7 December 2022
Remote Vanuatu is over 1000 miles east of Australia. A group of 84 islands with many dive sites, including the famous President Coolidge shipwreck, one of the best wreck dives in the world. Given Vanuatu's volcanic origin, with rocky shores dropping steeply down, there are also spectacular wall dives, caverns and a host of marine life and biodiversity. Make sure you have travel insurance which covers diving as tourists have to meet all medical expenses incurred. Vanuatu has a recompression chamber in the capital Port Vila.
When is the best time to dive Vanuatu? From May to October is a good time to go. The climate is tropical, with southeast trade winds from May to October. There is generally moderate rainfall from November to April but with the possibility of cyclones. The water is always warm, from 25 oC in July to 29 oC in February.
No liveaboards routinely visit Vanuatu: the diving is resort-based. So on which island to base yourself? Espiritu Santo is home to the President Coolidge and Million Dollar Point, amongst other dive sites. You can fly there direct from Brisbane, or from Port Vila on the island of Efate. Port Vila also has several wrecks and the Cathedral cavern. The island of Tanna is known for strong currents and where the pelagics like yellowfin tuna hang out .
The SS President Coolidge, launched in February 1931, was a luxury ocean liner. She broke several speed records on her trips to Japan from San Francisco. During World War II she became troop carrier for the American Army. In 1942 she hit mines on the way into Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. All but two of the men got safely off the ship before she sank. She now lies on her side between 17 and 70 m, bow to stern.
The President Coolidge is fully protected by law and both it and the surrounding seabed has been designated a Marine Reserve. The wreck is huge and needs several dives to do it justice.
Evacuating the SS President Coolidge, October 1942, Espiritu Santo. Photo credit: J.F. Newman
"The best wreck dive - fantastic! The President Coolidge off Santo, northern Vanuatu, was a WW2 luxury liner. It was commandeered by the US navy and fitted out as a naval ship. Unfortunately, it bumped into one of its own mines and now we dive it. (There was no loss of life.) I dived with Alan Powers December 2001 - there are 3 dive operators, Alan Powers and Aquamarine plus 1 other Pro Dive?? Safety is hugely important as it is such a deep dive. First dive is a check out dive to see how you are to around 30 m. If you are comfortable, then it's 2 dives a day and deeper and deeper if that is what you want. The engine room and one of the dining rooms are about 47 m, the promenade deck is about 33 m, the mosaic lined swimming pool - weird -is about 50 m It's a fabulous dive, as, if you are suitably qualified, you can penetrate certain parts of the wreck - the best wreck! There are long deco stops, which if you dive with Alan Powers you can spend in their transplanted coral garden and try and blow better bubbles than Twami. Mind you, this is not a good dive site if you are heavy on air! "
"The world's largest accesible wreck. Even as a shore dive! Starts at 8 metres dropping off to 70 metres. Total penetration. Swim through the holds to see American WWII jeeps still in their crates! "
"Especially a night dive with the flashlight fish with no lights - one of the most other worldy experiences on the planet - beats drugs hands down!! What a beautiful beast the old girl is looming up out of the sand. "
"Awsome, I cant give it justice by writting about it, Just do it :) "
"Enormous wreck, so much to see with a great coral garden providing entertainment during the deco stop "
Matt Jackson, UK, 2012
"Full penetration, deep deco diving, historical artifacts, easy access shore dive. "
During the second world war the United States had a military base on Espiritu Santu. When the war ended they tried to sell the trucks, guns, jeeps and so on the French and the British whose colony Vanuatu was at that time. The French and British didn't want to pay for it and so the Americans dumped the lot into the sea. No just waste of a million dollars of equipment but very detrimental to the reef. It now, though, makes for a very interesting dive with much of the equipment being colonised by sea life.
Spread out over a large area from 15 to 30 metres, this is a great shore dive.
Another good wreck dive. The Star of Russia was a 3 masted square rigger sailing ship built in 1874 at the Harland Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Measuring 84 x 12 m, she sank in 1953 and lies between 24 and 34 m. Built of iron she is relatively intact. At first she traversed the world carrying cargo, but ended up as a floating warehouse in Port Vila harbour. There is a good write-up of the full history of the ship at Michael McFadyen's web site.
A shallow shore dive where four holes in the reef lead to connecting tunnels and swim throughs.
No liveaboards visit Vanuatu: many of her dives can be done as shore dives. There are several dive shops on the diving islands. Please send your recommendations/reviews of these or any others we've missed.
Please send us your comments on diving Vanuatu. Do you want to recommend a diving centre or dive site?