Vanuatu’s A Dive!
Scuba diving in Vanuatu is usually excellent, in the dive sites themselves, accessibility, water temperature and visibility. There are a number of professional dive operators – Tranquility, Nautilus and resident operators on Hideaway Island. Guests who stay at Le Lagon, Holiday Inn or Iririki will probably choose Nautilus as they offer free pool dives to guests. Some people choose to get their dive ‘ticket’ while on holidays because the compulsory dives (five) are in exotic locations in warm waters. You will still, however, have to study the theory.
There are reef and wreck dives for the novice and experienced divers as well as caves and swim-throughs. Vanuatu is, of course, home to one of the world’s most sought after dives, The President Coolidge. The ‘Coolidge’ is off the island of Espiritu Santo and, as it is recommended only for the experienced divers who have several days to explore and then wait a day before flying out (due to potential decompression sickness at altitude).
There are many dive sites within half an hour of Port Vila. Dive costs vary depending on whether you have your own gear and how many dives you take – but as a guide… around VT6000 (AUD$80) for an introductory dive and VT4000 (AUD$55) for certified divers hiring all gear. Night dives have a VT1000 surcharge. If you plan a lot of dives, dive into a plan of buying 10 dives for around AUD$35 a dive.
Dive sites include:
- TWIN BOMBIES: There are two ‘bombora’ formations and a sheer wall on this dive. The grottos and coral are alive with a variety of welcoming fish. 10 metres on top of the reef to 18 metres over the drop-off. Lots of fish with varying size and colour.
- FILA ISLAND REEF: Just 15 minutes from the harbour dive base with a depth of 6 to 15 metres. Lots of colourful coral and a variety of colourful small fish.
- BLACKSANDS REEF AND CAVES: 8 – 14 metres with a variety of fish and rays on a sandy bottom. There is a series of interlocking caves and swim-through tunnels honeycombing this reef.
- MELE REEF: An extensive reef that rises up in the middle of Mele Bay to around 6 metres from the surface. There are lots of dives around here – a good one is along a vertical wall to a shallow reef to finish. It’s a marine sanctuary surrounding Hideaway Island so the wildlife is protected and abundant.
- THE CATHEDRAL: A delightful dive in a vast cavern off the Pango peninsula to 26 metres. Shafts of light create unusual effects. You can swim through to the back and up a ‘chimney’ to a large pool on the surface inside the reef – then back to the outside and along the wall to explore and look out into the deep open ocean.
- OLLIES LOLLY: Near Hideaway Island this is a large bommie starting at 9 metres. A range of hard and soft corals and heaps of fish – large and small. Great for photography.
- OFF ERAKOR: The Coral Garden is five minutes away with a variety of hard corals, plates and staghorn and is surrounded by clouds of colourful fish. It’s an easy dive from 2 to 3 metres down to 15 metres. For a ‘poke around’ fun dive, The Labyrinth on the point of Erakor Reef has nooks, crannies and swim-throughs to 16 metres. Middle Reef has one of the best drop offs in the area, good fish and excellent coral formations but can be subject to surges.
- MV KONANDA: This is a lovely wreck dive. Konanda sits on a flat, sandy bottom at 26 metres with her derricks and rigging reaching up to within ten metres of the surface. She is an Island Trader, 45 metres long, which was damaged in a cyclone in 1987 and deliberately sunk for the delight of scuba divers. She has been carefully prepared so penetration into the cabins and holds is totally safe. It’s an ideal introduction to the fun of wreck diving.
- STAR OF RUSSIA: This grand old lady of sailing ship days rests in Port Vila Harbour. She’s 80 metres long and 13 metres wide and down 33 metres. Divers can swim through the body of the ship, swim up the three massive masts, around the romantic, shapely bow and check out the wheel, rudder and anchor machinery. There’s some history here too. The Star of Russia was built by Harlan and Wolff of Belfast who also built the Titanic. It was also part of a race between herself and one of the new steamships in the early 1900’s. The race was from England to Australia. They took different routes (as ‘Russia’ was subject to the prevailing winds) and the sailboat took the honours with the steamship three days behind!
- TASMAN: Here’s a dive with a difference – a Qantas S26 Sandringham Flying Boat. A bulky plane with a wingspan of over 30 metres. The dive begins at the tail, down over the body to the nose where you can climb through the cockpit window and out the other side. Divers need to plan for 40 metres here. This plane was also a record breaker – she was the first to cross the Tasman Sea from Auckland to Sydney in under eight hours! (Today it’s around two.)
- MV SEMLE FEDERSEN: This is a cargo-carrying trading vessel that was sunk along the Pango Coast in Mele Bay in 1985. Now home to lots of plants and animals, the stern area, cabins and wheelhouse can be dived within 40 metres. The visibility here is outstanding (60 metres) and the whole ship can be seen at a glance while descending the mooring line. It’s a valuable dive as a build-up for divers wanting to take on the ‘President Coolidge’ in Santo (for experienced divers comfortable with decompression diving).
The President Coolidge is arguably the most sought after dive wreck in the world. It’s an accessible and spectacular dive. Sunk in 1942 off Santo, the 200m luxury liner turned troop carrier still contains jeeps, guns, gas masks, tools, crockery toiletries and other bits and pieces. It’s also home to millions of fish including ‘Boris’ a 200kg groper that has lived on the wreck for nearly a quarter of a century. Recently divers have undertaken a restoration program to give the grand ship a much-needed clean, scraping and cleaning areas in the engine room, dining rooms, toilets, the galley and one of the swimming pools. The centerpiece is ‘The Lady’ – a beautiful porcelain statue of a woman and a unicorn, which is in what was once the ‘Smoking Room’. Most divers give her a kiss for luck before heading back to the surface and reality. The dive is so accessible because the Captain of the ship, after it hit a mine, purposely ran it aground to save the crew, which was pretty much the case. Only two men died. The death toll could have been higher because the ship was on such a tilt the lifeboats were out of reach.
Million Dollar Point in Santo is an amazing dive site full of army equipment, fish and coral… but try to imagine yourself as a ni-Vanuatu witnessing this. The US army sets up a military operations base on the island during World War 2. Planes fly out, planes fly in with troops, equipment and supplies. Japanese soldiers captured in the Solomon Islands sometimes pass through on their way to POW camps in Australia. Entertainers like Bob Hope and Arty Shaw arrive to keep the troops amused and then, the war’s over, and someone has to make a decision about what to do with all the equipment (jeeps, guns, trucks etc). ‘Of course!’ someone decides, ‘push the lot into the sea!’. And that’s what happened – so it’s also Million Dollar What Was The Point and a great dive site.
Whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple or in a group, we can package up diving with accommodation depending on your needs and budget.