British Columbia is routinely in the top five of cold water dive locations every year for a very good reason. The diving is quite frankly astounding. Dark emerald waters, abundant life and a full set of areas for every experience level makes British Columbia your one stop for pacific northwest diving. There are several groups I’ve been out with in BC, Kocher’s Dive Locker in Vancouver and Abyssal Dive Charters on Quadra Island, as well as course work with Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island; each of these groups will be expanded on in later posts, as the purpose of this entry is a general overview of the diving in BC.
Diving in BC can be divided relatively neatly into two categories: Mainland and Island. Most dives on the mainland are centred around the Vancouver area, although the eccentric adventurer may head further north to Prince Rupert for some truly out of the way diving. The interior of BC has a few gems like Pavilion Lake, where microbialites fascinate scientists, but is largely typical lake diving in north america. Island diving occurs mainly on or on islands around Vancouver Island, with Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlottes) being the exception. Where things are interesting on the coast, the islands are where it all really comes together. Interestingly, both areas feature both boat dives and shore dives, making diving accessible without straining your bank account too severely.
Diving off the coast of the mainland is a lot of fun. I’ve done several dives with friends and the PADI Wreck Diver specialty course in those waters. The big thing with the diving I noticed was that it was very easy to dive int he Vancouver area. Whytecliffe Park in the Howe Sound area of West Vancouver makes for a decent shore dive, although it has something of a reputation with local divers. That being that they’ve all been there (usually on course), so it’s lost the lustre. Doing a dusk/night dive can throw some interest back into it though! Porteau Cove has a couple of wrecks marked by surface buoys and is a good shore dive. Be warned though, the swim out to the wrecks can be long! Overall though, unless you head to truly out of the way locations, diving off the mainland coast will only wet your appetite for more, and you’ll soon find yourself eyeballing Vancouver Island and it’s surroundings.
Vancouver Island is very much a paradise for the outdoors enthusiast. The diving available there alone is enough to fill entire books (and has!), and a camera is not an optional piece of gear when you’re in the waters there. The marine life is abundant, and there is never enough time to see it all. While there are quite a few areas for shore diving, it’s the boat dives that really get you some fantastic experiences here. My experiences are limited to the area by Campbell River called Quadra Island and to the Barkley Sound region, both of which only dip into the available diving. The boat diving I did was phenomenal, and the experiences first rate. The major draw for divers here is the macro life. Rockfish of all sorts, seals, six gilled sharks if you’re very lucky and of course, whales and octopuses. The field book “From Whelks to Whales” is invaluable here, as the dizzying array of marine life can leave you stumped as to what exactly you saw.
Of course, all diving in British Columbia is cold water diving, and any dive trip should be planned accordingly. This is particularly important since the best conditions for diving in a lot of areas off British Columbia are from late October to March! Winter diving in cold water can be a bit… bracing. A toque and thermos of tea or hot chocolate are more than a bit essential. More details and experiences will be forthcoming!