After Wayne being so sick yesterday, we were skeptical as to whether he would be fit to dive today, but after going to bed at 6:30 and having a reasonably restful night, he woke this morning with a declaration that he wanted some food – always a good sign, especially when he normally can’t go more than 3 hours without it! A light brekky of poached eggs on toast, along with what we later discovered was coconut jam (seriously the best thing we’ve ever eaten on toast), and some reassurance that he was definitely fit to go and we bundled into the truck from Coral Quays 10 minutes down the road to their private prep area on shore, just 100 metres from where the Coolidge lies.
This was our second shore dive during our time in Vanuatu, and a little rougher, but once we sank below depth the water was clear and calm. We were both ecstatic at finally being able to dive such a unique and well-known site, ably guided by Hannah, who had already outlined our dive route, which would include going through one of the cargo holds, inspecting the bathrooms (no, we didn’t get any pics sitting on the toilets!), and touching some of the ammunition and general items on board, plates, gas masks, etc. – ensuring we left everything as it was for future divers.
On the way out to the dive site, we had already been briefed about the history of The Lady, including how she was discovered, damage she had in suffered as a result of earlier divers, and finally her restoration work and current resting place at 39m. We dove to 33 metres and saw about one-quarter of the ship, so finally understand how divers can keep coming back to do it again and again -we’ll definitely be doing the same! While visibility was good at 15 metres, it’s such a pity that it’s not higher, so that you could get a real feel for the ship’s size.
There is a great variety of sealife down there, and one of the first things pointed out to us was a large lion fish, much bigger than the one we spotted by the jetty over on Aore Island. A large moray eel also calls the Coolidge home, though we weren’t able to spot it on our dive. Even diving at that depth, with the calm water we were able to achieve a great dive time, and after completing our decompression stop in the soft sandy slope just offshore, we exited the water totally abuzz and incredibly grateful that we had been able to see something so spectacular under the ocean.
On our drive back to Coral Quays Resort, we discussed with Tony – our driver and one of the dive guides – how the locals don’t utilise the sea as much as the could, either for recreation or fishing. With most of their sustenance coming from farming of cattle and vegetables, they just don’t seem to see the need to utilise the sea, except for some fishing to feed tourists like us. It seems a bit of a pity that they miss out, but at the same time we envy them that they don’t see the need and are content with their way of life as it is. At the same time, we compare it to other countries where the water and sealife is just decimated, and are thankful that this definitely isn’t the case in Vanuatu.
Unfortunately Coral Quays was fully booked for the night with the arrival of a large Dive Adventures group from Brisbane, so with our flight having to be rescheduled to tomorrow after Wayne’s illness, we spent the time before our afternoon dive packing our bags and relaxing in the tropical surrounds by the pool, waiting for our 1pm departure. Our hosts at Coral Quays, Phill and Charmaine, have looked after us so well, right didn’t to finding us new accommodation for the night just down the road. Nothing was too big or small and we are both so grateful for their assistance, as well as the chance to stay at such a beautiful, tropical oasis.
At 1pm our group boarded the truck for the journey to Million Dollar Point, which we didn’t realise is only just up the road from the Coolidge. The point is a beautiful spot for a picnic lunch or to just sit for a while under one of the many thatched huts looking over the ocean. The sun was out and a slight breeze blew, and it really was paradise – if you forget that 10 metres offshore is a massive dump yard of cranes, trucks, graders and all sorts of earthmoving equipment. But then again that in itself is a diver’s paradise, so it covers all types of travellers really. There are signs of equipment even before you set foot in the water, and it’s highly recommended that you wear thongs (if you don’t have dive boots) as far out in the water as possible before putting on your fins to avoid any foot injury.
It’s quite incredible to see literally millions of dollars in equipment just left to rot in the water. We can’t quite comprehend why the Americans couldn’t have just given it to the locals after WWII ended instead of just wasting it. But it’s made a unique dive site that’s so accessible by shore or boat. There are also other boats down there, one of which moored up at they now-destroyed concrete jetty in a cyclone only to still end up at the bottom, and another which was owned by a man intent on salvaging some of the equipment only to come back and find his own boat had suffered a mortal blow thanks to the underwater graveyard. It was the first large item we spotted in our underwater trek.
The visibility was not fantastic at the site, maybe 10 metres, but we kept close to the wreck line and made sure to keep looking up underwater (as advised by our guides) to make sure we spotted the hanging overhead cranes and equipment jutting out from shore. It’s a dive site well worth the visit, but not one we would probably go back to like the Coolidge.
After finishing our dives and farewelling the team at Coral Quays Resort, we headed two minutes up the road to our new home for the night at Village De Santo. We were expecting something simple but nice, and instead walked into a courtyard with a pool surrounded by lush greenery and walkways to our room, which had beautiful timber louvres and staircase leading to the bedroom on a mezzanine floor. With a self-contained kitchen and bathroom that is among the nicest we’ve seen, we immediately wished we were staying longer than one night. It is simply gorgeous here and not far out of town, but with its own on-site restaurant at Restaurant 1606, you don’t have to go anywhere at all if you don’t want to. The Chief’s Bar, with sink, timber deck and plenty of seating, overlooks the pool and restaurant/reception area, and is the perfect place to sit and relax or make use of the wifi services.
Dinner at Restaurant 1606 was a pleasure. While the menu said small serving sizes allowed for people to taste more, there was absolutely nothing wrong with our entree or main sizes and at good prices, too. Neither of us could finish our meals, as delicious as they were.
Entree: Mashed kumala stuffed with kalamata olives and feta
Mains: Seasonal vegetable curry on rice; Fresh poulet fish on a bed of potato rosti with salad and vegetables.
The dessert menu was quite extensive and sounded great, but we couldn’t fit another thing in and left for our room feeling extremely happy and looking forward to a quiet day tomorrow before our evening flight to Port Vila on Efate.