READ­ERS CHOICE: BEST SHORE DIV­ING

Ac­cess is the name of the game at these prime lo­cales that of­fer amaz­ing encounters nearshore

Scuba Diving - - TRAVEL - BY BROOKE MORTON

Shore div­ing holds wide ap­peal, not just be­cause it’s a sav­ings-smart op­tion. It also af­fords leisurely divers more time be­cause there's no sched­ule when you dive it your­self. Plus, shore div­ing can often pack more ad­ven­ture, al­low­ing you to drift across two sites in half the time. The more dar­ing can scout the shore­line and start swim­ming wher­ever they see the most po­ten­tial for awe­some­ness.

BON­AIRE NO DI­REC­TIONS RE­QUIRED

In­tro­verted divers love Bon­aire. Un­like other lo­cales, where find­ing the put-in means ask­ing di­rec­tions, then get­ting lost and ask­ing again if you were sup­posed to turn at the ba­nana tree or co­conut palm. Free maps of Bon­aire’s 80-plus dive sites can be scored any­where, and ev­ery site is marked with a yel­low stone painted with the dive site’s name, so you never have to ask if you’re in the right spot.

BE­GIN­NER TO AD­VANCED

Bon­aire’s sites vary in in­ten­sity and dif­fi­culty. New­bies ought to stick to the south, which of­fers less surge and en­tries that slope gen­tly.

The north re­quires slightly more skill, with rock­ier en­tries that can call for bet­ter bal­ance, pa­tience and plan­ning.

NO OVER­HEAD CON­CERNS

Ev­ery bit of Bon­aire’s coast is ei­ther part of the na­tional marine park, a marine re­serve or a no-take zone. Spearfish­ing and col­lect­ing are pro­hib­ited. Best of all, the is­land has out­lawed per­sonal-wa­ter­craft rentals. To­gether, these re­stric­tions make Bon­aire one of the most scenic, fish-filled and headache-free dive get­aways on the planet.

HOUSE PARTY

Dive cen­ters in Bon­aire seem to come stan­dard with a house reef. Re­sorts such as Buddy Dive have clear­wa­ter real es­tate yards from where staff keeps watch. Not only does this front-yard div­ing al­low begin­ners to get ac­cli­mated, but it’s also a great re­source for any­one try­ing a new skill, or brush­ing up on a rusty one, such as nav­i­ga­tion. It’s also the per­fect place to try out new gear.

HAWAII BUF­FET OF CHOICES

Hawaii’s four big­gest is­lands — Kona, Maui, Kauai and Oahu — all have well-known, mapped shore dives, most with easy ac­cess. Kona’s shores of­fer 28, Maui 40, Kauai 16 and Oahu 36, and that’s just the named sites. Rent a car, and you can explore the coast, greatly open­ing up the playing field of choose-your-own-ad­ven­ture spots.

LAVA FIELDS

This un­der­wa­ter land­scape of­fers some­thing many is­lands don’t: lava caves, cav­erns, tun­nels and other photo-wor­thy for­ma­tions. Sites such as Mak­ena Land­ing on Maui’s south­west side of­fer lava-formed caves, home to a host of life, from nudis to whitetip sharks. On Oahu’s North Shore, take on the Fire­house Cathe­drals to see beams of light pour­ing into rooms where whitetip sharks lie sleep­ing.

FLORIDA SPRINGS ALL ARE WEL­COME

Florida’s springs might have the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing only for trained cave divers. Cer­tainly, the more ad­vanced stretches of caves are. But places such as Gin­nie Springs, in the town of High Springs, two hours north of Or­lando by car, are great for open-wa­ter divers. They can explore 120 feet of lin­ear pen­e­tra­tion into the cave, down to 55 feet, and into the cav­ern’s big ball­room. The nearby Lit­tle Devil, Devil’s Ear and Devil’s Eye, all part of the Devil’s Spring Sys­tem, are also open to OW divers, pro­vided they don’t carry a light — mean­ing they stay in ar­eas where over­head sun­light grants vis­i­bil­ity.

PER­FECT PLAT­FORM

Most of the con­ces­sions oper­at­ing near Florida’s springs have made a busi­ness of mak­ing their spot as com­fort­able and ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble. Wooden walk­ways, large wooden plat­forms at the en­try point, and fa­cil­i­ties within yards of the en­try all make for ease of use. Blue Grotto Dive Re­sort, in the town of Wil­lis­ton, also a two-hour drive north of Or­lando, of­fers these ameni­ties, plus bar­be­cue grills, pic­nic ar­eas and even cab­ins should you choose to overnight.

Clock­wise, from left: Divers re­turn from Salt Pier, one of Bon­aire’s sig­na­ture sites; spin­ner dol­phins travel in a pod off Hawaii Is­land; stairs lead to­ward Florida’s Devil’s Den.

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