Journal archives for May 2022

May 17, 2022

Scuba diving in Fiji aboard the Nai'a

For the last part of this six-week trip, I did a ten day cruise on the Nai’a in Fiji. This was a “Dive With Steve” trip organized by Karen Doby for Steve Webster. It was my 15th trip to Fiji with a Nai’a cruise.

I arrived in Fiji two days early with my dive and travel buddy Heidi and about half of the group. We stayed at First Landing Resort outside Nadi. We did a snorkel just off the resort one morning, where I saw some in-shore species like Crescent-banded Grunter that I didn’t see later on the scuba portion of the trip. We had to take a COVID rapid test 48 hours after arriving, which everyone passed. Then a bus picked us up to take us to the Nai’a which docks in Lautoka, a half hour drive north of Nadi.

Of note at the Lautoka docks was the superyacht Amadea, berthed right next to (and dwarfing) the Nai’a. The yacht is owned by a Russian oligarch and there’s pressure on the Fijian government to seize it, though at the moment it is in “protective custody” while its fate is debated. While we watched a Cayman Islands flag was raised on the boat (that’s where it’s registered) and there were ethnic Fijian security people around it.

The Nai’a did only sporadic trips for locals during the pandemic, resuming regular trips in February. There are new cruise directors on board, Bel and Mike, who came from Utila in the Caribbean. They are learning quickly about Fiji, the Nai’a, the dive sites, and the creatures there. Though at this point, several people in our group had more experience here than they did. They are friendly and helpful and will serve well. Among other things Mike is an experienced dive equipment technician, and kept very busy on this trip with more than half of us having equipment failures. Sitting dry for 2 years wasn’t good for our gear.

The 18 guests were all from the United States, but from many different parts of the country. It was surprising to have two unrelated parties from Iowa. I was the only one with a big still-photo rig, though there were a couple of real video cameras and several people had smaller still or video cams.

We followed a typical liveaboard schedule. Up at sunrise with a cold breakfast and then a first dive at 7am. That’s followed by a hot breakfast, a mid-morning dive, lunch, and an early afternoon dive. A snack is offered after that dive rather than a full meal, and we often had a marine biology lecture during that break. Steve Webster did several, and I did one on fish identification. Then a late afternoon dive, dinner, and often a night dive is offered as well. The food was very good with two or three options for each meal that we got to choose the day before.

The diving is all done from skiffs, two small rigid inflatable boats (zodiacs) that take us from the ship to the dive site and then pick us up at the end of the dive from where ever we surface. That is so much easier than the way diving is done some other places where you have to navigate back to where an anchored or moored boat is waiting for you. The weather was mostly good, but the last couple of days there was a lot of surface chop, which made getting in and out of the skiffs challenging.

We dived a variety of different kinds of sites. Many were small pinnacles (called bommies in Australian fashion) that rose from a 60 to 90 foot plain to near the surface. We dived a few walls, both steep ones that dropped into the abyss and slopes. Two sea mounts, E6 and Mount Mutiny, are favorites of mine. These large pinnacles rise from water over 1000 feet deep to within a few feet of the surface. There are a few channels as well, passages through the fringing reef from the open ocean to a lagoon. These are particularly interesting for the fish that sometimes show up in them, not just sharks and mantas, but sometimes small reef fish from the Coral Triangle.

We did a village visit to Somosomo on Gau, where I have been several times before. It’s in a remote location where they do a small amount of farming and fishing for themselves, and also grow kava to sell and some of the women weave grass mats. We brought a lot of gifts for the visit (mostly clothes, medical and school supplies) that were much appreciated as they have had few visitors in the last two years. Most of the Nai’a guests joined in the dancing.

Continuing a trend of recent years, the currents have become unpredictable. Even with the help of experienced crew members for timing dives with the tides, we had several dives with the currents not going in or out as expected. When we dived the Nigalli Passage at Gau, usually a highlight of the trip, there was no current at all rather than the expected strong incoming current. So it was a long swim and few sharks or other large animals were seen.

There were scattered large animals on the trip. The expected reliable manta cleaning station at Wakaya had no manta rays when we dived it. But on another dive at Makogai we had ten mantas. One group got to see a pod of pilot whales. White-tip Reef Sharks were seen on many dives, and Grey Reef Sharks put in occasional appearances, especially at Grand Central Station in Namena. I saw a few tuna and mackerel. And I had a handful of sea turtles, both Green and Hawksbill. For the first time to my knowledge, a Tiger Shark was seen cruising by at Wakaya. That might explain the lack of mantas when we were there.

The reef fish were plentiful as always. Many sites had clouds of purple and orange anthias swimming above them, and schools of striped fusiliers above those. I’ve gotten to where I recognized nearly all of the damselfish we saw, even the dull grey and brown ones. On this trip I was trying to pay attention to juvenile wrasses and parrotfishes. While a photo in isolation is often hard to identify, during the dive there are often interactions with older members of their species that make it clear what they will grow into.

One day the engine failed on one of the two skiffs, and the spare outboard was not on board as it was being serviced. The engineer was able to diagnose the problem, but we had to return to Viti Levu for parts. That was an opportunity for a muck dive, though instead of diving in the harbor close to town, they took us out to a sandbar where the species seen weren’t that different from what I had been seeing on the outer reefs. That location was probably a good compromise for keeping the other divers happy, but I was hoping for a true muck dive. So only three dives were offered that day.

I had a great time on the trip, and am already planning my return to Fiji. I did every day dive offered and one night dive, for a total of 34 dives. I took 2165 photos while logging 490 species, 3 of which were new to me. Some of my photo highlights can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/14233971@N04/albums/72177720298881372

Posted on May 17, 2022 15:49 by maractwin maractwin | 2 comments | Leave a comment

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