Fiji Dive Sites
Fiji offers some of the world's best diving. The links and brief descriptions given below list some of Kat's and my favorite places. Obviously we haven't been able to dive all the sites Fiji has to offer but we are working on it.
I was sitting in the lounge
of the luxury Fiji liveaboard Nai’a, talking with owner Rob Barrel when
I felt a violent blow on my ear and intense pain. Pain turned to confusion and
confusion to surprise. I had been hit by a barracuda which flew with unerring
aim through the port hole. We found the eighteen inch culprit still wriggling
on deck That’s Fiji for you. A place of constant stimulation and surprise, but
practically unknown to the American diver.
Fiji, a tropical nation of some three hundred and twenty islands, east of Australia and north of New Zealand, is about ten hours flying time from LA. You board at night and wake up in Fiji. The Tokatoka Resort, close to the airport, caters for divers with day rooms and a capacious baggage room for items you don’t want to lug around Fiji with you.
Around 850,000 people populate Fiji, 50% are big friendly Melanesian Fijians, 45% are Indians, mostly descendants of immigrants from India. The balance consists of a polyglot of Chinese, Polynesians and Europeans. The official language is English so you can communicate even in the most remote village.
In Fiji, you can dive with a dive operator, tourist resort, a dedicated dive resort, or a live-aboard (Fiji Aggressor, Cere-ni-wai, Matagi Princess II and Nai’a). They follow a similar routine, sailing at night and diving during the day. On Nai’a we had four dives scheduled daily but if you wanted more you could do so. I managed six on my last day but if my dive computer had let me, I would have done more.
Nai'a started life in the Caribbean running "booze cruises." Found by Rob, she was sailed to Fiji, stripped and overhauled. Glowing Fijian hardwoods grace both the main salon and the cabins which boast a genuine queen-sized bed as well as shower and toilet facilities. Each cabin is individually climate-controlled by an air-conditioning unit that services the whole ship. There is a large camera room with plenty of bench space and many power points for battery recharging. The food on Nai'a is superlative and abundant. She is crewed by twelve friendly Fijians, plus Rob and his partner Cat Holloway. Nai’a Cruises has pioneered some of the best dive sites in Fiji, most notably E-6, a spectacular reef which rises vertically from the ocean depths. A highlight was a night dive with flashlight fish. During daylight dives dogtooth tuna circled the perimeter and distracted me from the soft coral. There are scalloped hammerheads here as well as ghost pipefish and the newly discovered Irish setter pipefish.
The ultimate excitement was at Nigali Passage which connects the lagoon surrounding Gau Island with the ocean. At low tide the current rips out at 4 knots. Blasting through this humming "Ride of the Valkyries" and doffing an imaginary hat at the startled stingrays and gray reef sharks was a buzz that remains with me still.
Old Fiji hands spoke disparagingly about the diving off the south coast of the main island Vitilevu. Hotels discharged sewage into the sea which encouraged algal growth and discouraged swimmers. But that’s all changed. I talked to Glenn Cupit, the Fiji born owner of Pro Dive Fiji. Glenn explained that more visitors and larger, more powerful, boats gave land-based resorts more flexibility now. To emphasize his point he took me to the world renowned island of Beqa.
Our first dive, at a site called “Golden Arches”, characterized Fiji diving: great soft corals, blue ribbon eels and a multiplicity of fish of every size and shape. Oh yeah. I missed the turtle. During the next dive “ the wreck,” I shot a roll of film pursuing butterflyfish through the profusion of hard coral.
We finished with the aptly named “Aquarium” where I saw my first juvenile blue ribbon eel (which was black and yellow), some superb thorny oysters and a delightful little fish called a dragonet (closely related to the mandarin fish of the aquarium trade). It was a very tired but relaxed Paddy who arrived back at the Warwick (Pro Dive Fiji’s main base) for a sundown Fiji Bitter with Glenn and his partner Rowan Peak.
Marlin Bay Resort boasts a dining area built in traditional Fijian style with the huge vaulting thatched roof characteristic of Fijian temples. The twelve bures (villas) overlook a pristine beach.
Most dives in the Beqa lagoon are shallower than 100 feet. My favorite is E.T. which features a number of swim throughs and fabulous soft corals, seafans and wire corals. The dive guides led me to a two-inch long leaf scorpion fish after telling me about it the night before. Extraordinary, you can fly 7000 miles to visit a scorpion fish and find it in residence! Marlin Bay provides two boat dives per day and there is also unlimited shore diving.
Beqa Island is home to the renowned firewalkers. In return for having its life spared, a captured veli (spirit) bestowed on the Sawau people the ability to walk on hot rocks. The ceremony starts with the beating of the lali (wooden drum). Under the watchful eye of the master of ceremonies (bete), warriors remove burning logs. Workers with vines and poles then level the stones until the bete is satisfied. He takes the first exploratory steps. The crowd hushes, the tension mounts, and then the walkers appear, stepping briskly over the hot rocks. One of the walkers stops in his tracks, smiling at the onlookers. I expect to hear his feet sizzle. The ceremony finishes with bundles of leaves spread over the stones. Steam rises around the walkers. In my search for a rational explanation I stop a firewalker and photograph his feet, which are sooty but otherwise unharmed. We discuss it over a few bowls of kava, the social and ceremonial drink so beloved by Fijians. The dinner gong sounds before we reach an answer.
The northern part of Vitilevu is only now being explored by dive operators. One of the pioneers is Dan Grenier an ex-Marines Force Recon with a lust for life and superlative dive skills. He operates Crystal Divers from the small island of Nananuira just offshore from the sleepy sugar town of Rakiraki. His new 39 foot custom-made aluminum dive boat Crystal Explorer equipped with a 435 hp jet drive gives him the extended range to access sites previously only available to live-aboards. A recent quote: “Had a great day today. I had a 15 foot tiger come up to the boat. Then we had a pilot whale, a 9 foot grouper and some giant morays 12” in diameter. The only problem was that I lost dollars because after the shark sighting half my divers backed out of the dive.”
Dan’s recent discovery, Heartbreak Ridge, is a series of pinnacles coming out of blue water 12 miles offshore. The pinnacles host schools of 500 to 1000 barracuda, spanish mackerel , tuna, large silvertip and gray reef sharks. I concentrated on macro-photography and thanks to Dan’s keen eye I shot several rolls of film on “little critters.” Dan can host a few divers, accommodate them in rented holiday homes on the island or ashore at Wainanavu Resort which provides the most up-market accommodation in the area. Host John Gray and his family will make you feel at home.
Vatulele Island Resort and the Wakaya Club are exclusive places with an all-inclusive tariff (except diving on Vatulele). Accommodation and food are superb at both. At Vatulele dining is usually communal which gives manager Martin Livingston the opportunity to parade his outrageous humor to a captive audience.
Vatulele is rich in corals, big fish and has a great wreck site. It is home to an extraordinary red prawn that lives in brackish limestone pools. Vatulele is a center of excellence for making tapa cloth. The sound of women beating paper mulberry bark with wooden hammers echoes around the villages.
Wakaya is visited by several of the live-aboards, which is a tribute to the quality of the dives. Wakaya passage usually has resident hammerhead sharks, and manta rays are common. The drop-off is steep and the visibility is excellent. Wakaya is beautifully appointed and very diver oriented. It is an island of the rich and famous. You can rent someone’s holiday home for a mere $2000 a day.
If you want to experience the grandeur of the Namena lagoon stay at Moody’s Namena owned by Joan and Tom Moody. Tom ran a resort in Panama’s San Blas islands but when he had half his leg half blown away by terrorists who hung him in a tree, soaked him with gasoline and set fire to him he decided to look for somewhere … well … more Pacific. He found Namenalala, an uninhabited gem. High on a cliff, which provides outstanding views of the Koro Sea, Tom built six hexagonal bures crafted of hardwood and woven bamboo. Each has a king size bed and romantic gaslight (a solar powered battery drives a small reading light and electric fan). Even the main dining area is lit by gas. Wind generators, solar panels and deep cycle batteries run this Eco-friendly resort.
With a maximum of 12 guests you are well looked after. The communal meals impart a sense of being part of the family which extends to the diving. Everyone is given an opportunity to say where they want to go.
Our first dive was at “The Tetons”. These twin coral bommies, separated by 50 yards, start at 70 feet and rise vertically to the surface. They are festooned with seafans and soft corals. Thousands of brilliant purple and orange fairy basslets swarm over and through it while schools of barracuda lurk in the depths. Our final dive started at “The Grand Canyon” (a reminder that the Moodys are American) and finished at “the Arch”. The Grand Canyon was truly grand while The Arch, garlanded with soft corals, looked like a piece of transposed Utah slick rock. When we came up from that last dive, my wife Kathy turned to me, her eyes sparkling and said “I’m a big person’s diver now”. She truly came of age as a diver in this superb environment.
If you are lucky, you can watch turtles from the main dining area. In January and February you may be able to observe turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs and watch the youngsters dig their way out of the nest and head for the water.
Qamea Island to the northeast of Fiji’s third biggest island, Taveuni, is lush and green. Fijian collared lories (kula) flash through the trees while the truly privileged will glimpse the “fluoro-orange” orange dove. Accommodation at the Qamea Beach Club is sumptuous, the food is brilliant and they serve a mean Mai Tai.
My favorite dive was “The Fans” on the Qamea barrier reef which has a profusion of stunning fans and soft corals. Of course I missed the turtle. Qamea may be the place for you if you have a non-diving partner. There is plenty to do and there are frequent trips to Taveuni to visit local villages and waterfalls.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort on Vanualevu, Fiji’s second biggest island, is designed around divers. Because entry to the bathroom can be made from outside, there is no need for a trail of wet sandy footsteps through your bedroom. Small touches impressed me. No throw-away plastic bottles of shampoos, soaps and body lotions. Instead, pint bottles are topped up from a bulk supply. The hospitality is what you’d expect from Fiji. The margarita’s are big enough to swim in and they serve the best cappuccino in the islands.
But it is the diving that makes or breaks a dive resort. Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji’s operation is run by expatriate aussie Gary Alford (wife Vicki runs the gift shop which has a great collection of authentic Fijian arts and crafts). While we headed out in the 37’ L’aventure Gary told me about this amazing dive site called “Dream House. Once in the water, I encountered a current which got stronger until at the top of “the ridge” it threatened to suck my mask off if I turned my head. At the ridge, my eyes went wide and stayed that way. Fifteen yards away was a tightly packed school of thirty juvenile gray reef sharks. We were entranced by the marine ballet these three foot sharks gave us, that is when our attention wasn’t distracted by dogtooth tuna, schools of barracuda and trevally. This is not a dive for a beginner! On calm days Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort offers trips to the superlative Namena lagoon.
The South Pacific is the hot new dive destination with something for everybody. Give yourself a break. Wind down, go and drink kava with the Fijians and take in the best dive holiday you’ll ever have.
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Last modified on Thursday, July 10, 2003