- By David Prior -
While swimming is one of the simplest maritime pleasures, diving brings another type of happiness altogether. To explore beneath the surface of the ocean is to be awed by a serene and silent world hidden beyond our normal comprehension. To go into the deep, you’ll of course need the professional guidance of a scuba instructor, but shallower waters are easily navigable with nothing but a snorkel and pair of goggles—and in more places than you might think.
Ed Cardwell - Follow The Yellow Fish Road
Diving is one of the great solitary travel experiences, satisfying a primal sense of curiosity with the anticipation and excitement that comes from swimming into the unknown. No matter how many times you dip below the surface, you’re never sure what you’re going to see. It’s possible to spend hours gliding along the edge of a vast ocean, taking in aquatic sights and letting the mind wander among a slow-motion territory where no clocks can tick.
There are of course, a profusion of well-documented diving opportunities in go-to destinations like the Caribbean or the Yucatán Peninsula. And while these are justifiably famed for their subaquatic treasures, for those seeking a path less traveled (and waters less swum), there are all manner of farther-flung locations to be explored.
Whale shark via salsalis.com.au
Comprising some 700 islands, you’ll find plenty of diving opportunities in the Philippines, including on the hardly-developed island of Coron, where sea turtles and tropical fish roam among shallow coral gardens and where almost a dozen Japanese shipwrecks lie on the deeper seabed. On the other end of the Pacific Ocean, the Galápagos Islands contain an abundant terrestrial landscape of finches, iguanas and tortoises that famously inspired some of Charles Darwin’s early scientific breakthroughs, but beneath the waves that skirt these remote islands exists an equally beguiling trove of submarine wildlife. Brave souls can swim in Devil’s Crown, the sunken cone of a volcano near Floreana Island, to see striking rock formations, moray eels and brilliantly hued fish.
For those more intrepid yet, cold-water diving can provide a refreshing change from more tropical climes and bring you face-to-face with vastly different wildlife. In Norway’s icy Svalbard Islands—one of Europe’s few remaining final frontiers—you can don a dry suit at Spitsbergen to snorkel among penguins, seals and colourful starfish in the waters that surround the tundra and mountains.
Ningaloo Reef via salsalis.com.au
Having dived in many places around the world, one of the most magical experiences I’ve had was at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. The most isolated, pristine and rarely visited of the country’s coral reefs, it stretches along the barely populated northwest coast. Unlike its easterly cousin, the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is a “fringing” reef, meaning that it sits adjacent to the shore. For this reason, it is easily and safely accessible without a boat and perfect for the snorkeling novice.
My home for the expedition was Sal Salis, a glamping property along the sand dunes of the Cape Range National Park consisting of a series of tents flanking an open-air pavilion set with hurricane lamps. On arrival, you are met by a tricolour tableau of azure sky, red earth and white beach. Waking up at dawn, I stepped out to see the rising sun deepening the turquoise of the reef and a mob of wallabies hopping across the dunes. In the evenings, the setting sun would turn the sand pink and the shallows of the waters a striking shade of violet.
Ningaloo with The Great Escape. Image courtesy of Tourism WA via greatescapecruises.com.au
Pulling on my wetsuit and goggles, I snorkeled solo through psychedelic coral formations and shoals of parrot fish. In the wings of their advance were green sea turtles; plodding creatures on land transformed into agile and graceful swimmers in their preferred habitat.
To swim further offshore with the humpback whales, I took a boat run by a local operator with a marine biologist who doubled up as our dive instructor. There in the ocean, I found myself just 50 feet from a mother and calf and felt their size and force as they calmly whooshed by, as if I was being passed by a double-decker bus.
Coral on Ningaloo Reef via australiascoralcoast.com
While it’s easy to feel like you’re part of another world out in the water, it is, of course, an integral part of our planet, covering more than two-thirds of its surface. To dive among aquatic wildlife is to be reminded that natural beauty doesn’t end on land, and to be quickly transformed into a marine environmentalist.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is already being radically altered by successive record-breaking heatwaves, causing sea temperatures to rise and coral bleaching to occur, whereby once vibrantly colored coral turns white and begins to perish. These remarkable marine gardens may be out of sight, but they should be front of mind if future generations are to appreciate them in all their splendor.