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Wonderful Waidroka

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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There is nothing like getting a warm welcome from all the staff when you first arrive at a resort, particularly when you are feeling more than slightly bedraggled from your journey. At Waidroka Bay Resort, we soon felt completely at home, and with all our bags whisked to our ocean front Bure (Fijian style bungalow), before we knew it, we were sat with the dive staff chatting about what the diving had to offer us the following day. We were to be the only divers on the boat, as a group had just left, which meant we had the choice of where to go – so we asked for them to take us to their favourite sites, of course!

All the meals at Waidroka are served “family style” with the guests and staff sitting around a communal table. You can opt to sit at a more private table or outside if you wish, but most like to sit and chat about the days diving and surfing with each other. The chef at Waidroka recently won Young Fiji Chef of the Year, which is an amazing accolade, and the food clearly reflected his talent. Not only was it delicious, but beautifully presented as well.

Our first day of diving was going to be based around the island of Yanuca. The dive centre has a close association with the villagers here, and the staff come to teach the school kids about the marine environment and wildlife each week. For us, it is the perfect place to relax between dives over a cup of tea, or lunch, whilst parked in the sheltered and secluded bay, with kids running around on the beach in the background. December is mid-summer here, so the schools were on a six week break.

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Our first dive was at a site called Fantasea 1. Our guides, and head of watersports operations, Chelle and Warren, raved about this dive, so we just hoped it would live up to their enthusiastic tales. This has to be one of the best coral dive sites we have ever been on – no really! Fiji is famous for its reef diving, and this resort is at the heart of the Coral Coast, but even so, we were blown away by this dive site. Everywhere we looked the reef was packed with brightly coloured gorgonians, a rainbow of broccoli corals and numerous fish and critters hiding away on this fabulous reef. Chelle posed for us on the wall, diving through overhangs, gullies and swim-throughs, and with a maximum of 18m we stayed for well over an hour! How were we going to match this?

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On our surface interval, we chatted about where to go next. Warren and Chelle told us about a site that was nearby, the Tasu II Wreck. Sunk in 1994, this was a 200 tonne Taiwanese fishing vessel, which had been confiscated for illegal fishing and deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef. She sits upright in the sand at just over 20m, depending on the tides. After over 20 years, plenty of animals have made their home here, and Warren went off to find the tiny pipefish that live on the roof of the wheelhouse, while we weaved our way around the structure, photographing the windows adorned with sea fans and capturing images of each of us framing our faces in the gaps. The dive is not over once you have finished exploring the wreck though, as you can extend your bottom time by swimming the short distance to Seven Sisters reef, a series of seven pinnacles that reach up to 5m, so you can select your safety stop pinnacle. Anthias, in pink and orange, in their thousands pulse to the rhythm of your breathing and strobe guns. It is truly magical.

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Back at Yanuca Island, we relax and have some lunch. The chef has prepared packed lunches for each of us, which we are ready for. Our final dive site was another assault on our senses. Vivid colours on every available surface; it is easy to see why Cousteau called Fiji “the soft coral capital of the world”.

Alas, an incoming front was causing the wind to pick-up and we were starting to get worried about the diving being cancelled the next day. You could see that we were not the only ones concerned as Warren kept disappearing to check his weather apps over the course of the evening. After another scrumptious dinner, he called us over to brief us on the shark diving that we were due to do in the morning. The diving was going to depend on the weather in the morning, so we had everything crossed – this was one dive we had been looking forward to for weeks.

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The shark dive that the Waidroka team take you on is run by the founders of this event, Aqua-Trek. The boat ride to Beqa (pronounced Benga) Lagoon is about 30 minutes away, and, whilst the weather was not ideal, we were delighted that the dive had not been cancelled and eagerly jumped on-board. Heavy rain overnight meant that the water was looking a little green from the run off from local rivers. However, it also kept away many of the boats that would usually come for this dive, so at least we could look forward to a more personal experience. Aqua-Trek’s boat pulled up with only 4 or 5 divers, so there would only be 7 divers, plus the shark feeders and wranglers in the water. As Fiji has some strong currents, the dive site is setup with a series of lines to guide you down to the correct shark feed location. The main stars of the show are Bull and Tiger Sharks, although you may also see Lemon, Nurse and various species of reef shark as well. The divers line up behind a wall, with the feeders in front to tempt in the sharks with fish heads that are donated by local fishermen and resorts. Usually it is the Bull Sharks that get the food, with the other species being wary of getting in their way, and you can see why when you get on the dive. Even with the visibility reduced and the water a little green, the experience is incredible, as huge bull sharks come in for their snacks. Surprisingly, they do so in an astonishingly calm manner, never rushing and appear content to circle around if another is already feeding. We were very fortunate to be invited into the feeding circle to kneel next to the feeders for an even closer encounter. One Bull Shark took a liking to Nick and came right up to his camera, stopping just in front of the dome port to say hello, before the wranglers gave her a polite nudge to move her along. All too soon, it was time to end the dive. We stayed as long as we were allowed to watch these magnificent sharks circle below us, but the visibility was getting worse, and we had to head back to the boat.

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Alas, the weather finally beat us, and the second shark-feed dive was cancelled, as the visibility was getting worse, and the shark feeders could not see the sharks coming. It was the right call, but we were bitterly disappointed. We just had to remind ourselves how privileged we had been to get the first dive at all. The waves had also picked up, so the boat captain was eager to get us back closer to the resort. Within the reef system, the waters were a bit calmer, and so we decided to pop-in and dive one of the teaching sites near the resort. Waidroka has a pontoon for guests to sunbathe on and to use as a base for snorkelling and swimming. The best thing about it, though, if you look closely between the wooden slats, is that this is where many of the Banded Sea Kraits (sea snakes) come to warm themselves during the day. It is the first time we have seen this behaviour.

Our final night was to be a traditional Fijian evening of Lovo (food cooked in a BBQ pit), Kava (the local drink made from pepper plant roots) and music. We donned our Fiji Tourism Sulus (traditional Fijian skirts) and Scubaverse polo shirts and joined in the fun, the music and dancing. It was with not a small amount of sadness though, as we were leaving in the morning and, quite rarely for us, we really did not want to depart! We loved our time at Waidroka. The diving was great, the staff were all wonderful and so the whole experience was a joy. Maybe we will be able to come back sometime; we would certainly jump at the opportunity.

www.waidroka.com

www.fiji.travel

Find out more about Nick and Caroline at www.frogfishphotography.com.

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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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