Journal archives for December 2018

December 26, 2018

Another dive trip to Fiji

I’ve just made my 14th trip to Fiji. This time was not with an organized group, but a few friends on the Nai’a liveaboard and then another week on the island of Taveuni.

Jody accompanied me on the first part of the trip. We left Boston a week after Thanksgiving. We spent an afternoon in Los Angeles with Bert on the way. The morning we arrived in Nadi we did some shopping in town, then the bus picked us up after lunch to take us to the Nai’a where it docks in Latoka.

Vanessa and Chad are still cruise directors, now in their third year. Koroi was the third dive guide. Many of the dozen crew members were familiar from my many previous trips, with a couple of new faces. The 17 guests were from all over: many Americans, but also a British couple and a pair of Argentinians. Besides Jody, my regular dive buddy Heidi was there and two others that I already knew. Everyone got along pretty well and new friendships were made. We also brought along Sancho, a stuffed ferret who was very interactive in the salon and even went on a dive.

The Nai’a still follows the pattern of eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, sleep, repeat. It is early summer in Fiji and the water was still a little cool, varying between 78 and 81 degrees. We had both rainy days and sunny days. One day had a tropical storm nearby that made the water very choppy, preventing us from getting to a couple of exposed sea mounts. We dived the protected fringing reef of an island instead. All diving is from skiffs, rigid inflatable motor boats, that give us a lot of flexibility and allow us to surface anywhere at the end of the dive and the skiff will come pick us up, rather than divers having to navigate back to an anchored boat.

We dived a variety of sites. The checkout dive is a silty reef not far from the industrial city of Latoka; I like this dive because there are a few fish we see there that we do not encounter later in the trip on more pristine reefs. Many of the dives are on pinnacles, towers of coral that rise from sandy plain or ridge to near the surface. This allows us to spend some time deeper looking around the base, then to spiral our way up to the surface. If there are strong currents, we could shelter behind the pinnacle (though most of the fish life will be on the up-current side). We also dived a few walls which are often good for sharks, tuna, mackerel, and other pelagics where they face the open ocean. No hammerheads were seen this trip, though we had quite a few Grey Reef Sharks and White-tipped Reef Sharks.

Fiji is known for its soft corals, and this trip did not disappoint. When the current is slack, these corals deflate and do not look like much, but when the current is running, they puff up into fluffy bushes in a variety of pastel colors. The site Mellow Yellow has one side covered in yellow Dendronephthya, many other sites have plentiful pink and purple corals. These areas are often covered by clouds of orange and purple anthias fishes. Many of the pinnacle tops are covered by gardens of branching hard corals. Some areas have been damaged by increasingly severe cyclones in recent years, but many are very healthy and beautiful.

One thing we did different was a dawn dive. We were up at 5am to be in the water by 5:30am while it was still completely dark. It got light during the dive, giving us a chance to watch the fish wake up. Different groups of fish awake and appear at different times and it is interesting to see the full community assemble. By the end of the dive it was full light and everyone was there. There were also several night dives offered after dinner.

One afternoon we did a village visit. We went to Somosomo on the island of Gau, a place I have been to several times before. Tom is the spokesman for the village and walked us around to see how they live. The village was founded in 1795, and this is their fourth location in that area. Twenty-nine families live there, with many of the houses having solar power. Fiji Telecom recently put in a satellite dish and four “land lines” so they have more reliable communications now than cell phones trying to pick up a far away signal. They did a “meke” for us, a ceremonial welcoming with singing and dancing and sharing of kava.

As a fish geek I was excited to see two new fishes that I had never encountered before. The second time the group did the shark dive at Nigali Passage, Jody, Bruce, and I went up the side of the passage and onto the shallow reef flat. There I encountered the seldom-seen Half-spotted Hawkfish, and my first lifer, a Yellow-spotted Scorpionfish. This small scorpionfish perches in branching corals like a hawkfish. Later in the trip I found a cave, only big enough for me to half-way enter, that had both a Tanaka’s Cave Wrasse and my second lifer, a Striped Basslet. During this part of the trip I logged 482 species of fish. Besides those two lifers, I got better photos to replace several in the book I am working on.

After ten days on the Nai’a, we cruised back to Latoka and a bus brought us to Nadi. In the first part of the trip, I did 33 dives and logged 491 species of fish. Then we said goodbye to new friends, and Heidi and I flew on to the second part of our adventure. We took a domestic flight on a Twin Otter propeller plane to the island of Taveuni in north-eastern Fiji to spend a week at the Garden Island Resort.

The resort has about 30 rooms, through this is the low season and there were only a few guests while we were there. Meals are in an open-air “restaurant” and choices for lunch and dinner are made each morning. The food was good, though they were not as good at providing options to my vegetarian friend as some places. When the day’s feature items did not appeal, once could always order pizza or a burger. They have a swimming pool, and the whole thing is just off the ocean. It’s a rocky coast there rather than a sandy beach. They used to have a nice wharf, but it was damaged in Cyclone Winston three years ago and not yet rebuilt, so we were taken by van to a wharf up the road for access to the dive boat.

The schedule and style of diving is quite different at the resort. They offer two dives from a single boat trip each morning. The dive sites are on Rainbow Reef, across the Somo Somo Strait from Taveuni, a 15 minute ride away. Most dives were on reef slopes above sand channels, with the reef top at 15-20 feet deep. The boat could hold eight divers. We had two different dive guides—Ane (pronounced Annie) is the first female native Fijian dive guide in the country, and Leo who is also a native Fijian. They gave site briefings on the boat right before each dive, and both clearly enjoyed showing off their reefs. The boat picked us up at the end of each dive so we didn’t have to navigate back to our entrance point. The surface intervals were spent anchored in a small shallow bay nearby. Since I like getting into different habitats, I snorkeled that bay each day, exploring the sand, turtle grass, and mangroves.

One day we dived the Great White Wall, a signature dive of the area. It is an exposed location that they can only dive on certain tides, so there were several dive boats there that day. The wall tops at 30 feet and drops hundreds of feet and is covered in white soft coral. A vertical swim-through goes from the reef top down to 90 feet and is an interesting way to get down on the wall.

The reefs in the area were healthy with a lot of fish, though not as much diversity as some of the other parts of Fiji that I have visited. I did see a handful of species there that we had missed the previous week on the Nai’a. And I got a lifer not on the reef, but in the mangroves while on snorkel.

The owner of the resort, Phil, and his wife Karen were present while we were there, and they were very friendly. They are Americans currently living in Hong Kong who are only there a couple of times a year. Most of the staff are Fijians, though the dive center is run by Juho, from Finland.

The resort offers a number of excursions. We were driven up a very steep rough road into the mountains for birding, where I got to see an Orange Dove and Silktails, both Fiji endemic birds. I actually did that twice—the first time it was pouring rain by the time we made it to the mountain top. We looked anyway, but couldn’t find any doves. Three days later I made the trip in the sun, and saw a lot of birds. We also walked to the180th meridian where it passed half a mile from our resort. The international date line makes a detour so that all of Fiji is on the same side, but east and west do change there. We’re told that most drones people have tried to fly at the resort freeze up and crash due to bugs in longitude tracking in the software.

On the second half of the trip I did just eleven dives (plus 4 snorkels) and logged 336 species of fish. Because the dives were all on one reef system, we didn’t see as many species as on the Naia who visits several different areas.

If you would like to see some of my photos from this trip, please visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/14233971@N04/albums/72157701541562152

Posted on December 26, 2018 17:47 by maractwin maractwin | 4 comments | Leave a comment

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