Crikey its cold, that was how I felt when stepping off the plan in Christchurch this Monday to be meet by snow and sleet. We had just returned from 7 days diving in Santo which makes up the Vanuatu group of islands.
Aore Bungalow. Notice the resident Dugong on the porch
During the war 50,000 American and allied troops were stationed in Santo, which was staging post to the war efforts in the Solomon Islands, the island had 3 bomber strips, a fighter strip and the Kiwis had a a Catalina base on the Island, bombing runs were launched from Santo to Guadalcanal and troops were stationed here before being shipped to the Solomons.
As a result of all this war activity there were obvious casualties to both shipping and aircraft. The most famous of course being the President Coolidge that struck a friendly mine and sunk in 20 to 70 metres of water. The Coolidge would have to be the most dived wreck in the South Pacific and is off similar size to our own Mikhail Lermontov, being close to the beach it traditionally only dived as a shore dive, with the majority of companies offering guided shore dives.
Clown Fish entertain me during decompression after a deep dive on the Coolidge
I dived the Coolidge in 1983 and have always wanted to revisit Santo to explore other sites that I knew existed, but couldn’t access due the lack of suitable boats and operators. That is when I heard off an operator based in Aore which is an island within a stones throw of Santo, that had just recently set up shop and was offering all inclusive boat dives from there brand new 8m stabi-craft. I quickly put together a group to travel to Santo to explore and enjoy some warm water winter diving.
Six of us arrived at Aore Adventure Sports and we quickly settled into our self contained bungalow with private beach. Over the following 5 days we dived 4 different ship wrecks, 1 dive bomber and Million Dollar Point, with dives ranging from 14 meters to 60 meters. Quite clearly some of these dives were deep and safety was our priority, with Paul and Lyndel being ex Aussie dive operators, safety equipment including O2, and an AED were carried on every dive, the only operator in Santo to do so. Alfred our guide, with 13000 plus dives on the Coolidge alone was fantastic in showing us around the wrecks.
Kitting up for the first days diving. From then on the boys take care of all kit cleaning and loading etc.
Overall we had an excellent 5 days of incident free diving, topped off with an off-gassing day to Champagne beach, Oyster Island and the Blue Holes, while enjoying a few deco tubes before we headed home.
At an all inclusive price of around $2700.00 ex Christchurch, diving with Aore Sports in Santo would have to be an all round top diving destination, at great value for money, Go Dive will definitely be returning again next year. We will only take small groups of 6 so enjoyment is optimized. Make contact with me if you are keen.