This was my second trip to Fiji. Both were dive oriented and went like a charm. At first one, in august of 2010, we visited Mana Island, located southwest of Nadi, just 45 minutes away by the speedboat from the largest island of Fiji archipelago. It was a small and very lovely spot, in 2 – 3 hours you could’ve walked around the whole island.
Taveuni, however, being the third largest island of Fiji, was a lot larger and you’d need more than 3 – 4 hours to drive perimeters of this beautiful volcanic formation. Also known as Fiji’s Garden Island, this mountainous, lush and very productive land spreads over 169 square miles. Taveuni, in contrast to the Mana, offers a lot more to see and to discover. Spectacular waterfalls fed by numerous rainfalls, nature reserves, bird watching, Wairiki Mission or, what I highly recommend, the village of Lavena where you can trail by the scenic coastline or stay overnight at Lavena Lodge and be the first in the whole world to see a bright and cheerful cap of the rising sun. Here you can find a comprehensive “Travel guide to Taveuni”.
I don’t want to reminisce about 11 hours of flight from LA to Suva. But from Suva … well, from Suva to Taveuni we flew over countless, large and small beautiful islands embellished by spikes of turquoise reefs. And like a hungry dog salivating at the sight of the long-awaited bowl of food, I, looking at those atolls through the window of an airplane, still vividly remember a pleasant premonition of the great discoveries ahead.
I also can’t forget mountains, waterfalls, flowers, rivers, coconuts and mangos, breadfruit trees, bananas, kava, pineapples, avocado, papaya, mandarins, sugar canes, pears and much more, then you can name, as the constant companion of our journeys.
And I always will remember local folks. Twice, at different time and locations, they observed hopeless expression on my face, as I picked up a fallen seed, turning it in my hands looking for the easy way to get its yummy flesh. And twice, with understanding, kind smile and unmatchable dexterity, they cracked it for me, offering to savor its delicious content. Locals on the islands were beyond nice, they all, without exception, tried to make all of us feel at home. And I did. I’ve met some remarkable humans, islanders and guests, with whom I’d gladly keep friendship for years to come.
This trip was organized by Jack Connick, the diver and owner of the Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. located in Seattle, WA. One auspicious day I received an email from his shop, advertising Fiji Dive Trip to Taveuni.
- Round trip from LA to Taveuni and back,
- 7 nights accommodations in Deluxe Ocean (View Room (double occupancy)
- Roundtrip private ground transfers Taveuni Airport/Resort
- Daily cooked breakfast, 2-course lunch & 3-course dinner
- Afternoon coffee, tea and fresh baked goods
- 5 days of 3 tank boat dives
- tanks, weights & refreshments
- Unlimited shore diving, free use of kayaks, nightly entertainment and kava
Also, for additional $650, you could’ve extended your stay for 3 extra days. Recollecting how short and unfulfilling my first trip to Mana was, I took that offer without second thought. My wife and one of our mutual female friends decided to join me. So on October 13th we happily landed and settle in Garden Island Resort.
First of all, Garden Island Resort geographically situated just 10-15 minutes by boat from Rainbow Reef. I think it is very reasonably priced, clean, elegant, very cozy, nicely furnished accommodation. All rooms have a spacious shower, mini bar, TV set, Jacuzzi, balcony and an ocean view to dive for 😉 Dive-shop in less than a minute of walking distance from the furthest room. For $100 you’d get a weekly access to the Internet. The connection could’ve been … hmm… a bit more stable, but hey … we are in Fiji and I don’t think someone would travel to the other side of the globe to waste precious vacation time in front of a computer, right?
The food was delicious. Morning tables offered fresh juices, sliced fruits, yogurts, cereal, coffee and tea. Getting ready for 2-morning dives I was fueling myself up with a sizable plate of eggs and bacon. Every morning, each guest was presented with lunch and dinner menus. And at appropriate time all was done and served according to our requests. In my humble opinion, the chef knew his business well, preparing every day delightful meals. If you are not planning to dive or to travel around the island, there is a pool right next to the restaurant with many recliners or egg-shaped, suspended, woven lounge chairs. Now just imagine; a good book, coconut filled with cold rum punch, spectacular view, faint rustle of the palm leaves, a lulling murmur of ocean waves and ah…you are in the paradise.
All questions or requests were taking care of immediately by staff and management of the hotel. And I’ll never forget those girls who were taking such a great care of us. With unmatchable patience, smile and kindness they were tending to our every need. I would like to thank them all; Ili, Angela, Anna, Eta, Tracy, Latilla and many others from the bottom of my heart.
The first stop on our way to Lavena Lodge was at Tavoro Waterfalls. Lana, Yelena and I were very lucky because when we reached Lower Bouma Falls, we were privileged to observe as a local couple was getting married, offering their vows to each other right by a roaring waterfall.
By the end of the ceremony, I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I’ve got lost among guests and found myself under the wedding canopy with a local beauty. The place had lots of slippery slopes 😉
You could, I believe, take farther walk and visit two more waterfalls, but we did not have much time so after about 30 minutes of photo session we continue to Lavena.
We spent there a night so we can be first in a whole world to salute to a new sun. However in that regard we weren’t too lucky. I mean celestial body had risen, yet all we saw was a bunch of bright holes punched through thick, heavy layer of clouds. Well, what can you do? We can’t really complain, as we still experienced something special at Lavena Lodge. Plus, for only $30 FJD per night, it’s just another reason to come back.
On the day before our departure, we did come back to the village. But it was late morning and the main reason was to trail twisting, curving, water jumping, snaking through the trees yet unforgettable, the scenic coastline of Lavena. Just in a few minutes, as we set on the track, presence of humans habitat disappeared behind thick vegetation, leaving us face-to-face with wild nature. Soon passage became even narrower, sometimes pressing us to squeeze between large, moss-covered trees.
Twice we had to balance on a fallen, branching makeshift bridges, which shook precariously, echoing to our each uncertain step. Going through the impenetrable green corridor, we could hear the distant resonance of falling waters on one side and crashing sound of breaking waves on another. Then suddenly trees would part reviling spectacular views. Ocean waves file coastal rocks into fantastical figures placing them as guardians around the coastline to protect their beloved island from uninvited guests. We kept shooting, mistakenly thinking that camera could store in its digital memory equivalent of a fascination that was absorbed by our souls.
Then track continues through a narrow suspension bridge and some time later we reached a gazebo, where one could rest before final dash to the waterfall. So in total it took us an hour and a half to reach beautiful Lower Wanabau Waterfalls. And there I made a huge, totally thoughtless mistake. I tried to swim close and then under the falling waters. Never again. Anyone who values his own life, please, do not try it. I don’t know if I ever will be able to forget that wild turbulence and my inability to swim away from a firm, pulling down claws of a relentless vortex…brrr…
Well, thanks to a Goddess Warrior, who apparently helped me to fight my way to the surface, such an unpleasant incident is in the past. But even such life-threatening episode couldn’t spoil charm and magnificence of the surrounding landscape.
On our way we’ve met a few folks, some were fishing, some gathering fruits, others preparing leaves for house needs. And again, as they were stepping aside, giving us the right of way, you couldn’t fail to notice wide, very genuine smiles. I asked a man who was holding a spike and bag full of crabs if he doesn’t mind to show me his crab-hunting technique. He smiled, nodded, then positioned 5-6 feet long, thin metal spear on an open palm, guiding it between his index and middle fingers. Clamped one end of it in a rubber sling snaking through the fingers of the same hand that was holding his spear. Looked under the rock … pulled … released … and that was it, his bag became a little fuller.
Our “short-trip” to the point where the past meets the future only proved Einstein’s theory that everything is relevant. Starting at the North Pole on its way to South Pole 180th Meridian passes through Russia, Antarctica and three islands in Fiji; Vanua Levu, Rabi and Taveuni. Being in close proximity, just 30-40 minutes of walking distance from Garden Island Resort, we thought it’d be shameful not to visit the spot where you can plant one of your foot in yesterday, another in today and balance the rest of you right in-between. C-o-o-o-o-l
Duivosavosa Village Settlement
And the fourth land trip was to the Duivosavosa Village Settlement, located less than a half-a-mile away from the resort. Chief and his extensive family unveil their way of life. It was an incredible experience to see how people were taking care of themselves and each other bringing no unnecessary damage to the place they reside. First they demonstrated how baskets are woven. Then chief brought us to the cooking area and demonstrated a detailed method of food preparation with the following tasting.
After we were giving an explanation of an intricate method of turning kava plant into a muddy-looking, tongue numbing drink. Then a few more things, kava drinking, singing and 2-3 hours later we were back to the hotel.
It is conveniently situated at the end of the main building. So it was less than a minute to get to the shop and boat ramp. Inside there were two spacious rooms; one used as an office, walls of which are covered with pictures of the local marine life, and the other – storage/drying room for dive gears. Outside, by the ramp, you can find tank filled with fresh water to rinse photo or dive equipment. I can’t tell you about the quality of the rental gears, did not use any, but if I’m not mistaken it looked fairly new to me.
To get to the boat we use a little aluminum dinghy. For an additional, and very moderate charge we’ve got Nitrox, so for the first two dives we used 32%, the third dive was on the air. Dive masters were very knowledgeable and extremely courteous to all of us. All my requests to see and photograph various species exceeded all my expectations. We split into small groups of 4 – 5 divers. Thus 3, occasionally 4 divemasters were guiding us through countless treasures of Rainbow Reef.
Rainbow Reef is located between second and thirds largest islands of Fiji; Vanua Levu and Taveuni. From Garden Island Resort, it’d take you no more than 10-15 minutes to cross Somosomo strait. Since the majority of dive sites located very close to Vanua Levu, our surface intervals were spent in one of the many gorgeous lagoons of the island.
Rainbow Reef is ranked as one of the world’s best dive site and also nominated as “The Soft Coral Capital of the World”, and you should’ve seen ‘em. Shapes and colors of those jelly-like creations would blow away your imagination. After first three days of diving, that’s 9 dives total, I thought I’d have enough pictures of soft corals to satisfy my insatiable appetite. Yet every time colorful, festive stack got into boundaries of my vision, I was raising my camera again, thinking this image is exactly what I was missing in my already sizable collection. And so it went like this through all 21 dives.
Great White Wall
Despite an unlimited array of colors, I can’t forget that particular dive site. Actually all of us liked it so much that we dove there 4 times. Just a few minutes later after jumping off the boat we were entering wide, deepening tunnel. Upon exiting the tunnel and turning 180 degrees, we were presented with an amazing spectacle. White, with a tinge of cold blue, a family of corals, glint softly, covering entire – dropping to the unreachable depth – wall.
I don’t think any picture would do the justice, such display must be seen in real life and with your own eyes. But, for what it worth, above is my best shot of the White Wall.
During the third dive, divemaster Waisele spotted a very unique animal. I had to take at least 25-30 shots to get at leat one liked … and here it is …
Almost every dive at Rainbow was a drift dive. Passing current brought lots of food, which translates into the abundance of marine life. There is so much to see, that to embrace and appreciate the flora and fauna of Rainbow Reef completely one must borrow supreme and truly remarkable visual abilities of a Peacock Mantis shrimp. Yet even with human’s lesser capabilities, you wouldn’t fail to observe as Feathers stars, while grasping to the top of the coral formation, proudly demonstrate their whirling hairdos. White tip reef shark peacefully resting on a sandy bottom. Sea snakes slither downwards, poking their tiny heads into openings of cabbage-leave coral. Blue Ribbon eel keeps his mouth wide open in the noiseless argument with the gang of his disorderly neighbors. Cool, inviting smile of Spotted Morey eel, as he checking surroundings from the safety of his lair. You’ll see gatherings of all sorts of nudibranchs, which, thanks to their beautiful colorings and slow movements are the best candidates for the microphotography. Shy sea horses, slow moving Napoleon-fish, unhurried swim of sea turtles and much, much more.
However, floating sediment is a nuisance to the underwater photographers. In waters of Mana, as I remember, visibility on every dive was easily well over 100 ft., can’t say that about Rainbow Reef. Throughout 21 dive, (all during the day with an average depth of 45 ft.), visibility was around 50 ft. At its best was 70 and 40ft. was the worst. But if you constantly shooting macro, as it was in my case, you wouldn’t have too many reasons to complain. If there was any inconvenience, then sometimes it was very strong water movement and a steady shot was absolutely impossible.
As mentioned before, strong currents of Somosomo strait delivered plenty of nutrition to local dwellers. Diving mainly in the northeast, especially at East Port Maine, I’ve seen some large species of nudibranchs, but never quite as big as I observed in Fiji. Averaging 3.5 – 4.5 inches long Phyllidia ocellata and Phyllidia cf. elegans were clear winners.
After my initial visit in 2010 I was waiting quite anxiously to go back to Fiji, especially with my new underwater camera. And 2 years later my dream came true. Diving 9 days at Rainbow Reef has satisfied, at least for a while, my craving to explore the most beautiful underwater environment I’ve seen so far. Also on this trip I’ve met many great people with whom I gladly shared wonders of the Rainbow Reef.
I’d like to recognize the great couple from the state of Washington; Wistar and Edmond Kay. Besides Ed’s wealth of knowledge about diving injuries, thanks to this lovely couple kindness, I was able to take lots of good shots.
Two brothers from Australia, Hakki and Serge Semirli. I’ve seen a lot of people with great patience, but so far Hakki beat ‘em all. Thank you, guys. I really enjoyed our dives together and my only regret that we met too late. Well, maybe someday I’ll see you in Australia …
It was an unforgettable trip and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who likes to travel and uncover new wonders of this truly remarkable world. Don’t wait too long.