Vanuatu Diving

Vanuatu diving offers a quality and variety of opportunities to explore isolated, reef-fringed islands rivaled by few other dive destinations in the South Pacific.

This Y-shaped chain of islands in the area of the Southwestern Pacific called Melanesia is about 3/4 of the way from Hawaii to Australia.

Vanuatu is composed of 4 main islands and about 80 smaller islands, including several with active volcanoes (see map, right; Courtesy US Dept. of State).

The two largest islands (Espiritu Santo and Malakula), account for nearly one-half of the total land area of the entire nation. The terrain of the islands is of volcanic origin, mostly mountainous bordered by narrow coastal plains.

Vanuatu diving offers a quality and variety of opportunities to explore isolated, reef-fringed islands rivaled by few other dive destinations in the South Pacific.

This Y-shaped chain of islands in the area of the Southwestern Pacific called Melanesia is about 3/4 of the way from Hawaii to Australia.

Vanuatu is composed of 4 main islands and about 80 smaller islands, including several with active volcanoes (see map, right; Courtesy US Dept. of State).

The two largest islands (Espiritu Santo and Malakula), account for nearly one-half of the total land area of the entire nation. The terrain of the islands is of volcanic origin, mostly mountainous bordered by narrow coastal plains.

The high levels of seismic activity experienced by this island nation are due to the fact that Vanuatu sits right next to the 24,000 ft. deep New Hebrides Trench, where subduction of the Indo-Australian Plate under the Pacific Plate occurs. The last major volcanic eruption was in 1945.

 

Summers (November to April) are humid and rainy with air temperatures generally in the mid-80s. Cyclones and tropical lows strike any given location in these islands on the average of once every two years, sometime between January and April.

Coral Reef Diving

Vanuatu diving offers easy access to its many fringing reefs, many of which can be readily reached from the beach.

Most of the islands of Vanuatu are encircled by discontinuous fringing reefs, but there is a small atoll formation north of Efaté and a few barrier reefs within the island chain.

In general, the fringing reefs are best developed on the eastern and northern island coasts.

Often, they consist of narrow reef flats often growing directly from shore (see photo, right).

Unlike the smaller islands, both Espíritu Santo (or just “Santo” as it is often called) and Malakula both have wide fringing reefs with respectable back reef (lagoon) habitat.

Generally, shallow reefs are dominated by coralline algae, plate corals and branching forms. Below about 15 ft., of massive and branching corals predominate.

Marine biodiversity is high on the reefs of Vanuatu, with more than 500 fish species and 295 hard corals already recorded. Live coral cover varies widely throughout these islands due to the frequency of cyclones, along with the unusual level of seismic activity and occasional infestations of crown-of-thorns starfish.

Vanuatu diving conditions are highly variable between the local summer and winter seasons. The climate ranges from tropical in the northern islands to subtropical in the south.

Depending on your location (north or south Vanuatu), winter air temperatures (May to September) average from 63° to 68° F. and water temperatures can drop to near 70 degrees F. During the summer months, water temperatures rise into the low 80s. Wetsuits appropriate to the season are a “must” for Vanuatu diving.

Where To Stay

The main center of tourism in Vanuatu is Port Vila (Effete), with the country’s only other town readily accessible to tourists (Luganville on Espiritu Santo) coming in second. These two areas are where most Vanuatu diving is centered. There are a few private small islands with luxury resorts not far from both of these locations.

 

HISTORIC NOTE

James Michener wrote his epic “Tales of the South Pacific” (the basis of the hit musical “South Pacific”) while stationed on Espiritu Santo near the end of World War II. From Santo, he could see the volcano on the nearby island of Ambae dramatically raise out of the blue seas, its peak shrouded in clouds. That was his inspiration for the legendary island of Bali Hai.


Port Vila has by far the most well-developed tourism infrastructure, including hotels, resorts, casinos, gourmet restaurants, and duty-free shops.

However, of the readily accessible (from the main tourism centers) reef areas, the most outstanding reefs are currently found around Espiritu Santo, and this is generally considered the premier destination for Vanuatu diving.

In part, this is because the once lush coral reefs of Efate were fairly recently (2003) devastated by Cyclone Danny, which reduced live coral cover from about 80% to 25%.

Efete’s reefs are exposed to ideal conditions to facilitate recovery and they will come back in time, but the process is inherently a slow one even under the best of circumstances. Still, there remain some areas around Efete that offer excellent Vanuatu diving opportunities.

Because of quality of nearby reef diving, most serious divers seem to prefer basing their dive vacations on Santo, which has more modest amenities but more of the “local flavor”.

How to get there

From North America or Europe, the most direct way to get to Vanuatu is to go through Australia and take one of the many connecting non-stop flights to Vanuatu’s main international airport at Port Vila, Efete (VLI) on Quantas. From Port Villa, Air Vanuatu can take you to other destinations within the country.

From the US, there are a number of non-stop flights available on major American carriers into Sydney. From Europe, there are non-stops into Sydney as well as Brisbane, which are the two closest departure points from Australia to Vanuatu. From either of these cities one can connect directly to Vanuatu on Quantas.

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