Over the hill and not too far away from the hustle and bustle of Port Vila lies the haven of Havannah Harbour, an inviting mecca of palm lined beaches, sheltered waters and plenty of adventures waiting, especially underwater.
Back in WWII Havannah was one of the largest and shortest lived military bases. Tranquil Havannah was transformed into a busy port complete with airstrips, moorings, sub nets, hospitals and all the infrastructure needed for thousands of military personnel. It didn’t last long. When the war moved northwards the base was relocated to Espirito Santo leaving behind many poignant reminders to explore.
Story and photos by Anne Simmons
The submarine nets that stretched from the mainland to Lelepa Island are an example. Now they lie coiled into heaped clusters, an array of interesting artificial reefs home to a fascinating diversity of life: tiny shrimp, a variety of nudibranch, morays, ribbon eels, pufferfish, lionfish, with a back drop of teeming smaller fish, passing tuna and wahoo, fields of flowering tube worms , anemones and whip corals. Each mound is so different from the next. Easy diving too, with little or no current, at depths from 18 to 34 metres (and deeper). All too easy to find your bottom time is up without realising.
In startling contrast across the harbour, and deliberately placed after crashing at Bauerfeild airport, rests a Britain Trislander plane in only 10 metres or less. This is a site to spend hours and hours and still not discover all the amazing wee critters that call it home. Peacock Flounder, morays, numerous species of shrimps, territorial anemone fish, a variety of lionfish, all these and much more never cease to enthral.
While ex pat residential subdivisions are starting to appear along the shores of Havannah the aspect remains primarily rural and untouched. Small villages and local houses dot the landscape; less than an hour from Port Vila and still easy to find that amazing Ni-Vanuatu experience. The locals are always willing to share an insight into their own lives and culture – there’s plenty to learn.
UNESCO World Heritage designation
The triangle formed from Hat (Erotoka) Island to Lelepa Island and back to Magaasi village on the mainland has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage area.
Both above and below the water this area demands a visit. The story of Chief Roimata, a fierce and respected leader to his people, is often told, albeit with variations – there is no disputing the evidence of the amazing mass burial sites on Erotoka!
Whether a snorkeller or you prefer to explore at greater depths, the base of Paul’s Rock pushed up by an ancient volcano is where the fish life is astounding. Though this marine reserve is considered voluntary, the fish are used to being hand fed at the surface with huge red snapper, grouper, filefish, and turtles below. Huge cracks carve through the rock cry out for you to explore them; they’re lined mostly with amazing soft corals sheltering an array of colourful fish. Just be careful though, the corals are easily damaged so avoid any dangling gauges or careless fin kicks.
Erotoka, Lelepa and Moso Islands are surrounded by beautiful reefs and though some areas show signs of overfishing, inevitable proof of human inhabitation, its still possible to find spots of reef pristine and untouched, alive with vibrant whip corals, massive fans and fields of soft corals.
Dugongs and dolphins
Moso Channel is a popular hangout for dugongs and dolphins which frequently bow ride passing boats. Small thermal vents can be found on the outer side of the reef. There are numerous local initiatives to protect and restore this underwater paradise, for instance a clam restoration project on Lelepa, and a thriving turtle sanctuary on Moso at Tranquiliity Resort.
Years ago a small tugboat, the Roimata, was sunk here and while the growth on her has been slow you never know what she will now show the visiting diver. It could be clouds of cuttlefish, resident batfish or morays, or simply just the stunning visibility – at times you can see the surface clearly from the wreck at 42 metres.
Owen’s Reef is another colourful site with plenty of soft corals, myriads of fish, rays, and schooling fish. At certain times of the year hump back whales pass by here too so it pays to keep your eyes out.
Not far away lies the wreck of the island trader Belama now broken into several bits and home to spotted rays, crocodile fish and all their usual buddies.
Havannah Harbour is one of the most beautiful places with something for everyone and every age, an ideal base for a family dive holiday. The diving is safe and easy yet so diverse and there are untold land based activities as well as water sports, cultural, adrenalin junkie, or just chilling out.
Two dive operators based in Havannah Harbour, Sailaway Cruises and Tranquillity Dive. Both off er a variety of options for divers and snorkelers.
Accommodation options range from the luxurious Havannah Resort on Samoa Point to village stays. A favourite has to be Gideon’s Havannah EcoLodge which has units right on the water’s edge. Its owned by a local family and off ers simple, fresh and tasty food at their waterfront restaurant.
Dining options cater for all budgets and tastes, at the Wahoo Bar or go Italian at the lovely Francesca’s restaurant plus loads more.