A deep-dive into another world

Dubai is well known for its grand adventures and state-of-the-art attractions, but the artificial underwater wonderland created for divers is on a whole new level, writes Jenny Hewett.

– traveller.com.au The writer was a guest of Deep Dive Dubai.



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No acid trip could prepare me for this. With nitrox in a tank on my back, I float off the platform into an underwater urban abyss, eyes widening as the Earth drops away beneath me. In its place, a stark, blue Armageddon gapes 60 metres below like the jaws of a megalodon, minus the teeth. Tree roots gnarl out of rubble and twist like a witch’s finger up crumbling brick walls. As we descend to 12 metres, my dive instructor, Jesper Kjøller, motions for me to sink onto a motorbike and pose for the camera. I can’t see the bottom of the world’s deepest pool, but I can make out the silhouette of those advanced enough to scuba dive its pit. In my periphery, realistic life-size props, including a fibreglass convertible Mercedes Benz, chess set and billiard table are scattered among the debris of this sunken city. I flutter my fins towards one of the large glass windows on the perimeter. On the other side, my nieces are making their hands into hearts. The eldest, already bored, is slow-mouthing, ‘‘Are you almost finished?’’ It takes everything in me not to spit out my regulator and laugh. I am on an hour-long Discovery Dive for entrylevel scuba divers at Deep Dive Dubai, the world’s deepest pool, and the latest in the emirate’s long list of record-breaking attractions. To describe it as ‘‘surreal’’ would be a misnomer. Dubai is known for pushing the envelope, but this is an extraordinary feat of imagination and engineering. The complex, which opened more than a year ago as a free-diving facility, comprises 14 million litres of crystal-clear fresh water (filtered every six hours), 56 underwater cameras, and three levels of exploration staggered over a depth equivalent to the length of a 777 Boeing aircraft. For non-divers, there is a cafe with floor-toceiling windows to peer in to interact with divers. While it may be symbolic of Dubai’s proclivity for excess, what it provides in education and curiosity is remarkable. The facility offers training and certification, and caters to on average of 50 divers a day of all abilities, from snorkellers and certified divers to beginners like me who can descend to a maximum of 12 metres without any experience. The team recently launched Nomad Diving, which involves the use of a ‘‘surface-supplied dive system’’, essentially an extremely long snorkel, to dive up to six metres. When I visit, two young women are using the centre rope to free-dive to impressive depths on one breath. My nieces are enthralled. ‘‘If you ask any Emirati, they have family members a couple of generations back that were involved in the pearl fishing industry,’’ says Danish-born Kjøller, a veteran technical diver who lists the 120-metre Britannic shipwreck (sister ship of the Titanic) as his deepest dive. With the origins of the concept rooted in Dubai’s heritage, it is no surprise that Sheikh Hamdan, a passionate free-diver and Crown Prince of Dubai is the unofficial poster boy of the facility. The connection between pearl fishing and freediving is obvious, however, with its shallow waters and sand dredging, conditions in the Arabian Gulf are not ideal. But if you build it, they will come. ‘‘A 60-metre-deep hole in the ground would be too boring,’’ says Kjøller. ‘‘That’s why they came up with the idea of theming it as a sunken city. We don’t really know what’s happened here.’’ ‘‘‘Is it an earthquake? A post-apocalyptic event? A parallel universe?’ The most interesting part is that it allows divers to interact with props,’’ he says. To do so, divers must be accompanied by a guide and use the state-of-the-art gear provided. After a thorough briefing, we head off into the great nothing. It is midday, the best time to dive according to Kjøller, when rays of sunshine overhead illuminate the pool with an ethereal glow. It is a lot to take in at first. I have to breathe, equalise and keep my position horizontal, all while processing and navigating this surreal environment. But nerves are soon replaced with awe. To inflict the same wonder on my friends, I have opted for the Platinum Package, which is a more technical term for scuba-celebrity and includes a personal videographer. There are plenty of props to interact with to 12 metres, and Kjøller guides me throughout the upper reaches, swimming through rooms, sitting on a car, posing in doorways, on benches, juggling pool balls and re-arranging chess pieces. ‘‘Deeper down, we have a fully furnished apartment with a kitchen, bedroom and living room. ‘‘At 40 metres, we have a garage with more cars and motorbikes and a workshop. So there are a lot of areas to come and visit,’’ Kjøller says.