I was recently lucky enough to travel to Chuuk for a week’s diving. Known as Truk until 1990, this group of islands lies just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. This has been in the top destinations on my bucket list for some time now, so my excitement was real.
The travel was relatively easy- PNG Airlines now has a direct flight from Tokyo to Chuuk once a week. This meant that I didn’t need to fly via Philippines, Guam an/or Port Moresby, which saved a lot of transit time. This also means that one has a great excuse to spend a few days in Tokyo. my new favourite city! But that’s a whole other conversation.
What makes Chuuk so special and one of the must-dive destinations in the world, is it’s rich history and abundance of WWII ship and plane wrecks which were sunk in the calm clear waters surrounding the archipelago, at conveniently diver-friendly depths.
Truk Islands were annexed by Japan in 1914 and used as a strategic military base during WWII. On February 17- 18 1944, the U.S. military carried out air and sea strikes on Truk Lagoon sinking more than 45 warships (cargo ships, aircraft carriers, landing craft, a flying boat and more) and destroying more than 250 aircraft that were caught on the ground/ aircraft carriers during the attacks.
Truk was then under US administration until 1979 when it, along with Yap, Kosrae and Pohnpei became the Federated States of Micronesia.
I arrived in Chuuk very early in the morning and was met by a representative of the Blue Lagoon Resort, the oldest dive operation in the country. The resort is large with over 50 rooms all with sea views, balconies and ensuite bathrooms. The restaurant serves a wide variety of food and the bar provides a great atmosphere for after diving relaxation and mingling.
With a reputation as the “Mecca of wreck diving”, my expectations were fairly high.
I was not disappointed. Most of the wrecks are within recreational dive depths, and can be dived without accumulating deco time. The dive shop is equipped for all divers though, and has facilities to fill various gas mixes and rebreathers. I used Nitrox on most the dives, except where I wanted to go down to 40m and was safer on air.
I did 18 dives in the 6 days I was there, each more spectacular than the previous. The dive conditions were great- warm water around 27 -28C with visability ranging from 8-25m with lots of great sunlight coming through. The surface conditions were good, and the boat rides to the dive sites were a maximum of 20 minutes from the dive shop.
The wrecks themselves are fantastic- they have not been salvaged much. This means that there are so many interesting things to see on the wrecks themselves. Things that really stuck in my mind include cargo holds filled with ammunition and land mines, parts for planes including propellers and fuselages, shoes, plates, bottles and much more. One of the wrecks even has a gas mask and human bones in it. The wrecks also allow more experienced divers to penetrate some of the areas, which is so interesting as so much remains intact including the toilets and baths, the engine rooms, the bridges etc.
The thing that surprised me the most was the amount of life on and around the wrecks. There is a lot of coral growth and fish around the wrecks despite there being no real reefs around. Also when I read about diving in Chuuk, articles spoke mostly of the wrecks themselves, in great condition with so many artifacts, but didn’t really delve into the marine life in the area. I saw reef sharks, rays, schools of trevally, baraccuda, snapper, glass fish and more, as well as several nudibranchs and flat worms, shrimps and crabs and other critters.
I was also lucky enough to do a half day land tour which was fascinating. This included going to see a WWII canon in a cave on the hills aimed at the bay, a school which used to be the Japanese communication center that was bombed as well and the museum which is at the Blue Lagoon Resort, which houses several artifacts collected form the wrecks and articles and information relating to the war efforts in the Pacific Islands,
I will definitely go back to Chuuk, I will either combine it with a dive destination in Philippines, PNG or Japan. I feel like I could dive those wrecks several times and still find new interesting parts and artifacts on each one of them.