The twisted steel remains of a ship plunge down into the blue below us.|
Corals and sponges cover most of it, and schools of colourful fish hover around. A dozen bluelined snapper glow yellow above the remains of the deck. Yellow, red and blue Christmas tree worms protrude from a large brain coral, but in the blink of an eye they vanish.
Two steel poles, maybe masts or derricks, lie alongside the shipwreck, almost unrecognisable among the coral reef they have become part of. The predive brief suggested it was a missionary ship, wrecked by a cyclone in the 1840s. The steel poles belie that, along with steel rails and a coralcovered winch, definitely post1840.
Part of the intrigue of a recently discovered shipwreck is the mystery surrounding its identity. This wreck, off Samoa‘s big island, Savai‘i, is no exception, and lies just a 10 minute boat trip from our beachfront fale in the village of Manase.
We continue across the steel remains and our torches light up a bright red sea star under the girders. A sea shell moves across the wreckage. It‘s just one of dozens of hermit crabs that watch us with eyes that peer from underneath their mobile shell homes.
Several coral towers, reminiscent of fairy castles from a Disney movie, grow nearby. In the top of one is a garden of pure white sea anemones. Several resident clown fish threaten our fingers if we get too close. Nemo never showed any of the aggressive characteristics of these colourful little fish, whose colours contrast with the dull steel wreckage.
A beautiful blue, black and yellow nudibranch crawls among the girders, but we are distracted by a swirl of sand as a green turtle lifts off from the wreck. It slows, turns and completes a circuit around us. Maybe it‘s never seen divers before as it comes in for a closer look. It‘s curiosity satisfied, it cruises away across the corals.
Two large blue trevally replace it, and the schools of small fish vanish into the safety of the wreck, then slowly reemerge once the trevally have passed. Whatever the ship‘s identity, she is now part of the Savai‘i coral reefs and home to a myriad of life.
With a water temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, and 30 metre visibility, Samoa is a diver‘s paradise typical of many South Pacific islands. Each island has something special and unique to offer diving visitors. Getting to most is easy, but deciding on which one to visit is a little more difficult.
Rarotonga in the Cook Islands has coral reefs, swimthroughs, caves and wrecks that cater for all levels of divers. The protective reefs around the island have created a vast lagoon. The Matavera Dropoff is a highlight, with everything from the shallow reef to the dropoff with its sleeping sharks. Most of the diving sites are only 15 to 20 minutes away, with visibility usually at least 30 metres.
Aitutaki, the other popular Cook Islands destination, has turtles, rays, sharks and the bonus of visiting humpback whales from July to October. The large lagoon with its wealth of marine life also caters for snorkellers in what is often described as aquariumlikeconditions. Fiji, the softcoral capital of the world, has reefs and pinnacles of exceptional beauty. There are thousands of diving sites to choose from, with sharks, turtles, barracuda and other large school fish offering adrenalin dives.
Colourful coral reefs surround each island with a wealth of fish and invertebrates that almost all divers can enjoy, regardless of their experience.
They can explore the remote reefs of the Yasawa Group in the northeast, or drift dive the Somosomo Strait between Vanua Levu and the garden island, Taveuni. The profusion of white soft corals has made the Great White Wall famous. Bligh Water, which separates Vanua Levu from Viti Levu, has even more amazing remote reefs and big fish.
Close to Rakiraki and the island of NananuiRa is the Dreammaker Pinnacle, with everything from soft corals to sharks. Kadavu, to the south, has the Great Astrolabe Reef, and more unnamed diving sites just waiting to be discovered. Divers can choose between staying on an island or a liveaboard diving boat.
The tiny island of Niue is best known for its clear water, which exceeds 30 metres visibility all year. A unique site is Snake Gully, where hundreds of banded sea snakes gather between the corals. The sea snakes regularly surface to breathe before returning to their gully, and they are quite safe to dive with.
Divers can explore caves and archways where lionfish and crayfish hide, or snorkel the secluded Limu Pools with their wealth of colourful reef life. From July to October humpback whales move close to the island with their young, adding the ultimate encounter to any diving trip.
Imagine an island surrounded by the largest lagoon in the world, with a reef 1600 kilometres long. This gives some idea of the endless diving possibilities around New Caledonia. Diving sites near Noumea include the wreck of the minesweeper La Dieppoise and the Amedee Lighthouse Reserve, one of numerous marine reserves with greater numbers of larger fish. Diving sites include Prony Needle, south of Noumea, a mass of pinnacles created by volcanic activity. The Isle of Pines has a freshwater lake and a stalactite cave for just a bit more diversity. Coral reefs abound everywhere on the coast catering for divers of any level of experience.
Samoa isn‘t known as a diving destination. For that reason many of the reefs are hardly dived and some not at all. Near Apia, on Upolu, is the Palolo Deep marine reserve with fields of staghorn corals, a nursery for colourful giant clams and myriads of fish. The southern side is still being discovered and promises big fish, turtles and manta rays.
Just for a bit of variety, a crystal clear spring at Piula is a great snorkelling dive. Savai‘i, the larger island, has wrecks, corals and an amazing lava wall that drops to beyond diving depths. The corals and colourful marine life glow against the black lava. Turtles are common among the fish, lobsters, nudibranchs and many other tropical reef dwellers and, like Upolu, there are diving sites just waiting to be discovered.
Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia have a diversity of diving that covers everything. The Society Islands are surrounded by lagoons with good sites among corals and colourful fish. Divers can watch sharks or stingrays being fed, or explore a sunken Catalina flying boat. To the east are the coral atolls of the Tuamotus, where most sites are reached by a 10 or 15 minute boat trip. Rangiroa, the largest coral atoll in the South Pacific, is typical of the other atolls, Manihi and Fakarava, where beginners can enjoy the lagoons and reef life. Experienced divers can drift dive through the reef passes and see sharks, manta rays and large pelagic fish. For the ultimate buzz, humpback whales are regular visitors between July and September.
Humpback whales migrate to the Tongan Islands from June to September to mate and give birth. Any trip to and from a diving site offers a chance to see a whale as it spouts or lifts its tail skywards to dive. The amazing humpback whale song may accompany any dive, or there is the possibility of an ultimate encounter with one.
Coral reefs have both hard and soft corals, reef fish and invertebrates and are suitable for all levels of diver. Ha‘apai has many uncharted reefs to explore. Further north, the Vava‘u Islands have dozens of diving sites, with the bonus of caves to explore by scuba or snorkel.
The Solomon Islands still have many sites for divers to discover. The shallow reefs and harbours have wrecks from the Second World War that are suitable for all divers to explore. At least 11 Japanese ships were sunk around Guadalcanal, along with numerous
aircraft in the area known as Iron Bottom Sound. The sunken troop carriers, tankers, bombers and warships are now covered in marine growth and have a wealth of colourful fish above them.
Liveaboard vessels provide access to the more remote islands and reefs. At Uepi, one of the most pristine islands, it‘s only five minutes by boat to some magnificent sites where divers can drift back towards the wharf and see thousands of reef fish over the prolific coral reefs, along with turtles, manta rays and sharks, including hammerheads.
Vanuatu‘s main diving attraction at Espiritu Santo is the famous Second World War shipwreck, the USS President Coolidge. It is the world‘s largest diveable wreck and is accessible from the shore. The ship is covered in corals and surrounded by fish, including a giant grouper, known as Boris, that usually checks out visiting divers. Every dive on the ship is different, although only the more experienced should attempt the deeper parts of the wreck.
Nearby Million Dollar Point is worth a look at the dumped United States Army surplus equipment. There are plenty of coral reefs, complete with tropical fish, to complement the manmade underwater attractions.
Diving in New Zealand is different to the other South Pacific Islands due to its temperate climate. Instead of coral reefs there are rocky reefs covered with forests of seaweeds, sponges and other colourful invertebrates.
Shipwrecks include the former Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, the warships Tui and Waikato, the tugboat Taioma and the 22,000 tonne passenger liner Mikhail Lermontov. In the north, the Poor Knights Islands have some spectacular diving sites, with caves, archways and huge schools of fish.
At New Zealand‘s first marine reserve, Goat Island off Leigh, anyone can snorkel among large snapper and schools of blue maomao just off the beach. Clear water and huge fish schools surround White Island, an active volcano in the Bay of Plenty. Scuba diving is popular all the way down the eastern coast, but the water cools as you travel south. Fiordland has unique diving alongside steep walls with black and red corals in shallow, sheltered waters.
With such a variety of South Pacific island destinations, the hard part is deciding where to go for your next diving holiday.