Discovering Scuba Diving in Port Vila - Vanuatu
By Aulden Warbrooke And Jade Lee
Posted 26 Apr 2016
If you are planning a visit to the Pacific Islands then Port Vila or Vila, as the locals call it, is a must see. Located on the picturesque island of Efate, Vila is the harbour side capital of Vanuatu. It offers the perfect Pacific Island getaway where first world worries seem to fade as you appreciate the simplicity of island life. The bright Melanesian smiles, laughter and incredible island hospitality do not give away the fact that the land and its people are still recovering from Category 5 Cyclone Pam that made landfall in March 2015. We spent seven days exploring Efate from Port Vila, so we’ve endeavoured to summarise our incredible diving experiences and hope that someday you’ll venture into Vila to make these your own.
Big Blue Vanuatu
Tranquil is the word that encapsulates diving in Vanuatu. Warm (29 degree Celsius), calm water with incredible visibility- this is every diver's dream. Having dived the SS President Coolidge at Espiritu Santo; spectacular dive sites accessible from Port Vila were a welcomed surprise in broadening the spectrum for diving in Vanuatu.
The capital is located on the foreshore of Mele Bay which is host to a number of different dive sites – coral bommies, wrecks and caverns to name a few. So a double dive could be as easy as a half - day trip. ‘West side story’ and ‘Katlin Reef’ were two such dive spots and personal favourites of our local dive guides from Big Blue Vanuatu. It didn't take long to see why. With average depths of twenty- five metres, these sites were teeming with abundant marine life and healthy coral reefs. It seemed like every possible colour on a full colour palette was showcased. Big Blue Vanuatu is a fantastic dive operator with possibly some of the most experienced local instructors and divemasters in Vanuatu. However, if you’ve also got time for a day trip, plan to do some diving around North Efate.
We had the luxury of two day - trips diving at sites off the outer islands of North Efate. Launching from Havannah Harbour which has its history embedded in World War II, this was only the start to a step in the past. A double dive on Sailaway Cruises gave us the opportunity to be drawn intently into the legend of Chief Roi Mata’s Domain. It encompasses the small coral island of Artok, or Hat Island which was the location of our first dive of the day. The island has been respected as sacred for over 400 years and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 so the marine life around the island is flourishing. It was difficult to contain our excitement and anticipation on the 45 - minute trip across the harbour. However, the untouched beauty of Efate and Lelepa calmed our spirits and had us captivated as we sailed by.
Hat Island was more than we had imagined. It is a coral garden haven with spectacular coral in vibrant colours and types that we had never seen before. We soon learnt that we were privy to their vivid colours which were being strongly demonstrated as a result of unusually warmer water that was stressing them. Prolonged exposure would lead to irreversible coral bleaching unless cooler water washed through soon. Needless to say, this added to the appreciation by both divers and snorkelers alike.
Venturing into the depths at Hat Island, there are magnificent sea fans in places that Peter, our skipper and divemaster, knew exactly where to find. This was only the beginning as it felt like the second dive at ‘Paul’s Rock’ was even more breathtaking. Peter led us through a myriad of underwater topographies which included walls, swim throughs, gullies, coral and rocky reefs all on the second dive. The visibility at these sites was particularly spectacular on our trip so we managed to get some good pictures. However, as with all amazing dives, it could not have lasted long enough. The end of the dive gave us the appreciation of just how much of a vibrant underwater world there is to discover in contrast to the quiet serene beauty you ascend to.
Tranquillity Island Eco Dive Resort
If legends and sea fans aren’t enough to entice you, then maybe underwater hot springs and endangered Hawksbill turtles will. Our second day trip was to Moso Island, also off North Efate. There are beautiful dive sites in and around Moso Island that range to suit various diver capabilities and interests. We spent our first dive at a site called ‘Bottle Fish’ which sits outside the passage between Moso and Lelepa Island. Beautiful. The reef around this part of the island is vast with lots of macro subjects for the keen photographer. However, one of the most intriguing things was experiencing an underwater hot spring which Tommy, our divemaster, was keen to point out. It's a strange sensation putting your hand over what looks like a mini vertical cave and having it engulfed by warm water - magic. Similarly, sliding your hand under the sand in parts around the underwater hot spring provided a similar sensation of warmth. We thought this was quite a twist to visiting conventional hot springs anywhere on land.
Tranquility Dive - Diving Bottle Fish
Our hosts for the day, Tranquillity Island Eco Dive Resort, had another treat for us when we got back to Moso Island. Tranquillity runs a voluntary Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Program with their very own, turtle rookery. They raise the baby turtles from hatchlings until they are about 30cm long when they are released into the ocean. Their Program tackles the statistic in which it is estimated that as little as 1% of hatchlings that develop in the wild, will survive to sexual maturity. This is a particular concern when Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered and face the very real risk of becoming extinct. The visit provided a good reminder that we all play a part in contributing to their survival. It is the small things like being conscious of rubbish in and around oceans (particularly plastic bags and straws), supporting the ban against catching and consuming turtle meat or eggs, and standing against the trade of turtle shells on the black market, that can make a difference.
Diving Bottle Fish - Tranquility Dive
Our second dive at White Rock, just off the shore of Moso Island, gave us a chance to appreciate just how important turtles are to the marine environment. We watched as a turtle intently ate sponges off the coral as we pass by on our drift dive. Unless turtles are around to perform this task, sponges would become overgrown and suffocate the coral which impedes coral growth. This is another reminder about how fragile the marine environment is. We conclude this dive with a sense of awe and intrigue having experienced another beautiful site in Vila’s underwater world.
Diving in Vanuatu is truly tranquil. If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Port Vila, it is well worth the trip. Each dive operator provides access to unique dive sites so regardless of who you choose or how much time you have- it is sure to be an adventure. On the days you’re not diving, there are lots of tours and local attractions worth visiting. We recommend Mele Cascades Waterfall, the Blue Hole, Pele Island and watching a performance by Vanua Fire.
Article by Island Feet.
Fiji Airways flies twice weekly from Suva to Port Vila on Wednesdays and Sundays, and four times weekly from Nadi to Port Vila on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.