Since first visiting Mitiaro in 2002, Pacific Divers’ Stephen Lyon says it has been his dream to take small groups of tourists to explore the reef and cave systems of the isolated atolls.
His dream coincides with his belief that promoting adventure tourism in these islands will boost tourism in markets not yet reaching their full potential.
Lyon believes the key to growing tourism in the smaller islands is to find what is special about them, what is unique, and deliver experiences aimed at those specialised markets.
Pacific Divers expects to start its outer islands operations next April following the cyclone season, but is yet to finalise the first destination.
Lyon says they will operate first off in the southern group, with most likely Mauke or Mitiaro as the first islands.
“These islands have a basic tourism infrastructure in place and have the option of cave diving to complement diving on their outer reefs.”
The company chose a land-based style of operation over a live-aboard type vessel for the outer island operation, as they want to give as much opportunity to the local community as possible.
“Clients will stay in local accommodation and source their food and other necessities locally. Pacific Divers will only be providing the dive-related services,” Lyon says.
“The outer islands have struggled to gain traction as tourism destinations despite the growth in Rarotonga and Aitutaki.”
Pacific Divers have also acquired the final piece of equipment needed to run the land-based expedition-style dive trip.
The Mercury Heavy Duty 4.7 metre inflatable is ideal for operating out of the harbours in the outer islands, Lyon says.The boat is a soft bottom heavy duty inflatable able to be packed down and transported as cargo.
“The idea is for the boat, along with portable dive compressors and other dive and safety equipment to be shipped to an island where we will then operate pre-booked dive expeditions for the adventure tourism market.”
A marine scientist and founder of the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative, Lyon says the equipment is also ideally suited for conducting marine surveys in the outer islands.
“It is a much cheaper option than using large live-aboard type vessels and with the work that would be expected for the Marine Park, I hope to be able to get out to our more remote islands to assess the reefs.”