IT WAS GETTING ON FOR twenty years ago that I wrote a feature for this magazine entitled A Cyprus Guide, Innit. This reflected the fact that so many of the dive centres on the island were staffed by young Cypriots who had grown up in North London and had the appropriate Thames Estuary accent.
Today I could just as easily have called this piece Aye Lad, This Be Cyprus!, because since joining the EU, the island’s diving industry has enjoyed an influx of Brits, many from the north of England.
So although Cyprus is an island tucked well up in the Eastern Mediterranean in a position that makes it part of the old Orient, close to the troubled Middle East, you step off the plane into an environment that feels comfortably familiar.
Everybody speaks English, the great majority of the people you meet will have lived in England at some time, there are strong visual reminders of Britain everywhere, and even the square-pin 13A plug sockets and reflective car numberplates look familiar.
Not only that, but Cypriots themselves appear to have an affinity for the British. Apart from their adoption of the euro as their currency, the whole place is about as foreign as a trip down Green Lanes in Haringey. That is to say, not very foreign at all.

OF COURSE, YOU CAN DINE ON sausage and chips and beans while you’re there if you like, but I recommend you settle each day for a typical Cypriot mezze.
This is a form of gastronomic torture that Cypriots take pleasure in inflicting on unsuspecting tourists.
They sit you down and feed you a succession of delicious and varied plates of Greek gourmet delight that simply keep arriving at your table long after you have turned into Mr Creosote and have space left only for one last wafer-thin mint. Eventually you have to admit defeat and waddle away, abandoning masses of food that you can dream about at a later date, perhaps when you’re somewhere else and feeling hungry. It’s the Cypriot way of punishing us for years of benign occupation.
The climate is sunny most of the time. Cyprus is a large island with mountains high enough to be snow-clad and ski-able. It has strong connections with Greek mythology, notably Aphrodite and Apollo, and early Christianity, with sites where St Paul stopped off on his fatal route from Judea to Rome.
There are good roads, but the smaller hilly country routes prove popular with European cycling aficionados during the winter months, while the beaches are very popular in summer.

SOME OF YOU WILL BE FAMILIAR with Cypriot wines, and may take the opportunity to visit the hillside vineyards that cluster around the centre of the island and sample the wines.
These range from light fresh whites to rich reds matured in oak barrels, not forgetting the fizzy stuff produced in the traditional way by allowing the wine to “grow” in the bottles.
Accommodation can vary from the spectacularly luxurious, such as the Capo Bay at Protaras or the Almyra at Pafos, to the more ethnically Cypriot style of converted village houses that form the agro-tourism style of the Tochni Tavern and its environs.
So what of the diving Cyprus is surrounded by water that is particularly clear. There are no big ocean currents, nor any tide to cause movement of the water, and visibility of 30-40m is almost normal. Only a heavy rainstorm can affect this.
Water temperatures can vary between those that require no more than a thin shortie wetsuit in late summer to those that beg you to use a warm drysuit during the spring.
Because the conditions in the water are so easy, Cyprus is an ideal place for selling Discover Scuba courses to the tourists. Many of today’s very keen divers got their first taste of the underwater world courtesy of a dive centre that visited their hotel swimming pool and persuaded them to give it a try.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is only access to the water, climbing down the tricky ironstone shoreline to which some of these dive centres take their customers, that offers divers any challenge whatsoever.
And if you dive with one of the centres based at Latchi or Paphos, they have avoided even that hazard by employing fleets of very comfortable boats to get their customers safely into and out of the water.
What’s it like under water The easy conditions with no currents and little nutrient in the water may deliver clear water, but there are few fish in evidence at most of the dive sites. It’s very much like diving at a popular UK inland dive site, but with fabulous visibility and water that doesn’t chill you to the bone.
That said, it can be fun swimming around a lot of the rock formations under water and through the many sea caves, some of which are a lot bigger than others.

THERE ARE NOW PLANS AFOOT to introduce a number of official marine zones, with artificial concrete reef-balls and three steel fishing-boats that will be sunk intentionally to encourage the marine life by giving them a habitat safe from the predation of fishermen.
Photos Socratous, the owner of Cydive, is hopeful that if this modest venture, due for completion by the end of next summer, proves successful, it will be possible to extend the marine zones to encompass much larger areas.
It’s hoped that the funding will then be forthcoming to sink some real big ships for the benefit of both divers and the fish that will breed there.
Marine zone enforcement is always a problem because few in the fishing lobby understand that these nurseries will benefit even them in the long term.
The wreck of the Zenobia is the exception that proves the rule. It now has lots of large Mediterranean grouper and “false grouper” living on and around it, and shoals of bream flit in silvery gangs around it.
The Zenobia was a huge Swedish-built roll-on roll-off ferry that encountered problems with its buoyancy / ballast tank system during a voyage to the Middle East ports of the Mediterranean in 1980.
The captain intended to put into Larnaca during this emergency but was refused entry by the harbourmaster. The ferry sank shortly after and not very far outside the harbour. It has been the keynote dive for the island ever since – to visit Cyprus and not the Zenobia is to miss the whole point.
The ship lies on its side, and its cargo of trucks, which used to be held in place by the chains that restrained them during the voyage, has mostly tumbled to the lower reaches of the vessel and onto the seabed.
Because of the benign conditions, the Zen makes for an easy dive, although some over-confident divers have got lost inside the wreck, and it has claimed a number of lives over the years.
It is also quite deep at around 40m to the bottom, but it is visited by thousands of divers every year. Any dive centre on any part of Cyprus will organise a visit for you.

THE PARENT COMPANY of the Zenobia Diving Centre actually bought the Zenobia back in 1997, and operates a large steel catamaran that transports vast numbers of divers out to the wreck every day.
It has moorings defined by a huge chain and buoy, and the operators have placed a permanent decompression trapeze close by where the dive-boat is stationed.
Hang tanks are positioned for those who might mismanage their air supplies.
The Zenobia is a classic nitrox dive, and those divers using the Zenobia Diving Centre’s facilities and boat but arrive with full tanks would be well-advised to come with them filled with nitrox 30 or 32.
Divers who breathe air will usually find themselves needing to hang about in the shallows before regaining the surface, especially during a second dive with maybe only an hour’s surface interval after the first.

TYPICALLY, I LEFT THE lorry deck where I had been recording some images in the darker recesses of the ship with around 30 minutes of total ascent-time showing on my computer. I had plenty of air but was concerned that I might get into trouble for holding up operations while the people in the boat waited for my computer to clear.
My worries were allayed when I met up with the boat’s skipper under water, and saw that he had five minutes more of deco to do than me!
I then spent my time taking pictures of the vast numbers of divers hanging around under the boat at 6m and less, and was intrigued to notice that a number of these people were diving without computers, and simply following the lead of their dive guide. I strongly recommend that you go in for such a dive with your own computer tracking your dive profile exactly and securely attached to you.
Some divers are daunted at the prospect when their dive guides start describing penetrating the vessel in dive briefings.
However, the lorry decks are by necessity of design quite spacious, but they are admittedly very dark. There is little danger of getting trapped provided you stay out of confined spaces and have a reliable underwater lamp or two.
People are briefed to fin cautiously but, of course, with so many divers visiting the wreck on a daily basis, it can get stirred up.
Exits can be made through what were once ventilation-shafts, but as the vessel now lies on its side these form narrow horizontal passages out to the blue light of open water.

OUTSIDE, THOSE vehicles that have tumbled down from the open deck to the seabed are now clad in a thick layer of green algae that forms an unattractive slime, so I don’t recommend attempting to climb inside any of them now, though that is what we did 20 years ago.
Alas, because so many of the visiting divers have less than the required experience to explore such wreckage, lots of lumps of green slime get liberated into the water by clumsy fins to float freely.
There are still a few hens’ eggs on the seabed that were scattered from one of the trucks. I don’t recommend trying to bring any up to the atmosphere.
The Zenobia is not a pretty dive in that it sports no colourful corals or sponges, but its sheer size makes it an unforgettable diving experience.
It looks like a ship, the lorries are still recognisable, and the boat-ride is really short. Cyprus may not be everyone’s first-choice diving destination but it’s somewhere nice to go, now and then.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly from UK with Cyprus Air, www.cyprusair.com, or BA, Monarch, Thomson, Easyjet etc.
DIVING: Taba Diving Centre, Protaras, www.tabadivingcyprus.com. Zenobia Diving Centre, Larnaca, www.zenobiadive.com. Latchi Watersports Centre, www.latchiwatersportscentre.com. Cydive, Paphos, www.cydive.com
ACCOMMODATION: Almyra Hotel, Paphos, www.thanos hotels.com. Capo Bay Hotel, Protaras, www.capobay.com
WHEN TO GO Any time, but while a 3mm shortie might suffice in September, take a drysuit from November to May.
MONEY: Euro
PRICES: A typical off-peak return airfare is £220. B&B varies from £20 to £100pp per night, but as a rule of thumb 10 dives plus accommodation for a week starts from around £500.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.visitcyprus.com