As the plane touched down in Santo, I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. I couldn’t believe that I was finally going to dive the famous President Coolidge. To win this prize, I had worked very hard to convince my family AND my brother’s family that we would all have a great holiday in Santo – even though not everyone in the family could dive. I was hoping that the Coolidge would live up to its reputation and that Santo could indeed deliver the holiday that I had promised.
We were met at the airport by Luke, a very friendly local, who drove us to our resort, Coral Quays. In addition to gorgeous bungalows and a very inviting swimming pool, Coral Quays has a private jetty stretching out into the channel with a ladder down to the water for a quick swim or a leisurely snorkel. They also offer free use of their kayaks and mountain bikes and my wife immediately signed up for one of their traditional Melanesian massage. (She ended up having 3 before the holiday was over!!)
Shortly after a tour of the resort, Andy from Aquamarine arrived to greet me and my family and sort out our diving plans. Soon after, I was having my first dive on the while my wife was getting a massage, my brother and his wife were off exploring the island by mountain bike and our teenage children were on a kayaking adventure. As I was drifting off to sleep that night, I couldn’t believe my luck. The Coolidge and Santo were far exceeding my hopes and expectations.
The Coolidge, as anyone who has ever dived it will tell you, is AWESOME! Not just incredible but AWESOME – as in awe-inspiring, breath-taking, unbelievable…and beyond the ability to describe with words or photos. You simply must do it to understand. I can’t think of many places in the world where I could spend a full 25 minutes inside a wreck, investigating its narrow passage ways and uncovering its hidden secrets (with the help of my guide, of course!).
I ended up doing 12 dives on the Coolidge, each one better than the previous. And yes, I saw the famous letters along the Stern at 60 metres. And yes, it is one of the highlights of my diving career.
My brother joined me on many of my dives and our stories of adventure each night over dinner got my wife and sister-in-law wondering if this diving thing was something that they should reconsider. The kids were also keen so one morning, while I was weaving my way through Aquamarine’s roller coaster of a dive called The Labyrinth, the wives and the kids all did a Discover Scuba with one of Aquamarine’s instructors on a pretty 12-metre reef just behind their dive shop.
The kids had a great time and all signed up for an Open Water course. My wife felt so comfortable and safe with the Aquamarine crew that even she decided to do the course after years of saying that she had no interest in diving. My sister-in-law loved the experience but decided not to do the course and stuck to snorkeling the sites while we were diving.
Just two days after the Discover Dives, we had 3 new divers in the family! The guys and gals of Aquamarine took us out to a kava bar that evening to celebrate. What a great way to be introduced to the local night life!
The next day, we had a great day out at Million Dollar Point. Starting in only 5 metres and going down to 40 metres, this is where the Americans dumped heaps of equipment at the end of WWII. The site was perfect snorkeling and great for both the new divers and the experienced divers alike.
A week into our holiday while my wife and kids were venturing on to the Coolidge for the first time and my brother and his wife were off on a trekking adventure with Luke (the guy who picked us up at the airport who also happen to run his own tour company, Paradise Tours), I seized the opportunity to dive a newly discovered wreck in Santo, the Tui Tawate. Located just out front of Coral Quays resort, this dive was truly incredible. Aquamarine’s boat arrived at Coral Quays’ jetty, we loaded in direct from the resort and were getting into the water less than 5 minutes later.
Because of its depth and the required deco time hangin’ on a line in blue water, Aquamarine takes a maximum of 4 divers at a time to the Tui. I was lucky enough to be doing the Tui with just 2 other divers and I was excited to not have to share the wreck with too many people. Descending into the blue, the ghostly shape of the tug started to come into view. Approaching the Tui and seeing the way she sits in the sand with nothing else around her, I felt like an intrepid underwater explorer discovering this wreck for the very first time.
That feeling of being the intrepid explorer was part of nearly every one of my dives – and I owe a lot of that to Aquamarine. The dive team at Aquamarine has got to be one of the most professional and friendly lot of divers I have ever had the pleasure to dive with. Their expertise in diving made me feel at ease on even the most daring dives and turned my non-diving family into wreck junkies!
When we returned to Australia, one of my colleagues asked me how the holiday went. Well, let’s see, I got to do some of the best diving I’ve ever done, my family went kayaking, mountain-biking, trekking, snorkeling, got to visit custom villages AND they all became divers. I said it was a success.
That night over dinner, my family and I started talking about our next family trip. Without hesitation, we agreed on Santo. We’ve already booked back into Coral Quays and Aquamarine. I’ve decided to do a Trimix course so that I can really explore the deep end of the Coolidge. My wife has even grander plans. She has decided to do lots of diving as well as every land tour and activity that Santo has to offer. Her incentive? To convince our family that Santo is the ideal place for our extended family reunion in 2007!
It seems that my anxiety before arriving in Santo was unfounded. Santo, Coral Quays and Aquamarine delivered the goods for the best holiday that my family has ever had.