Monday, 16 January 2012

Vanuatu: A Divers' Paradise... or is it?

Vlaming's Unicornfish at Paul's Rock. Naso vlamingii. Photo: Ryan Pearson
By Ryan Pearson
Well, I don't have the bloody answer to that question do I? Why are you asking me? Ok wait, maybe I do have some opinions on the topic after my recent trip to Port Vila over Christmas. DD and I gave the region a thorough work out, testing out three different dive shops and six sites around the capital... with varying results.

Let me start by saying, I probably wouldn't pay to go back to Vanuatu for a dive trip again, certainly not to the Port Vila area. That's not to say we didn't have a blast, or the dive shops weren't good to us... because they were. It's just that there really doesn't seem to be a lot of life there, and the cost of virtually everything is quite high. For example, a double dive will set you back about AU$120 (not including gear hire) and the cheapest carton of beer we could get was the local brand Tusker at over $50 a carton. Now, compared to Aussie prices this sounds fairly normal, but when you compare this to somewhere like the Philippines (a place I'll be returning to in June), where a double dive can be as cheap as AU$25 (including gear), and the beer is dirt cheap, it just doesn't seem worth it. The other thing is, DD and I took all of our own gear with the idea that we'd be able to rent tanks and go out on our own... not the case. Apparently all of the reefs are 'private' so there is a requirement that a divemaster must accompany you on every dive, that combined with the fact that no one will rent out tanks for 'liability' reasons makes it very hard to dive on the cheap, and made it all but useless carting our gear around everywhere.

In all, the diving in the region is nice with amazing corals, great visibility, flat seas, awesome wrecks, and some nice structure, it's just that there doesn't appear to be a real big draw card (or anything big at all) around the place. At least, there was nothing that would make me want to pay to specifically go there to dive again. I found very few critters with my macro lens on, and there were no big fish to be seen at all.

With that out of the way, I'd like to throw a shout out to two of the dive shops for going above and beyond and really making us customers feel loved - Sailaway Cruises and Big Blue Vanuatu. If you do find yourself in Port Vila you'd do much worse than to go out with either of these two companies.

Sebae Anemonefish at Hat Island. Amphiprion Sebae. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Sailaway Cruises goes out of Havannah Harbour, and the skipper Peter picks you up from your hotel and takes you to his trimaran to sail down to a couple of sites called Hat Island and Paul's Rock. You get a nice lunch, and a tour (of sorts) of parts of the island away from the capital. These two sites had the most life of anywhere we visited by a long way, and that's probably because they're the furthest from civilisation. This was actually the second time we'd been out with Peter because we'd enjoyed it so much the first time. The problem was, this time, it was the worst weather Peter had ever had. It rained consistently all day, and there was a howling cold wind. Being in Vanuatu no one expected cold weather and we quickly found ourselves stuck on a boat all day, shivering our arses off. The warmest place was 5m or more underwater where the temperature was a nice 28ÂșC. Peter was kind enough to give everyone on the boat a discount simply because the weather was so horrible, a very nice gesture that everyone appreciated.

Hat Island has amazing coral structures, a few nice swim-throughs, and all of the small tropical fish you could poke a stick at. Unfortunately my camera was playing silly buggers so I didn't get many amazing shots here. But this is the lone nudibranch I spotted on that dive.

Chromodoris willani at Hat Island. Photo: Ryan Pearson
At Paul's Rock, Peter decided to feed the lunch leftovers to the fish so we had hundreds of hungry followers throughout the dive. My camera also decided to be a bit nicer to me so I got a few more shots at this site. 
Chromodoris lochi at Paul's Rock. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Pink Anemonefish at Paul's Rock. Amphiprion perideraion. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Hungry Longfin Bannerfish at Paul's Rock. Heniochus acuminatus. Photo: Ryan Pearson
A Camouflage Grouper who followed us the entire dive. Epinephelus polyphekadion. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Chromodoris willani at Paul's Rock. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Phyllidia varicosa at Paul's Rock. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Pink Anemonefish at Paul's Rock. Amphiprion perideraion. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Back at Port Vila, the diving was different. The highlights being the two wreck dives we did - both former island traders. The first was at Hideaway Island, and while the wreck itself was ok (it was my first ever wreck dive so I liked it), it was the coral gardens right next to the wreck that take your breath away... not ideal while scuba diving, but impressive nonetheless. Unfortunately, I only had my macro lens on this dive so I didn't get a nice shot of them.

Phyllidiopsis striata. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Snorkelling at the surface also provided some results at Hideaway Island. This is a Scissortail Seargent. Abudefduf sexfasciatus. Photo: Ryan Pearson
A Whitemouth Moray Eel at Hideaway Island. Gynmothorax meleagris. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Red and Black Anemonefish. Amphiprion melanopus. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Big Blue Vanuatu was the last group we dived with, and they were also the most accessible. They are based right on the waterfront in the middle of town. We signed up for a night dive, and a wreck dive on the Semele Federsen. This wreck is significantly larger than the previous wreck, and much deeper. The stern sits in 40m of water, and the bow (not visible in 30m+ vis) sits in 55m. Unfortunately the message wasn't passed on to the crew who took us to a little cove instead which held very little of interest to us at all. After a boring dive we were a bit disappointed... but not for long. Upon hearing that we hadn't been to the wreck, we were offered a free dive on it the next day and gladly accepted the offer. This was great, and in the end DD and I left as two very satisfied customers despite the simple mistake.

First glimpse of the Semele Federsen. Photo: Ryan Pearson
DD taking pictures at the wreck. Photo: Ryan Pearson
My deepest dive yet. I ended up at 42m before my computer started beeping and flashing at me crazily. Photo: Ryan Pearson.
DD with the stern of the Semele Federsen behind her. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Whitemouth Moray Eel. Gymnothorax meleagris. Photo: Ryan Pearson
A Giant Moray Eel. Gymnothorax javanicus. Photo: Ryan Pearson
Shy Toby on the night dive at Twin Bommies. Canthigaster ocellicincta. Photo: Ryan Pearson
DD photographing a whitemouth Moray Eel. Gymnothorax meleagris. Photo: Ryan Pearson

No comments: