Water Colors

In Fiji, the real adventure is under the sea

By: Karla Aronson

VITI LEVU, Fiji I peered over the side of the boat as I put my scuba diving equipment on, but could only imagine the colorful sea life beneath the surface of the dark blue water. My first boat dive ever and here I was in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of Fiji.

My traveling companion, a deep-sea shipwreck diver from Alaska, had far more diving experience than I. He couldn’t wait to get underwater to see the famed bright corals and varied fish of Fiji’s warm ocean waters. The honeymoon couple who sat beside us on dive boat from Namale resort relayed the thrill of each of the dives they had undertaken to complete the resort’s dive certification course.

With the guidance of a travel agent and a set budget, they chose resorts on Beqa Island and off the northern coast of Taveuni.

“It was such a long, crazy trip to get to Fiji,” one of the newlyweds said, before smiling broadly. “But I’d do it again in a second.”

Now it was my turn. While it took some personalized attention from Isaac, the resort’s dive instructor, holding my hand as we dove, I soon shared the amazement of swimming around huge coral mounds teaming with reef fish and the occasional water snake, shark, turtle or eel.

Popular images of the far-flung islands of the South Pacific usually conjure up visions of coconut palm trees bowing over white-sand beaches. For many visitors to the region, however, the most exciting images lie beneath the warm, tropical South Pacific Ocean waters. Fiji particularly holds a world-class reputation for its underwater diving spots and industry. The numerous reefs and abundant sea life surrounding the islands appeal to both absolute beginners and experienced professionals in the sport.

Visitors have several island groups to choose from among Fiji’s top scuba diving locations. While some resorts specialize in diving, others offer diving as part of their roster of many activities or will at least arrange for it from providers elsewhere.

In the remote, southern Kadavu group, the famous Astrolabe Reef boasts some of the best reef-wall dives and drift-diving (with the currents), as well as close-up encounters with sharks and schools of reef fish. Also to the south, Beqa Lagoon provides spectacular coral reef passages and organized outings for shark sightings.

Tourists commonly dive the accessible Coral Coast on the southwest of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu and the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups to its west. To the north, the third largest island of Taveuni presents the challenging Somosomo Strait with strong currents along the Great White Wall and vibrant soft corals of the Rainbow Reef.

On the southeast coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, the resorts surrounding Savusavu Bay and the Koro Sea offer an abundance of dive outings and range of service.

True to its luxury standards, Namale resort offers a daily complimentary one-tank scuba dive to certified and non-certified divers. It also provides complimentary introductory scuba training for resort diving and a review session for previously certified divers.

The Dive Namale resort marina staff of professional instructors and dive masters focuses on guests’ individual needs. If a beginner feels reassured having her hand held throughout the dive, the dive instructor likely will do so.

Given its degree of personalized service, guests are often inspired to try diving for the first time after hearing the tales from already certified diving guests or those going through the certification course.

As many as 30 dive sites can be reached within five to 30 minutes of the resort including wall dives, drift dives and numerous canyons. The region is famous for its multi-colored soft corals of blues, greens, oranges and pinks. Big fish, such as grouper, can readily be seen as well as small white-tip reef sharks swimming nearby.

The L’Aventure Dive Shop at Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort ventures to many of the same spots in the Koro Sea plus others. Its 37-foot dive boat can handle 12 divers in half-day trips or full-day outings.

The dive shop regularly features a specialty full-day outing to Namena Island, a small island 20 miles south of Savusavu. The site features steep drop-offs and many big fish including tuna and manta rays.

Within the perimeter of Savusavu Bay, divers can spot poisonous sea snakes and scorpion fish, and marvel at vibrant fan-shaped soft corals.

The dive shop caters to large, experienced groups. They recently served a California-based company of professional underwater photographers who requested several night dives when more fish come in sight. Beginners can visit the dive shop for a free scuba introduction. The resort charges $65 for a one-tank dive and extra fees for equipment rental. Its resort diving course costs $135.

Off the northwest coast of Vanua Levu, the remote Nukubati Island offers exclusive resort diving access to the Great Sea Reef, the third largest barrier reef in the world. Nukubati promotes scuba diving as its premier activity, with the reef a half-hour boat ride from the resort.

The area features deep blue waters, vast stretches of hard white corals, brilliant orange and red soft-coral tubes and rods, purple starfish, rare seashells, barracuda and other game fish.

Nukubati provides each couple or dive group with its own boat and personal dive master. Guests must be certified already, as the diving staff does not include instructors. On the plus side, the presence of only dive masters can give more freedom to advanced divers.

One guest, who formerly dove while in military service on Oahu, reacquainted himself with the sport while his wife read on the boat. The boat staff attentively navigated for his surfacing. Another married couple dove to a depth of 80 feet for the first time.

A single-tank dive costs $65 with a one-time equipment charge of $30. Guests can enjoy a picnic lunch on the boat.

It’s a great way to spend a day in paradise, and the real excitement is just below the waves.


Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort


Nukubati Island

All resorts offer agent commission.