Diving is the closest most mortals will ever get to spacewalking, an almost-free pass to the underwater world. But.... Where in the world to learn? Here's a few suggestions.
At the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia boasts many of the world's iconic dive spots – Raja Ampat, Wakatobi and Komodo among them. Amed, Bali, home to one of the world's most famous and accessible wreck dives, the USAT Liberty, is a great place to learn the basics – although there are plenty of challenging dives, too. Note that, unlike the more popular Gilis, nobody's blown up the coral by dynamite fishing.
Second only to Thailand's Koh Tao as the world's favourite place to learn to dive, most Cairns dive courses include trips out to the legendary Great Barrier Reef. Prices are high; visibility, though better than at Byron Bay, varies widely; and platform dive sites can be crowded. Still, many divers love completing their training with a liveaboard dive trip including day and night dives on the Barrier Reef.
A tropical island off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel's gin-clear waters, great reef and stellar marine life provide plenty of dive sites that are suitable for learners – and the island has a classic dive town vibe. Prices are higher than in Utila, but it's a place some people dive again, and again, and again: the wall diving is famous.
A very cheap place to learn to dive, with very little current, great visibility, pretty coral and plenty of marine life, the beauty of Dahab is that almost all dives are from the shore – so you can go straight from lolling on cushions on the waterfront to hanging out with clownfish and back again. Rental gear, particularly depth gauges, can be ropy at cheaper shops – consider renting or buying a dive computer.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Koh Tao may be the most popular place in the world to learn to dive, but this makes for large class sizes and heaving training spots, while bleaching has seriously impacted the coral in many sites that students dive. If learning to dive is on your Thailand bucket list, opt for Koh Lanta, with plenty of lovely easy lagoon dives, pristine coral and underwater life, as well as some world class dive sites.
Rapidly recovering from the typhoon, Malapascua is an island idyll off the north coast of Cebu, inside the Coral Triangle. The biggest draw are thresher sharks – though you'll need advanced certification or an instructor escort to see these extraordinary creatures emerge from the deep – but the island offers plenty of easy, shallow dives with lovely coral and marine life of every shape and size.
Whale sharks, the world's largest fish at up to 12m long, are the major draw in Utila – March and April are peak season, although the behemoths do visit year-round. One of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive, with most sites a very few minutes from the island, Utila offers lots of coral, plenty of things to see and a laidback, mellow lifestyle. Most operators include lodging in course prices and throw in a couple of fun dives after qualification.