Top Ten Snorkeling Spots- Part 2

What are the top ten snorkeling spots we’ve visited? The last post covered our top five all time favorites; this is the next in line. They are also amazing underwater experiences, but didn’t hit on quite as many dimensions. Still, each one is a spectacular and unique destination that provided extremely memorable snorkeling. They’re all places we feel privileged to have visited.

playing in the shallows
Stunning clear water in Fiji

6. Northern Raja Ampat, West Papua Province, Indonesia
Raja Ampat covers a large area, and while we counted the southern portion among our top five, the northern islands we visited were spectacular as well- but different. Where the south captured us with corals and fish, in the north it was the fascinating mangrove reefs that captured us in particular. Unlike most coastal mangroves, these were surrounded by crystal clear water, with nurseries for fish in the mangrove roots- even soft corals growing right onto mangroves. When Niall and I first got in the water in a little anchorage off the west end of Gam Island, we were so overcome we kept grabbing each other and high-fiving in the water. It was that cool. More of our experiences in northern Raja Ampat are chronicled here.

7. Isle de Maitre, New Caledonia
Isle de Maitre is a short sail from Noumea, inside one of the world’s largest lagoon off the SE end of New Caledonia. The marine reserve adjacent to the island held beautiful fish and other marine life, and also larger pelagic fish, turtles, and sharks in the deeper waters adjacent to the shallower reef areas. We found one spot that became dubbed “the turtle highway”, because a constant stream of large sea turtles that passed through. Just outside the conservation area was some of the best spearfishing we’ve had, and Jamie brought in some nice big pelagics to keep us well fed. Read about how what started as a weather delay turned into an underwater adventure.

8. Navadra Island, Yasawas, Fiji
We found most of our snorkeling expeditions in Fiji disappointing. The water is terribly overfished, so the reefs aren’t healthy. It adds up to less interesting snorkeling destinations than the reputation suggested, although we notably did not go to the Rainbow Reef off Vanua Levu, which everyone raves about. This area, at the border of the Yasawa and Mamanuca groups, was the exception. Navadra is unpopulated, which surely helps. The currents flying through here mean lots of nutrients and the marine life was distinctly richer than what we’d seen elsewhere. Just above Navadra  the reefs off a distance from the south end of Waya (speedy dinghy or local boat required) were interesting as well. Jamie and Mike hooked up with some local guys for an afternoon of wild and crazy spearfishing there that will go down in infamy (raw giant clam, anyone?). The second half of this blog post has some stories and photos from Fiji underwater.

Totem in paradise- Navadra island
Totem in repose, Navadra, Fiji

9. Kenutu island, Vava’u, Tonga
We only spent a couple of weeks in Tonga’s Vava’u group, but it was enough to soak in many of the islands and anchorages in the group. Once again, we the impact of overfishing was sadly palpable. There were some moderately interesting coral gardens in the islands, but the best of all was the ocean-facing reef near Kenutu, at the south east side of this island group. Here, there were massive canyon formations that made for epic swims. What keeps this spot especially present in our memory of great snorkeling spots are the zebra and nurse sharks. Entirely docile, and stunning at close range.

Zebra (Leopard) shark
Zebra Shark, Vava’u, Tonga

10. Unnamed reef/islet, near Analeua Island, New Ireland province, PNG
We originally were interested in going to Aneleua (also on maps and charts as Analeva) island because we had heard about a snorkel-depth WWII wreck off the island. It was there, and it was cool, although a bit below most snorkeler’s reach at about 30’. Our friends on Nalukai made it more accessible with their hookah, and we took turns hanging out at the bottom, peeking into the fuselage and scoping out fish. Better yet, though, was the snorkeling around a little unnamed dot of an island in the shallow water just south of Analeua. We jammed out in our dinghies (people, you simply cannot get to the cool spots in your cute little rowing dinghy or 2.5hp) and spent an amazing few hours. What made it a great snorkel spot? Fantastic diversity, easy depth (10-15’), and some great individual sightings- it was like a reef buffet with a little bit of everything.

Coming later… another dozen awesome spots that didn’t quite squeak into “top 10” status.

6 Responses

  1. Behan, I am sorry that you had a so so time in Fiji, we lingered there 3 years. Its my number one spot so far. The Yasawa and Mamanuca were good but the best was Lau group and Taveuni and Koro up in the NE. I always hope for better snorkeling ahead of me.- John

    1. John, I think it was in great part a function of not having enough time in Fiji…a month goes by FAST! We definitely didn’t get to the “hot spots” there- although Navadra was magical. I’d love to see Lau, Taveuni and Koro, and in general, Fiji was among our favorite stops in the Pacific. Guess we’ll just have to go back! 🙂

  2. I’m a little confused… Can you not get to the good spots at all, or would it just take a long time in a lower Powered – or human powered Dinghy?

    1. We’ve never met anyone with a ~15hp who wished they had a smaller outboard, but we’ve met many people with little outboards (not planing) who regretted it. How important it is depends on where you’re cruising. If there is any wind or sea state, rowing is incredibly slow, so just getting to shore can be wet and time consuming. It’s isolating and it limits your mobility and options. If you’re keen to row, just have a dinghy that you can row or use with an outboard, so you have the choice. Whether it is the good reef or the cool trip up an estuary, boats with the little dinks tend to miss out- or be the guys who were always bumming rides, because the more interesting spots were generally outside a practical rowing range.

    2. Thanks! I’m a long way from casting off, but its never too early to gather information about this sort of thing! About how far from the mothership would you say the more powerful dink enables you to go? Are we talking tens of miles? How does the upper end of its range compare to a more ‘typical’ trip? For the longer excursions, would moving Totem there herself generally have been impossible, or merely impractical?

      (Sorry for the deluge of questions! It’s not often one has the opportunity to get answers straight from the ‘real world’ like this!)

    3. It’s pretty common for us to do snorkeling trips that are 2-4 miles from the boat. Occasionally, they’re farther, but not often. We would have missed some incredible places if we were just rowing. And yes, it’s usually impractical but sometimes impossible to move the boat closer to a prime spot…not to mention, we really try to stay off coral. If you anchor adjacent to a reef, you are probably going to damage coral.

      Think about having enough power to get on a plane with a normal load of people and gear. Now, add gear. Then add 5 gal of water weight for slopping in and out. Then, kick up some choppy seas and put wind on the nose, maybe treat yourself to some foul current, and yeah- tough times with low power.

      One other advantage of a bigger outboard is that it gives you backup propulsion for your boat. Our friends used their dinghy as a tug to get the last few miles and inside the reef in Tahiti because they ran out of diesel…comes in handy. 🙂

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