As home to the SS President Coolidge, one of the world’s largest intact WWII wrecks, Vanuatu is famous for its wreck diving. But it’s worth exploring the island’s amazing reefs as well. Here are our picks for the top five coral dives in Vanuatu.
Bonzer Wreck anemone garden, Hideaway Island, Efate
Yes, it’s a wreck, but it’s a very pretty wreck, with one of the largest anemone gardens you’ll ever see. In fact, everywhere you go in Vanuatu, you’re likely to find anemone gardens in the shallowest parts of the reef, even on the Coolidge. One of the largest however, is next to the Bonzer.
On top of a large coral bommie, this bright-orange anemone garden is several feet in diameter. Dozens of clownfish live here, and they’ll all come out to say hello as you swim around in the clear, tropical water. In the gullies that surround the bommie, clouds of bright orange and purple basslets hover around soft corals. All sorts of butterflyfish flutter about.
Fan Garden, Aore Island, Espiritu Santo
A few feet off the beach on Aore Island, you’ve got to see this drift dive to believe it. You’ll feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland as you drift with the current through a forest of seriously enormous sea fans.
Sometimes called ‘Aore Wall,’ in the shallows you’ll find nudibranchs, anemones and a variety of WWII artifacts. If you’re lucky, you might also spot a colorful mantis shrimp. It’s a great site for photographers looking to practice their macro skills or for those wanting to let the current do the work.
Tutuba Island, Espiritu Santo
Tutuba Island is about a 30-40-minute boat ride from Espiritu Santo, and it’s fast becoming one of the most popular dive sites in the area. Once you’ve seen the Coolidge and Million Dollar Beach, get yourself a coral-fix here. Enormous plate coral fields and a seemingly endless variety of soft and hard corals lead into swim-throughs, gloomy trenches and caves where you can spot lobsters guarding their homes.
Above and off into the blue you can see schools of tropical fish and barracudas going about their business. Keep your eyes peeled as well for occasional eagle rays and reef sharks.
West Side Story, Hideaway Island, Efate
This seriously huge field of staghorn coral comes to within 20 feet (6 m) of the surface. Long fingers covered in yellow, blue and green staghorn coral drop down to a depth of more than 100 feet (30 m). Schools of pretty little damselfish swim just above the staghorn, which also conceals lots of anemones between the branching coral.
Despite the plentiful anemonefish here, this colorful site looks more like a scene from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” than “Finding Nemo.” At its center, a towering hard-coral structure resembles a fairytale castle, surrounded by forests of staghorn coral instead of thorny woods.
Owen’s Reef, Tranquility Island, Efate
This stunning spot is such a standout that a visiting marine biologist once remarked that he’d never before seen a dive site with greater coral diversity. It’s so remarkable, in fact, that you’ll want more than one dive to truly appreciate it.
The coral landscape changes with each corner you turn. You’ll see all sorts of hard corals including some enormous porites, brain, staghorn and table corals. Sheltering under the overhangs and inside tunnels you’ll find colorful soft corals. Where the coral meets a sandy sea floor at about 82 feet (25 m), large sea fans and whips sway in the current. Patient groupers and sweetlips wait their turn at the various cleaning stations around the reef.
Deborah Dickson-Smith is one half of Diveplanit, a dive travel website she manages with her partner Simon Mallender, based in Australia. Check here for more information on Vanuatu travel. Images courtesy of Diveplanit.