Best Diving in the South Pacific Ocean
Islands that have some of the best diving in the South Pacific include Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Indeed, some of the best dive sites in the South Pacific rank as world class sites. Who has not heard of Rainbow Reef and Great White Wall, or the world famous wreck of the SS President Coolidge?
The best thing about South Pacific diving is that it usually takes place from a picture postcard perfect tropical island. The islanders are friendly, there is a good range of resorts from eco to modern luxury, and the diving is all well regulated to international standards.
Another benefit to scuba diving in the South Pacific islands is that the climate is rarely oppressively hot. The terrain is largely volcanic in origin, one of the reasons the underwater landscape is so interesting as it provides good anchorage for coral reefs to form, and provides walls, steep slopes on which coral can grow and plenty of seamounts that rise from the ocean bed to just below the surface: acting like a magnet for pelagic fish.
Here are four top picks for the best scuba diving in the South Pacific.
Fiji is often called the soft coral capital of the world, and if you are in search of colourful backdrops, then Vatu-i-ra in the north is definitely the soft coral capital of Fiji. A short boat ride from the Volivoli Beach Resort, there are stunning sea mounts, bedecked with colourful corals and surrounded by shoals of fish from fusiliers to barracuda. Here’s a 98 second video which shows just how colourful this area is.
A little further to the east is the island of Taveuni, home to the world class dive sites of Rainbow Reef and Great White Wall. One of the reasons for the fantastic diving here are the currents that stream through the Somo Straits bringing nutrients from deeper waters. Though there are a couple dozen sites on the Rainbow Reef, timing is everything, so be sure to dive with a local like Taveuni Dive Resort, who know at which point of the tide any particular site can be dived.
Fiji is also known as the shark feeding capital of the world, and Beqa Lagoon in Fiji’s south is a shark feeding capital. There are arguments for and against feeding apex predators, but in Fiji it is done with reverence. There are now four shark dives in Beqa Lagoon, the Bistro, managed by Aquatrek, the Arena, by Beqa Adventure Divers, the Cathedral, accessible via Beqa Lagoon Resort and The Colosseum, managed by Coral Coast Divers. A very comfortable resort which also offers reef and wreck diving in Beqa Lagoon – with enough different dive sites to keep any diver happy for a week or more.
The Solomon Islands offers some of the best diving in the South Pacific islands by virtue of its variety of dive sites. A place where significant land, sea and air battles took place during WWII, the islands are awash with the wrecks of planes and ships. Each wreck has its own fascinating backstory, including those relating to the former President Kennedy, and the I-1 submarine which was instrumental is delivering up code books which help the allies crack the Japanese codes.
These wrecks are all in addition to the natural reefs, walls, gullies and coral meadows that have formed around the numerous islands.
Uepi Dive Resort is on a barrier island between the Marovo Lagoon and the deep New Georgia Sound. Because of its unique location where ocean and lagoon currents meet, it is a place where the fish life is prolific: anything from hammerheads to rays, barracuda to reef sharks.
Further north in New Georgia is Munda Dive at the Agnes Gateway Hotel – a gateway to some of the best diving in the New Georgia province. Again the currents play with the underwater terrain to create points where pelagics aggregate, an underwater passage through a small island into the sea, as well as numerous coral reefs at just the right depths to attract shoals of colourful reef fish.
One of the best ways to dive the Solomon Islands is by liveaboard; the Bilikiki liveaboard and the Solomons Master liveaboard explore areas that cannot be reached from a resort. In fact they visit areas rarely visited by anyone – the population being quite sparse on some of the Solomon Islands. In the Russell Islands you’ll find some of the most stunning underwater terrain, with massive walls and points teaming with all manner of fish including pelagics. As well, there are caves and slots cut deep into the sides of islands which you can enter from the ocean, and surface surrounded by green jungle vines.
Between Fiji and the Solomon Islands, lies another group of islands which form Vanuatu. In common with its two neighbours, the islands are volcanic in origin and as a consequence, Vanuatu’s shoreline is mostly rocky with fringing reefs and little continental shelf, dropping rapidly into the ocean depths. This too gives rise to some exciting diving on reefs and walls. The two main diving centres are the capital, Port Vila, and the largest island Espiritu Santo – both home to both reef and wreck diving.
Port Vila provides some of the most laid back diving in the South Pacific. From the Hideaway Dive Resort which can accommodate individuals, couples and groups, most of the dive sites are a 5 minute boat ride across flat water. Just because the diving is easy – doesn’t mean it is any less spectacular for it. As well as the Bonzer wreck – that of a little tug boat – there’s also the Semele Federesen – an inter island trader – largely intact complete with propeller.
Espiritu Santo, a short flight away, has the SS President Coolidge, one of the most famous wrecks around. Pacific Dive, based at the very modern Espiritu Hotel can ensure you dive it safely, as well as get you to any number of other great wrecks like the USS Tucker and Million Dollar Beach – another dive site with a fascinating backstory. It’s actually all the military hardware that was left in Santo after WWII that the Americans didn’t want the expense of shipping home. Finding no ready buyers locally, they just bulldozed the whole lot into the sea.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea doesn’t just have some of the best diving in the South Pacific – it also has some of the best cultural experiences. The islands are home to almost a thousand different tribes, and there are many annual festivals, such as a festival of drums, a festival of canoes and the Hagen Festival which brings many tribes together.
The diving is as diverse as the population, with each province having its unique dive spots. Walindi Plantation Resort‘s Kimbe Bay has submerged seamounts surrounded by shoals of swirling barracuda; seamounts that break the surface as colourful coral reefs and the odd unique wreck such as the recently discovered Zero – sitting perfectly upright and intact in just 12 m of water.
(And of course the Galapagos is technically in the South Pacific Ocean – but that’s a whole different kettle of fish that deserves in own page).