March 1st, 2007 we passed through the Panama Canal and entered the Pacific.
We sailed 1000 miles to Galapagos. There are many islands in the
anchoring is tightly controlled. We were able to anchor only at Santa
Isabella. We also had to dive with a local dive operator. We could only
dive a few sites close to Santa Cruz so this isn’t the best way
to see Galapagos. However, both
Ginger and I have previously visited there.
Diving in Galapagos is not for the Novice. Most of the dives are
subject to current and surge. The visibility can be very poor - it was.
And the water is cold -- We wore a 6 or 7mm wetsuits with hood and gloves.
Having said that, there is a lot to see. We saw many fish that were
unfamiliar to us, and many that are endemic to these islands. Many
people come to see big animals like hammerhead sharks and mantas -- we
had little luck there, however. Probably, the best way to dive the
Galapagos is on a liveaboard dive boat.
We did three day divetrips for a total of seven dives:
1. Santa Fe. The closest site to Puerto Ayora. Probably the best dives.
2. Gordon Rocks. Supposedly good for sharks. We saw none. Much current and surge. Poorest visibility.
3. Cousin Rocks and Bartolome. Lots of small fish. Nothing bigger than a turtle.
We dived with Scuba Iguana and Ninfa. We'd recommend Scuba Iguana.
We sailed 3000 miles (in 21 days) to French Polynesia.
First the Marquesas: These
islands are reminiscent of Hawaii - relatively
young volcanic islands with a little fringing coral. We dived Ua Huka,
Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou. The 11 dives we did in the Marquesas were
generally very good with plenty of fish of many new species, many
unique to these islands, but what was remarkable was the prevalence of
Manta Rays. We saw Mantas during or close by 9 of our 11 dives. We saw
more Mantas than sharks! That is very unusual.
Then the Tuamotu Archipeligo. These atolls are much older - rings of coral
limestone are all that are left. Many are large - 20 miles by 10 - and have just
a couple of passes, so tidal currents can be large. We dived Makemo, Fakarava and Toua Atolls
- mainly drift diving – and saw sharks on every dive. A drift dive through the pass into Fakarava Atoll revealed
a school of maybe 100 Gray Reef Sharks. Perhaps 30-50% fish species in common
After the Tuamotus we headed south to Tahiti and then west. We dived at every island we encountered - Moorea, Huahine, Tahaa, Bora Bora. Pleasant dives but nothing exceptional.
We stopped for a week at Suwarrow Atoll which is an uninhabited
(apart from the National Park Warden John and his family) part of Cook
Islands. We made a couple of dives but the atoll is of more interest
for its bird life.
No diving. The harbor is on the windward side of the island, and the
harbor itself is so dirty we wouldn't put a toe in it. We moved on as
soon as we could.
We snorkeled in Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, close by Apia, and made
three scuba dives near there too. Visibility was poor - about 30 feet -
but we saw loads of unfamiliar fish on every dive.
We made six dives just outside the reef. There's a convenient dinghy
passage across the reef that we've used for most dives and the area it
accesses is sheltered and interesting. The reef there is in huge blocks
and walls that reach from the sandy bottom at 40 feet up to around 15
feet. We made one night dive but it was challenging to find the dinghy
passage to come back in the dark - although we had a GPS and had left a
marker float in the channel.
Watching the Humpback Whales is a big attraction in Tonga. Daily, maybe
6-8 boats are out taking tourists to the whales. Tonga is one of the
few places where they still permit tourists to get in the water and
snorkel with the whales - under the strict supervision of a guide.
Each winter, the whales come to Tonga to mate and give birth in the
shallow tropical waters. Then they migrate back to Antarctica to feed
over the summer. They are in Tonga from June to October.
We went out twice. The first time - with 'Whales in the Wild' was
unsuccessful. We saw whales but did not get into the water. The whales
have to stop and stay around to be interacted with. If they keep going
you can't get near them.
We decided to have another go (at over $100 each!) and went out with
Dive Vava'u. We snorkeled and saw whales four times, but the final
snorkel was a LIFETIME EXPERIENCE! Two whales were asleep 50' down as
we snorkeled above them. (Yes, whales sleep underwater 10-15 minutes at
a time.) Then the whales awoke and slowly surfaced by us. They came
over to look, maybe 10 feet away, and then turned and came back again.
This went on for several minutes. I had my underwater video running
continuously and got some great shots. It was simple awesome! The video
is on our pictures page
We spent a week in Viani Bay at the eastern end of Vanua Levu. The bay
is in the Somosomo Strait directly across from the island of Taveuni.
Right outside the bay is Rainbow Reef which is one of the top dive
areas in Fiji.
One reason Rainbow Reef is so good, and known for its soft coral, is
the strong tidal currents that rip through the Somsomo Strait and swirl
around the reef. We went there not knowing exactly how we were going to
deal with that current -- how we would find suitable dive sites and
dive them safely.
Our first evening in the bay, we were sitting in the dusk thinking
about dinner, when we heard a small boat approaching. It was Jack
Fisher, a local guy who lives in the bay. It turned out that Jack is an
experienced dive guide who regularly takes yachties out diving.
So for the week, Jack took us out every morning (in our dinghy) to go
diving. He selected the spot, told us which way the current will take
us, and was there to pick us up when we surface. He's a great guy, very
friendly and helpful.
The diving has been fabulous - everything we expected. Huge numbers of fish and beautiful soft corals.
Great Astrolabe Reef
We spent a week at Great Astrolabe Reef. This is in the south of Fiji
and was our second dive destination. The reef is an atoll around 15
miles long by 8 wide. The island of Kandavu forms the bottom of the
atoll and the reef itself sweeps from the eastern side of Kandavu off
north and then back around to the islands western point.
We anchored at several uninhabited islands in the lagoon but dived on
the reef itself - we were never more than 2 miles away from it. We
found places where we could go through or over the reef to dive on or
near the outer slope of the reef. The diving was quite good, but did
not compare with the soft coral on Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Strait.
Fiji was our last diving site in 2007 before we set off for Australia in November.
We returned to the islands in 2008. We explored only the northern part of New Caledonia, entering at Koumac (northwest coast) and exiting at Hienghene (northeast coast). The west side was a disappointment as water quality was generally poor. It was better at Hienghene, particularly when we dived the offshore islands and reef. There was an island near the Hienghene harbor that was within a comforatable day trip and we dived it several times. Overall, we were disappointed with New Caledonia and moved on to Vanuatu.
We dived most of the islands of Vanuatu during our four month stay. Most islands have reasonably good (but not great diving). Many are rocky, fewer have coral reefs. The northern Banks Islands were probably the best overall - we spent more than a week diving the uninhabited Reef Islands. We never reached the Torres Islands of the far north.
The wreck diving around Luganville is notable. There is a huge wreck in diveable water - the USS President Coolige. This troopship hit a 'friendly' mine entering the major US base then at Luganville. It was run onto the beach to get the troops off and then slid back a little. Several dive operations take divers deep into the vessel. If you're into wrecks, it's said to be one of the best. Nearby is Million Dollar Point where the US Army dumped loads of surplus equiment. It makes a good dive or snorkel.
We returned to Australia in November 2008.