In September of 2016 I embarked on a scuba diving trip to Malta, with my sister, twin brother and our dad. We chose to go in September due to affordability, as prices are always lower outside of school holidays, and it also fit in with everyone’s schedules. My siblings and I are Rescue Scuba Divers all with about 80 dives under our belts, whilst my parents are Advanced Scuba divers (the qualification below Rescue) …much to their annoyance! This turned out to be one of the coolest, and also humbling, weeks of diving I have experienced, made all the better by the fabulous company of the wacky but loveable divers we encountered on this eventful getaway.
After a rather lack-lustre taxi driver dropped us off at our villa in Mellieha, we set about exploring the traditional Maltese home we had booked for our trip, complete with its own swimming pool (and questionable inflatable toys), at the top of three flights of stairs, as well as its very own cave in the garden seating area. I knew we would have fun here.
Mellieha is a little town towards to the north of Malta, surrounded by old churches and stone buildings. We were lucky that supermarkets and shops were a short drive away, as was the dive centre. If we hadn’t hired a car, getting around would have been a little difficult (although the dive company did offer to pick us up every day). The locals are all very friendly, and our interactions with them were all very positive.
The best parts of the trip by far were obviously the diving itself and the people. The dive centre, Ocean Mysteries, came as a recommendation from a friend, and I myself would gladly recommend them to others too. After having a couple of experiences with dodgy diving clubs on other travels, it was incredibly refreshing to meet Jacqui and Simon (Si) as well as intern Erno, who are certainly quality instructors. They were safe, highly informative and, very importantly, full of banter! Should you want to learn to dive, they can offer fair and reasonable prices for courses with PADI, or alternatively you can hire out equipment for one or two days of diving as well. If you are looking for a cool experience on a budget, I am sure they could cater to your needs.
For those who don’t know, Malta is famed for its wreck dives, most of which have been sunk deliberately, and that is why the island is so well-respected and loved by divers all over the world. I personally was not a great fan at all of the idea of throwing myself into a murky, eerie ship wreck that was hiding skeletons waiting to jump out at me, but my experience with them was nothing like this whatsoever. The visibility on the first dive was pretty good, between 10-15 metres, and the wreck was comfortably sitting on the sand at about 17 metres.
A highlight of this dive, which was the Maori Wreck, was the stingray that caught Simon’s eye. We subsequently bumped into the little fellow a couple of times, it was most adorable. We were down there for around 45 to 50 minutes, which is typical for a dive on a 12 litre tank. The marine life in Maltese waters is not quite the same as that of the Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef where coral and fish species are in abundance, but the wrecks really do have unique appeal. The vast number of dive sites accessible by shore is another pull factor, however you can easily take a 30 minute ferry ride over to the smaller island of Gozo and also experience what they have to offer. Overall though, this was a highly successful first dive!
The rest of the dives were all very similar to this, with the exception of a certain ‘Chloe-beaches-herself-on-a-rock-incident’, and that of the X-127 Wreck. As I have already pointed out, I was not a fan of the concept of wreck diving, and still have my cautions. This dive was a slightly negative experience, as the ship was slanting downwards in the sand, meaning that the tip of the boat, and therefore its shallowest depth, was about 6 metres. Unfortunately the visibility was not fantastic, culminating in a pretty frightening dive for yours truly. I could feel myself on the verge of a panic attack, so I grabbed Jacqui (who was most kind in dealing with my nerves) and took me for a play with some fish at a shallower depth whilst we waited for the remaining group members to return from the wreck. Some hand signals were exchanged to make sure everyone was OK, and then we surfaced. It was a shame, but I enjoyed my play time with the fish and Jacqui!
My favourite dive without a doubt had to be the P-31 boat dive. The water was absolutely pristine, bright turquoise from the surface. This is when we were introduced to two very recently-qualified divers, Ryan and his daughter Addy. The visibility was a fabulous 20-25 metres, meaning that the descent down to the wreck from the boat was crystal clear. The wreck was huge, sitting perfectly on the bottom of the sea bed. Si took us into the wreck itself, into the cabin of the ship where the controls must have been. We also swam over some holes leading into the lower decks of the ship, making for an eerie but exhilarating sight. My heart was pounding the whole way through, but my oh my, it was just awesome! The water was so clear that you can even see this wreck on Google Earth, as was demonstrated by Jacqui. I thought that this was pretty impressive.
The second dive from the boat was the Santa Marija Caves, which provided yet another unforgettable experience. Usually one needs to complete a cave diving qualification to swim through caves, but after at least 70 dives of experience each, Si and Jacqui were kind enough to trust that we would be OK…after all, you could see the exit point from entry. These caves emerge out of darkness in a perfect ‘Z’ shape, much like the one from ‘The Mask of Zorro’, with light shining through them as if the heavens themselves were guiding us along. Upon leaving the cave (where Si had experienced six painful leg cramps) we opened up a bag of bread rolls that he had carefully carried down in order to feed the fish. This was a true highlight of the week. As soon as we opened our hand, the little devils consumed the entire offering in a matter of seconds, making no attempt to miss your fingers when biting down. They were nippy little things!
To top off an entertaining week, we joined the group for evening drinks after our final dive. This night will go down in history. Perhaps it was because of the trays of 12 shots (we all consumed at least 6 each), the questionable dancing with the locals, or even running into an empty ‘club’ and running straight back out again. This historic Friday night occurred at O’Reilly’s in Bujibba, the ‘happening’ place in Malta. O’Reilly’s is a classic Irish pub, complete with the largest cocktails you have ever seen. This is a must for anyone in need of a good beer at the end of a dive. There were rants, dad-dancing and many a badly-sung tune — a cracking evening. Malta… I will be back.
Featured image © Berit Watkin