Trip Report • Fiji • South Pacific Adventure 2006
FIJI, FABULOUS FIJI!
Our South Pacific Adventure 2006 started out when we boarded the Coral Sun coach at the Raffles Gateway Hotel right across from the Nadi Airport. Some of the group arrived a few days early to shark dive in Beqa Lagoon or honeymoon at Sonaisali Island Resort or just plain relax and absorb the Fijian “bula” spirit at Matamoana Island Resort; the rest arrived in time to board the Nai’a. Guests came from Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, California & Oregon. It’s about a 40 minute drive from the airport to Lautoka where the Nai’a is berthed. Beautiful scenery, glimpses of the aquamarine ocean and sugar cane trains diverted our attention and made the relatively short trip seem even shorter!
Guests are welcomed aboard the Nai’a with BIG “Bulas” and after a brief welcome, shown to their cabins for a quick unpack. Dive gear is quickly assembled and everyone is treated to a “welcome” dive at Samu Reef, just a short sail from Lautoka Harbour! For those experiencing their first Pacific dives, smiles could be seen from behind their regs and watching their twinkling eyes! Blue spotted stingrays, giant clams, lots of different anemones with their clownfish and waves of tropical fish in 100’ visibility all contributed to an amazing “check-out” dive!
Diving aboard the Nai’a is accomplished using two inflatable tenders. The divers are divided into two groups and assigned to a tender. After initial gear set-up on the spacious dive deck, tanks are carried to the back of the Nai’a which is where they’re kept for the duration of the trip. They are filled in racks on the stern of the boat and then placed into the tenders. Divers only need to carry their masks, fins back to the tenders for each dive. The Nai’a has a divers’ “In-Out” board where they keep track of everyone.
The Nai’a has a wonderful camera room in the bow of the boat on the dive deck level. It has a three-shelf system with “wet” equipment on the top shelf and the second & third shelves dedicated to “dry gear” and charging stations. Both 110v and 220v plugs are located on those shelves. They have two spacious camera rinse tanks just outside the camera room. Once a camera is ready for loading, all one has to do is put it on the floor in front of the rinse tanks and the cameras magically appear on the proper tender at the proper times! Camera handling by the crew is exceptional!
Their diving itinerary is determined by guests’ abilities, interests and the weather! On our trip we traveled from Gomo to Vatu-I-ra, Gau, Wakaya, & Makogai and then onward into the wonderful Namena Marine Reserve. We then headed back towards Lautoka and our last dive was at the world-renowned dive site E-6! Hard corals, soft corals and bommies are absolutely exquisite. Currents ranged from very mild to moderate and water temps ranged from mid-70’s (CHILLY for me!) to low 80’s. Nagali Pass was a crowd favorite…we were dropped in at the entrance to the pass and drifted in through schools of snapper and barracuda and then “hung out” on a ridge for a while watching the 20-35 reef sharks cruising down in the pass and occasionally around us!
Some other favorite dive sites included Schoolhouse Reef, Anthias Alley, Howard’s Diner, Whole Shebang, Rick’s Rocks, Teton I & II, Two Thumbs Up, FantaSea & Magic Mushroom I & II. Dive sites were pretty close to one another and the tenders switched dive sites so everyone had an opportunity to dive every site. Critters large and small were seen on every dive. It was extremely hard to pick a lens…if you asked Grant or Sonia “which lens this dive” the normal answer was……either! Wide angle vistas included masses of vibrant soft corals, huge sea fans, amazing swim-thrus, fabulous walls and thriving reef tops sparkling in the sun. Macro subjects included trapezius crabs, pipefish of many varieties, leaf scorpionfish, giant stonefish, dozens and dozens of anemones filled with not only anemonefish but lots of different crabs and shrimp! Blue ribbon eels were common on several sites, including a few juvenile black ones. There were even a few pygmy seahorses sighted! Bob & I added several new fish and critters to our “life list” on this trip.
The Nai’a itself is a floating 5-star hotel! Teak walls, tables, bedroom furnishings and carvings are everywhere. The cabins themselves are spacious and very comfortable. Meals are served in the salon on the main deck level. Every morning a pre-dive mini-breakfast was available and everyone picked from the day’s menu choices. The food was fabulous and special dietary requirements were no problem. We had a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner too….roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and apple pie! Both morning and afternoon between dive snacks were served…the usual adage, “Eat, sleep & Dive” certainly applied here!
The crew……WOW! Nai’a famous slogan is “arrive as guests, leave as family” and it’s true, so true! The Fijians are among the world’s friendliest people! Everyone is always smiling, so helpful and so much fun! We were always greeted with HUGE, booming, smiling “Bula, Bula, Bulas” upon returning from every dive! Assistance in and out of the tenders was always given with huge smiles! When the crew is not working really hard, they grab their guitars and sit down and just sing…it’s so much fun to listen to their beautiful voices.
Every trip onboard the Nai’a includes a local village visit. They rotate the villages so every village gets to greet the guests. The week we were onboard it was Lovu Village’s turn. Apparently it was the secondary school’s graduation time so many of the villagers were off watching their students graduate, but we were greeted with a wonderful welcome and treated to songs by the kindergarteners, including their “octopus” song! The bigger boys did their “warrior dance” for us and everyone was invited to share in the kava with the chief and the villagers. Lots of pictures were taken of the village and the beautiful Fijian children.
Last but not least, the crew provided us with a kava party onboard the Nai’a. They decorated the dive deck with greenery from one of the islands, put down cocoa woven mats and we all put on our sulu’s and joined in the celebration. Every crew member plays a musical instrument and sings…both traditional Fijian songs and popular favorites. It was fun to join in and share in the celebration. Kava flowed profusely…it is served in halved coconut shells and a full cupful is called a “High tide” and if you’re not a fan of kava, you can request a “low tide”! Kava is made from the roots of a pepper plant and is finely ground and then mixed with water…it’s muddy looking and really doesn’t have a lot of flavor but since it’s a pepper plant root, sometimes it makes your lips a little numb! You either love kava or not…..give it a try sometime and decide for yourself!
Some of the guests stayed on in Fiji for a few days after departing the Nai’a; others traveled with us on to the Solomon Islands and just a few headed home. It was a fantastic start to our South Pacific Adventure! Huge vinaka vakalevus to Grant & Sonia, the Naia’s “newish” cruise directors and the rest of our Fijian family.
For more information on diving in Fiji and the Nai'a, visit www.naia.com.fj