February 17, 2013

Scuba Diving in North Efate

Vanuatu scuba diving

There are many diving delights to be found in the Vanuatu island group. So, how do you extend your experience when you've ticked off the well known operators in Port Vila and Santo?

Sailaway Cruises and Tranquillity Dive have been established in the North Efate area for over 30 years and have located many interesting sites. Other dive operators from Port Vila can also access some of these.

Based at a mini-marina in Havannah Harbour is “Sailaway Cruises” with their smart sailing trimaran Golden Wing. They offer a full day cruise with lunch, catering to both divers and keen snorkellers. The usual run is in sheltered waters to Hat Island, Survivor Beach and Paul's Rock seamount.

Hat Island lies within a UNESCO World Heritage Area, based on the anthropology of the Roimata legend. This ancient volcano, has a number of top dive sites offering 50m underwater visibility in the tradewind season.

Roimata's Grave site features healthy coral reefs, gardens of gorgonia fans and prolific fish populations. There are occasional sightings of turtles, big maori wrasse, whitetip reefies and resident eagle rays.

The Taj Mahal site is a cavernous swim-through with shafts of light streaming in like spotlights through holes in the roof. This dive is usually part of a longer dive including walls featuring gorgonian fans, seawhips and grottoes of clams.

Paul's Rock, rising from 500m to 2m, has spawned an impressive array of marine life. There is a custom tabu on fishing there to avoid Devil-spirits, so fish of all shapes and sizes have no fear of snorkellers or divers, making for friendly interactions. Paul's Rock features swim-throughs lined with gorgonia fans and multi-coloured soft corals. Big pelagics, turtles and a giant moray eel are often seen.

Other dive sites include the Tukutuku Labyrinth of swimthrough caverns; Turtle Reef pinnacles; Lelepa Island Return to the Womb; deeper sites at Hat Island; and the WW2 Corsair fighter plane near Pele Island. The boat can be chartered by families or dive groups for liveaboard trips with diving.

Located about 30 minutes by road from Vila, is “Tranquillity Dive”, one of Vanuatu’s hidden gems. ‘Eco’ is taken seriously here as it is a predominantly solar-powered site with a generator used only as supplementary power and to pump Scuba tanks. The castaway location, a spot used by three series’ of Survivor, is just a short boat ride across Havannah Harbour and is a great spot for non-divers too.

Tranquillity Dive has sixteen coral-rich sites including Tranquillity Bommies, straight off the shore on the crest of a 114 meter drop-off and home to several large hawksbill and green turtles and the occasional manta rays and dugongs. Also Owen’s Reef which has more diversity of coral and marine life in such a small area than other dive sites on the island, and not forgetting Bottle Fish Cave where the tug boats were stationed to haul the anti-submarine nets in Purumea pass during WW2. There are also two wrecks to explore, Belama, in 20 meters and Roimata in 40 meters. Don’t miss Grouper Gutter, one of the few areas where seriously big groupers can still be found on occasions.

Tranquillity Dive offers island style accommodation and you can undertake beginners through to dive master courses there. During a visit make sure you see the Hawksbill Turtle nursery at the resort and learn a thing or two about these endangered animals. Also a Classic 23m Ketch can be joined for its popular Coongoola Cruise to a beach with offshore snorkelling and BBQ lunch - a great idea for your no-fly day activity.

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