As New Zealand and Australia start to flatten the curve and ease restrictions, there has been talk this week of creating a “Trans-Tasman Bubble” to allow travel between the two countries. The concept has now been extended to include our Pacific Island neighbours, most of which are Covid19-free. Let’s hope they open their doors once we have beaten this pandemic – our neighbours can do with our support, some of whom have suffered the double-whammy of Covid19 and TC Harold. To get you dreaming of the South Pacific, here is our pick for the Top 10 South Pacific Dives.
1. The Blue Holes, Tanna, Vanuatu
There are several ‘Blue Holes’ along Tanna’s fringing reef, some with names including Pikinini Blue Hole, Blue Hole 1 and Blue Hole 2, others apparently not significant enough for a name. A labyrinth of tunnels and swim throughs that open into blue holes and shallow basins filled with coral gardens. Dive with: Volcano Island Divers, White Grass Ocean Resort.
2. The Great White Wall, Taveuni, Fiji
Taveuni’s Great White Wall is deservedly famous and cited as a world-class dive site. But it is so much more than the white wall it’s famous for. The reef wall itself stretches down to 40 metres, and it’s covered in soft white corals. It is also topped with some of the best hard corals around, soft corals of all the colours of the rainbow and prolific reef fish life. Dive with: Taveuni Dive Resort, Paradise Taveuni Resort.
3. Le Jardin d’Eden (Garden of Eden), Isle of Pines
A series of deep fissures that penetrate the top of the coral reef, creating grottoes and canyons, Garden of Eden begins at a depth of about 11 m with a maximum depth 45 m. It features tunnels and swim-throughs teeming with reef fish and crustaceans and a wealth of hard corals and soft coral. Here, you may encounter grey reef sharks, along with banded sea snakes, yellow boxfish and densely packed schools of glassfish and anthias. The coral walls drop to around 45m with average depth of 15 to 20 m. Dive with: Kunie Dive Centre.
4. Gonubalabala Manta Station, Milne Bay, PNG
Divers are often treated to a visit 10 to 12 mantas at this shallow cleaning station. The site itself is pretty enough, with large coral boulders and bommies and a healthy cover of soft corals scattered over a sandy bottom – perfect conditions for a Manta Ray cleaning station, and indeed for observing mantas at a cleaning station. Mantas have their own timetable and so cannot be guaranteed – but there is plenty of other stuff to see in the sand while you are waiting. Dive with: MV Chertan, MV Febrina (Milne Bay itinerary).
5. Cave of the Kastom Shark, Munda, Solomon Islands
This unique dive starts on an island, after a short track through the jungle, where a small clear pool is located at the base of a rocky outcrop. Gearing up here you enter the water and descend down into a narrow passage dropping vertically into darkness. The first section drops to 20m and opens into a larger chamber, followed by a sloping narrow passage that leads to the deepest point at 32m, before hitting the narrowest point of the cave, and out towards a dim blue light, the cave exit on a reef wall. Dive with: Dive Munda.
6. The SS President Coolidge, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
The mother of all WWII wrecks, the SS President Coolidge is HUGE. Many divers go to Espiritu Santo or even Vanuatu just to dive the Coolidge, and spend the best part of the week doing so: starting with an orientation dive, and working their way up (down) to the ‘Lady’ – a porcelain figure of a medieval lady riding a unicorn in the first-class dining room, and beyond to the engine room and stern, at 70 m. Dive with: Pacific Dive, Coral Quays Dive Resort.
7. Uepi Point, Uepi, Solomon Islands
Uepi Point is the Uepi Island Resort signature dive and definitely one of best in the Solomons. The ocean-facing side of Uepi drops off in a steep wall. The water from the Marovo Lagoon flows via the Charapoana Passage. The currents are not strong, but carry nutrients which attract the smaller stuff, which in turn attracts the bigger stuff. Though a good dive at any time of day, in the early mornings and late afternoons it can be really going off with large schools of trevally and barracuda, as well as rays and reef sharks. Uepi Island Resort.
8. The Awakening Shark Dive, Kuata Island, Fiji
There are now five shark dives in Fiji, with three in Beqa Lagoon, one on the Coral Coast and this one, The Awakening, in the Yasawa Islands. It’s an intimate experience, with normally only 10 to 12 divers lined up to watch some rather magnificent bull sharks, lemon sharks, nurse sharks and reef sharks tussle over tuna heads being fed to them by a few of Fiji’s finest shark whisperers. Dive with: Barefoot Kuata Resort.
9. Leru Cut, Russell Islands, Solomon Islands
Leru Cut is a long passage cut deep into the land, almost – but not quite wide enough for a couple of divers to swim side by side. Open to the air at the top, though you can’t always see vertically upwards, it is lit by slanting shafts of sunlight in parts – depending obviously on the time of day. At the apex, surface under a rainforest canopy before swimming back through the ‘cut’ to explore the coral wall beyond. Dive with: MV Bilikiki, Solomons PNG Master.
10. Dumbea Passe, Noumea, New Caledonia
Three dive sites in one, on one side of the ‘passe’ or channel, a site called Canyon Fossil has varied and abundant life, with giant gorgonian sea fans. In season, the channel itself plays host to hundreds of groupers that aggregate in small caverns during their mating season. On the opposite side of the channel at M’Bere Reef, there’s abundant fish life alongside black corals, steep canyons and a large World War II submarine mine. You’ll very likely see reef sharks, including grey reefs, whitetips, leopard sharks, hammerheads and blacktips. Dive with: Abyss Plongee Diving Club.
What’s your pick for the best of the South Pacific?
Obviously, Top 10 lists are controversial. These are our favourites – tell us yours!