We were a less than a metre away from one of the largest groupers I’d seen in a long time. She hovered motionless under a deep overhang, her beautifully silky smooth skin glistening in our torch lights. Unlike many of the groupers we’d already seen she was remarkably at ease despite our close contact. This was her spot, large and confident and used to divers, she wasn’t moving! It was a great moment – just one of many we were having on this dive trip.
We were still just in the month of March; the Easter holidays had just started and Spring was imminent. My stepson and I had come to an old favourite short haul holiday destination of mine, Lanzarote. He was doing his advanced open water course, and I was enjoying some real easy diving, not too far from home, where hopefully we’d have some great weather and good value for money diving. I’d spent my honeymoon here, visited my first volcano, explored amazing bleak scenery and seen my first Angel shark. I was hoping Arthur would share similar experiences too and even perhaps see his first Angel shark.
Lanzarote is one of seven volcanic islands that make up the Canaries. Located in the Atlantic Ocean around one hundred miles of the coast of Morocco they cover an area of some 550 kilometres. Part of Spain, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Grand Canaria, Fuerteventura and La Palma are the biggest and easiest to get to, with the least developed, smallest and most unspoilt islands El Hiero and La Gomera. Due a ‘hot spot’ in the Earth’s crust the islands have been volcanically active for thousands of years. Most of the islands mass is below sea level meaning only the very tips of the volcanoes emerge above the water. The last eruption was in 1971 at Teneguia on La Palma.
Each island has something to offer. Tenerife has Mount Teide, the third highest volcanic structure and most voluminous in the world. Lanzarote has the Timanfaya volcano and a national park. Here, just 10 metres below the surface, temperatures approaching 600 degrees are still recorded! This is despite the last volcano erupting here over 250 years ago.
Lanzarote is the lazy diver’s dream. Right off the shore in the busy tourist resort of Puerto del Carmen there are a whole host of fantastic dive sites. They are found off the beach between Playa Chica and the old harbour. There is even a dive centre located right on the beach. Safari Diving is ironically named as it suggests going on some Red Sea adventure using tents; to the contrary, it’s in a dream location opposite a shallow sheltered bay. With new equipment (all the top brands) for rent at reasonable rates, a range of excellent dive masters and English owners Wendy and husband Steve, it’s the perfect place for either beginners learning for the first time or experienced divers like myself looking for a hassle free service.
The sea is literally a few steps from the dive centre, and once you’ve swum a little distance out and descended on to a sandy bottom, you find yourself swimming past small wrasse and damsel fish, parrot fish, and schools of bream patrolling up and down the bay’s protected mini cliffs.
We were diving one of Playa Chica’s most famous sites, the Cathedral. We’d swum straight out from the dive centre and slowly descended past 20 metres over the sand, past a colony of garden eels, the odd flounder and weever fish, some frisky cuttlefish, and arrived at the main drop off. Here the bottom had fallen away quite sharply well past 40 metres. To our right we’d briefly explored the top of the wreck of a small boat, before crossing back to our left to a small outcrop to look at the large old blind moray who has lived here for at least the last 8 years (although perhaps not always blind!). We then ducked under the overhang and found our giant lady grouper. I had wondered how many divers she had watched pass this spot in just one day! Since the troubles in Egypt, Turkey and the migrant situation on other islands such as Greece, many more divers were heading to the Canaries, with diver numbers up well in excess of 30 percent!
We had spent the week on guided dives, but now that Arthur had qualified we’d rented tanks and got in the water ahead of the crowds. It was sadly overcast and the visibility was only around 10 metres, not its more normal 20 to 30, but still better than the east coast back in the UK! The water was just about warm enough – we were in 7mm wetsuits (although I had seen the odd instructor still in a drysuit!). Leaving the Grouper behind we headed further to our left and into the darkness. We were entering the Cathedral, a vast cave which many divers could fit in to – which was just as well, as by the time we reached the back a group was entering, their lights a faint glow at first as they headed towards us. As they got closer I could see their leader was wearing a drysuit and tick gloves and in a technical diver’s crossed-arms pose! He made me feel colder than I actually was, seeing him kitted up more typically for a dive in UK waters!
We left them swiftly and headed out the cave and back to the sloping sand, back past more frisky cuttlefish, flounders, lizard fish and garden eels. Arthur delighted in swimming through the bubbles we’d left in the cave, which were now percolating through small holes in the roof. They were being added to all the time by more divers beneath us. Moving up the sand before heading back into the bay and exiting at the beach we explored the rocky wall to our right, where groups of parrot fish cruised in and out of little gullies and a group of mullet worked the sand around the walls base, closely followed by some goatfish and bream. At 6 metres this was a perfect place to spend a 5 minute safety stop at the end of our dive.
There are more than a half dozen great dives off the beach at Playa Chica. The Cathedral is the most accessible and scenic but the Blue Hole is also high on people’s list. Earlier in the week I joined one of Safari Diving’s group dives while Arthur did his course. Also in the group was someone I hadn’t seen for over 20 years, another keen photographer called John Collins from Ireland. It was great to catch up with John and swap stories on Photo and diving gear etc. To reach the Blue Hole we had jumped off the harbour steps a short walk along the front from the dive centre. Swimming out to the Hole took longer than the swim to the Cathedral, but it was nice scenic dive, starting with a deepish swim through starting in around 18 metres and exiting at about 26 metres. Once through the swim through we explored a small cave full of encrusting life and a few small shrimps. Below us we watched 2 nice sized Groupers slowly swim away. I also joined John on Safari Diving’s harbour wreck boat dive. It left as planned at 2.30pm, again from the harbour steps.
Arthur was also on our dive doing one of the specialties for his course. The dive is one of the best in Lanzarote and most people’s favourite. Some 35 years ago, between 6 and 7 wrecks were purposely sunk by the first dive centre on Lanzarote. Mostly old fishing vessels, some literally on top of others, can be explored at depths from just 14 metres down to about 40 metres. Well protected from the worst weather, the wrecks have remained in relatively good condition. The first wreck you come to literally hangs off the side of the harbour wall, resting on the reef, its stern now full of rocks which were put there during the recent harbour wall rebuild.
As we cruised round and down beneath its bow, a lovely shoal of bream cruised by above us. We soon dropped down to 30 metres right on top of the next 2 wrecks, which seemed to be sitting on top of each other. There was a bow section, some winches, and various other parts of wreckage, some of which was covered in fishing nets. Much of the wreck’s original wooden decking was still in place. Swimming on a bit further more wrecks appeared; it was all a bit of a huddle though – it was hard to make out where one started and the other ended! A real mashup of hulls, decking, machinery and fishing equipment, it was all a bit hard to take in at 30 metres with one eye on my computer and the other on Arthur doing his first real deep dive!
On another day I’d like to go deeper and explore the wreck which was just out of our time and depth. It’s found between 35m and 40m and known as the “Propeller” wreck, because it still has its iron propeller and rudder.
Arthur really enjoyed his first combined wreck and boat dive, and when I asked him at the end of the week which his favourite dive was, it was a three way tie. I was definitely in agreement; as well as the wreck and boat dive, the other two were his first night dive and our dive at the Atlantic Museum down at Playa Blanca. It was dark by 8.30pm and we entered the water at about 9pm right off the beach from the dive centre. Arthur was amazed at how far we could see underwater and by the amazing bioluminescence which we could see when we switched our torches off and swiped our hands through the water. Our guide Debs was brilliant, coping well in showing five of us various night time creatures – some sleeping, some active, such as octopus and squid, spider crabs and sea hairs. I think the most memorable find was an angel shark so well camouflaged, at first all we could see was its green eye poking out through the sand! With a few of us feeling the cold the dive was over after just 45 minutes, and I reluctantly exited with everyone else. After nearly 30 years diving I still absolutely love night dives, the time just shoots by and I always feel I could stay a lot longer!
There is one dive site you don’t want to miss on Lanzarote. Located on the south west side of the island at Playa Blanca, The Atlantic Museum consists of many incredible sculptures which have being installed on the seafloor in Colaradas Bay in Playa Blanca at a depth of 15 metres. The museum, the first in Europe of its kind, has been designed by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who has created similar creations in Cancun, Mexico and Grenada in the West Indies. The creation is sure to be a mega attraction for divers.
Keep an eye out for my report on the Atlantic Museum on Scubaverse soon!
Volcanic scenery and volcanoes still smoking, secret lagoons, fantastic beaches, water parks, guaranteed sunshine and turquoise waters all just 4 hours from the UK. What are you waiting for? Book some winter sun and spring diving now!
Oh, just one tip – take a thick wetsuit (unless your going in summer or autumn!).
Gavin dived with Steve and Wendy Hicks at Safari Diving Lanzarote. For more information, visit www.safaridiving.com.
LANZAROTE FACT FILE
17°C (63°F) in February to 24°C (75°F) in August
A drysuit may be preferable in winter months, although a 7mm semidry should also be sufficient. 5mm wet suit should be fine in summer.
20 – 30 metres (65 – 100 feet)
Type of diving:
Caves, tunnels, sheer walls, wrecks
Angel sharks, rays, moray eels, garden eels, cuttlefish, octopus, lobsters, jacks, barracuda, grouper, trumpetfish, scorpionfish, parrotfish, wrasse
When to go:
All year, although June to October may be preferable if you prefer warmer water. Winter is the best season for the Angel sharks.
How to get there:
From the UK – numerous flights direct from all major airports. Flight time is about 4 hours.
All inclusive 3 star with flights you can get for £499 with Jet 2 holidays