Some of the wildest BC adventures are just below the water’s surface — Canada’s westernmost province is, after all, home to extraordinary reefs, ghostly shipwrecks and a gloriously active marine life. The best time to view these sunken spectacles? Suit up in winter when conditions are cold and clear, and discover why BC’s waters were rated second only to the Red Sea for clarity and diversity of marine life by the Jacques Cousteau Society.
Sundown Diving excels at both natural and artificial reef dives in the cool, deep blue off Vancouver Island. With Nanaimo as its home base, enthusiasts can cruise, with or without a guide, along Clark Rock in Hammond Bay, home to wolf eels, rock fish and fields of red urchins, or ready the gear for Jesse Island and swims through caves and rock pillars, complete with blooms of colour, courtesy of nudibranch mollusks and flowering anemones. Guided artificial reef excursions explore the contours of sunken vessels, including the 112-metre (366-foot) HMCS Saskatchewan off Snake Island, and the HMCS Cape Breton, a 125-metre (411-foot) grand ship that holds court as one of the world’s largest artificial reefs. sundowndiving.com
In Victoria, further south, the Ogden Point Dive Centre promises both weekend dive charters and scuba diving holidays. Here, outings take in the Race Rocks — one of Victoria’s most popular dive sites — a spot that requires a bit of skill but rewards with diverse and dense sea life, not to mention an eager audience of Stellar sea lions. For a change of scenery, sunken ships, including the HMCS MacKenzie and the G.B. Church, both near Sidney, showcase artificial reef diving at its best. Year-round, multi-day excursions explore the farther reaches of Vancouver Island, but for those who are unable to extend their time in the water, drop-in, daily guided plunges with a divemaster should do the trick. divevictoria.com
Back on the mainland along BC’s Sunshine Coast, Salish Sea Dive showcases some of the best cold water sites on the planet. A big claim but one that can be backed up in winter months, thanks to Seconds Beach excursions, where an underwater “stroll” along the breakwater feels like a trip to the aquarium; ling cod, Stellar sea lions and giant Pacific octopus are often spotted here. The downed, historic Malahat mystery ship is also a favoured dive spot off the beach, namely when enthusiasts can catch a glimpse of “Alex,” the resident wolf eel who makes his home at the stern of the wreck. And don’t forget Mermaid Cove, one of the area’s most sought-after dives. The draw? A sunken three-metre (nine-foot) bronze statue, dubbed the Emerald Princess, who serenely welcomes divers as they navigate the waters just beyond Powell River. salishseadive.com
Sunshine Kayaking LTD., even further south down the coast in Gibsons, offers choice summer delights (namely kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing charters and harbour tours), but come winter, the crew revels in the cold water plunge. Their destination: the HMCS Annapolis, which was sunk by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia in Halkett Bay in April of this year and has since become a diver’s paradise. With a dive master on board, enthusiasts will peruse these newly charted waters in Howe Sound, making winter excursions that thoroughly investigate the ship’s new home, showcased in all its underwater glory. sunshinekayaking.com