A mild breeze was blowing through the open air dining room of the Raffles Gateway hotel in Nadi, Fiji, when tribal village Chief Katu Meli settled into the chair across from me. Using the more formal and respectful greeting, I said, "Ni sa bula," which loosely translates to "Good Day, Sir." A fellow passenger on the Air Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Nadi had made a phone call and set up the meeting. After almost an hour of discussion, I had learned of the legend of the original settlers of this island being from South Africa, the nation is predominantly Christian but there are large Muslim and Hindi elements, as well, and a tour of the highlands had been arranged. The site believed to be the original settlement was one of the locations we would visit.
Several airlines make the ten and a half hour flight from Los Angeles to Nadi. For this trip, Air Pacific was the carrier of choice. And what an excellent choice it was! Their seats recline a couple of degrees more than some of the other airlines; the eating utensils are actual metal, every seat has a pillow and a blanket; and the efficient, friendly staff distributes to every passenger a set of headphones, a sleeping mask, socks to keep your feet warm, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. Since the flight is somewhat lengthy, they serve a "light snack" shortly after take off and breakfast a couple of hours before landing. By the way, a "light snack" turned out to be vegetable lasagna. Wondering which movie is playing? Every seat has a small video monitor with 12 channels to chose from, including an interesting live display of the current location and statistics of the flight while in progress.
Things You Should Know:
If you rent a car, Fijians drive on the left side of the road. Electricity is 220 volt. Best to bring your own voltage and plug adapter. If you're hooking up a laptop or some other similar electronics, check the adapter's voltage rating. Many, today, are manufactured to be universal so you may only need a plug adapter. Be careful when shopping downtown. Taxi drivers and hotels are paid a commission to send customers to Jack's Handicrafts, where the prices seemed a bit high. There were other stories of people being ripped off, including one guy who literally lost his Nike tennis shoes. By and large, Fiji is quite safe and has been spared any of the religious violence that has been rampant in other parts of the world, recently. Don't miss a tour of the highlands. Waterfalls and caves can be visited and river rafting or kayaking can be arranged. World-class golf is readily available, as well as tours of the beautiful Sleeping Giant orchid gardens, and even sky diving. English is the official language so getting around is no problem. Fijian and Hindustani are also widely spoken. US dollars or credit cards are accepted in most places. Change is usually given in Fijian currency. Due to the international date line, Fiji is 17 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time and 20 hours ahead of California.
A simpler life - modern Fijian village
When To Go:
Seasons in the southern hemisphere are opposite those of the northern hemisphere so the Fijian summer is the North American winter. December through March is usually the driest and offers water visibility in the 100'+ range. Once the rainy season kicks in, April through November, it could rain for two weeks straight or hardly at all; it's a gamble.
Fiji is known for it's lush, beautiful soft corals. There is also an amazing variety of exotic marine life. These were what drew me to these lush islands. Many of the dive sites are pinnacles, formed by the same volcanic activity that created the mountainous islands. Old lava tubes can be found that are now literally choked with seafans easily measuring ten feet across and in every color of the rainbow. Sharks, manta rays, and turtles are often seen, as well as anemonefish on giant anemones, but be sure to look carefully for the smaller critters, too. In fact, there are so many of them that some patches almost seemed crowded.
The beauty of Fijian soft corals
The Fiji Aggressor II:
Four double cabins on the lower deck and a "honeymoon" cabin on the main deck will hold up to ten passengers. Each of the cabins on the lower deck have a double bed on the bottom and a single bed above in a bunk bed-style arrangement. The boat is roomy enough, the food is damned-near gourmet (gaining weight on this boat seems almost like a foregone conclusion), and the staff is amazingly attentive to most needs. Nitrox is available on board for an extra charge. Most of the boat is rigged for 220 voltage but there is a charging station with three power strips so people with 110 voltage chargers aren't left high and dry. The cabins are individually air conditioned, the rest of the boat is not.
Sera Na Wai
* Call the local Aggressor office as soon as you arrive in country so they know where you to pick you up. (Personal note: I didn't do this. Even though their literature says they pick up at the Nadi airport and then swing by the Raffles Gateway Hotel, which is across the street from the airport and where I was staying, before making the four hour drive to the boat dock, they did not swing by the hotel. I was stuck sitting in an un-air conditioned taxi for four hours with a driver that apparently liked curry just a little more than I would have thought humanly possible.)
* Go with a roommate and dive buddy. Someone you can stand to be around for a week. If you travel alone, you take potluck on roommate assignments.
* If you're traveling alone and will be assigned a roommate, you will want to have some sort of ladder or steps to get up to the top bunk. Trust me on this one.
* Make sure all gear is working before you go. Even if you think it should be fine, throw your regulator on a tank and make sure everything is working the way it should. (I bought a brand new gauge console two days before the trip and never had a chance to test it. Turned out to have a blockage in the high pressure hose.)
* Bring plenty of Sudafed and a roll of waterproof athletic tape in your toiletries. They're cheap and you may not need them but you might save someone else's entire vacation.
All shots were taken with a Nikon D70 digital SLR in an Ikelite housing. A variety of lenses were utilized, ranging from a superwide Sigma 14mm to a Sigma 105mm 1:1 macro lens behind a flat port and occasionally supplemented by a Woody's Diopter. The vast majority of the images were taken using the Sigma 18-50mm 2.8 zoom lens behind the new Ikelite 8" dome port. Lighting was supplied by twin Ikelite DS125 strobes.
Hope you enjoy the images, there are a bunch...
See ya 'round and vinaka naka levu (thank you very much).
Divemasters lead the way!
Divers exploring Manta Rock
School of juvenile Reticulated Dascyllus
Water droplets on a forest leaf
Unidentified Damselfish. Notice the heart-shaped, oscillated spot on the dorsal fin.
Adult Many Spotted Sweetlips, about two and a half feet long.
Freckled Hawkfish - variation
Feathery Crinoid on the top of a branching red gorgonian - Side view
Feathery Crinoid on the top of a branching red gorgonian - Full view
Malibar Grouper, about three feet long.
Thorny Sea Cucumber
Choriaster Granulatus Starfish. Kinda looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy
Possibly Ferdina Sadhensis Starfish
Window of Dreams
Juvenile Steephead Parrotfish
Pair of Brown-Banded Pipefish
Cuthona Sibogae Nudibranch
Kentrodoris Rubescens Nudibranch
Green Coral Polyps open for feeding
Close up of a stalk of white soft coral
Pteraeolidia Ianthina Nudibranch
Flabillina Bilas Nudibranch
Clark's Anemonefish on anemone
Fijian Reef Crab
Fijian Reef Crab
Ornate Ghost Pipefish
Close up of the face of an Ornate Ghost Pipefish
Purple Scalefin Anthias
Chromodoris Willani Nudibranch
Phyllidiella Pustulosa Nudibranch
Phylidiella Zeylanica Nudibranch
Tambja Morosa Nudibranch
Fiji Anemonefish on partially closed anemone
Fiji Anemonefish on rare red anemone
Fiji Clown Blennie
Fiji Clown Blennie - pale variation
School of Chevron Barracuda