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Tales from Taveuni

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji, was to be our first destination on this diving tour of Fiji. As we flew over the mountains of the main island, and then out to sea, over deep blue waters dotted with miles of reef, we knew we were in for a treat. Taveuni is famous for Rainbow Reef, a large reef system with some of the best coral in the world, and we had two days diving to sample it and see if it could live up to our expectations.

elsdscf6437We stayed at the Garden Island Resort, which is located immediately off the beach, with Rainbow Reef right on the doorstep, some 3 – 15 minutes boat ride away (depending on which dive site is on the cards). The hotel has 30 rooms and a dining room with a wonderful view. The food here was fantastic, with Caroline getting a “Vegetarian Surprise” each evening made from fresh veggies grown locally. On our first evening, we wondered what the noise was outside our room as early evening approached. There was a cacophony of squabbling of some kind in the trees, perhaps birds coming into roost, we thought – but we were wrong – it is a huge colony of bats! The Fiji Flying Fox is a large bat with a white patch on the back of its head and the Garden Island Resort is home to huge numbers of them. Look up into the trees, and you can see hundreds of them hanging upside down from the branches during the day, and then flying overhead while you eat dinner in the evening. It is an amazing sight. We were also treated to a silent, close fly-by from a large owl, who swooped elegantly above our table; nature thrives here.

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Our room at Garden Island Resort was a real treat. It ticked all our boxes for what makes a great room on a trip: huge glass windows overlooking the ocean, a veranda to sit and relax (and dry out gear), a really good shower and finally loads of surfaces and electric sockets for setting up and charging our underwater photography gear.

paradise-taveuni-teamOur diving was with Paradise Taveuni, who picked us up from the so-called Korean Jetty each morning. Their boat, the Taveuni Explorer, is a catamaran, which can hold 30 or so divers, with plenty of space for camera equipment and an upstairs deck for relaxing. In fact, they were running the trips just for us over these two days, and so we had the boat and crew to ourselves. Alan, who owns Paradise Taveuni, a resort and dive operation, joined us so that he could share some of his favourite dives sites with us.

All of our 5 dives would be on Rainbow Reef, and our first dive site was called Rainbow’s End. As with many great soft coral dive sites, there needs to be some current to maintain the healthy reef, and so we knew we would be drifting along with the current on this dive. Whilst this made it harder to get great images, it was worth it to see all the coral in its full glory. Purple, red, yellow, orange, & green: the colours were simply astounding. Every inch of space is taken up with hard and soft corals. As we got shallower and crossed onto the top of the reef, the current died down and we could catch our breath and have a look around. It is not only the coral that is abundant, but the fish life too. Numerous anthias surround every bommie, and schools of fish rush past, seemingly oblivious to the currents, and in the distance, a turtle was grazing. All too soon it was time to come back up to the boat, and compare what we had seen. Rainbow Reef is a dive site that lives up to its name!

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Wanting to relax and take a little more time, without the currents hurrying us along, we picked two more sedate dives to fill the rest of our day. Mid Way and Freeway are shallow sites, with sandy areas and plenty of coral to keep us happy. Walter, our dive guide, took us on a slow tour of these sites, pointing out octopus, nudibranchs and other reef inhabitants. Whilst the coastline and resorts were terribly damaged earlier in the year by Cyclone Winston, it was fantastic to see that the main reef was still completely untouched by the storm… and in great condition. Between our second and third dives, we had lunch and a cold drink and chatted away about Fiji, Taveuni and the diving in the area. Paradise Taveuni are based in the South of the island, and regularly get sharks, mantas and even pilot whales and dolphins playing around the boat. It was a great first day of diving and a perfect way to start our Fiji odyssey.

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Our second dive saw us visit the most famous dive in the area: White Wall. This is regularly voted into the top 10 lists of wall dives around the word. The reason it is so special is that wall is covered in a white (or pale blue) soft coral- “the nearest Fiji gets to snow”, our captain Maikeli joked. The dive site is reached by descending down a swim through that cuts through the wall and deposits you at 25m into the blue. Turn left, and you see it – a wall stretching deep down into the black, covered in this amazing, almost glowing soft coral. It does indeed look like it has been snowing on the white wall. We drifted along, on a mild easy going current, and watched in wonder at the beauty of this reef, but all too soon, we had to start heading shallower, away from the white coral and back to the “normal” reef. Here overhang and swim-through entrances were lined with an abundance of variously coloured soft corals and sea fans.

The Paradise Taveuni team had really gone out of their way to make sure we saw all the best dives in such a short space of time. As we were flying the next day, they picked us up at 6:30 in the morning to ensure we that could do two dives safely, giving us 24 hours no-dive time before our onward flight in the morning. Our final dive was one of our favourites, a shallow reef called Cabbage Patch. As the name suggests, the reef here is covered in cabbage coral, with huge numbers of fish swimming between the coral fronds, and schooling above the reef too. Nick spent some time becoming one with the schooling fish and was soon in amongst them taking photos. The reef was alive with activity from hunting fish to tiny nudibranchs on their slow commute. In only 10m (30ft) of water, we could have spent many happy hours here.

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Back at Garden Island Resort we had a couple of hours free before we had to start packing, so we headed to the International Date Line. The 180 degree meridian is a short (if somewhat hot in the midday sun) walk up the hill from the hotel. We headed across a rugby pitch and were soon able to jump from the present day, into yesterday! Not something you can say very often! We took some photos and headed back to pack up. We then spent a very enjoyable evening with owner, Phil, and his friend Mike, discussing diving, Fiji, politics and life, all the while with the bats bickering and flying overhead. Magic.

Our thoughts from Taveuni as we head on to the next Fiji destination are that this is an island with a wonderful reef, friendly locals, great food, lots of bats and a place that we would love to return to.

www.gardenislandresort.com

www.paradiseinfiji.com

www.fiji.travel

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Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part 2

Scuba Schools International (SSI)

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Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote dive spots that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough dive destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous divers. In part II of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next dive trip to Oceania here.


French Polynesia

French Polynesia’s Society Islands have a stellar list of dive destinations, including Tahiti and Moorea. Between them, they offer easy coral reef diving and calm, turquoise lagoons with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks. You can also swim with humpback whales, tiger sharks, lemon and nurse sharks there.

This beautiful nation’s best-known dive spots, Fakarava and Rangiroa atolls, are just a short flight away from the Society Islands. Both of these huge atolls offer exciting pass dives with hundreds of grey reef sharks and resident dolphins.

For a completely different dive experience, visit the Marquesas Islands. This island group is the farthest from any landfall on Earth and has a unique underwater world that hosts unusually large mantas and melon-headed whales.

And if that all sounds like too much effort, go Bora Bora scuba diving instead. This ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ has fantastic diving, and you can spend your downtime relaxing with champagne lunches on deserted islands.


The Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every diver there.

The Russell Islands host some of the best-known dive sites in all of the Solomon Islands. There, you can glide between the walls of a crevasse that cuts through an island, immerse yourself in wreck diving at White Sand Beach, swim through a halocline at Custom Caves, or go in search of pygmy seahorses.

For the best wreck diving, make sure you visit Iron Bottom Sound. This stretch of water hosts around 200 ships and more than 600 aircraft wrecks from World War II. It is a wreck diving mecca that offers excellent tech-wreck dives.


The Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls that few people know about. As the fifth least visited country in the world, these islands offer remote diving among exciting deep wrecks and vibrant coral reefs.

Bikini Atoll is the main dive destination in the Marshall Islands. Made famous by US atomic bomb tests in the 1940s, this atoll hosts numerous deep wrecks that offer incredible tech diving.

As well as some of the best tech-wreck dives imaginable, the Marshall Islands also have thriving hard coral reefs without any dive crowds. There are pinnacles, drop-offs, channels and shallow coral gardens to explore, busy with colorful reef life.


The Cook Islands

When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.

This wonderful country is a perfect place to get your Open Water Diver certification or take your family diving. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms. There are around 25 dive sites just offshore and gorgeous beaches for laid-back surface intervals.

Nearby Aitutaki has fewer visitors, yet it hosts around 22 dive sites, with many still being discovered. It is a great place to dive among remote coral-covered landscapes and forget the rest of the world exists. Whichever island you choose, the waters are warm and full of colorful reef life.


New Caledonia

New Caledonia is one of those wish-list destinations known for its spectacular diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.

There are over 100 dive sites scatted around New Caledonia, offering a tempting mix of deep drop-offs, thrilling drift dives, wrecks, and easy reef diving. Most diving is conducted at the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, a vast 1500 km-long reef that encloses a UNESCO World Heritage lagoon. Within the lagoon, you can explore coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy dive sites in shallow waters.

New Caledonia’s extensive marine reserves ensure these dive sites are teeming with life. For the best chance to see mantas and sharks, visit from April until September.


Vanuatu

Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes and excellent scuba diving.

Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many dive sites accessible simply by walking off the beach. Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique dive spots and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. The SS President Coolidge, a former World War II troop carrier, and the 1874 three-masted Star of Russia are excellent wrecks to dive.

The amount of marine life at Vanuatu’s dive sites is staggering. As well as rainbow-hued corals and countless reef fish, there are sea turtles, sharks, rays, and numerous pelagic fish. You can also go swimming with dugongs there.


Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, home to more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.

Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic.

The nearby Witu Islands are a great place to go critter hunting and drift dive among schools of tuna and barracuda. Milne Bay is the home of muck diving and offers excellent shallow muck and reef diving with numerous critters.

There are seamounts busy with reef sharks and exciting walls at Fathers Reefs, and you can dive in the shadow of jungle-covered fjords at Tufi.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

 

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Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part I

Scuba Schools International (SSI)

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Encompassing over 8 million square kilometers of clear blue waters, Oceania hosts some of the world’s most sought-after dive destinations. There are remote, untouched reefs and wreck diving meccas, countless forest-draped islands, and volcanic landscapes with rich black sands full of critters. With abundant marine megafauna as well, including mantas, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and tens of thousands of sea turtles, Oceania is a paradise for every diver. Read on for part I of our round-up of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania.


Australia

Drop a pin on a map of Australia’s vast coastline and you will likely land close to some epic scuba diving. There are dozens of places to experience the best of Australia’s rich and varied dive scene.

In the remote northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, you can dive Raine Island, a famous coral cay and sea turtle nesting area that hosts more than 60,000 green turtles each nesting season.

A little further south at Cairns, there is classic Great barrier Reef scuba diving, including shark diving, snorkeling with dwarf minke whales, and numerous offshore reefs. It is also one of the best places to get your diving license.

The southern Great Barrier Reef hosts Australia’s best-known manta ray hotspots, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island. As well hosting over 100 mantas, the southern Great Barrier Reef also hosts one of the world’s best-preserved wrecks, the SS Yongala.

There is also excellent diving close to many of Australia’s coastal towns and cities. You can go diving with beautiful weedy sea dragons near Melbourne, go cage diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln, or hang out with enormous stingrays in Port Philip Bay.

With Ningaloo Reef’s many whale sharks, remote coral atoll diving at Rowley Shoals, and diving with nurse sharks at Fish Rock Cave as well, you’ll be spoiled for choice wherever you go.


New Zealand

New Zealand may be a lot smaller than Australia, but it packs a punch when it comes to scuba diving. With over 600 islands, 44 marine reserves, and the 9th longest coastline in the world, diving in New Zealand is diverse and fascinating.

Sun-soaked Northland is the best place to start your diving trip and features the colorful Rainbow Warrior and HMNZS Canterbury wrecks and the Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands were rated as one of the world’s top ten dives by Jacques Cousteau and offer sub-tropical diving with both temperate species and tropical visitors.

Further south, the Mercury and Aldermen Islands are dotted with white sand beaches and have fantastic warm-water diving. There are enough submerged caves, pinnacles and drop-offs to keep any diver busy. Seasonal visitors include whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos and marlin.

If you love wreck diving, make sure you dive the Mikhael Lermontov in the Marlborough Sounds. This 155-meter-long cruise ship is one of the largest modern diving wrecks and has many of its original furnishings.

Make sure you drive south to Kaikoura if you love whales and sea birds. Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world with a resident population of sperm whales, plus visiting orcas, humpback whales and numerous albatrosses. You can also swim with seals and dolphins there.

Last but by no means least, visit Fiordland – a jaw-dropping 2.6 million hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site. This vast wilderness area hosts spectacular multi-day hikes and has excellent cold-water diving and rare black corals in Milford Sound.


Fiji

Fiji is a classic dive destination in Oceania, offering a wealth of palm-fringed islands and dive highlights worthy of any bucket list. If you’re looking for a destination that has something for every dive experience level, and plenty for non-divers too, Fiji could be for you.

Viti Levu, the main tourism hub, is famous for its shark dives with bull, tiger and reef sharks. There are also beautiful coral reefs just offshore. Go island hopping from Viti Levu and you’ll be immersed in a world of vibrant soft coral landscapes, with manta ray cleaning stations, thrilling drift dives and fast-paced pelagic action.

If you like laid-back diving, you could easily while away your days drifting over Fiji’s many shallow coral gardens. That said, it pays to go deep and experience Fiji’s famously colorful Great White Wall and Purple Wall dive sites.

On your non-diving days, be sure to explore topside. The friendly Fijian welcome, excellent jungle hikes, lush rainforests and waterfalls are not to be missed.


The Federated States of Micronesia

Micronesia is high on the wish list for many divers and is a tropical paradise destination with over 600 islands. It is best-known as a wreck diving mecca, with dozens of World War II wrecks.

The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are renowned among divers as some of the best in the world. This calm, warm lagoon was the site of a fierce battle in World War II that resulted in hundreds of ships, planes and submarines sinking. Today, around 50 of the wrecks can be dived and they are covered in rainbow-hued corals. Diving among the tanks, trucks and airplanes of the lagoon brings history to life in the most vivid way.

Micronesia’s rich waters also host countless shallow reefs, famous manta ray diving at Yap, exciting walls, caverns and drop-offs. If you’re prepared to go off the beaten path, Kosrae has some of the most pristine diving in the world.


Palau

Palau is ideal for divers who like to experience a range of dive styles in one trip and encounter marine life large and small.

This picture-perfect destination has diverse underwater highlights, including diving at a natural corner in the ocean, plunging walls, World War II wrecks, and famous manta ray dives. There is also excellent cave diving, and you can swim with millions of harmless jellyfish.

Wherever you dive, you can tick off some of Palau’s 1300 fish species and 700 coral species. Dugongs, Napoleon wrasse and giant clams are some of the more unusual big marine species to find and you can spot rare mandarinfish at Chandelier Caves. Being the world’s first shark sanctuary, Palau’s waters are also busy with sharks.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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