Truk (Chuuk): Battleground of WWII and Wreck Dives Galore

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Look at the tiny region of Truk, native name Chuuk, on a map, and you’ll see miniature blips of land that are miles away from the nearest continent. Located more than 1,000 miles north of New Guinea – the closest major body of land – this tiny Micronesian diving destination is, quite literally, worlds away from western civilization.

But this is just part of the region’s allure for divers. Listed by the PADI Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving as one of the globe’s four “Meccas of Wreck Diving,” the barely offshore Truk Lagoon is littered with almost 70 wrecks of World War II-era ships and planes, and also boasts a healthy reef system that’s protected from the open ocean’s big waves and deep sea currents.

When visiting Truk, there’s not much to do except for scuba dive and this suits most visitors just fine. Conducive for all skill levels, but especially enticing to experienced divers who want to cross off all the challenging global locales off their list, this destination is a true coastal paradise.

The Diving

While bright corals and schools of neon fish are commonplace in Truk Lagoon, the big attraction in this region is the wreck diving. At the height of WWII, Truk Lagoon was the primary base for Japan’s South Pacific Theater, and was considered the most intimidating base in the entire Pacific Ocean.

Eventually destroyed by a 1944 Naval Attack towards the end of the war, Truk Lagoon soon became the biggest graveyard of planes and ships in close proximity in the world, and decades later, a paradise for wreck divers – a reputation which started with a visit and subsequent documentary by Jacques Cousteau in 1969.

With this rich history in mind, it’s no surprise that the top diving sites in Truk Lagoon revolve around wrecks.

San Francisco Maru
Easily the most famous wreck in the Truk Lagoon, the San Francisco Maru is the pinnacle of local wreck diving, but it’s also one of the most dangerous sites. Located 170’ deep, local dive boats often caution visitors multiple times before making the descent to the 385’ ft. long cargo ship. For most avid wreck divers, however, the risk is worth it. Loaded with war materials, including a bow gun, 3 armored tanks, and even a flatbed truck, the San Francisco Maru, (also known as the “Million Dollar Wreck”), is a strange but fascinating relic of an almost perfectly intact passenger-cargo ship at the height of a World War.

Heian Maru
This nearly 12,000 ton passenger-cargo ship was initially built in 1930 with a whopping price tag of $15,000,000. A record setting vessel for speed, due to a cross-Pacific maiden voyage to Seattle, this former luxury ship was surprisingly converted to a U.S. Navy submarine tender in 1941. Destroyed in 1944 by a dive bomber, the 329’ long vessel met an unimpressive end on the edges of Truk Lagoon.

Resting on her portside, divers will find a treasure trove of artifacts which hint at the both the vessel’s military service and more luxurious history, which includes an expansive promenade deck, a reading room, a separate writing room, and a wealth of china, periscopes, torpedoes and shells.

Fujisan Maru
This upright, 512’ long tanker is found in 100’ – 175’ deep waters, and is one of the largest and most popular dive sites of Truk Lagoon. Quickly dropping to the ocean floor after severe 1944 bomb damage, today the site is equally renowned for its vibrant collection of soft corals and schools of fish. Reef sharks may make an appearance, as may porcelain crabs, shrimps, and small fish, which is why this destination is considered one of the better dive sites for visiting Truk nature photographers.

Shinkoku Maru
This 500’ long tanker will appeal to reef divers and wreck divers alike, thanks to rich military history and an exterior that’s now flanked by stunning soft corals and vast schools of fish. Built in 1940, the Shinkoku Maru was an active participant in the war for Japan, and served as one of the largest ships in the 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks. She went on to participate in strike forces in Darwin, Columbo, Trincomalee, and finally Midway, before being destroyed in 1944 at Truk during Operation Hailstone.

Today, this grisly history is overshadowed by the magnificent corals, gorgonian fan corals, sponges, anemones, and clusters of juvenile fish, although history buffs should dedicate a little time to explore the ship itself. Divers can easily access the engine room, the bathrooms, the bridge and even the infirmary, for an up-close-and-personal look into this impressive warship’s heyday.

Getting to Know Truk

The general sentiment about visiting Truk is that if you’re not a scuba diver, you’re going to be bored. With no major beaches to speak of, and just a sprinkling of dive resorts, life here truly revolves around the water

With that being said, the dive resorts are veritable summer camps for traveling divers – with plenty of comradery to go around – and the inland regions feature a wealth of waterfalls and ancient ruins that date back to 500-1500 A.D., which can be explored via a well-guided hiking trip.

Liveaboards are also an exceptional option for accommodations in this remote corner of the world, as the vessels here feature kitchens, multiple bedrooms, and other modern amenities, and allow divers with some maritime experience to visit the cluster of outlying dive sites with ease.

Getting There and Getting Around

United Airlines flies to Truk, (AKA Chuuk) from both Guam and Palikir. Because of multiple layovers in Hawaii or New Guinea, westerners should dedicate a full day of travel to arriving and departing this remote destination.

There is no public transportation around Truk, but taxis are available, as well as scooter rentals. The price for both is very budget-friendly, but be prepared for rustic, and poorly maintained roads throughout the region.

Truk is a poor fit for visitors who require lots of dining options, populated attractions, and a myriad of things to do that are commonplace, and can be found anywhere in the world. But for divers who appreciate a simple paradise of glassy waters, historic wrecks, and a lifestyle pace that’s so slow it’s as if the world has simply stopped, Truk will be a true paradise, and a decidedly life-changing diving destination.

Quick Facts

When to Go:  Truk is appealing and accessible all year-round, though divers should note that the “rainy season” is April to December. (Because the rain is generally intermittent, however, this should not dissuade you from visiting outside the dry season timeframe.)

Average Surface Water Temps:  Winter, averages 81-84°F / Summer, averages 83-86°F

Average Visibility: Since Truk is a lagoon instead of a channel fed by currents, the visibility isn’t what you see in other Pacific dive destinations, but you can expect 40’- 60’ year-round.

Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattkieffer/

 


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