If you talk to any avid wreck diver they will tell you Chuuk (Truk) is the place you want to go. Why? Because it has over 60 sunken ships from WWII. It is literally the mecca of wreck diving.
Many Americans forget that we fought a war on two fronts in WWII, one in Europe and one in the Pacific (see how this plays into the history of Guam here). Chuuk Lagoon was one of the primary hubs for the Japanese Imperial Navy to move resources from Japan to its bases in their ‘southern pacific mandate’ – islands that had been given to Japan post-WWI.
The US sought to crush this hub in a fierce campaign under OPERATION HAILSTONE, Feb 17-18 1944. While the Japanese had started to move its major battle ships to other harbors in the Pacific, the attack still devastated the imperial navy. Hitting over 60 sea vessels, 250 aircraft and killing over 4,500 people, this ‘underwater graveyard’ makes for an eerie playground including fully intact tanks still strapped to their cargo ships, jeeps, bombs – and – old bones with marked underwater grave sites.
Prized diving spots are not often easy to get to and Chuuk is no exception.
The easiest way to get to Chuuk is via a straight flight from Guam via United – just under 2 hours and about $300 roundtrip.
From Hawaii, you can either fly directly to Guam or take the island hopper which is nearly the only lifeline to much of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Chuuk is the 5th stop on this 6 stop route which will cost you around $1K to take and is worth exploring. If able to set foot in Papa New Guinea, direct flights can also be found to Weno, the main island in the Chuuk atoll.
WHERE TO STAY AND WHAT TO DO
First things first, if you are not a diver, do not make the journey to Chuuk. Above water, the island is a stark reality of what much of Micronesia looks like – poverty stricken, little to no industry and remote. Honestly, I did not know what a ‘remote island’ felt like until I explored this region of the world (see Operation Christmas Drop for a better understanding).
There are literally only two places worth staying: Blue Lagoon Resort and Truk Stop Hotel. I would not recommend staying elsewhere; your hotel standards may be severely short of what you would normally expect. Additionally, both these locations cater to divers and have dive shops connected to them.
Liveaboards are also well worth your money here since you are not missing much on the islands themselves, although nearly all diving spots are easily accessible via shore.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of industry on the island, much of the population struggle with drug use and alcoholism. As such, petty crime is a problem and leaving the resort area is not advisable at night. Take my word for it on this; one morning, I decided I would not be trapped in the confines of the resorts and went for a run. You would have thought I was a martian running around — on my way out, folks simply gave me long looks, but the time I turned around to head back it looked like the town was out to watch a parade. Also note, shorts are not a thing outside the confines of diving and the resort. Think developing country conservative clothing; long skirts (for women) with shoulders and chest covered.
BUT REALLY, LETS TALK ABOUT DIVING
As with any place worth going, the 4 days I spent there was not enough. If you fly from halfway across the world then a week liveaboard is the minimum amount of time you want to spend here. I was an easy hop over on a 4 day weekend while living in Guam; enough to see the ‘big wrecks’ but probably not enough for the tech diver that flew over 20+ hours to get there.
My trip was organized through my local dive shop (MDA) on Guam. If you have time, I would recommend going through either MDA or AXE MURDERS – the two big dive shops on the island. Both make trips out regularly to the neighboring islands and offer reasonable packages. It is worth stopping a few days in Guam to get over jet-lag before continuing on.
Safety Note: Make no mistake the local dive masters on Chuuk know these wrecks inside and out, but make sure you are comfortable with your level of diving before attempting. This trip held one of the most lax diving, and really no-where-near PADI safety standards. We had two Vietnam vets on our boat who were newly open water certified – not that the dive shop bothered to ask for our dive certs. One of these two 65+ gentlemen (mad respect for them but) ran out of air on his second dive and ended up shooting to the top with no safety stop. Our ‘guide’ provided zero pre-dive safety, history or orientation brief. I am also not certain on his level of English. Watch your safety standards when diving here and step-up to lead the group through these if needed (which is what we ended up doing).
TOP WRECKS (we dived these and more)
1.Fujikawa Maru – “The Fujikawa Maru is often referred to as the “Showcase Wreck”and is easily dived as it lays between 9 and 33m. The bow gun is easily spotted. Interestingly, it was produced by a British manufacturer in 1899 during the Russo-Japanese War. There are fighter plane fuselages and other parts of planes in the holds and the superstructure is easily accessible. The telegraph annunciator is covered with beautiful corals. You can go down to the engine room through eerie staircases to see how a ship this size was powered. There is no light at such depths so the sense of mightiness is extreme. The Fujikawa is also famous for the air compressor warmly named R2D2 which features in many a diver’s photograph. A lot of small artifacts provide an insight into a Japanese warship. Hold No.2 contains parts and fuselage of Zero planes which can be seen up close.” Source: Best Dives in Chuuk
2. Heian Maru – “This is one of the Must-Dive wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon as there are many relics and the interior is easy to penetrate. Inside, you can see a torpedo long lance, an innovation of the time in its ability to project the torpedoes much farther. The Heian was also carrying replacement periscopes. As most of the wrecks in Chuuk have been spared of major robbery, the ship propellers are still intact.” Source: Best Dives in Chuuk
3. Nippo Maru – “The Nippo Maru was originally a water and ammunition delivery ship. One of the most dived wrecks thanks to its relatively shallow location, the Nippo Maru contains a tank, coastal defense guns, mines, munitions, anti-tank guns and water tanks. Inside the forecastle are many personal effects of the crew in the silt. The forward hold contains mines, detonators, artillery shells and gas masks, one of the shocking diver images of this wreck.
Hold No.1 contains large bronze range finders and a tank that was probably transported in the event of a US ground invasion of Chuuk. Three howitzers are on the deck near Hold No.4 which is filled with lots of beer bottles, radio equipment and a variety of items.” Source: Best Dives in Chuuk
4. The San Francisco – “It is considered one of the most incredible wrecks of Chuuk and often referred to as “The Million Dollar Wreck” because of the value of its cargo. This is also one of the best wreck dives in the world. The valuable cargo was there probably to defend from an American amphibian attack that never occurred.
It is located pretty deep at 48m for the main deck, so you must be a technical diver. There is a 3” bow gun encrusted with corals. Hold No.1 contains spherical sea mines and their detonators and “horns” for detonation on contact in boxes nearby. In Hold No.2 there are several trucks, a favourite with divers, barrels of fuel and aerial bombs. The bridge area is intact and the crew quarters have all sorts of utensils and china.” Source: Best Dives in Chuuk
5. The Shinkoko Maru – “One of the “Must-dive sites” in Chuuk Lagoon is the Shinkoku Maru, a tanker measuring 152m and found at 12m, bottoming up at 36m that requires multiple dives to explore. The deck, where many of the interesting bits are found, is only 18m deep. Look out for the operating table and medicine bottles, some bones, toilets and a Japanese style tiled bath. The telegraph and the wheelhouse can be accessed through a stairwell.” Source: Best Dives in Chuuk
If you are in love with wreck diving there is no doubt Chuuk is the place to be. Happy exploring!!