If you’ve ever watched a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef, or maybe even Finding Nemo, then you will at some stage, perhaps, have been inspired to explore the underwater world.
The coral reefs of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans really are as spectacular as they look on TV and they are far more accessible than you might think. A diving holiday may need a bit more planning than your average snooze-by-the-pool resort holiday, but generally not much more effort.
Much like a skiing holiday, a diving holiday needs a bit more research and preparation. There is expensive equipment involved, weather conditions to consider, and an element of risk that might put some off. But it’s really not that hard. Here’s how.
First things first, can you dive?
Scuba diving, much like skiing, requires some training. Skiing obviously carries the risk of something going wrong if you throw yourself down a mountain at full pelt, without learning how to stop. Diving carries the risk of something going wrong if you don’t know how to use your equipment.
By comparison, diving actually poses fewer risks, so long as you pay attention to your computer and gauges that now do all the work for you, and it requires far less physical fitness or coordination.
The training is important though, and in fact (unlike skiing), you won’t be able to dive without it. There are two options: get qualified at a local dive centre before you go or plan to get your qualifications while on holiday.
The first option gives you more time to relax on holiday without three days of training and reading dive manuals. The second is an opportunity to learn how to dive, usually in rather idyllic conditions, in warm, clear tropical water.
If you are qualified to dive, but you haven’t dived in several years, it’s a good idea to invest in a refresher course, which will give you more confidence. Most dive resorts offer refresher courses and again, you also have the option to do one before you depart.
Are you fit enough to dive?
Scuba diving doesn’t really require a great deal of exertion; you don’t need to be fit enough to compete in triathlons to be able to dive. It does help, however, to be swim-fit, or at least, a reasonably good swimmer, because this means you will use less air, which means you will be able to stay underwater longer.
Don’t dive if you have a head cold or some kind of ear infection as it will affect your ability to clear your ears as you descend, which can put you off for good. One of the main reasons I’m given by people who tell me they can’t dive, is that they tried it once and had problems with their ears.
Choosing your dive destination
Choosing any holiday destination raises a number of questions:
- Where do you actually want to go?
- What is your budget?
- Who’s coming on holiday with you?
Planning a diving holiday poses a few more questions, such as:
- What type of diving are you interested in – pretty coral reefs, wrecks, macro diving (really small stuff) or pelagic diving (sharks and other big stuff)?
- If you’re travelling with non-divers (for example, your children), are there plenty of activities to keep them happy while you go diving? Or, are you travelling with a group of diving buddies that want to go diving five times a day and little else?
- How experienced a diver are you? Can you handle a dive that might include challenges such as strong currents or low visibility? Or would you prefer to dive in shallow coral gardens?
Ask the dive resort how challenging the diving is and how advanced you need to be. Don’t make the mistake (for example) of taking off to Nusa Penida in Bali to see giant sunfish, or Palau in Micronesia, if you struggle in strong currents and are not a strong swimmer.
Other factors to consider include the time of year to visit. Weather conditions vary, even in the tropics, affecting visibility, water temperature and the creatures you are likely to see.
A good rule of thumb is to not plan a dive holiday to a tropical destination during or immediately following the wet season. If you’re planning to dive in temperate waters such as the NSW North Coast or Victoria, then autumn is better than spring as the water will be warmer.
If it’s certain marine creatures you want to see, such as manta rays, turtles or whales sharks, find out what time of year they visit. While manta rays frequent the waters surrounding Lady Elliot Island in Queensland all year, you’re more likely to see them in winter. In other places, such as Bali or Raja Ampat, you are likely to see mantas year-round.
Whale shark seasons vary from country to country and region to region. In Australia, they usually spend some time on Ningaloo Reef between March and August and frequent the reefs around Christmas Island between November and April.
While you can usually guarantee turtles on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef islands year-round, November to March is nesting season, so there will likely be more of them around.
Scuba diving equipment
If you have your own equipment, it’s worth finding out what you’ll need to take with you. There’s no point lugging around heavy equipment if the resort provides it at little to no cost, but, if you’re planning several consecutive days of diving, you should definitely take your own dive computer as not all resorts provide them (find out).
Before travelling, check your travel insurance to see if it covers dive-related incidents. If you’re planning to dive regularly, it’s worth considering dive specialist insurance from the Divers Alert Network (DAN), the only insurance policy that will cover the costs of evacuating you to the nearest decompression chamber if the worst happens.
Be sure to pack your own first aid kit, including a compression bandage, wound dressings, antibiotic cream, painkillers, sea-sickness tablets, anti-diarrheal medication, sunscreen and aqua ear.