Helmet Diving in Port Vila, Oceanwalker Vanuatu
In late August last year, as part of the annual Tok Tok tourism trade event sponsored by Air Vanuatu, a few lucky media personnel attending got the chance to experience some of the wonderful activities available around Vanuatu.
The following is a first person account of one of the group’s underwater stroll with Oceanwalker Tours.
The bus turns down an alley and heads directly towards the beach. Another beach with beautiful aqua-marine water and hundreds of fish going about their business just centimeters from the surface visible from where you are walking; an exceptional beach by anyone’s standards, but typical here in Vanuatu.
We are directed to head down to a jetty where a smiling (as per usual) Ni Vanuatu awaits us on his boat. The words ‘Oceanwalker Tours’ emblazoned along the side
‘Welcome aboard’ he beams.
The boat starts up its motor and we head out towards the far side of the beautiful Iririki Island. On our itinerary, today’s destination says “diving area”. But this is unlike any diving experience you’ve experienced before (but we’ll get that shortly).
The scenery on the way to our destination is breathtaking. The water remains its bright, clear turquoise colour for the entire trip. There are boats everywhere, yet there still seems to be an infinite amount of open space.
Around twenty minutes later arrive at a barge. As we dock, we are once again greeted with a trademark Vanuatu smile.
‘Hello! Are you ready to dive?!’ the captain asks; more so as a statement rather than a question.
Now, I mentioned earlier that this diving experience was little different than normal, this becomes evident as soon as we caught site of the barge. Lined on the platform are several large bubbles, about the size of a very large watermelon. They are attached to heavily weighted frames and have two hoses coming out of each side. They look heavy. An assumption backed up by the fact that there is a small crane next to them that assists in the moving of them.
Walking down the ramp into the perfectly clear water, the crane lifts one of the helmets into the air and they gently lower it onto my shoulders. Yep. It is heavy, but once you’re in the water you hardly notice.
When you are under water, it’s like being in space – and you literally look like a space man! (Think somewhere between the aliens from Mars Attacks and Buzz Lightyear).
The first thing you notice is that these helmets are completely open from the neck up. It’s hard to fathom how this is going to keep water out, as well as allow you to breathe without a direct scuba hose. But that is exactly what happens. The hose on the side of the bubble feeds oxygen into the helmet. Every time you breathe out and cloud of bubbles exits the helmet around you. Science!
We’re then lead by our guide around a 30 minute path around a coral reef, which was amazing! There are fish everywhere. Literally. Everywhere you turn you around surrounded by hundreds of fish of all sizes and colors. It’s like a casting call for Finding Nemo.
Our guide hands us some pieces of bread in order to attract more fish, which works a treat. As soon as we’re given the bread, the fish flock to our hands. All scrambling for their piece of soggy, dissolving bread.
With the underwater portion of the tour coming to an end, the crane removes our bubble helmets and we board our boat home, with big smiles on all our faces! This time, they take the scenic tour back to the land so we can take the gorgeous sights of the surrounding scenery of Iririki.
Along the way our captain takes us to a point in the bay where three different water currents collide. The different temperature and depths combine in one central place that makes the water take on three stunningly different colors. Aqua marine, a deep turquoise and a deep, dark navy blue, which give the ocean a look like the three colors in a tub of Neapolitan ice cream. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Oceanwalker Tours is located on the jetty opposite Iririki Island in Port Vila, right next to the local market. If you’re looking for a memorable and unique diving experience – without the need to be a qualified scuba diver – the Oceanwalker is the experience for you.
Photos source: oceanwalker website & facebook