Upon arriving in Espiritu Santo, your first greeting will arrive in the form of thick unfamiliar humidity, shortly followed by the friendly faces of the local customs officials. You are slowly processed along with other passengers through the two customs booths to have paperwork inspected, passports stamped and belongings screened.
It becomes immediately apparent that the daily life in Vanuatu can come as a culture shock to those accustomed to the fast paced, on-demand lifestyle that’s typical of city life. A blessing in a sense, as it gives time to digest and transition into a more relaxed ‘holiday’ mode. You quickly forget that the arrivals hall is essentially a large shed.
The Abyss group arrived at the Coral Quays just after sundown. It was a quick orientation of the premises, some housekeeping rules, a briefing on the week, then straight to set up and preparation for the next day’s dive followed by a quick feed before bed.
The rooms are quite spacious and can easily fit three people. Or two people with a lot of camera gear, electronics and other computer equipment.
The food on the menu is greatly varied and delicious; you can find yourself spoilt for choice.
I would recommend at least trying Santo Beef or giving the local Melanesian cuisine a go, Rach recommends this local chicken dish that’s been baked with banana that you will not regret trying it tastes great.
Along with the restaurant, there is also a resort bar as well as a small swimming pool that’s quite a popular go-to spot in between dives and a private jetty along free use of the resort’s kayaks.
To put it bluntly, the wreck of the Coolidge is huge. The excellent visibility allows for unique perspective of the wreck’s immense dimensions, even when descending from the bow mooring line, or watching the ship materialise from the depths as you descend from mid-ship mooring.
There are some things to consider when diving into the wreck however. The ship is oriented with the port (left) side down, the bow in the shallows at around 20 meters and the stern at around 60 meters.
It can be disorientating at first, but the friendly and professional Divemasters will brief you thoroughly on the wreck, as well provide you with excellent entertainment as you travel to and from the dive site, just ask Divemaster Tom on his fine selection garage rock (see: Smoko and Jam Sandwich by the Chats) you’ll be asking for smoko in no time.
Tom’s fine selection is closely matched by this Taxi van driver who would play us American country music because he assumed it’s what we listened to back in Australia. Great bloke.
To appreciate exploring the wreck of the Coolidge, it’s best to be at least deep diver and/or wreck diver certified. While the interior of the wreck is large and spacious (there can be some squeezes) the interior can silt up quite easily.
Technical wreck divers can have a wonderful time exploring this wreck. Underwater photographers always have great opportunities to snap up amazing photographs, there lots to see in the interior of the ship, from personal belongings, large vehicles and weapons. On top of that, the wrecks in the area are abundant with marine life.
For those who want to get their dose of wreck diving at shallower depths, just a few hundred meters down the road from the Coolidge is a location called Million Dollar Point.
There is a fair bit to see, macro and wide angle photographer will have a great time exploring this dive site. There are some smaller ship wrecks and A LOT of machines. The site itself can be explored numerous times and you always count on finding something interesting or unusual.
Outside of diving, Espiritu Santo offers a lot of picturesque locales for those willing to explore the natural beauty the island offers.
If you have a good level of physical fitness, exploring the Millennium Caves is an adventure you must try at least once.
The trek through the local villages is pleasant and walking the muddy paths into dense jungle, while certainly challenging, adds to the overwhelming sense of adventure.
A local village on the way to the Millennium Caves Tour. Be prepared for steep climbs and descents, and make sure you have a dry bag to store your items, leave non-essential items behind. Don’t bring a phone, leave the wallet behind and carry the cash you need in a sandwich bag. You will have to jump into flowing rivers to complete the route that is rapid in some parts and deep in others. But do bring a small action camera to document the experience, you will feel like Indiana Jones trudging through the jungle, clambering over large boulders, crossing rapids, and swimming down rivers being bucketed down by numerous waterfalls falling either side of the gorge.
For those more inclined to a more quiet way to end their trip, some other members of the group explored other parts of Santo by hiring a vehicle and driving to Champagne beach, Port Orly, meeting the locals or visiting some of the blue holes.
The dive trip as a whole is one that is packed with adventure; a lot can be done in 9 short days. The Coolidge is most certainly a dive that should be in most wreck enthusiast’s dive list.
The tec divers of the abyss group certainly had a lot of fun exploring the deeper and more inner sections of the wreck; many are still trawling through all of their footage.
This trip is perfect for those who have recently obtained their wreck certificate or tec divers looking to get some great wreck diving experience. Certainly a great stepping stone towards bigger trips like Bikini Atoll or Truk Lagoon.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to Coral Quays Resort for the great hospitality, the Divemasters for their advice, guidance and professionalism, and to Rach and Cody for organising such an awesome trip!