Last month I was lucky to be invited to sample seven resorts in a wonderful whirlwind tour of diving and resort living.
Our group of 11 from New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany met in Nadi to head off on the massive Captain Cook cruise boat early on Day One. They run four, seven and 11 day cruises with one or two dives a day. The 11 day cruise heads east to the Lau group and looks like a grand adventure!
The golden dreams of Volivoli Our first dive – Golden Dreams at Volivoli – was with Ra divers on the north side of Fiji and we were promised five Ghost Pipe Fish but got lucky and found eight, including one of the rare Hairy Robust Ghost Pipe fish.
Volivoli, owned by the Darling family from Christchurch, is being rebuilt to an even higher standard after cyclone Winston hit it, with more luxury family units and accommodation catering for groups of up to six in total privacy and luxury. The gardens on each Vale are very beautiful. Nick, the manager, says they are still celebrating their Excellence in Tourism award for quality accommodation.
In the morning we set off for the famous Mellow Yellow dive site with its stunning coral gardens and coral windows and where, nearby at Chile, I found a coral Window of Dreams.
For keen underwater photographers, Chile is a dive to capture those stunning model photos. It has so much colour and fish life, a vivid reminder of the incredible underwater panoramas Fiji is famous for.
These reefs are so beautiful and photogenic.
We took the bus to Wananavu Resort just a few kilometres away, a lovely garden resort in the shelter of a bay. Without drawing a breath, we headed out for a dive. The first was Amazing Maze, west of Nanuya Island and not far from Golden Dreams. It’s a real knockout dive with swim throughs and caverns and walls of soft coral. Even with overcast light presenting a challenge, these stunning soft coral gardens were hypnotic; so colourful and attractive. In full sunshine this is an underwater photographer’s paradise.
In the morning we dived on Rob’s Rock, and while, thankfully, I am not especially OCD, there were fish here in the many millions. Counting them would take years. Rivers of Glass fish, juvenile Damselfish covered at least 10 reefs, at 20 metres schools of trevally, two types of barracuda, a pair of Grey Reef sharks and Golden Trevally swimming around. I saw two groups of Lizardfish in aggregations, possibly mating aggregations since otherwise you rarely see more than two together. Our final dive there was on the awesome Wheatfields where some of the Yellow Soft Coral had been destroyed in Cyclone Winston two years ago. But the coral walls at 19m were still bright with the colour of many life forms.
The big highlight of this dive for me was the Pygmy Sea Horse, Hippocampus severnsi, found by our dive guide. These are identical to the H. pohntoi and this was the second time I have seen one in Fiji.
Uprising Resort at Pacific Harbour
At Uprising Resort, James, the manager, showed us over. This is where the Fijian Sevens train. Major renovations are underway, to lift the resort to the next level.
In the morning we dived with the Bull Sharks, hosted by Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD). We met many Bull sharks at 10m, lots of Grey Reef sharks at 15m, then Black tips at five metres. BAD have a well-organised mangrove restoration programme underway too, to rebuild Fiji’s fish sanctuaries.
The Pearl Resort
Pearl Resort is just a few kilometres along the road, and here we stayed in the brand new wing. Sheer luxury! Outside is a massive metal sculpture of a giant Bird of Paradise about four metres tall and holding a pearl. I thought it one of the most impressive sculptures I have ever seen.
There we dived with Aqua Trek Shark dive in 20m. Everyone liked this one because we had longer bottom time and the chance to have more time up close and personal with loads of Bull Sharks, Lemon Tawny Nurse and Silver Tip sharks. I am a strong advocate of shark feeding as it benefits the sharks as well as educating divers while creating a platform for a lot of invaluable scientific research.
Brandon, the owner, informed us about the individual personalities of the Bulls. One, a timid girl, loves a pat; another is a surly gruff bovver boy needing constant reprimands. The dive guides keep the sharks in check constantly and the whole operation is very safe. In fact they have maintained a perfect safety record for more than 18 years.
Back on the bus we’re off to Waidroka Resort, a beautiful garden resort with fabulous views on the South West coast. Lorna and Andy ‘made’ us do an afternoon dive. Actually the truth is that we begged him to take us out and so they did. Canadian dive instructor Christine is very positive and enthusiastic and really good at what she does. We dived an excellent hard coral garden in the late evening light and where I flashed my torch onto Blue Damselfish to see its many shades of opalescent colour sparkling like jewels. A family of eight Long Nosed Leatherjackets turned up, along with loads of Butterfly fish and other reef fish.
Next day we dived the Seven Sister sand the Tasu Two wreck. Again, we were reminded this is an underwater photographer’s paradise. The walls and caverns are simply splendid, filled with whip corals, soft corals and Fan corals – a Disneyland bright cartoon in the raw.
Christine had told us to look out for the jet Black Giant Anglerfish on the Tasu Two wreck which I found almost immediately, so I signalled my buddies to come in for a photo. The wreck is covered in formations of bright coral, especially on the mast.
It was a bit sad washing up the dive gear for the last time. We were off to Denarau for the formal dive fiesta meetings, but we managed to fit in a PADI Instructors update seminar with New Zealand manager, Deb. The final day was given over to practice speed dating – we interviewed 10 dive resorts on their diving operations, and they gave us their best! Topping off the trip was a cocktail hour at the Sheraton followed by dinner, a 95 course meal of wonderful Fijian food.
The dive fiesta was a great success, well organised and highly professional. A huge thankyou to Josefa Waivou and Salman Aziz from Tourism Fiji for putting on such a good show.
I would like to thank especially Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji and all of the resorts that hosted us.
Participating resorts and hotels included:
- Novotel Nadi
- Wananavu resort
- Smugglers Cove
- Uprising Resort
- Beqa Adventure Dive
- The Pearl and Aqua Trek Shark
- Waidroko Resort, and
- The Sheraton in Denarau
- Fiji Airways provided the flights