Fiji, Paradise Dancer

Inevitably as you plan a dive vacation, read the trip reports, and websites they always site “how warm and friendly” the local people are.  Often this proves true but over the years I must admit to becoming a bit jaded.  I sense the “friendliness” is due more to being an employee of the hotel, gift shop, dive operation and the general understanding that tourists mean $$$.  On both of our trips to Fiji I was surprised and honestly heartened as I observed the Fijian people wave and smile un-prompted from doorways, street corners, and bus stops.  We have found the warmth and bright attitude carries over to the Fijian waters.


On our first trip we spent two days at the Westin Denarau Island, about 15minutes from the airport. It is a beautiful hotel on scenic grounds with a wonderfull pool area and well-manicured black sand beach.  We enjoyed our time there and the staff where a pleasure.  The room was large, Asian contemporary, with a nice bath area. Our only minor complaints would be the bed was too soft (this was also noted by some fellow guest) and the food was very average for the price.


We arranged an inland day tour via Rosie’s Tour Service.  Deo was our guide and was very knowlegble and gave excellent insights to the Fijian culture.  By van we toured one of the local villages, an open market, hillside areas and the bird sanctuary.  We can recommend this tour but for the purest “birder” the sanctuary mainly consists of birds in small to very large aviaries.  It was interesting to see how many contemporary Fijians still live in simple villages of 60-300 people headed by a Chief, which is an inherited position.  Deo noted that the villages are a relatively “closed” environment.  As a tourist you would not be welcome to just wander through without an invitation.  While in the village the Fijians were very friendly as they went about their day, several stopping to introduce themselves and chat.  Of course the van made the mandatory crafts shop stop.


The Aggressor arranged for pick up at our hotel, of course they also pick up at the airport and a few other hotels.  It is a 4hr ride to Suva, the departure point.  Have your camera ready as there are some beautiful views as you zip along.  Once again they will make a stop at one of the major craft stores to give you a chance to “stretch your legs”.  We did purchase a vase and found the price, after a little negotiating, to be no more than shops we had seen off the beaten path.  The Fiji Aggressor is moored at the Tradewinds hotel.  Departure is around 1pm so you may have 1-3hrs to relax before boarding.  Pack a bathing suit and book in a handbag, as there is a small pool you can lounge at.  After 1pm it is the standard live-aboard routine; basic boat intro, move into your room, set up your gear and meet fellow passengers.  You steam overnight to the first dive site and diving begins the next day.


We had a STANDARD ROOM consisting of one double bunk with a single above.  There was plenty of storage for our cloths, camera case, and other misc. bags.  The head was good sized with plenty of hot water.  One of the reasons we choose the NAME OF BOAT is it only takes 10 divers, we had a full compliment but never felt crowded.  In general the food was very good and Manny the cook made an effort to meet the needs of all vegetarians included.


The Routine

By 6:30am a Continental breakfast is out and the first dive briefing is at 7am.  Then it was; 1st dive, breakfast, 2nd dive around, SI w/snack, 3rd dive, lunch, 4th dive, dinner, then the night dive.  After the first couple of CYA dive briefings they were short and to the point.  In general you were allowed to dive with the guide or go your own way, the exception of course being some of the drift dives.  The majority of dives are from and to the back of the boat with about 30% from the rib. 


The Diving

It was the rainy season and while visibility in general was 60-80ft there were a lot of particles in the water.  The advantage to the rainy season is it seemed to draw out the mantas and we saw sharks on many dives.  Five out of the 7 days the weather was great, clear and hot.  Sometimes around 4 it would cloud up and rain for an hour or so and then clear up again.  We really only had one day were the rain came down in torrents with plenty of lighting included, next day sky blue and gorgeous. 


Most of the dive sites are seamounts, bommies, often in multiples that you could choose from.  Call them what you will but they were all impressive.  Currents were minimal to non-existent with a little surge on the top.  Dive profiles were fairly straightforward; go to the bottom of the seamount,  80-100 feet, look in the rubble for nudis, leaf-scorpions and other small critters then start circling up the bommies.  The bommie tops were often in    –20fsw and made great extended safety-stops.  There were a couple of wall dives thrown in since “some get tired of the same profiles” but frankly they were nothing special and I would have been happy sticking with the seamounts.


Fiji is billed as the “Soft Coral Capital” of the diving world.  They were beautiful, dense and in every color you can imagine.  It is a cliché but words just cannot do them justice.  In addition we had passing views of sharks on just about every other dive.  Black tips, white tips and grey reefs were the most common.  The first dive was to Manta rock and it’s appropriately named.  Three mantas came by, one that was 15ft across and had large shark bite out of the right fin.  At one point Julie was swimming along the bottom of the bommie looking for nudis, and a manta was swimming right along side her unseen.  I was at the top of the bommie screaming into my regulator TURN AROUND!


All the sites had an excellent mix of creatures and there were no signs of coral bleaching.  At several sites there were schools of several specicies of barracuda and jacks.  Overall we were impressed with the mix of small creatures, fish, sharks and manta rays.  Another wonderful aspect we saw no other divers throughout the trip every site was shared only with our 8 other shipmates!


So this does not come off as complete puff piece there were a few minor issues.  There was a miscalculation on the shark dive.  The surface current was going one way but when we hit the bottom it was moving stiffly against us.   By the time they decided to feed the sharks I was down to 1200psi and one diver was looking to buddy breath with Julie.  At Kathy’s Corner the viz was about 15ft and the site name was changed on the board to Murky Corner.  There were some launch issues which caused a longer than normal surface swim to the boat.  As for being the Soft Coral Capital. I can see how Fiji can lobby for this but Thailand can without a doubt give them a run for the money.  I only mention these issues so this is not labeled a promo piece for Aggressor. 


In The End

Surprisingly, for me, one of the highlights of the trip turned out to be the visit to the Village of Mokgai.  I usually do not attend these events as I find them awkward, overly staged and it is often clear the locals feel the same.  This was not the case with the people of the small village we visited.  They were warm, engaging and truly seemed to enjoy the event as much as we did.  From children to adults I can honestly say all had a great time and were sorry to see the evening come to an end. 

Often when we think back about a dive vacation it is the incredible underwater creatures and vistas we fondly recall.  Our trip to Fiji will be rembered for these but moreover for the wonderful cultural and people we met along the way.  Bula!



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