The only sound is my heart beating into my full, heavy ears as I glide weightlessly through my slippery surroundings, guided only by the beam of a flashlight. The sense of space is endless and the world I recognise drifts further away with each meter I descend. Above me, ethereal bodies swirl, silhouetted against an otherworldly haze. Below, just darkness and the sobering thought that there could be inches or miles between my steady legs and the soft, moving ocean floor. Suddenly: a sign of life, as the glistening gills of a giant Trevally dart before my torch. Both of us shrouded in the charcoal night of our underwater world…
We are regularly reminded what a small place this world has become. Bumping into old friends at airports and idyllic temples; keeping ourselves constantly connected on smart phones, or chatting to natives of remote villages who are surprisingly up to date on Lady Gaga’s latest outfit faux pas.
Globalisation aside, it’s becoming ever more difficult for novice explorers to discover a slice of earth that remains untouched. Frustratingly, we are left to ‘discover’ vicariously through books about others who got there first, gloating with titles such as “Charting the Amazon” or “Virgin routes through Antarctica”. You get the idea. As if this weren’t disheartening enough for wannabe adventurers, we now have to compete with our fellow novices who weren’t content with armchair exploration and have taken to revisiting common paths in a quirky manner, giving to teases such as “The first woman to cross Australia…. on a Segway”. You get the drift.
However, in this snowballing battle to see the unseen, I feel I’ve made a subtle, yet significant breakthrough – water my friends, is the new land.
Before becoming a scuba diver I only considered an over ground itinerary. Now every trip I take encompasses mountain high to underwater valley deep. After exploring the land on foot, I take to the sea by boat and get a view of the local coastline, before plunging underneath the waves to discover life of a different kind. Not only do I get to see a destination in its near entirety, but I also have an unusual, exhilarating adventure and make new friends in the process. There are many other advantages of underwater exploration. These include:
- Beating the crowds – I’ve never had to queue underwater to see my favourite eel, nor indeed buy a ticket! If you’re a traveller who doesn’t like to feel like herded cattle then the water’s your friend.
- Doing it anywhere – It’s not only the tropics that hold exciting dive sites, and as a general rule the less tropical, the less visited it will be! (See below for some unusual locations that are on my wish list)
- Getting some therapy – the cathartic silence and the obligatory slow deep breathing do wonders for stress levels, and I always come back to the surface a happier (if somewhat excited!) traveller
- Keeping fit – without feeling like you’re doing exercise (enough said)
- Becoming the privileged few – simply by dropping to 18 meters to watch the ocean sideshow slither by, you are putting yourself into an elite group of an estimated 0.3% of the world’s population* who have travelled to where you are now bobbing. Untouched? Almost.
In short, James Cameron – who recently became one of the few humans to sink to the bottom of the 9km deep Mariana trench in his submersible (more people have been into space) – has the right idea. Explore the oceans and go as deep as possible. Not only will it enhance your next holiday, it will change the way you plan your adventures and unveil a whole new world that’s still waiting to be discovered!
My Top 3 Diving Sites
Maya bay (offshore) Southern Thailand – A great location for beginners. This is where I completed my three-day course. The visibility hovers between 15-20 meters in good conditions and there’s a multitude of characters to spot once you’re down there, including; Moray eels, sea turtles, Nudibranchs, reef sharks and if you’re very lucky a seahorse or two.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia – Perfect for spending a couple of days offshore, living on a boat and visiting various sites throughout the day. Sleeping on the reef is a special experience and just incase watching the sunset over the sea isn’t mystical enough for you, drop down after dark into an eerie, watery world filled with giant Trevally and silhouetted reef sharks.
Kelp Forests, Tasmania – This is a cold one! Perfect for getting some varied experience of diving in different conditions in a thicker suit. More importantly, these clear water kelp forests are home to one the world’s most alien-like sea creatures – the magical Weedy Sea Dragon.
The wish list – Top 5
- Seal dive, Bateman’s Bay, Australia
- Ogasarawa wreck dive, Japan
- Dean’s Blue Hole, Bahamas
- Dry suit dive, Lake Baikal, Russia
- Whale Shark dive, Western Australia
*Figure taken from Wikipedia: There is no global database that records who holds a diver's license, however after various studies compiled from companies' individual data, the figure is predicted to be less than 0.5% of the world's population.