Volcanic Caves and Lava Tubes of the Azores
A Diving Holiday
25KM along the coast from Ponta Delgada on the remote island of Sao Miguel, lies the charming resort of Vila Franca Do Campo. This former fishing village is now an upmarket marina and also a natural maritime reserve. The recently refurbished quayside now boasts an array of establishments offering scuba diving and snorkelling, along with boat trips to the local ''Blue Lagoon'', more remote whale-watching trips and other fishing charters. Amongst the various cafes, restaurants and bars, there is the obligatory souvenir shop offering visitors a wide range of memorabilia and tat. One particular popular line of merchandise offered by this quaint emporium, is a range of clothing; baseball caps, woolly hats, T-Shirts, fleeces and the like bearing the slogan ''WHERE THE F**K ARE THE AZORES''. This was pretty much the reaction of nearly everyone, when I told them I was planning a weeks diving there in October 2017.
The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, is an archipeligo in the Mid-Atlantic. These islands fall readily into three recognisable groups on the Azores Platform; The Eastern group comprising Sao Miguel (the largest island ),Santa Maria and the Formigas Islets. The Central Group of Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial and finally the western islands of Flores and Corvo. Because of it's Portugese heritage the Azures is strangely classed as part of Europe, coincidentally this is where most people thought it was geographically.
The Azores currently have 271 classified volcanic caves situated all over the archipeligo with the exception of Corvo. Nearly half of these caves are on the island of Pico, the largest being Gruta Des Torres with an estimated length of 5.2km, this cave is a show cave with public access to the entrance series of lava tubes. The largest cave on Sao Miguel is the Gruta do Carvao at 2.5km. The caves and lava tubes of Sao Miguel including this cave, stretch mainly along the southern coastline in the Ponta Delgrada region. As I was essentially on a diving holiday with non-cavers, I did not get to visit any of the dry systems. We did however do all our sea diving from on a RIB leaving Vila Franca on this particular stretch of coast. On many of these boat trips to and from our selected dive sites we could clearly see many lava tube entrances at sea level and above. We did get to dive one submerged volcanic cave at a relatively shallow depth, this proved quite interesting. Fourteen open water divers in a low viz chamber with unlined lava tubes leading off, is not an ideal situation.
The Azores and in particular Sao Miguel, is an extremely popular destination with Divers, Trekkers and Horse Riders. It is also a call-in point for big cruise liners en route to the U.S.A. The climate is friendly throughout the year, and the food and drink very cheap. Palatable local beer can be got for about £1 per half litre, and local wine even less (not that this would be of interest to Pegasus members). If anyone is interested in visiting these islands, perhaps Pico would be a more caver friendly option.