DIV­ING IN THE PACIFIC

Go Travel The Pacific - - Contents - ByKatThomp­son

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!!

SAMOA

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.

FIJI

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.

VAN­U­ATU

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.

COOK IS­LANDS

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.

SOLOMON IS­LANDS

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

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