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It isn’t just the pristine, coconut-fringed beaches and lush landforms concealing secret waterfalls and caves that attract travelers to the South Pacific. The region also boasts islands that are the perfect jumping-off points to some of the richest and most diverse reefs in the world.
Here are a few diving sites to tick off your list, from the Solomon Islands in the west to the Cook Islands in the southeast.
FijiFiji might have made a name for itself by offering luxury retreats for the rich and the famous. However, much like its South Pacific neighbors, it’s also the place for covetable snorkeling experiences. So, when in Fiji, grab a mask and leave the resort — no matter how incredible it is.
The first stop should be Rainbow Reef, best known for its healthy soft coral community and many fish species. Keep an eye out for tiger sharks. Other spots to consider are Namena Marine Reserve and the Great Astrolabe Barrier Reef.
Snorkeling excursions, as well as private charter tours, may be arranged through Pacific Harbour Ocean & Island Excursions.
New CaledoniaThe French territory of New Caledonia is famous for its remarkably rich lagoon. It’s not only the world’s largest lagoon, but also the second largest barrier reef on the planet. Its waters are home an underwater world so incredible it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During a snorkeling excursion here, you’ll likely see dugongs, turtles, giant manta rays, unicorn fish, sharks, feather starfish and Moorish idols. Isle of Pines, Duck Island, Lifou Island and Touho are four of the best snorkeling spots.
For morning excursions or day snorkeling trips, hire Kuendu Dive Safari. Its tours include swimming with manta rays at Touho.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands The Cook Islands’ largest and most populous island is home to more than just volcanoes and rainforests. It also boasts lagoons and coral reefs that make a perfect setting for diving and snorkeling.
Among the best places for exploring are Tikioki Marine Reserve, where moray eels, stingrays and turtles congregate. For a calmer spot, Black Rock Beach is the way to go. Or, for a full day of snorkeling, stop by Aroa Marine Reserve and Titikaveka.
For better probability of seeing eagle rays and reef sharks, take a guided snorkeling trip to the island’s outer reef by booking an excursion with Adventure Cook Islands.
The Solomon IslandsA stone’s throw from Papua New Guinea is the Solomon Islands archipelago.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the favorite pastimes here, along with sunning at sandbars and immersing in the local culture.
It’s not hard to see why the destination is attractive; the islands are not only home to spectacular coral gardens, but also a number World War II wreck sites. Plus, it the marine life is diverse, including leatherback and hawksbill turtles, rays, sharks and many species of fish. Among the best snorkeling spots are Marovo Lagoon, Uepi Island and Susu Hite.
Group snorkeling trips, as well as private charters, can be arranged through Munda Dive.
VanuatuIf there’s one thing the Republic of Vanuatu is known for, it’s diving. The crystal-clear water provides excellent visibility of its healthy coral reefs and of WWII shipwrecks that include the SS President Coolidge, a sunken luxury liner.
If you’re not one for diving, snorkeling spots abound as well. In fact, the well-known Million Dollar Point — home to several WWII remnants — is snorkeler-friendly and so accessible that clients don’t need to arrange a tour. Other stunning reefs include Pango Cove, Pele Island and Tranquility Island.
Arrange a snorkeling tour at Pango Cove with Big Blue Vanuatu. For Pele Island, try Evergreen Vanuatu.