DIVING IN THE PACIFIC
There are many reasons for holidaying in the tropical Pacific, balmy weather, views to die for, clear turquoise water, and of course palm trees to lie under sipping your favourite cocktail. For me however, the main reason to visit is always the diving. Living in Samoa I’m a little spoilt, the warm temperate waters and great visibility have me hooked; luckily it’s all in my own back yard!!
Diving in Samoa is still fairly new with no doubt much, much more to be found. Currently there are only two dive operators - Aquasamoa on the main island Uplou – who offer a full range water sports as well, and Dive Savaii on Savaii.
Aquasamoa, at the Aggie Greys Resort (James A Micheners’ character Bloody Mary in the Tales of the South Pacific was based on Aggie Grey) is where I do most of my diving. Largely volcanic, I love the topography created by the lava flow – pinnacles, caverns, chimneys, swim throughs, walls, drop offs and cracks in the reef. In Vanuatu (Vila) everyone raves about the Cathedral - a cavern like crevice at the head of an old lava flow. Much of the diving around this part of Samoa is similar terrain - it’s like having a whole world of ‘Cathedrals’ to discover! And to do this Aquasamoa offers ‘explorer’ dives; for advanced divers and above - ‘go where no diver has gone before’ – and a bonus, get to name the site!
With over 40 sites my favourite dives here would have to be Tunnel and Apolima Gardens, although the ever-changing wreck of the Tava’e is a close runner-up. No matter how many times I’ve done these dives there is always something new. Sunk just over 18 months ago the Tava’e is continually morphing, adapting to its new home on Aggies Reef. Tunnels’ staple school of big eye tuna, black tip reef-sharks, giant clams, occasional turtle, and array of colourful tropical fish, are just a bonus as I meander my way through the many reef openings forged by ancient lava which give this site its name. At Apolima Gardens the great visibility, spectacular coral and wide variety of colourful reef fish, eagle rays, hump-head wrasse, fusilier, turtles and black tips give this drift dive the ‘wow’ factor. An oceanic botanical garden...
Living in Samoa - almost dead centre of the Pacific - means many diving destinations are within easy reach allowing me to indulge my passion around the Pacific.
Diving in Fiji would not be complete without experiencing a shark dive. While a number of operators offer this dive I chose to go with Beqa Adventure Divers. If you like sharks, this is an awe inspiring must do. Lying on a reef ledge at 30m surrounded by up to 8 different species of countless sharks (including Bull sharks and a Tiger shark) so close you can almost touch them is a surreal experience - something you will never forget. These massive animals range from 4 to 15 feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds. This dive should be on every divers bucket list!
From Beqa I travelled east to the Lomaivati group of islands for more sharks. Approaching the Nigali Passage through the Gau Island Barrier Reef I could already see shadows slicing through the clear water 30m below us. Still high from the dive with Beqa, the adrenaline keeps flowing; the visibility is incredible as we are surrounded by around 50 grey reef sharks, large curious grouper, and huge shoals of barrac barracuda and trevally spectacularly showc showcasing what Fiji is all about.
Furth Further north in Bligh Waters lies Namen Namena Marine Reserve, a stunning dive lo location. With extensive reef walls, pinnacles rising out of deep water and superb drift diving optio options, it is somewhere well worth visiting. Crystal water and healt healthy reefs attract a wide variety of li life including the occasional ham hammerhead, closer to the surf surface the reef is alive with col colour; abundant soft corals,
gorgonians fans, black corals and every reef fish imaginable.
Perhaps the most renowned dives in Vanuatu are the President Coolidge on Espiritu Santo and nearby Million Dollar Point. Booking late I was unable to get a dive on the Coolidge, g, however Million Dollar Point was as a fascinating experience diving ng on jeeps, lorries, tanks and trucks ks discarded by a departing American an Army after the Second World War. A must do for wreck enthusiasts.
My favourite diving in Vanuatu is to be had on its reefs. With many ny small islands there is a bounty of jewels to discover, shallow coral ral gardens, deep water drop offs, fs, pinnacles and everything in between. n. A highlight for me is the uninhabited ed Sakao Island off the northeast st coast of Espiritu Santo. As with h everywhere in Vanuatu, make sure e you consult with the local landowners regarding access to their reefs. Many communities operate marine protected areas conserving natural beauty and healthy ecosystems. Perfect for divers like myself - willing to do a little exploration and get off the beaten track.
Vanuatu offers a number of well
established dive operators to choose from in and near Port Vila, and Luganville, the two main diving bases in the country.
Rarotonga offers a great destination for those who wish to mix good diving with a relaxed, south seas vacation. Isolated by thousands of square miles of ocean, Rarotonga’s fringing reef is washed by the clean, clear waters of the South Pacific.
The fringing reef is characterized by a gently sloping plateau out to about 30m / 100ft, where the reef steepens and ‘drops off’ into the abyss. There is a variety of terrain and fish life at different parts of the reef and with over 30 dive sites there are plenty of options to keep you interested.
The south side of the island is characterized by a shallow lagoon which empties to the ocean by passages or passes. These passages offer exciting canyon like dives with sharks, rays and turtles often present. Access to these is only by boat and we dive them from the outside of the reef.
The north coast of the island has the most coral cover with huge
Porites bommies mushrooming up and forming overhangs and gullies. Turtles, Napoleon Wrasse and the myriad of reef dwellers can be easily approached on this coast offering great interactions and opportunities for photography.
There are a few wide sandy runoffs located on the northern side of the island, a favourite resting place of white tip reef sharks. The drop off is also accessible and looking from 30m / 100ft to depths of over 80m / 250ft can make your heart flutter.
The east and west coasts are typically steeper with boulder like terrain sloping out to the drop off.
Offshore from Honiara is the famous Iron Bottom Sound, named for the 50 or so American and Japanese vessels sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal, the largest naval battle of World War II. Most are accessible by boat only, but a number of shore dives are available. I recommend hiring a local Divemaster to show you the best of the sites (My choice was Johnny Rocket whose name
speaks for itself!) Having been in place for around 70 years the wrecks are well established, with beautiful soft and hard corals and a plethora of fish.
Further afield from Honiara are plenty more diving opportunities, although my experience is limited to the Reef Islands in the east. Here deep water meets islands and atolls resulting in a breathtaking coral reef. Being surrounded by bump-head parrotfish and hump-head wrasse, with manta rays, turtles and tunas swimming by in the blue, while 20 juvenile grey reef sharks circle up out of the depths to investigate our dive group is an image that will stay with me forever.
Back in Samoa the weather is perfect, the seas are calm, we’re diving daily, and life could not be better. So while I’m signing off now – the dive boat is waiting..., I leave you with my favourite quote...
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is quite clearly Ocean...” - Arthur C. Clarke