The South Pacific nation of the Republic of Vanuatu offers amazing scuba diving opportunities. The nation is made up of 83 volcanic islands, about 1,000 miles east of Australia. Of the long 800-mile chain of islands, 65 are inhabited primarily by Ni-Vanuatu natives. The country was occupied by Spain, France, and the United Kingdom in turn, and finally became a sovereign nation in 1980. Tourism and scuba diving have been growing and growing there over the last several decades.
The largest island in Vanuatu's chain is Espiritu Santo, meaning “Holy Spirit”, named by a Portuguese explorer centuries ago. The island of Espiritu Santo is the location of Vanuatu's highest point on the volcano Mount Tabwemasana 6,165 feet (1,879 meters). This huge volcano has two peaks, one considered male and the other female in local tradition. The summit offers great views of the sea and the surrounding islands, though the jungle offers serious obstacles to the summit and few make the trek each year. If you are interested in making the trek, it is highly recommended- if not imperative- to have a local guide to navigate the obscure trail and river system.
Besides the largest island of Espiritu Santo, the other large islands of Vanuatu are Malakula, Efate, Erromango, Ambrym, Tanna, Pentecost, Epi, Ambaeor Aoba, Vanua Lava, Gaua, Maewo, Malo and Anatom. Most of the scuba dive sites and established dive resorts and shops are on Espiritu Santo and Efate near the capital city of Port Vila.
The islands do not have any large native mammal species. There are 11 species of bats, three of which are unique to Vanuatu. The islands do have many reptiles and bird species. Biodiversity is found in the waters of Vanuatu.
The weather in Vanuatu is tropical averaging 72 °F (22 °C) in winter (April-September) and averaging 82 °F (28 °C) in the summer starting around October. There are many cyclones and long hot rainy day periods throughout the summer season. Water temperatures off the islands peak in February to as high as 86 °F (30 °C) and drop to their lowest temperatures in August to down around 75 °F (24 °C). These temperatures pose no restrictions or need for any protection from the cold other than maybe a wetsuit when scuba diving Vanuatu. Vanuatu is also famous for the pristine visibility that scuba divers can expect offshore the many islands.
Another interesting thing about Vanuatu is the regular frequency of 6.0 plus magnitude earthquakes. The islands are part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, and the Vanuatu region is one of the most seismically active areas in the world. In Vanuatu, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and other geologic phenomena are commonplace.
While Vanuatu offers great opportunities for scuba divers and tourists to enjoy this remote island nation, there are ecological factors adversely affecting Vanuatu. Over 90% of Vanuatu households are reported to fish and consume fish on a daily basis and this is, unfortunately, depleting offshore fish populations. Freshwater is scarce and waste is poorly managed. The islands are abundant in jungle and diverse vegetation but wide spread slash-and-burn agricultural methods are disrupting the watersheds and soil quality. The country will need to change its practices or experience serious ecological repercussions and eco-tourism (the practice of creating places to stay and things to do that were and are responsibly and consciously created) has not taken deep root on the islands, yet. However, in 2006 a report about Vanuatu by the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth environmentalist group published the Happy Planet Index, which estimated Vanuatu to be the most ecologically efficient country in the world, achieving a high level of overall human well being. Lets hope they can stay that way and continue to harvest their fish and maintain thriving private gardens.
One of the most famous dive sites in Vanuatu is the SS President Coolidge. Reportedly the largest wreck dive in the world, this huge luxury ocean liner was converted to carry United States troops during WWII in the South Pacific. The huge ship attempted to anchor off Espiritu Santo's harbor but hit two Japanese mines. The captain attempted to beach the vessel but the coral reef obstructed. The 5,000 plus troops where able to easily and safely reach shore but the vessel, laden with gear, sank into the offshore channel. Today the bow lies at a depth of 70 feet (20 meters) and the stern down slope in a depth of 240 feet (70 meters) of water. There were only two casualties: an engine room fireman and the captain.
Today the site of the wreck is used exclusively for recreational scuba diving and is a must dive when in Vanuatu. Coral growth has taken hold and gives a beautiful display in the 70 plus years since it sunk. It is common to see barracuda lurching around, abundant lionfish, sea turtles, and moray eels in the wrecks’ many nooks and crevices. When decompressing from diving deep along the SS President Coolidge, the dive site Coral Gardens offers a great shallow dive site to photograph the reef and marine life. The beauty of the reef offshore Espiritu Santo makes for amazing dive sites.
Another popular dive site is called Million Dollar Point, just offshore from an amazing white sand beach on the island of Espiritu Santo. Million Dollar Point is a huge junkyard of wrecks and places to explore in relatively shallow water. This is a great dive site for beginners and one that advanced divers will also enjoy. The site is called Million Dollar Point because that was about how much the equipment and refuse was worth when the USA dumped their military gear there back near the end of WWII. It’s a great dive to explore.
Another dive site off Espiritu Santo worth arranging is Cindy's Reef, a shallow beginners dive with abundant coral, off the north point of Aore Island, just across from Luganville. The small island of Tutuba offers another protected and popular dive site known as Tutuba Point. The dive site called Bokissa North Reef is off the small island of Bokissa. Espiritu Santo offers brilliant coral diving and reef shark and small abundant colorful reef fish. The yellow and blue staghorn coral are abundant at the Bokissa North Reef dive location. Tutuba Island, Aore Island, and tiny Bokissa Island are just offshore from Espiritu Santo near Luganville. This area off the southern shores of Espiritu Santo offers pristine dive conditions for beginners and advanced divers and little to no current with high visibility.
To get to Vanuatu, most visitors fly into Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila on the island of Efate. The airport serves as the hub for Vanuatu's airline Air Vanuatu. The airport, like much of Vanuatu's infrastructure, was built by the US military during WWII. Once in Port Vila you can arrange boat or liveaboard serves through the many dive shops in town or take a hop flight to the big island of Espiritu Santo. Santo-Pekoa International Airport in Luganville, Espiritu Santo is another popular place to arrive for scuba divers.
Vanuatu is a paradise and a world-class destination for scuba divers. There are many established dive shops around the islands and new dive shops popping up each year. Most of the dive shops are concentrated on either the island of Efate near the capital city of Port Vila, or around the island of Espiritu Santo.
Hideaway Island Resort is in Port Vila, the largest city and the capital city of Vanuatu on the island of Efate. The resort caters to scuba divers and beach lovers, offering fine food and entertainment as well. Hideaway is a five star PADI, fully equipped scuba resource in the Vanuatu. Another great fully certified dive shop in Port Vila is Big Blue Scuba Dive Vanuatu located directly by the seawall. This resort's location offers lots of sea turtles, manta rays, and reef to explore near to shore. Both shops offer year round diving instruction, dive trips, and certification courses.
The largest island of Vanuatu is Espiritu Santo, which offers world-class wreck diving and pristine white sand beaches. The Dive shop known as Allan Power Dive Tours, and Coral Quays Fish and Dive Resort both offer high quality dive tours to local, popular wreck sites, and lesser known dive sites around Espiritu Santo and off other nearby islands. Allan Power Dive Tours specializes in diving the huge SS President Coolidge that lies offshore one of Espiritu Santo's many amazing beaches.
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The Konanda (not Konandra) is an inter island trader purpose- sunk for diving in the last few years, a couple of hundred meters behind Ifira island. It has little growth on it but is a good are k for swim throughs, and at a max of 25m you get plenty time on it. Good for photography, and via usually 15-20m. Regular trips by Big Blue and Nautilus dive shops.
Shore dive not far out of Luganville. This is the place where the US bulldozed all their equipment after WW2 - trucks, jeeps & all kinds of building materials all melded together after 70 years underwater. Good snorkeling site as well as divng to about 20m max.
Been going here for 20 years. The best diving on Efate is accessed from here - Hat Island and behind Miso are favourites. Schools of eagle rays, blacktip sharks, caves full of crayfish & the occasional hammerhead. There are some hotwater vents behing Miso too. The housereef right off the beach is nice too.