Vanuatu is a true diver’s paradise offering unspoiled coral reefs, historically-significant wrecks and underwater caverns made for exploring thanks to the islands’ volcanic origins. With Australia and the Coral Sea to the west, Fiji to the east and the Solomon Islands in the north, this tropical archipelago is in the perfect position to offer spectacular diving.
Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of 83 islands that stretch across a length of 800 miles. Only 65 of these islands are inhabited with the majority of inhabitants being Melanesian and forming part of the complex and interesting culture of Ni-Vanuatu. Nowadays the Ni-Vanuatu culture is quite diverse over the region, as this Southern Pacific nation received a fair amount of outside influence during various occupations by the French, Spanish and British. English and French are widely spoken in the region, but Bislama (the Pidgin English of Vanuatu) is by far the most popular way to communicate.
With a rapidly growing tourism industry, Vanuatu is now home to many serene beauty spas, luxury resorts and diving operators. Vanuatu is an ideal holiday destination for both divers and non-divers, with great deep-sea fishing opportunities as well as the chance to sea kayak, hike numerous trails that lead to active volcanoes and experience guided tours into the rainforest. It is interesting to note that aside from impeccable marine diversity, Vanuatu is also home to a diverse bat population. There are 11 different species of bat that inhabit the surrounding islands, and 3 of these species can only be found in this Southern Pacific nation.
Vanuatu’s biggest island is that of Espiritu Santo, which was named by Portuguese explorers and translates to “Holy Spirit”. The region’s capital city is Port Vila and is located on the island of Efate. This city was also the colonial headquarters during Vanuatu’s occupation. Although the majority of scuba diving opportunities stem from these two islands, other noteworthy islands are Erromango, Vanua Lava, Malakula, Anatom and Ambrym.
When to Visit Vanuatu
Vanuatu experiences tropical weather patterns that make for warm weather for the majority of the year. Temperatures in the mild winter months of April-September rarely drop below 72 °F (22 °C) and in the summer months they reach around 82 °F (28 °C). Starting in October, the rainy and cyclone seasons are in full force, however water temperatures remain very pleasant with lows of 75 °F (24 °C) and highs of 86 °F (30 °C). Underwater visibility is superb throughout the year and currents are fairly mild too.
Vanuatu lies within the Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes known for their seismic activity and the resulting earthquakes and tsunamis that occur. These phenomena are largely unpredictable and can happen at any time of year.
Unfortunately, Vanuatu has only just begun to realize the effects that over-fishing and primitive agricultural methods can have on a nation. Government assistance and eco-tourism is slowly starting to take hold in some locations, and hopefully this will continue to grow so that the beauty of these tropical islands can be preserved for generations to come.
Best Diving Destinations in Vanuatu
Diving varies hugely in this underwater paradise with everything from exciting deep dives to wreck dives to reef dives that can also be dived at night. Adding to these amazing experiences is the exciting thought that the odd-looking dugong, a relative of the manatee, is prevalent in these waters and may accompany you on your dive.
In general, diving near Espiritu Santo boasts pristine reefs that swarm with colourful tropical fish, reef sharks and turtles. Worthwhile locations also include the small islands of Tutuba, Bokissa and Aore Island. Cindy’s Reef is ideal for beginner divers as it is a shallow reef located near Luganville on Espiritu Santo. The coral gardens in this area as well as at Bikissa North Reef off Bokissa Island are truly something to write home about.
Million Dollar Point is an interesting name for a dive site and apparently received its name from WWII when US troops used the area as an equipment dumping ground. The site offers an interesting array of wrecks to visit and is easily accessible for all diving levels due to its shallow waters.
By far the most famous wreck dive in Vanuatu and an absolute must-dive for those visiting the area is that of the SS President Coolidge. Originally a luxurious liner, it was later used to transport US soldiers in World War Two and sunk as a result of being hit by two Japanese mines. The liner now lies at a starting depth of 70 feet and slopes down to around 240 feet. Tropical fish, turtles and eels all call this well-preserved wreck their home and divers can enjoy a great swim-through with colourful coral and sightings of barracuda in the distance. Divers can spot WWII equipment, sunken statues and chandeliers, all showing the interesting past that this vessel has held. As you ascend from the wreck, take advantage of the fantastic views of the shallower site of Coral Gardens.
Getting to Vanuatu
Efate Island is one of the main transportation hubs for Vanuatu as the capital city of Port Vila is home to the Bauerfield International Airport. From here, divers can opt for a liveaboard experience or travel the short distance by plane to Espiritu Santo, where there is another airport, the Santo-Pekoa International Airport.
Where to Stay in Vanuatu
With an ever-growing tourism industry and increasing popularity with scuba divers, Vanuatu is now home to many dive tour operators. These are mainly located on the major islands of Espiritu Santo and near the capital of Port Vila on Efate Island, but smaller dive shops can be found elsewhere.
Exclusive dive resorts are set near the pristine white beaches on these islands and together with independent on-shore dive shops can arrange liveaboard trips, day diving trips, provide diving instruction and certification as well as equipment and wetsuit hire.
The island of Espiritu Santo is home to Mount Tabwemasana, a massive volcano that overlooks the islands from a height of over 6000 feet. Not many tourists dare to traverse the trails across rivers and through the rainforest to reach the peaks of this imposing volcano, but those that are interested in doing so are highly recommended to arrange a local guide for assistance.