Vanuatu to Australia: Cruisers comment on a stop-over at Chesterfield Reef

Chesterfield Reef makes for a perfect stop-over for those on passage from Vanuatu to Australia in settled weather, located half way between Santo in Vanuatu and Bundaberg in Queensland in the Coral Sea. However, permission must be requested at least three months in advance.

Published 6 years ago, updated 6 months ago

Update September 2023:

See full update by the Down Under Rally in their Ahoy Newsletter (August 2023 pages 32-33) here.

Following the Covid pandemic, New Caledonia authorities kept Chesterfield Reef closed. They have now decided to keep it closed indefinitely, however, applications to visit can be submitted and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Down Under Rally report that no yachts they know of, that have lodged applications to visit, have been granted permission in 2023.

Update January 2020:

The information in this report from 2017 and previous, is now out of date. Permission to visit these islands is currently required and must be requested at least three months in advance.

See https://www.noonsite.com/Countries/NewCaledonia/chesterfield-islands for the latest information.

Chesterfield and Entrecasteaux Reef
By SV Ali de Gabi
July 2019

My Buddies and I wanted to visit the New Caledonia’s Reefs Entrecasteaux and Chesterfield on our sailing from Port Vila, Vanuatu to Mackay, Australia on our Ovni 435 Ali di Gabi, Italian flag, last July. We were 8 friends on board. So I wrote (in French) to [email protected] asking permission to visit these atolls.

It is now necessary to send a request three months in advance to visit these islands to [email protected]

We spent one day and one night in Huon atoll which is part of Entrecasteaux Reef (27 July), and 2 days and nights (30 and 31 July) in Chesterfield, both with an Australian catamaran with a couple on board we had met in Port Vila.

Both are splendid places to visit with gorgeous beaches and thousands of birds. We could swim and snorkel but very near the beaches as we saw many sharks, and we have been told by the Australian friends that they can be very dangerous. Both the anchorages had good holding  and were  comfortable (but the wind never exceeded 20 knots).

Nicoletta Meregaglia
SV Ali de Gabi

Update October 2018:

The Coral Sea National Park (of which Chesterfield Reef is a part) became a nature reserve in August 2018. All types of fishing are now prohibited and there are new rules concerning getting permission to visit. See https://www.noonsite.com/Countries/NewCaledonia/chesterfield-islands for the latest information.

Chesterfield Reef New Caledonia
By SV Kiapa – 6 Sept 2017 to 14 Sept 2017
Skipper Lionel Bass, Australian

Sealife seen:

1-      Humpback whales. Lots of juveniles. We sighted them every day

2-      Grey reef sharks

3-      White tip sharks

4-      Blacktip sharks

5-      Black and brown sea snake

6-      Black and silver sea snake

7-      Peacock grouper (pale phase)

8-      Black saddle grouper

9-      Giant trevally

10-  Turtles (not nesting, but swimming)

11-  Dogtooth tuna

12-  Jobfish

13-  Tiger shark- 2-3m, tame and you can swim with it under the boat.

14-  Orange lip spider conch

In the lagoon we marked the following shallow reefs (less than 1 meter), they are great for diving but here are the GPS coordinates to assist to avoid while navigating…

1                    19 53.216s                       158 27.090e

2                    19 54.230s                       158 27.796e

3                    19 53.154s                       158 27.697e

4                    19 53.671s                        158 26.702e

5                    19 52.424s                       158 22.710e

6                    19 52.115s                       158 24.335e

7                    19 53.672s                       158 26.702e

All these reefs are surrounded by 20-40 meters depth. Some of them show up on google earth if you look really carefully at the photos.

Places we anchored were all in 3-10m great hard white hand and in our experience, excellent holding and lots of swing room with no coral for the chain to damage.

Chesterfield west anchor: 19 53.833s / 158.21.453e

East anchor: 19 52.900s / 158 27.800e

South anchor: 19 57.783s / 158 28.427e – 3 m deep

If anchored in the south, a safe, but shortcut pass out of the lagoon heading west is 19 54.477s 158 22.392e. The pass is about 300 wide and clear of obstacles if you stay in the middle. It is 18 deep. We traversed this in a 3-meter swell and had 3 knots of current pushing us out in an SE 14-20kn wind and a rising tide. No problems.

Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia: A truly memorable 5-day stop-over at Chesterfield Reef.
25 October 2016
By SY Maunie of Ardwall

Previous posts have suggested, however, that yachts might be challenged by the French authorities for anchoring there without having first cleared into New Caledonia. This is no longer the case, we are pleased to report.

Prior to Visiting

Vessels wishing to visit the reef should first e-mail the Department de Affaires Maritime in Noumea for permission.

E-mail: [email protected]

A friendly reply came back on the next working day, requesting a trip report after the visit (to include details of activities undertaken at the reef, species of fish caught (if any), any islands visited and any other environmental information).

Navigation and Anchoring

The reef is very large and, in the most part, 25 – 35m deep. The centre of the (very wide) eastern entrance is at 19deg 45’S, 158deg 27’E and the western entrance some 11nm away is at 19deg 50’.7S, 158deg 17’E.

The southern anchorage, described below, is nearly 11 miles from the line between these two points, so you should be aware that there may be considerable wind chop in the lagoon due to the length of the fetch. We arrived in 20-24 knots of southerly wind and had an uncomfortable beat to the anchorage.

Two anchorages that we used were as follows:

1. East side of the lagoon 

Position: 19 deg 52’.9S, 158deg 27’8E

We anchored in 10m of very clear water in the sand (good holding) with some small coral outcrops easily visible in good light. This anchorage gains some shelter from a row of small islands in E or SE winds but was rolly in a southerly and would be very uncomfortable in moderate westerly winds.

Note that there is a large and shallow coral outcrop rising from about 20m depth at approximately 19 deg 18’.3S, 158 deg 27’.7E which poses a hazard – but which also provides excellent snorkelling opportunities. It is visible on the biggest scale Google Earth images.

2. South tip of the lagoon 

Position: 19 deg 57’.4S, 158deg 28’.4E

We anchored on a wide, flat sandy shelf in 5m. This was our preferred anchorage at the head of the ‘V’ shaped reef, so it benefits from less roll in SE to W winds and the white sand turns the water into a dazzling turquoise colour.

Note that there is a large and shallow coral outcrop almost on the direct line between the first anchorage and this one, at approximately 19deg 54’.2S, 158deg 27’8E, again visible on Google Earth.

Many other anchorages are available and there may well be other uncharted shallow patches, so a good lookout is strongly recommended when navigating within the reef.

Wildlife

Once here, the chief delight of the reef, apart from the obvious respite from the passage-making, is the incredible variety of bird and marine life. The small sandy islands of the reef are nesting grounds to terns, boobies, gannets and many more and they are unafraid of humans so, moving slowly and with care, it’s possible to photograph them at very close quarters; we were there in mid-October which seemed to be prime nesting season.

In the water, there were Loggerhead turtles mating and the females were making their way up the beaches to lay eggs.

Other boats reported good spear-fishing opportunities (though we have read warnings of ciguatera poisoning in the reef on other websites) and we saw black tip reef sharks and large sea snakes. Be advised that the spear-fishers reported Tiger sharks (one around 3m long) around the anchorage when they were gutting fish and that even the reef sharks were boldly inquisitive when they were snorkelling, so be very cautious if anyone is spear-fishing in the area!

Graham Keating
SY Maunie of Ardwall
Dartmouth

More on our blog www.maunieofardwall.blogspot.com

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