I had a diving incident a few years back, damaging one of my ears, and I haven’t been able to dive since. So at first, I was a little apprehensive about the idea of walking on the sea floor seven metres under the historic Busselton jetty in WA's south west. But I figured this might be my only chance to get under the water again without my ear having to be in the water, so I decided to give it a go.
We signed up with the only company that offers this type of undersea walk in Australia: Dive Busselton Jetty. They’ve invested in some new technology to offer undersea walks that differ from most others around the world in that rather than having an air hose connected to your helmet that leads up to a supply on the surface, you carry your air in a tank on your back. The helmets are a cool $20,000 each, so I figure they must be top of the range!
So on a crystal clear 39 degree day when the ocean was like a millpond, my partner, his 12 year old son and I set out in search of the end of the 1.8km jetty.
We were met by the lovely staff who took us through a safety briefing and explained that once we had the helmet on, we had to keep our head straight to avoid water getting in and keep equalising all the way down to the bottom. We were given long sleeve, skin tight (and I mean skin tight) rashies and short leg wetsuits to put over the top, as well as a stunning pair of fluro pink Clogs to top off the outfit.
We descended down the ladder one at a time and into the water, where first the tank, and then the helmet were winched down. The helmet weighs around 30kg and the tank about another 10kg or so, but that’s what stops you from bobbing back up to the top once you get to the sea floor.
As instructed, I took the steps two at a time then stopped to equalise, guided by hand signals from the instructor (they have to be done right in front of your face since turning your head with a giant helmet on is not an option). It came as a surprise to me that I could actually fit my hand up under the helmet to block my nose to equalise, and throughout the undersea walk, the water level sat at my chin but didn’t come any further (unless I defied the safety briefing and tilted my head back or forward).
By the time I got down the ladder, the other two were waiting at the bottom. It was a very weird experience at first, and felt something like I imagine it would be to walk on the moon (just a bit less bouncy). I felt like a toddler with a giant bobble head learning to walk again, clumsy and slow. I couldn’t look down to see where I was putting my feet (as instructed in the safety briefing), so I just had to be lead around and trust the instructor would tell me if I was about to step on a marine animal (luckily I’d been armed with the bright pink Clogs, so I wasn’t too worried).
The instructor got us all to put two hands on a metal contraption with four handles and guided us around the walk, pointing out various sea life as we went. The jetty pylons have created an artificial reef, and there were plenty of fish, sea plants and even some little nudibranchs. The water is quite green, and has a slightly eerie, otherworldly feel to it.
The helmet was reassuringly noisy, letting me know oxygen was continually being pumped into my air space. After a short circuit, we posed for some underwater snaps before I tried my luck at a couple of selfies, which is not easy when you have a giant head and limited dexterity.
Finally I conceded defeat to the giant head and asked the underwater photographer to take a picture for me instead.
When the experience was over, I waited patiently at the bottom of the ladder and looked around at the beautiful underwater world created by the jetty. The way up was just as easy as the way down, and things went immediately silent when the air hose was disconnected. I felt like I’d lost a few kilos once the tanks and helmet were removed (which is always a good feeling!)
Overall, we loved the experience, and it was especially exciting for my 12 year old stepson who had never been able to explore underwater like that before. The walk would be great for anyone who doesn’t have their dive ticket, but wants to know what it’s like to breathe underwater. And it was also fantastic for someone like me who can no longer dive to get that feeling again. In fact, it made me wonder if I could actually give diving another go…and I did notice that Dive Busselton Jetty also take accredited divers under the jetty, so maybe I’ll be back to give it a shot!
For more info, see www.divebusseltonjetty.com.au