Don’t let the cold water keep you from scuba diving. If you’re looking for wrecks, you will be sure to find them. If you are looking for interesting flora and fauna, the coastlines of eastern Canada has that as well.
Diving in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic ocean can be a nice change of scenery for divers looking to venture into new environments. Kelp beds, lobsters and lots of other zesty little invertebrates will fill your field of vision as you submerge below the tide line.
The heart and soul of life in the Maritimes, Halifax is a busy beehive of a city. Having a population of nearly 404, 000 residents, Halifax is one of the most populous places on the Atlantic coast.
In spite of what statistics call a large city size, the neat thing about Halifax is that it feels like a small fishing town. Everybody seems to know everybody, strangers quickly become friends, and the ocean is never more than a heartbeat away.
Some may know Halifax for its sailor type nightlife while others recognize this city by its iconic Citadel Hill. Halifax’s ultimate claim to fame, however, remains the world renown Peggy’s Cove lighthouse (also called Peggy’s Point Lighthouse).
The classic red and white lighthouse, found on the eastern shore of St. Margaret’s Bay is about 43 kilometers (26 miles) from downtown Halifax. Still, in operation by the Canadian coast guard, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse stands just shy of 15 meters (49 ft) high and is a major tourist attraction.
Interesting Fact: In the lower level of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse there is a post office where visitors can stop in and mail their postcards.
Whether you visit Halifax for the freshly caught lobster or to take a walk by the ocean, one thing is for certain; you’d better prepare yourself for the awesome scuba diving. Check out these five shore diving sites in the HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality):
The Cranberry Cove dive site is about a 50-minute drive south of Halifax. Arriving at the spot you won’t even realize it’s there. From the shoulder of the winding coastal road, the site doesn’t seem like much. Most divers suit up in their gear along the side of the road or the trunk of their vehicle.
To get to the water’s edge divers must hike 500 meters along an overgrown goat trail lugging their dive equipment with them. The path is pretty haphazardous but well worth the trek once you reach the rocky clearing. You will honestly feel like you are diving in the Maritimes from the rocky entry point, as you will see the famous Peggy’s Cove lighthouse lingering in the distance.
The first time Joey and I ever went diving in Cranberry Cove I remember thinking to myself; this dive site better be worth it, and oh it was. The cove is a relatively shallow dive site getting only as deep as 24 feet. Rated as a novice diving spot Cranberry Cove is suitable for practicing buoyancy and testing out new equipment.
The water in this cove can be as clear as in an aquarium, and the bottom varies between underwater rock islands and rippling beds of sand. Sculpin, sea raven, baby flounders and squid are some of the marine fauna making use of this cove in the summer months. If you’re lucky like us and look close enough may see other enthralling animals too, like wolf eels.
We all have our favorites; my favorite color is green, my favorite day of the week is Saturday. One of my absolute favorite dive sites is Paddy’s Head.
Paddy’s Head is a 40-minute drive outside of Halifax’s downtown core. This small and sheltered inlet sits towards the mouth of St. Margaret’s Bay. The site has a small parking area that can fit four to five vehicles and a small beach leading into the water for easy diver entry.
The depths of Paddy’s Head range from 0 to 24 feet making it a safe and prime training area for new divers. Its relative shallowness allows good light penetration, and it hosts a variety of marine life. Hermit crabs and sand dollars are plentiful on the sandy bottom, and the occasional flatfish can be found hiding out in the sand.
The magnificent rocky shoreline makes this site a favorite among local divers, and over the years Paddy’s Head has seen everything from mako sharks to seahorses. Underwater, there are many rock formations covered with coralline algae, rockweed, eelgrass or kelp. About 100 feet from shore there are lobster pots and a training block to be seen.
The Fox Point dive site doubles as a beautiful beach and picnic area during the summer as well as a delightful shore diving site all year round.
Located about 1 hour outside of Halifax, Fox Point is on the western shoreline of St. Margaret’s Bay just past Hubbards. Given the public nature of this dive site, there is a large parking lot available, however, during the summer months, parking spots can be few and far between.
For the most part, Fox Point has a gently sloping sand bottom bordered by a few big rocks. While the marine fauna is not terribly abundant at this dive site, there are tonnes of sand lances that call the grainy bottom home.
Fox Point is a splendid site for day dives as well as night dives. If you are around in October, the local dive shop puts on an Underwater Pumpkin Carving event in honor of Halloween. It’s wacky and pretty challenging especially when the tide and waves flip you around like a toddler in a moonbounce.
To this very day, we are not even entirely sure if we found the right dive site.
Polly’s Cove is located 50 minutes outside of Halifax at the mouth of St Margarets Bay. Just like the Cranberry Cove dive site, finding Polly’s Cove can be a little tricky as no markers are showing you where to pull over along the highway.
This dive site is probably one of the harder to reach dive sites in the area. Getting to the shoreline of Polly’s Cove is somewhat of a long hike from the highway. It’s a bit of an adventure because there are no navigational signs or trail markers. Be prepared to hike heavy scuba equipment between 500 to 750 meters on a wet and steep trail to reach the entry point.
Polly’s Cove is a sheltered inlet with high cliffs to one side and a rocky outcrop on the other protecting the cove from the open Atlantic ocean. Entry from the steep rocky cliffs can be tricky with the many boulders lining the shore so make sure to proceed with caution.
Polly’s Cove starts in about 15 feet of water and drops to 40 feet in spots. Due to the bathymetric structure of this dive site, there is a sharp thermocline at fifteen feet which often creates a hazy two foot slick in the water. The dive site follows a broad rock face with seagrass beds and lots of little creatures to be spotted. Although we have never found it, about halfway between the entry point and the island to the south, there is an unidentified boat wreckage in 25 feet of water with some nifty beer bottles.
If you are planning to scuba Polly’s Cove, try to time your dive with the high slack tide as this offers ideal visibility.
It takes about 45 minutes from Halifax to get to the Sandy Cove dive site. Located south of the city on Terence Bay, Sandy Cove is in the same geographical area as Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park, a well known hangout spot for beachgoers in the summer months (as much as they appear to be side by side on a map, there is no direct road to get from one to the other).
Sandy Cove is a small 75-meter strip of beach with ample roadside parking around a spacious cul-de-sac. The bottom structure of the site itself stays true to the name and is mostly sand however along the left and right-hand side of the dive site there is some cobblestone, boulders and bedrock ridges cloaked in seaweed dropping to as deep as 65 feet.
If you are looking for marine fauna within the seaweed, divers can usually find a sculpin or flounder hiding on the bottom. Additionally, schools of pollock, cunner and other small fish often swim in this cove. On the infrequent occasion, if you are lucky like us, you may even glimpse a seal hauled out on the beach napping.
Sandy Cove for the Non-Diver
For the non-divers visiting Sandy Cove, this site has a short but scenic hiking path out to the tip of the bay. This trail is great for pictures and ends at a small red and white lighthouse.
You don’t need a drysuit to try some cold water diving in Nova Scotia, although it does make things a little more comfortable. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, Halifax and area have some fantastic Atlantic dive sites that are well worth taking the time to explore.
Cost: Diving in Halifax Nova Scotia can be pretty expensive. For two divemaster lead shore dives the cost is $124.99. For two divemaster lead shore dives with equipment, the cost is $202.99. On these dives, the divemaster will generally highlight the area’s hazards, the points of interest and some of the wildlife you are expected to see.
If you are on a budget and have your own gear, many free shore diving sites around Halifax are accessible by car. These sites vary in difficulty but generally speaking are perfect for Advanced Open Water level divers.
Seasonality: Diving the cold water of the North Atlantic is possible all year round, and the perks depend on the time of year. In the winter time the visibility is absolutely stunning because of the frozen ground and lack of rain runoff. In the summer the sea’s become alive with fish and jellies. Sometimes in late August and September the water even gets warm enough that divers can see some seahorses and triggerfish on shore dives.
No matter when you dive, a thick two-piece wetsuit (with 14 mm on the core) or drysuit is mandatory for ocean diving in this cold climate.
Restrictions: There is a lot to see in the waters off Halifax, Nova Scotia. The most significant restriction is finding a way to get to the shore dive sites. Some of the dive spots can be as far as 1.5 hours from downtown Halifax. Any shop you decide to dive or rent gear with will request to see your Open Water certification.
Companies: For being the capital city of Nova Scotia; Canada’s ocean playground, Halifax does not have very many dive shops to choose from. As a rule of thumb, most divers in the area tend to use Torpedo Rays Scuba Adventures as they are the biggest shop in the province and have two storefronts in Halifax and Dartmouth.
Got any other wicked shore diving spots in Nova Scotia? Comment below so we can investigate them.
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