WE EXPLORE THE CAVE (which, at just 14m down and with a wide opening, is accessible to all), finding conger eels and shrimp hiding in gaping horizontal cracks in the rock, before heading out through the archway.
Turn right, as we do now, and you find the ruins of the Azure Window, once Gozo’s most famous photo opportunity but, since March 2017, just a pile of massive boulders on the seabed.
The collapse of the arch in a spring storm was a blow for the island, but fortunately sightseeing’s loss was diving’s gain – this is now a brilliant dive-site.
There’s not much life yet – just a faint fuzz of green algae on the sun-bleached rocks – but that doesn’t matter. The area is a veritable maze of swim-throughs, offering endless routes to explore.
Heading back past the Blue Hole, we head up the Chimney, going nearly straight up from 20 to 12m, then up again to 7m to find ourselves in the Coral Gardens. It’s great fun, and beautiful too, the walls of the passageway lined with yellow anemones that give way to yellow-green algae up top that glows bright in the sunshine. Coral Gardens, we discover, is sheltered and shallow, perfect for beginners.
We finish our dive in the Blue Hole – all by ourselves once again. On the safety stop, I watch tourists peering in from the rocks above and a few tiny fish skittering around just beneath the surface. If I had to choose one way of finishing every dive from now on, this would be it.
The walk back to the car park, around slippery rock-pools and along a path carved into the fossil-packed coralline limestone, is arduous but nothing compared to the route we take to Crocodile Rock – another of Dwejra’s dive-sites – the following morning.
Snug in my drysuit and undersuit, I’m seriously warm by the time we’ve made our way gingerly across the moon-like expanse of spiky limestone pools, and it’s a relief when I can finally step into the 20° water. I can’t imagine what this walk must be like at the height of summer.
We swim on the surface towards the massive outcrop of Crocodile Rock for a few minutes before descending to discover that there’s much more of the rock beneath the water than there is up top.
Keeping it on our left, we gradually make our way down to 39m, to find boulders littering the sea-floor but no sign of the number of large grouper we’re told sometimes hang out here.
Up above us hundreds of barracuda suddenly appear, shoaling in an enormous underwater valley between two steep peaks. They pour over the sheer edge of the rock towards us, circling our group before disappearing into shallower water. It’s a mesmerising sight.
After a couple of days playing with Mabel on the beach of the Inland Sea, my brother is keen to see some other areas of the island. So after one more dive at the Blue Hole, Denis takes us to the Salt Pans, location of a handful of dive-sites to suit various tastes and levels of experience.
To reach Dwejra from Marsalforn you have to drive into Victoria, the main town at the centre of Gozo, and out again, a journey of around 25 minutes, but the Salt Pans are just a short hop along the coast.
Gozitans have been harvesting salt from shallow pools on this beautiful patch of shore since Roman times. In the summer you have to be careful not to step in the pans on your way to the water, but it’s not an issue in the winter, so we stomp straight through.