tugboat followed suit in 2001 and 2005 respectively, offering some spots for divers to visit.
“Since then, they’ve become world famous. There’s been lots of media here doing stories on them – both print media and television – and it’s actually gotten Nanaimo and British Columbia, in general, the rec programs, to a point that we’re listed, quite often Top 2 in many categories, if not Top 1 for dive destinations in the world,” said Singer.
Nanoose Bay, north of Nanaimo, has a number of great dive spots, according to Raymond Richer, master scuba diver trainer, who points to Madrona Point, Tyee Cove and Dolphin and Wall beaches as dive sites of interest.
“Dolphin has two or three walls there, lots of bow kelp, lots of kelp there, so you get lots of schools of fish in there, so it’s nice to see, especially when you get clear sun and the visibility’s just amazing,” Richer said, adding that Neck Point Park and Clark Rock are also spots of note in Nanaimo.
For Shirley White, scuba diving and technical diving instructor, Nanaimo has both boat diving accessibility and shore diving. There is a lot of diverse sea life you can see at sites like Madrona Point, she said.
“At Madrona Point, there’s a wall there and you can often see octopus and wolf eels, warbonnets and the sea lions like to go right by us because they’re going into Craig Bay to fish, so they cut the corner and zip past us all the time, so we see sea lions quite a bit.
“There’s something there for everybody, so regardless who I’m diving with, I can do a dive there. You can do two or three dives a day there and still not hit the same spot,” White said.
Unlike other popular diving destinations in the world, Nanaimo isn’t a tropical environment, something divers should be wary of.
“The water is colder than tropical places of course and it varies from year to year what the water temperature is, just based on the currents and the overall weather patterns,” White said.
“The height of summer, you’re going to be 13 or 14 C at depth. On the surface, it’s going to be a lot warmer but we don’t dive very much in the really shallow waters – you’re always down around probably about 15 metres deeper, so it’s a little bit cooler down there,” she said.