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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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Jeff chats to… Marine Biologist Dr Emma Camp about the future of coral reefs (Watch Video)

Jeff Goodman

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Marine Biologist Dr Emma Camp about the true state and future of Coral Reefs and marine conservation.

Dr Emma Camp is a marine biologist and the Deputy Team Leader of the Future Reefs team at the University of Technology Sydney. Emma is a United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, a National Geographic Explorer, a 2019 Rolex Associate Laureate and was recently named a 2020 Time Magazine Next Generation Leader and UNESCO-L’Oréal Australian Women in Science Fellow. Emma researches and advocates for the world’s marine life under threat from environmental and climate change. She is one of the founders of the Coral Nurture Program on the Great Barrier Reef – a unique program involving scientists and Tour Operators to enhance reef biodiversity and promote site stewardship. Emma is an advocate for Women in STEM and improved Climate Action.

Find out more about Emma and her work at www.emmafcamp.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Wining and Diving – South Australia

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


South Australia is considered one of the best wine regions in the world, and to be able to combine touring the coastline, diving with Leafy Seadragons, sea lions and Great White Sharks, experiencing native Australian wildlife and tasting great wines made this a trip at the very top of our wish list. We had just 2 weeks to pack in lots of great adventures.

Having arrived in Adelaide in a bit of a daze after such a long journey, we were soon refreshed and wandering around this vibrant city enjoying a quick craft beer and a bite to eat before an early night. Our first full day saw us being picked up before sunrise by the team at Underwater Sport Diving Centre who were taking us out to search for Leafy Seadragons at Rapid Bay Jetty. This was a dive we had read about and were excited to finally be visiting. You can do this dive as a shore dive, but we had a boat to take us easily to the best spots. And it was really worth it, with our excellent guide finding several leafy seadragons for us just minutes after us getting into the water. Amazing!

Our second day saw us driving through Adelaide Hills touring the vineyards and our first stop was at the Handorf Hill Winery. They have a ChocoVino experience that is worth the flight to Australia alone! Looking out over the beautiful scenery matching their acclaimed wines with some of the best chocolate in the world is quite an experience. The Handorf Hill Gruner Veltliner is a wine to behold. Visits to Penfolds, Somerled Wines and the National Wine Centre of Australia made this a wine-lovers day to remember.

It was time for us to head south towards Kangaroo Island. Our short drive to the Fleurieu Peninsula saw us excitedly point out kangaroos bouncing along the hillsides as we headed to Victor Harbor, and to the wine region of McLaren Vale. We stopped to grab lunch in the famous Willunga farmers market before heading to a wine tasting at d’Arenberg Vineyard & Winery before enjoying a tour to see the penguins on Granite Island at dusk.

The following day we took the ferry to Kangaroo Island where we planned to do both shore and boat diving over the next few days, as well as to tour the island to see it amazing wildlife. We were delighted to see our first Koala, and loved seeing the Australian Sea Lion colony at Seal Bay. Our shore dives saw us diving another jetty and finding several Leafy Seadragons using their perfect camouflage to blend in with the underwater vegetation. Kangaroo Island Marine Advenures picked us up to go diving by boat to search for even more seadragons and to enjoy the company of juvenile sea lions underwater. They also offer incredible wild dolphin swims, which we hope to return and try some day.

The final part of our epic tour of South Australia saw us fly to Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula. We had a lunch appointment with Rodney Fox and his wife Kay. Rodney survived a Great White Shark attack back in the 60s when he was competing in a spear-fishing competition. He went on to develop shark cages so that he could safely learn more about the shark that nearly killed him.

He developed shark experience tours for famous underwater film makers and photographers and was involved in shooting some of the scenes from the film Jaws. We sat and chatted about his experiences over a cup and tea and scones, and could have stayed all day to listen to his incredible stories, but it was time for us to go and experience the Great White Sharks of South Australia for ourselves, on a liveaboard expedition with Rodney and Kay’s son Andrew.

The weather started to turn as we headed out to sea. A polar vortex was heading our way and it was going to make for some challenging conditions for our shark diving tour. Big waves and strong underwater currents meant that the sea floor cages, that offer incredible views of the sharks could not be deployed. The visibility at the surface in tumultuous waters was challenging too. Not the best for underwater photography, but we were still able to experience the incredible speed and power of these magnificent predators as they approached the cages. The best part of the trip was to be out on the water with someone so knowledgeable and passionate about Great White Sharks.

All to soon it was time for us to head back home. We only scratched the surface of what was on offer in this amazing state, its coastline, marinelife and of course wine. But we did get to experience some Great Whites (both of the shark and wine kind)!


Links

  • For more information about Frogfish Photography click here
  • For information about visiting South Australia click here

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