I had just finished a dive up past Nanaimo (Madrona Point) and was disappointed by the murky visibility. It was the season for plankton (June 16, 2011) and I wasn't thrilled about doing another dive in the green soup. I was too stubborn to drive back to Victoria with a full tank though, so thought I would try a gear-rinsing fresh-water dive in the Nanaimo River. It would be hard to find a dive spot closer to the highway than this place. The highway actually goes right over it. Under the bridge, the river runs through a narrow (less than 50 feet wide) canyon. Nearby, there's another bridge used for bungy jumping. After a bit of driving around and several wrong turns, I found a way to access the water. When you are driving over the bridge towards Victoria, turn right immediately after the bridge onto a small, partially-gravel road. This curves back along the highway to a gravel parking area. A short trail leads down to the river below the bridge. Underwater, there are some ledges, but for the most part the cliffs drop down straight to the bottom. There are lots of overhangs and hollows sculpted out by the flow. Patches of pale freshwater sponge (I think) were splotched on the vertical and overhanging rock surfaces. The bottom of the river under the bridges was 40 feet deep according to my dive computer (which was calibrated for saltwater). Visibility was about 30 feet and I could just barely see from one side of the river to the other. The bottom was a mix of pebbles and large boulders. There were the occasional piles of metal rods, wooden beams and other industrial-type junk. It seemed dark down here because of the narrow canyon walls, the overhanging trees and the bridges overhead. I was hoping I wouldn't find any bodies. I did see a few crayfish, sculpins and a school of tiny trout. I didn't see any larger fish. The current wasn't horribly strong, but it was strong enough to make me stop for breaks now and then as I swam upstream. I made it under the bungy-jumping bridge (I could see it from the bottom as I looked up), before turning around and drifting back down to where I started. I know it might sound silly diving in a river when I'm surrounded by life-filled Vancouver Island ocean, but the dramatic topography and alien-to-me fresh water ecosystem made this one of the most memorable dives I've done lately. I'm already dreaming of a salmon run funneling through the narrow canyon, but maybe that would be too good to be true.
I'm not sure how fast the current can run here, but I'd avoid jumping in after a heavy rain or when the snow is melting. I also didn't bother adjusting my weight belt for the lower density of fresh water and I was definitely overweighted.