The SCUBA diving experts at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors have opened me up to the many adventures in their sport. Encountering underwater wildlife and examining shipwrecks could definitely lure someone into SCUBA diving.
But I started thinking about some of the reasons I like hiking; one of the main reasons I hike is to see cool geological sites. Volcanoes, towering cliffs, caves, that sort of thing. I asked my PADI friends what sort of geological oddities I could find underwater.
The PADI crew tells me the cenotes – or sinkholes – in Mexico might be the best bet. There are cenotes all around the world, from Australia to Canada to Zimbabwe. The famous The Great Blue Hole dive site in Belize is one example.
But let’s talk about the cenote dive sites in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They’re packed with stalagmites and stalactites, two of the features I like best in dry-land caves. These are some incredible caves. It sounds like you have thousands to pick from in the Yucatan thanks to a lot of limestone. You can narrow the search for a great cenote dive site by consulting a PADI dive centers near Playa del Carmen: Pro Dive Mexico, Scuba Playa and Dressel Divers can all help you find a great cenote dive site. If you really want a long-lasting adventure, find out which ones connect to larger, horizontal underwater cave systems (some cenotes are connected, and can extend 300 feet under the water table).
Something else cool about cenotes in Mexico: They have their place in the mythology of indigenous people. In the Maya culture, some cenotes like the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza were considered a gateway to the afterlife. So you may catch a glimpse of artifacts or human remains!
I’m still on a quest for more interesting underwater geological sites. I imagine that any underwater volcanic activity is probably too deep and otherwise dangerous for SCUBA divers to approach (but correct me if I’m wrong). And I’d love to know of submerged meteor impact craters, fissures -- just about anything. Chime in with anything you know about, and I’ll collect your info for a future post! In the meantime, here’s a fun blog post about cenotes in the Yucatan. It also has some good photos.
Thanks as always to my friends at PADI for the great information.
It seems my old friends from the Professional Association of Dive Instructors are at it again – trying to lure me into SCUBA diving. And they know the right way to do it -- show me a bunch of photos of sunken ships and sharks.
PADI has also compiled a list of its 12 favorite wreck dives in the United States. What I like about this list is that they’re relatively modern wrecks. Each will give you a glimpse of fairly recent history.
If you’re looking at this list and wondering how to get started, it’s pretty easy – get SCUBA certified. There are more than 6,200 dive shops worldwide where you can get a SCUBA certification. Not quite as numerous as Starbucks, but still easier to find than you might imagine.
Now, let’s check out the dive sites and see what PADI has to say about them! I added some of my own commentary in italics.
Maru-Chuuk (San Francisco) â€” This cargo vessel, sitting 200 feet below the water, had six 500-pound bombs rip it open and send it straight down, smashing to the bottom of the ocean floor. Â Learn more here: trukodyssey.com
Carthaginian II (Maui) â€” This whaling-vessel replica rests at 95 feet and was sunk on Dec. 13, 2005, to serve as an artificial reef for marine life such as turtles and stingrays. Learn more here: mauiscuba.com
Sea Tiger (Oahu) â€” This boat, which was originally apprehended carrying 93 illegal Chinese immigrants was sunk as an artificial reef in 1999 and is just a short boat ride off of Wakiki Beach. Learn more here: wakikidiving.com
YO-257 (Oahu) â€”This former World War II Oiler Boat sits 120 feet below water and is considered an advanced wreck dive. It is reported that it’s not uncommon to see reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and green sea turtles will often rest on the decks of the wreck. Learn more here: diveoahu.com
We can safely guess that PADI folks will use any excuse to get themselves to Hawaii. I’m not judging --
HMCS Yukon (California) â€”This ship is a 366-foot-long destroyer which lies 105 feet below water and is the crown jewel of Wreck Alley in San Diego. The best photo op for this wreck is the huge smokestack that is covered with bright-orange and pink corynactis anemones. Learn more here: loisann.com
Destroyer? More than 360 feet long? Wreck Alley? How can you NOT want to dive this?
Oriskany (Florida) â€”The wreck titled the "Mighty O" is said to be the Super Bowl of wreck dives. Â This 888 feet long ship is the world’s largest artificial reef. On this dive you’ll have the opportunity to see amberjack, grouper, red, snapper, butterflyfish and French Angels. Learn more here: floridapanhandledivetrail.com
Sounds like we have lots of fish – and lots of ship here. I’ll resist the temptation to take a poke atÂ Florida and cite novels by Laurence Shames, Tom Dorsey and Dave Barry as evidence.
Manhattan (Great Lakes) â€” Lake Superior’s Alger Underwater Preserve contains several wrecks like the Manhattan, containing old nails, chains and pulleys and is a great representation of a 19th century steamer. Learn More here: Diversinc.com
Well, not all wreck dives can be in warm tropical places. I suppose you could drop intoÂ Chicago if you do this dive and have a nice bowl of ramen at the Slurping Turtle(keeping the aquatic theme) to warm you up.
LuLu (Alabama) â€” This vessel sank off the coast of Orange Beach, Alabama on May 26, 2013 making it the state’s first artificial reef. Now divers travel 90 minutes from shore to explore the boat 115 feet below the sea’s surface. Learn more here: downunderdiveshop.com
Papoose (North Carolina) â€” The Papoose was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1942 and below water is where it has remained ever since. On a daily basis, five to 10 sand tiger sharks can be seen hanging around the sunken ship. Learn more here: discoverydiving.com
If you like sea creatures as well as wreck dives, I say this is a winner.
USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg (Florida) â€” A decommissioned U.S. Air Force missile-tracking ship, the Vandenberg lies upright in 130 feet of water and is a favorite with divers, due to its large size of 520 feet. Learn more here: divekeywest.com
This one also sounds like a winner – though 130 feet down doesn’t sounds very easy! SCUBA experts, feel free to correct me and tell me I’m just being a big baby!
Spiegel Grove (Florida) â€” This vessel served in the U.S. Navy and was nicknamed "Top Dog," as this massive warfare ship once carried 330 troops, 18 officers and eight helicopters. Divers have the opportunity to fin through the wheelhouse, find barracuda on the deck and swim through propellers at the stern. Â Learn more here: horizondivers.com
I’d be all over a trip into the wheelhouse!
U-352 (North Carolina) â€” This German submarine had a crew of 40 serving aboard the vessel. Of that 40, 15 remain inside as of May 9, 1942 when USCGC Icarus downed the ship. It now lies 115 feet and the must see for divers include the conning tower, gun mounts and torpedo-loading hatch. Olympusdiving.com
Oh, my! This sounds like a spooky, creepy winner. I have a soft spot for U boats since I visited the U-505 at the as a boy.
I’m still diving further into my research for a future return to Australia. I’m learning something unexpected – there are some great Australian island getaway destinations. Some were already familiar to me, like Tasmania. Others, like Lord Howe Island, have caught me by surprise. And they are all worth considering for your itinerary. Let’s check out a few Australian island destinations and see where you might end up!
I was lucky enough to meet an interesting character online who happens to live in Tasmania. He tells me two things about the island: It has great hiking trails, and beer in Australia gets better the further south you go. He knows what appeals to me!
The Overland Track is the hiking route I’ve heard about in more than a few blogs. The official route can take about six days and has a number of huts where hikers can sleep. But bring a tent, just in case, too. The scenery has some glacier-formed terrain. Aside from the Overland Track, there’s also mountain biking and -- caving! I can’t resist a good cave. Oh, and about those Tasmanian brews – how does a smoked molasses porter at Devils Brewery sound to you?
Australian Island Getaway on Lord Howe Island
There are a few easy ways to get me hooked onÂ Lord Howe Island – tell me that it’s the remains of a volcano, and mention the SCUBA diving. My friends at PADI have been trying to get me strapped onto a tank for a long time, and Lord Howe Island and its neighboring islands could get me hooked – we’re talking about sub-surface caves, trenches and drop-offs, plus coral and 490 species of fish. And the Pinetrees Lodge has Lord Howe Island packages available, including wilderness, adventure, wellness and photography experiences. Speaking of adventure, there’s a crazy island nearby called Ball’s Pyramid, and it’s home a huge stick insect called the tree lobster. Awesome!
Now let’s talk about relaxation – you won’t find TV or Internet service on Lord Howe Island. And bicycles are the most-common way to get around.
Here’s another destination that’s new to me -- and probably to many non-Australians. What’s the big deal with Moreton Island? Well, for me, it’s shipwrecks. Hand me a snorkel and mask, or teach me to SCUBA dive, and I’m headed belows the waves to the Tangalooma Wrecks. They’re shallow enough for novices to get in on the action. But there’s more than 100 wrecks around Moreton Bay, including some for more experienced divers. Oh, and the water is super-clear.
Back onshore, there’s also sandboarding – there’s no way I can resist that. And you can go from high-end resorts to just grabbing a camping permit and popping your tent up.
What are your favorite Australian island getaways?
This post was brought to you by Pinetrees Lodge.This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship or other forms of compensation. All information reflects the opinions, experience and research of WanderingJustin.com
If you’ve ever wondered "What’s BelizeÂ Like?", the latest entry in my "What’s it Like" series has the answer.
Belize in a Word: Narrow
OK, what do I mean by "narrow?" Well, it means that Belize has a narrow range of appeal. If you’re going there for food or beaches, prepare to be disappointed. I found neither to be memorable. Let me correct that – the beaches were memorable for being strewn with flotsam. Resorts hire people to keep them looking nice.
On the other hand, if you are a caver (please don’t say "spelunker"), snorkeler or SCUBA diver … Belize is heaven. I absolutely loved the Aktun Tunichil Muknal cave tour more than I can tell you. If I had more time, I would’ve interrogated locals for non-tour, do-it-myself cave experiences. Belize is practically all limestone, and has more miles of caves than anyone can properly track. And for the water people, Ambergris Caye, BelizeÂ is a perfect base to get you out for snorkel or SCUBA adventures where you’ll see baracuda, octopi, rays and much more.
You’ll note that I went in December. The weather was nice but warm. Though the town of HopkinsÂ was just downright hot, even in December. This is coming from a guy who has lived in Arizona for decades, so pay attention. I mean it.
Don’t bother with Belize City. It’s horrible. Oh, and everybody there wants to sell you souvenirs. They can’t compare to the Red Dzao or Black Hmong in Vietnam when it comes to high-pressure sales … but they make up for it in volume.
Things People Said to Me
"Hey, big guy! Let me braid your hair!"
Other Cool Stuff Worth Noting
I absolutely love the Gaia Riverlodge outside of San Ignacio. It’s a hydroelectric lodge powered by a nearby river. There were no TVs or even hairdryers in the thatched-roof huts. Since my visit, it’s gone all-inclusive and changed names. But the location remains the same, and it’s a serene, quiet place that’s an excellent base for hikes and cycling. I also had a great time visiting the Caracol ruins. Don’t be surprised if you wind up with an army escort to visit the ruins – or if you here gunfire from Guatemalan bandits clashing with the army.
When I Went: December 2007 Duration: 10 Days Areas Visited: Caye Ambergris, San Ignacio, Hopkins, Belize City
Sure, I was only there 10 days. I’m not expert on Belize. But I think you’ll get enough out of this to make some better-informed choices if you’re going to Belize.
And for a second year in a row, PADI has clued me in to some great Halloween-themed SCUBA events. First up, we have a course to get certified as a Zombie Apocalypse Diver. Police Officer Woody Tinslow, who is also a part-time employee as a dive instructor at New England Ski & Scuba, devised the course. The curriculum for the course covers SCUBA diving basics along with zombie biology and history, and survival, search and recovery skills. Now, I’m not sure if Woody adheres to the Max Brooks "Zombie Survival Guide" for his information on zombie biology and history. But if he’s taken his own approach, it’ll be interesting to see his spin on a cultural meme with no sign of slowing down.
“Um, does anyone else feel something chowing on their legs?”(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Next up, we have a nationwide Halloween-themed SCUBA event that follows one of my personal rules: If something is hard on dry land, do it underwater to make it even harder. That’s right, an underwater pumpkin-carving contest.
This takes me right out of contention since my favorite jack-o-lantern carving tool is a Dremel (you should see the pumpkin guts fly when I go to town). Check out your local PADI dive centers to see if you can join the fun. Let’s not forget that pumpkins are buoyant, so you’d better have a plan for keeping that gourd from floating away. Bermuda Triangle, a brilliantly named PADI dive center in Greenville, SC, is just one of many places where SCUBA fans did some underwater carving. Bermuda Triangle’s event happened yesterday, but watch for others in the coming days.
Photos of one of the world’s coolest diving sites put SCUBA diving on my "to do" list. Yes, it even trumps my inner desert dweller’s disdain for water that’s 36 degrees F.
But it’s not the low temperatures that make Iceland’s Silfra Rift one of the world’s most unusual diving sites. It’s the scenery. This is where the American and Eurasian continents collide. Underwater cliffs mark the division. SCUBA divers can swim among cliffs that tower up to 65 feet over them on both sides.
And back to that cold water: The low temperatures give a clarity to the water that creates visibility of more than 300 feet. So why is the water so cold? It’s meltwater from a glacier -- chilly!
I’m kind of a big baby about water in general. Cold water makes things even worse for me. Plus, I wasn’t looking for diving sites during my visit to Iceland. I wanted to stay as dry as possible considering Iceland’s wild weather and often-cold (even in summer) temperatures. And now, that’s one of my regrets. Next time I go back, the Silfra Rift will be high on my list. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors dive center in Iceland is my go-to resource to find a way to check out the Silfra Rift.
I get excited about seeing the planet in action. And the collision between the plates is pretty dramatic … not as much ash and lava as other places around Iceland. Not even a monstrous pile of glacier – but still worth slipping into a dry suit to witness, if the pictures are any indication.
Enjoy the photos -- you can see more from someone who chose to snorkel instead of SCUBA dive. And if you’re a SCUBA diver, I’d like to hear about other diving sites. What are some of your favorites?
Silfra is in Ãžingvellir National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just before 1000 AD, it’s where Iceland’s inhabitants formed its first parliament. It’s worth a stop to see a bit of Iceland’s history after you’ve seen tectonic plates collide at one of the most famous diving sites in the world.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t go much for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m a Halloween sort of guy -- and I dig April Fool’s Day. I have a friend whose mother can barely speak to me without snarling nearly 10 years after a prank I helped pull on her (let’s say it involves my best police sergeant phone voice and a story about him misbehaving in some very bad ways).
You can imagine that I spend most of my April Fool’s time trying to -- well, fool people. But this time, I’m on the side of good: I’m going to help my friends at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors set the record straight about some misconceptions about SCUBA diving. Get ready for some surprises! My commentary on PADI’s info is in italics.
MYTH #1: I don’t live near the ocean, so I can’t dive.
Nope! With more than 6,100 PADI dive centers around the world, you can literally begin your diver’s certification anywhere. Diving courses can be found at your local sports and recreational center, or in less traditional locations like exotic hot springs and lakes. Visit PADI.com to locate the nearest dive center.
MYTH #2: If I dive, I’ll likely run into a shark or other dangerous underwater creature!
Maybe you’ve been watching too much Shark Week. In reality, the odds of having a deadly shark encounter is just 1 in 251,800,000, you’re actually 12 times more likely to be killed by a vending machine than shark! Many underwater animals that seem intimidating, such as the school bus-sized whale shark, are virtually harmless and enjoy human interaction.
Those are some low odds. People tend to worry too much – think of all those “afraid to fly” people you know, and how willing they are to drive at 85 mph in a school zone while texting and making themselves a cappuccino with their portable espresso machine. Makes fretting about SCUBA diving seem a bit silly, no? And watch out next time you go for a bottle of soda in the break room!
MYTH #3: Women with breast implants can’t scuba dive.
Never fear! If you’re worried that increased underwater pressure will cause damage to silicone- or saline-filled implants, you have nothing to worry about. A recent study found that diving caused an insignificant increase in bubbles â€• nothing that will damage the implant or surround tissue.
Well, I guess that means most of the female population of the north half of my home city of Scottsdale is good to go. Um, what about collagen? (NOTE: PADI supplied the images for this story – none of which included breast implants.)
MYTH #4: Snorkeling is just as good as scuba diving.
Why stay on the surface when you can experience a whole new underwater world? Fully immersing yourself in scuba diving allows you to experience the wonder of breathing underwater, and explore amazing destinations such as reefs, underwater caves, shipwrecks, airplanes and more!
And let me say more about SCUBA versus snorkeling: Last time I snorkeled, I got bounced around in Belize by all the surface waves. Meanwhile, I watched as – 20 feet below me – SCUBA divers glided around unaffected. Soon, I was bobbing and barfing and getting laughed at while trying to escape a floating mound of my own chunder. So, I ask you: Would you rather be like the SCUBA divers or like me?