Diving Vancouver

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Vancouver, Canada

Ochre Star
126127128129

Beginner Intermediate Expert

Shore Day Trip Live Aboard

Family Friendly

Country: Canada  Area: Canada

Water Temp: 6 - 11°C (43 - 52°F)

Visibility: 3 - 24m (10 - 79 ft)

Depth Range: 8 - 40m (26 - 131 ft)

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Vancouver is a spectacular city on Canada's west coast. Tucked between the shores of the Pacific Ocean and the Coastal Mountains, a cosmopolitan and diverse population welcomes thousands of visitors every year. You'll sometimes hear the city called “Hollywood North” as many movies are filmed in Vancouver and environs. Shopping, dining and opportunities to explore the outdoors abound. Being bored will be neither a problem, nor an option!

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The temperate coastal waters around Vancouver and the islands have been proclaimed as “one of the best diving areas in the world” by Jacques Cousteau, while Sport Diver Magazine named Nanaimo “the most hard core and enthusiastic diving community around”.  Wolf eels, Giant Pacific Octopus, Six-Gill Sharks, Stellar Sea Lions, Harbour Seals, anemones and sponges are just some of the wildlife you’ll encounter on an average day. Be prepared to descend amazing walls, dive the 122 metre destroyer HMCS Saskatchewan and many other artificial reefs, or explore the giant kelp forest just offshore. Even if you don’t have prior dry-suit experience, most operations can get you started so you won’t miss a thing, and will stay toasty warm in the cool Canadian waters.

 

Climate

Vancouver has a relatively mild climate compared to most of her Canadian sister cities. Winters bring little snow, and summers are warm and sometimes humid. There are no monsoons to worry about at this diving destination, but Vancouver gets its fair share of rain. Bring an umbrella for those (above sea level) adventures. The water temperature varies from very cool to damn cold. In summer you may get away with a 7mm full suit. You will definitely want to get dry-suited up if you are planning a winter visit.

Sea cucumber, Credit

Marine Conservation

A large area of Horseshoe Bay has been designated as a Marine Protected Area, and it's where you'll find some great diving a stone's throw from the city centre. The Artificial Reef Society of B.C. are experts at hunting down decommissioned Canadian Navy ships. They decide where the boats would make the best wreck dive sites, tow them out there, and sink them. It doesn't take long for Mother Nature's marine life to take over, providing divers with some wonderful wreck sites.

Sun Star, Credit

The Vancouver Aquarium is actively involved in many education and conservation initiatives. These include a marine mammal rehabilitation program, and the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program. Look for the “fish head” symbol on the menus at many local restaurants. It's your guarantee that your seafood dinner isn't doing anything to damage the already fragile health of our oceans.

Lavendar Sculpin, Credit

 
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The Diving

Horseshoe Bay is home to several excellent sites, all worth a visit. Whytecliff Park was Canada's first Marine Protected Area. That means no fishing and no boats, just lots and lots of healthy and happy marine life. Over 200 different species call the park home, and the shore diving is suitable for beginner, advanced and expert divers. The three main sites are Whyte Islet, The Day Marker, and The Cut. Schools of perch are often spotted in the shallows, Purple Sea Stars, Cloud Sponges, and many kinds of sea squirts and anemones seem to cover every square inch of the rocks. Beware of strong currents in the area.

Flabellina amabilis, Credit

Another inlet that offers a variety of very nice dive spots is Howe Sound. Bowyer Island is a nice, easy place to start, with an awesome assortment of marine life, including some curious marine mammals to keep you occupied. Harbour Seals and their pups are known to frequent the area, and may sneak up on you for a fly-by. Sailfin Sculpins, Rockfish, octopus, and the elusive Stubby Squid can sometimes be spotted at sites in Howe Sound. Nudibranchs, scallops, and crabs hide in the rock crevices and discarded trash that has found its way top the ocean floor.

The HMCS Saskatchewan is over 100 metres of former battle ship turned artificial reef. Sunk in 1997, she is one of many former ships that have been cleaned up and sent to the ocean floor to the delight of local and visiting divers. The wreck lies to the west of Snake Island, home to a large colony of harbour seals as well as a bird sanctuary. Most of the Saskatchewan lies between 20 and 30m, with her bow facing to the south. There are just as many fascinating invertebrate species here as there are octopus, fish and crustaceans. Huge clusters of countless Plumose Anemones make perfect hiding places for juvenile reef fish.

Leather star, Credit

Nobody knows exactly why they come, but come they do. Six Gill Sharks make a rare appearance off the coast of Hornby Island, in Flora Islet. Usually deep-water dwellers, these giant pelagics can grow up to five metres in length, but are seemingly gentle. They may show some interest in divers but rarely display any aggressive posturing. This is a great wall dive even if the sharks don't show. Hang around the 25m mark and take in giant Lingcod, Wolf Eels, Pacific Octopus and much more. Year-round visits are possible to this site.

Liveaboards are not common, but Vancouver-based dive shops will sometimes put together a multi-day trip to explore sites around Vancouver Island, and up the Sunshine Coast. Race Rocks off the southern tip of Vancouver Island is worth a trip. Underwater caverns hide in the shadows of colossal forests of Bull Kelp. California and Stellar Sea Lions come visiting by the thousands in the fall. Harbour Seals hang around the rocks year round. The area is in an ecological reserve, so a strict “no touch and no take” policy is always in effect. Check the online calenders of the many Vancouver dive operators for details on trips to the island and pricing.

Orange Anemone, Credit

Another former Canadian warship, the HMCS Annapolis is scheduled to be sunk in early 2015.

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How to Get there

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is a modern two terminal complex located in Richmond, about a half an hour south of the Vancouver city centre. International carriers service Vancouver from all over the world. Taxis or airport express  buses will ferry you direct to most down town hotels, and there are car rental outlets available in both terminals. Nearby Vancouver Island is home to Victoria, considered Canada's most British of cities, some more exceptional diving, and is worth a visit. Frequent ferries are available from Tswassen and Horseshoe Bay, both about an hour from Vancouver.

The airport, Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

You will eat and drink well in this cosmopolitan metropolis. Ethnic and regional cuisine featuring locally-sourced ingredients are especially good bets. Robson Street is a great place to eat, drink and people watch. Japanese izakaya (pubs) serve up pitchers of Asahi beer alongside chicken yakitori, and sashimi so fresh it may still twitch. There are Korean hot pots, Cantonese dim sum, vegetarian curries and many more delicious dishes to be sampled.

Food! Credit

Live music, Karaoke, bars and nightclubs are everywhere. Trendy Yaletown is packed with chic bars which are in turn packed with beautiful, popular and often famous people. Granville Street has plenty of live music venues, and pubs. Pick up a copy of Vancouver Magazine for the most recent and detailed information regarding what's on.

For fast, fresh and affordable eats, check out one of the many food trucks that call Vancouver home. They usually tweet their locations, and have a loyal down town foodie following. Try The Roaming Dragon, Japadog or Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck. Mum usually parks on Robson, right outside the Art Gallery.

Drinks! Credit

Self-catering apartments and suites are a popular option with visitors to the city. The Granville Island market makes a great day trip, and is the perfect place to pick up local seafood, cheese, deli meats, baked goods and produce. Capers has an awesome selection of organic, fair-trade, vegan and gluten free groceries and take out meals.

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Other Activities

Shop till you drop at the Pacific Centre, Robson and Granville Streets, or one of the many quirky and fun Vancouver neighbourhoods. Gastown, Kitsilano, Commercial Drive and uber-cool Yaletown will suck your wallet dry. Stroll the Japanese gardens at UBC (the University of British Columbia) or visit the magnificent Museum of Anthropology that's located there. Totem poles and other example of First Nations art are on permanent display .The Vancouver Art Gallery is another great stop.

Beach Volleyball, Credit

Spectacular skiing and snowboarding can be had on the north shore at Grouse Mountain. Whistler was home to the 2010 Winter Olympics and is just a short drive from the city. The Village is home to gourmet restaurants, hip bars and artisan shops. Other outdoor activities in the area include ocean and freshwater kayaking, salmon, halibut and tuna fishing, hiking and mountain biking. Whale watching is another great way to spend a day.

Family Friendly

There are plenty of activities available for kids of all ages. The Vancouver Aquarium is a fantastic facility, and is actively involved in many conservation efforts. Exhibits include Beluga whales, interactive tidal pool displays, and a pool full of rehabilitated sea lions that are not able to be released into the wild due to the extent of their injuries.

The aquarium, Credit

The Aquarium is located in Stanley Park acres of protected forest and shoreline. Stroll the seawall, or  feed the water fowl at the Lost Lagoon. Swans, ducks, and (of course!) Canada Geese eagerly await leftover bread and other treats. Bikes can be rented near the entrance to the park, and some of the more upscale hotels have them available for guests to use. Some even have a “bike concierge”!

Diving with teenagers may be an option but due to the temperatures, tides and currents that can be encountered diving in Vancouver's waters, this is not the place for a discovery dive.

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Tips

Vancouver is for the most part, a very safe and friendly city. One exception is the “east side”, an area down town that is centred around Hastings Street East. Efforts are being made to clean up and gentrify the area, but it is still not a pretty place. Junkies shoot up in the alleys, and everything has bars on the windows. Other than a few blocks around there, you are unlikely to have any hassles.

Burnaby Village Museum, Credit

Vancouver can be a very busy place in the summer, and hotel rates reflect the surge in demand. Self-catering apartments and suites are a great way to keep costs down, but reserve well in advance. Diving is possible all year, but August sees the reclusive Six-Gill Sharks come up from the depths off Hornby Island. We still don't know why they come, but it is a great opportunity to see one of the oldest species of sharks swimming the seas.

Very large Lingcod are commonplace, and usually oblivious to divers in their midst. All that changes in spring when they are spawning, and very defensive of their nests. Don't taunt them as they have been known to charge divers. Divers in the fall should keep their eyes open for the huge Lion's Mane Jellyfish that enter some areas. Spectacular to see but don't let yourself get wrapped up in one. Visibility is best in winter, and varies greatly with the tides and dive sites visited. Check the tide charts before you dive!

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