The kelp is always greener: Why Whytecliff Park tops my list of Vancouver dive sites

I have noticed that many local divers have a beef with Whytecliff Park. The exact reason varies, but in general, people claim that it is “boring” as far as dive sites go. And while the bay is frequently murky and has vast expanses of fairly uninteresting sand, I think dismissing this dive site as “boring” is taking for granted something we are extremely lucky to have. Aside from the convenience and relative safety of Whytecliff, it also provides some pretty interesting dives and can serve up a diversity of marine life representative of BC.

If traffic is flowing Whytecliff is a scant 20 minutes or so from downtown Vancouver; there are few other sites that offer this short of a commute. And not only is there ample parking (this is based on the condition you roll out of bed early on a sunny Saturday in the summer, but otherwise true almost without exception).

Here are a few of the benefits of Whytecliff park that stand out for me:

  • Parking is FREE. Come on, as Vancouverites can we just savour that for a moment?
  • There are washroom and change room facilities, which should appeal to all, but as a female diver is a big benefit.
  • There is a rinse station available year-round to care for your gear.
  • There’s a pay phone in case of emergencies (and as a piece of nostalgia).
  • The path to the water is relatively well-groomed

Sure, large pieces of driftwood will wash in and have to be dealt with by the park or by determined divers with the right power tools. We do live on a coastline that has large tides, is covered in forests and has been actively logged for its entire colonial history – there is going to be driftwood sometimes. There are other sites (I’m thinking specifically of Ansel, here) in which the driftwood has posed a greater obstacle. Entry at low tide can be a bit tricky, but most local shore sites that I can think of have moderately daunting entries at low tide. At high tide – if the aforementioned driftwood isn’t posing a threat – the entry at Whytecliff is downright gentle. Depending upon which dive you want to do, the surface swim here is minimal in comparison with, say, Porteau Cove. In the summer, picnic tables and the somewhat pricey, but delicious grub at Rocky’s Café are welcome luxuries.

Whytecliff offers a relatively safe and hospitable local shore diving option

Not only is Whytecliff convenient, but it offers a relatively safe and hospitable local shore diving option for divers of a variety of abilities. We are fortunate to have this as a Marine Protected Area that limits boat traffic. Aside from the possibility of a wayward rental boater, there is no motorized boat traffic to contend with over the heads of divers that may be still a little uncertain of their buoyancy and/or weighting. The site offers a shallow sloping bottom to practice along for those still getting comfortable with skills or gear before venturing off to deeper water. The bay itself provides shelter from waves and currents most of the time. We can dive Whytecliff in less than favourable weather and tidal conditions. Again, this is not the case with many other shore sites not only in Howe Sound but around BC. It is well-populated site, which means that there is often help should assistance ever be required.

There is always an abundant amount of marine life

In addition to the creature comforts that make Whytecliff a charming little site are the creatures themselves. If you have been diving at Whytecliff recently and have not yet had an encounter with its resident greeter, just give it time. The park is home to several unfathomably adorable bundles of blubber, but there is one seal in particular that is all the reason I need to keep coming back. But one seal isn’t the only reason that I am always ready to back in for a fun dive at Whytecliff. If anyone should be bored of the site it would be one of your local instructors that dives here week in and week out.

I still see new or uncommon things here

The marine life that I occasionally find by poking around the Bay, the Cut or around the Islet include octopuses (yes, that is the correct spelling) of various sizes, stubby squid, Puget Sound king crab, moon snails, countless nudibranchs, sailfin sculpins, grunt sculpins, dogfish, lingcod, various rockfish, golf ball crab, red fur crab, sponges that house squat lobsters, decorated and mosshead warbonnets and longhorn decorator crabs. I know others that have spotted a sea lion underwater here on a couple occasions, a buddy team that saw a cormorant swim past at 40 feet/12m, several divers that were fortunate enough to swim with Pacific White-sided dolphins as they cruised through the Sound. I’ve witnessed a pod of orcas swim past from the lookout up by the cut and visited the local wolf eel. I’ve also had one of the most coveted BC diving encounters at our very own Whytecliff Park: on the far side of the Islet, in 65 feet (20m) of water one summer evening a couple of years back, my buddy and I had a six gill shark casually come check us out. In my experience and that of several seasoned locals, Whytecliff is full of surprises and the more you appreciate it, the more it offers up for you to enjoy.

There are multiple dive sites within Whytecliff Park

If you haven’t ventured out of the Bay, explore the right side and discover the Plumose Gardens. Or venture over and enjoy the varied topography of the left wall. If you find yourself repeating these dives over and over and are comfortable with your buoyancy, check out the Cut. This site is far more exposed to current, so it is worth checking the tides before you venture out around this corner, but because of this the pink hydroids, sponges, anemones, feather stars and everything that lives amongst them are more plentiful. Plus, the feeling of diving along a sheer wall never gets old. Alternatively, enter on the far side of the Islet and dive around into the Bay for a completely different dive. This does take a fairly moderate pace and decent air consumption and an agreeable tide, but is quite an accessible dive and usually offers up several cool sightings. If you have yet to try all these dives at Whytecliff you have not even scratched the surface.

I am an unwavering fan of Whytecliff Park even if it may not seem exotic. I know that even after hundreds of dives there I have not seen all that Whytecliff Park has to offer. And while a change of pace is always nice, I am an unwavering fan of Whytecliff. It is clichéd, but this site that gets brushed off by many provides a site for brand new divers to learn to dive while others are doing technical dives around the corner. So, in the spirit of being grateful for what we have, I would like to hear about your best dive at Whytecliff Park.

Questions or Comments