Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trip Report: Helen in Fiji - March 2009

My trip to Fiji had been long awaited and I’d had plenty of time to think about my previous visit and if it was still how I remembered it. I visited Fiji, the Soft Coral Capital of the World, nearly 8 years ago, taking parting in marine conservation project, counting fish and learning to dive. Since then, I have dived all over the world and still Fiji has always been one of the best, if not the best destinations. Admittedly the area I dived was un-dived as no tourist could visit, but I did also experience shark diving in Beqa.

Whilst the flight was long, via Los Angeles the lack of jet lag on arrival is ideal, just tiredness from a poor night’s sleep. I headed over to Castaway Island Resort which was an ideal spot to catch up on some sleep. Just 2 hours boat ride from the mainland, its ideal for those travelling with families or couples who would like a bit more to do. The food was good and the staff were so friendly, something that resonates throughout Fiji. The diving was easy with little current but great visibility and plenty of fish and corals.

I headed back to Nadi and spent the night at the Tanoa International Hotel, a good, clean hotel, ideal for stopovers in Nadi, located just 5 minutes from the airport (domestic and international).

Flying over Viti Levu and Vanua Levu to Labasa was an enjoyable experience. I was reminded how hilly the mainland is and very green!I arrived at Nukubati Island after a one hour transfer by road in a huge rainstorm, soaked right through! The welcome was warm and I was immediately handed coconut juice, something I came to love! This island is one of the most remote I have ever visited! Its located off the north of Vanua Levu, right off the tourist track. If you can’t relax here, you can’t relax anywhere! It was very peaceful and with only 7 bures (4 beachside Bures and 3 deluxe honeymoon bures), you can almost have the place to yourself! The food was delicious and you can even visit your own private sand bank with picnic and champagne!

Nukubati Island is located just 30 minutes from the Great Sea Reef, the third largest reef in the world. There was a great variety from turtles, white tip reef sharks and rays to napoleon wrasses and moray eels. Many of the sites have rarely been dived and some have ten year protection zones in place.

We were then invited on the Tui Tai for the day, a beautiful yacht which sails between Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Whilst we took an unusual route, the normal itinerary is ideally suited so those who would like a balance of diving and other activities or those divers who are travelling with non diving partners. The wall diving in this area was fabulous, although as is often the case, there proved to be no moray eels on the dive site of the same name!
After a fabulous day on board, we arrived to Taveuni in the dark and we were driven to Paradise Island Resort, along an extremely bumpy road which only a 4WD vehicle can manage. How our Japanese friends fell asleep on this ride I will never now! We were given a warm welcome, a foot massage and a delicious dinner but I didn’t have any appreciation for my surroundings in the dark. What a view when I woke up! Taveuni newest boutique resort was only finished in the summer and it was stunning! Located in the south of the island, its ocean front location is breathtaking. The dive centre is a Pro Dive outfit which speaks for itself. Whilst they do offer diving at the well known Rainbow Reef, they tend to focus their diving at their local reefs, namely Vanu Reef. Its one of the only hotels located on Taveuni which has a house reef and we whiled away an hour easily here before realising that our transfer to the next hotel would be waiting for us!

We made our way north to Garden Island Resort, a great budget choice with a lively atmosphere. The resort is located on the ocean and all rooms have ocean views. The onsite dive is AquaTrek and they took us to some excellent dive sites. The slopping walls and visibility were excellent. I had a long encounter with a napoleon wrasse and saw many blue ribbons eels & lion fish.

We were then taken to Maravu Plantation Resort, a lovely property located in well kept and extensive gardens. They have many room types to choose from depending on your budget. All of the rooms have outdoor showers but not all of them have indoor showers! It’s not a beachfront property but the beach is just a stone’s throw across the road. The dive centre, Jewel Divers is located off site, just 5 minutes from the resort. The airport is just 5 minutes drive away

We made a short visit to the Qamea which is a luxurious resort, located an island to the northeast side of Taveuni. This resort is ideal for those celebrating a special occasion. The rooms are beautiful with attention to details throughout. Whilst it takes a little longer to get here (30 minutes by road and then 10 minutes by boat) it is well worth the journey. Our visit here was brief and I wish we’d stayed longer as it is truly a stunning location on its own island with a beautiful house reef surrounding it.

We flew onwards to Kadavu, another of Fiji’s hidden gems, an island located 45 minutes (by air) south of Viti Levu. As we travelled by road (10 minutes) and by boat (45 minutes) I felt I was moving farther and farther away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Matava Eco Resort has been built with the environment in mind. There is no air conditioning or fans. There are solar panels for lighting and hot water in your bure. There is only electricity in the office so if you have cameras to be charged you ask the staff to do this for you. Eating is a communal affair, sharing stories about your day and oil lamps to light your walk back to your room.

It’s an eco adventure with hiking, kayaking, fishing trips, village visits, waterfalls all on offer. I was there for the diving though! Matava Eco Resort is ideally located to access the Great Astrolabe Reef and it has the best location of all the properties on the island. The diving here can be challenging with plenty of current. But this is what draws in bull rays, grey reef sharks, barracuda and eagle rays. And Manta Rays! They have an 85% hit rate for Manta Rays at Manta Reef and they didn’t disappoint on our two dives! Their beauty and elegance never ceases to amaze me!

From Kadavu we flew back to Nadi. This is now not possible and to access Kadavu you have to fly via Suva. The final part of my trip was spent on the south coast of Viti Levu (the main island) in an area called Pacific Harbour/Beqa Lagoon. I stayed at the Pearl South Pacific Resort, a five star beachfront/oceanview hotel with great facilities, centrally located within Pacific Harbour and the dive centre, Aqua Trek is onsite. The main attraction here is the shark diving. Brendan O’Brian was instigator of this concept. They established a marine reserve in waters surrounding this area. For each diver who takes part in this dive, they pay F$10 to the dive centre which is passed directly to the fisherman who used to fish these waters. This provides them with an alternative to fishing and helps to sustain the waters for diving. And what a dive is was! We did a two-tank dive. On the first dive they chum the waters, emptying green wheelie bins full of dead fish. First to arrive are the travellies, humphead wrasses, black and white tip sharks. Then as surgeon fish, triggerfish, cod and groupers arrive the frenzy begins. Before you know it, your bottom time is up and its time to head for the surface. The surface interval conversation is full of mentions as to whether that elusive tiger shark will make an appearance! So we head down again and by this time, bulls sharks, lemon sharks and silvertips have smelt the food. Nurse sharks arrive too and it’s hard to know which direct to look and then finally the tiger sharks cruises by me, just a few foot away! What a fabulous way to end my adventure in Fiji. My last dive – my first ever tiger shark!

Fiji lived up to my expectations is so many ways and exceed them! The people are still so friendly and warm. The country is very beautiful, both topside and underwater. It is a country that has something for everyone and the same applies to the diving, whether you are looking for relaxing sites or adrenaline pumping action or something in between. And is it worth travelling all that way? Absolutely!

Click here for our diving holidays in Fiji