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Vanuatu is best known to divers around the world for the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, but as a diving destination, there is much more to Vanuatu’s underwater world. Encircled by, and in common with, its Pacific Ocean neighbours Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu has rich coral reefs, a wealth of wrecks and some great snorkelling too. It is also home to the only underwater post office in the world. (Seriously.)

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Huge caverns and drop offs, abundant marine life, beautiful bright corals, giant sea fans and world-famous wrecks all contribute to Vanuatu’s reputation as a diving destination. It is also one of the best places for divers to see dugongs.
The landscape beneath the water mirrors that found above: mountainous terrain with plunging cliffs, grottoes and overhangs, huge caves and intricate interconnecting underwater tunnels and chasms formed by frozen lava.

Diving Vanuatu’s Coral Reefs

Vanuatu is an island archipelago consisting of approximately 82 relatively small islands. The main islands from largest to smallest are; Espiritu Santo, Malakula, Efate (home to the capital Port Vila), Erromango, Ambrym and Tanna. The islands are volcanic in origin and as a consequence, Vanuatu’s shoreline is mostly rocky with fringing reefs and little continental shelf, dropping rapidly into the ocean depths. This gives rise to some exciting diving on reefs and walls, as well as some excellent snorkelling opportunities, particularly on Tanna.

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Diving Vanuatu’s Wrecks

Vanuatu became independent as recently as 1980, being jointly administered by France and Britain, and named the New Hebrides prior to that. Being an allied territory, it supported a large American base during WWII and we have them to thank for the wrecks of the SS President Coolidge, the USS Tucker and Million Dollar Point.

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Where to Dive…

There are three main regions for diving in Vanuatu; Efate, Espiritu Santo and Tanna.

Efate: Port Vila and Tranquillity Island

The island of Efate is surrounded by very pretty fringing reef, a few wrecks and a stunning cavern called the Cathedral, with stand-out dive sites including Owen’s Reef on Tranquillity Island and West Side Story near Hideaway Island Resort.

Diving Port Vila is easy, with a range of operators to choose from, each of which pick up and return divers to their hotels. Many of the best dive sites are only minutes away. Diving is well supervised and varied, with several wrecks, bommies, drop-offs and caverns in the protected waters of the bay.

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Port Vila is a good place to try diving for the first time, with a Discover Scuba Diving experience, or even learn to dive and get the Open Water Certification. With operators such as Big Blue, lessons can often start in the pool of your chosen resort, before you venture into the ocean.

Introductory dives at Hideaway Island Resort and Tranquillity Island are usually done in the clear, protected shallows of the lagoon.
More experienced divers can dive deeper at sites such as the Semele Federesen – the wreck of an inter-island trader which lies with its propeller at 40m, or the Cathedral, an impressive tall narrow cavern stretching down to 28m.

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There is the wreck of the 1874 built sailing ship Star of Russia, a three masted sailing ship in 36 meters of water. An island trader scuttled in the harbour Konanda, and the ex-Qantas Sandringham flying boat Tasman.

Espiritu Santo

Diving Espiritu Santo is synonymous with diving the SS President Coolidge, but it’s not the only dive in town. Wreck diving options also include the infamous Million Dollar Beach and the USS Tucker, and for coral lovers, there’s plenty of fringing reefs, drop offs and coral gardens to explore.

Being home to the world’s largest, most accessible wreck in the world, Santo is popular with technical divers, using their skills to plunge the depths of the SS President Coolidge. This 33,000-tonne converted luxury liner sank during WWII after hitting a (friendly) mine, and now rests in depths of 21 to 70 metres. The impressive wreck is one of the most exciting wreck dives in the world, that is accessible to recreational divers.

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If you want to see the whole wreck, you’ll need between 10 and 15 dives, and technical diving allows divers more time to explore the seemingly endless corridors, hidden alcoves and cavernous cargo holds.
Other technical dive sites around Santo include Million Dollar Point where you can explore the famously dumped WWII equipment in depths of up to 50m.

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Dive Centres on Espiritu Santo, including Absolute Adventures and Pacific Dive provide technical dive training and support both open circuit and rebreather technical divers, with a range of gases and equipment available for hire.

For those seeking coral reefs, there’s Ratarata Reef and two at Tutuba Island, with good chances of seeing resident turtles, barracudas and other passing pelagics, plus Cindy’s Reef, off Aore Island, which provides easy reef diving with good visibility.


Diving Tanna is very different from diving Port Vila or Santo, as Tanna is a more remote volcanic island – with an active volcano. Diving Tanna, you will experience crystal clear water, colourful hard coral reefs and an amazing topology of swim throughs and blue holes.

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The diving on Tanna also offers shear vertical walls with pelagic action including reef sharks, turtles, schools of yellowfin tuna and barracuda as well as the wreck of a small cargo boat.
One of the most unique aspects of diving in Tanna is the vast amount of easily accessible swim-throughs and caves. Some so small you question whether it’s possible to squeeze through, but the local dive guides at Volcano Island Divers know this fringing reef like the back of their hand and expertly weave through it.

When to dive…

Diving is possible year-round in Vanuatu, with water temperature varying between 24ºC - 29ºC depending on the season, with the warmest months from January to May and the coolest in August. There is also a distinct difference in water temperature from north in Santo, to south, at Tanna. Rainy season runs from December to March, however with steep drop offs this does not affect visibility.

Learn how to dive…

Vanuatu has a number of dive training centres, all staffed with highly qualified dive instructors, where you can try scuba diving for the first time with a Discover Scuba experience, become a certified diver with an Open Water Diver course or further your dive training with an advanced or specialty course.
Vanuatu’s dive centres and dive resorts offer a range of dive courses from various dive academies including PADI, Scuba Schools International (SSI) and Scuba Diving International (SDI), with some also providing technical dive training.

Best Dive Sites in Vanuatu

Owen's Reef, Tranquillity Island

Fields of staghorn coral, towering pinnacles, enormous brain corals and colourful soft corals and fans. I honestly lost count of how many different types of coral I saw on a single dive on Owen’s Reef, near Tranquillity Island, just off the coast of Vanuatu’s main island of Efate. Owen himself, the owner of Tranquillity Island Eco Resort (and the reef’s namesake) told me that a visiting marine biologist once said that he had never seen so many different species of coral on a single dive.

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Turtle Reef, Tranquillity Island


Google “best place to see turtles in Vanuatu” and you’ll find Tranquillity Island Eco Resort. While you are likely to see turtles on the house reef (Turtle Reef), you’ll also see them at the resort’s Turtle Sanctuary, a largely educational institution that is funded and operated by resort staff, with help from guest donations. The turtles are kept here until they reach a size that will assure them a better chance of survival, and guests and day trippers can release turtles for a small donation.

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The Cathedral, Port Vila

The Cathedral is a striking tall narrow cavern, about a 20-minute boat ride from Port Vila. The entrance to the cavern is tall and wide, about 22m deep at the sandy bottom, and it gets narrower as you approach the ‘pulpit’ at the apex. Beyond the pulpit is a narrow chimney that leads to the surface, where you can pop up, wave to the boat before swimming back down and out of the Cathedral to check out the coral on the reef wall outside.

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Bonzer wreck, and the coral gardens surrounding it, Efate


The Bonzer Wreck is a cute little wreck about a one-minute’s boat ride from Hideaway Island Resort in Port Vila. The small freighter, purposely scuttled in an upright position in shallow water, is perfect for inexperienced wreck divers. The dive boat normally moors a little distance away so there’s a scenic reef to traverse along and steadily down before arriving at the wreck at 18m. Along the way, one of the largest anemone gardens you’ll ever see, teeming with reef fish and cheeky red and black anemone fish. Nearby dive sites include West Side Story which features seemingly endless fields of bright yellow staghorn coral.

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Fan garden, Aore Island

A few metres off the beach on Aore Island, this drift dive has to be seen to believed. 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, a variety of WWII artefacts and if you’re lucky you might also find a colourful 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.

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SS President Coolidge, Santo

At just over 200 metres long, the SS President Coolidge is one of the largest wrecks in the world. In fact some divers go to Espiritu Santo or even Vanuatu just to dive the Coolidge, and spend the best part of the week doing so: starting with an orientation dive, and working their way up (down) to the ‘Lady’ – a porcelain figure of a medieval babe riding a unicorn in the first class dining room, and on to the engine room and the stern, the wreck’s deepest point at 70 metres. A highlight for me is the marine life on this wreck, an enormous resident moray eel called Nessie and the flashlight fish in Cargo Hold #2.

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Million Dollar Point, Santo

So named by the price tag U.S. troops put on the vehicles of their task force, that they tried and failed to sell to the French, the English and finally the Vanuatu locals at the close of WWII, before bulldozing the whole lot into the ocean to spite them all. A dive site of tracked and wheeled vehicles, and various other machines in about 15-25m of water just off the beach near Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. It boggles the mind to swim through this wreckage, the wastes of war.

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Tanna's Blue Holes

The first swim-through you’ll experience in Tanna will probably be the house reef at White Grass Ocean Resort. Walk to the end of a long jetty in front of the resort which takes you over the shallowest parts of the fringing reef, and giant stride entry into a blue hole. Head across to the far-right corner to find a narrow swim-through that winds its way through to the reef wall, which drops down to about 25 metres. This is hands down my favourite dive in Vanuatu.

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There are several ‘Blue Holes’ along the fringing reef here, some with names including Pikinini Blue Hole, Blue Hole 1 and Blue Hole 2, others apparently not significant enough for a name. Blue Hole 1 is an almost endless swim-through. A very small entry in the shallows (better navigated without an enormous camera housing) leads down to a labyrinth of tunnels, opening up sometimes into shallow basins and colourful coral gardens, sometimes into caverns lit from above through slots, and sometimes out onto the reef wall.