February 11, 2023

Scuba diving Vanuatu

While it may seem that Port Vila and Santo get all the attention with their many wrecks and reefs, in truth the whole island group of Vanuatu has an enormous variety of diving experiences to suit all levels and interests. Almost divers will arrive in Port Vila, but how can you extend your experience when you've ticked off the well-known operators in town?

Owen Drew is one of the many ex-pats who've fallen in love with island life on Vanuatu and diving in this part of the Pacific. Located about 30 minutes by road from Vila, his eco-resort on Tranquillity (yes, that's how it's spelled) Island (real name 'Moso') is, if you'll excuse the cliché, one of Vanuatu's hidden gems. Owen takes his 'eco' seriously. Predominantly solar-powered with a generator used only as supplementary power, the 'castaway' location is just a short boat ride across historic Havannah Harbour from the beach bar opposite and is a great spot for non-divers too.

Tranquillity Dive's list of coral-rich sites include Tranquillity Bommies, Owen's Reef, Bottle Fish Cave and several around Hat Island where large fish, turtles and even dugongs are spotted. This area is one of the few where seriously big groupers can still be found and, while a bit suspicious, they can be carefully approached to within a couple of metres.

Owen Drew and juvenile hawksbill turtle tagged and ready for release. Tranqillity Island Dive.Vanuatu

Make sure you see the Hawksbill Turtle nursery at the resort and learn a thing or two about these sublime but endangered animals. You can even name, tag, sponsor and release one for a few dollars.

Tranquillity is also a great base to catch Owen's classic 23m ketch, Coongoola, for one of his popular BBQ and beach cruises – a great way to break up your dive stay or fly day activity. If you are fortunate to catch Owen at the resort, buy him a drink and he'll tell you about his early career diving and exploring the area 'back in the day'.

Also operating on and under the clear and sheltered waters of Havannah Harbour is another ex-pat, Peter Whitelaw of Sailaway Cruises. Originally from Adelaide, Peter is based on the smart trimaran, 'Golden Wing', which traverses the length and breadth of the harbour and beyond. With full onboard dive facilities, you can even charter for a couple nights or more.

One of Peter's trump cards is Paul's Rock, a long-extinct volcanic plug that has spawned an impressive array of marine life that is easily accessible for snorkellers and divers alike. Fish of all shapes and sizes swarm around divers including a semi-tame flowery cod, playfully dubbed 'Baxter'. Some might call him ugly, but Baxter will escort you around Paul's Rock keeping an eye on you and posing for photographs. Peter is also acquainted with numerous spectacular undersea formations and cavernous swim-throughs like the well-named Taj Mahal and the Grotto of Clams around Hat Island where you'll see a staggering assortment of gorgonia fans.

Peter can also introduce you to the UNESCO-listed Chief Roi Mata’s Domain and the secret beach where several episodes of Survivor were filmed. If you haven't satisfied your wreck appetite, ask about the Corsair fighter wrecks and the story of the old WWII airstrip.

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