It was about 20 nautical miles from Naigani Island on a heading of 42 degrees to reach the Vatu Wall, but the trip was worth it. About halfway to this outer reef, we encountered a school of pilot whales heading in the same direction as us. “Captain Rambo” stopped well ahead of them and we waited quietly to see what they would do. Unexpectedly, they came directly towards the boat and then hung around. Neil went straight in with the video camera, wearing his “Nitrox Serious Diver” T-shirt and no fins! The others went in with the first mask and snorkel they could grab then came back for their fins. Everyone raved about their close encounter with these intelligent, inquisitive mammals.
I was sure that the pilot whales would not come in close enough to see underwater, so I decided to take pictures from the boat instead. Well, they came right under us a few times, clicked at the snorkelors, and my old Nikonos could not do it justice! Fortunately, Neil was able to get some good video footage of the whales.
The Vatu Wall
We continued our journey and arrived at the Vatu Reef about 20 minutes later. With visibility of at least twenty metres, we were able to dive together as a group with “Junior” as guide. We adopted a profile which we were to follow on all of these wall dives. We descended slowly to about 25 metres, drifting along the wall with minimal effort, slowly ascending for a bottom time of 50 minutes to an hour. We wore polypropylene suits, as the water was a constant 27 degrees Celsius. You feel like you are floating in space as you drift along looking at the various soft corals, with reef fish near the coral and pelagics out in the blue. On this dive we saw three turtles, which is unusual because the Fijians treat them as a delicacy!
Our Fijian Christmas adventure began with nine days on the luxury liveaboard vessel M.V. Princess II. On Boxing Day, the Princess dropped us off at Naigani Island Resort where we were to spend a week with Neil and Jenny Harris of Absolute Scuba, enjoying a different style of diving.
My wife and I moved into Bure 12 where we had a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. We spread out and made ourselves at home. There was a laundry tub outside the back door for washing and our own clothesline. Fortunately, we had a good supply of liquid laundry detergent and wet suit wash. We had some problems getting hot water, so the manager, Tooman, quickly replaced our hot water system with a new one. Now that’s service!
The daily routine started with a big continental breakfast at the restaurant, then loading our personal gear on board the dive boat “Mainunu” and assembling our tanks for a 9am departure. We had two dives each morning at different sites and a pleasant surface interval at the picturesque Canabuli Bay. We returned in time for a light lunch by the pool, and then headed off for a game of golf or a sleep.
On pinnacle dives such as “Vure Vure” and “The Nursery”, we circled each coral sea mount, slowly ascending from base to summit, examining the caves, overhangs, soft coral, and prolific fish life. Junior pointed out the minute forms of marine life such as colourful nudibranch, which are easy to miss. The coral garden on the top of the pinnacle was usually at about three to five metres where we enjoyed long safety stops.
At the dive site known as the “Shark Cave” three of us swam away from the pinnacle to find some more sharks. After an extensive but unsuccessful search, we were unable to relocate the pinnacle due to current and visibility. We performed a textbook open water ascent, deploying a bright orange Safety Stop Anchor from a reel at five metres for our three-minute safety stop. It was very choppy on the surface, so we inflated a safety sausage to guide the boat to us. A quick pick up by the dive boat served to remind us that you never know when you may need all of your safety equipment!
Naigani is a small, picturesque island of 540 acres (90 hectares), about ten kilometres off the north east coast of the big island of Viti Levu. Fijians have been living on Naigani for three thousand years so it is rich in local culture. Like most islands in Fiji, it is quite mountainous, with enough level ground for one village and a resort on opposite sides of the island. The village children go to school in Suva and come home once a month. They had to go back early this year because they missed five days of school during the coup! Since the coup, tourism in Fiji has been very quiet. We were some of the first overseas visitors to Naigani for several months.
The island is surrounded by beautiful beaches and extensive reef systems. There are several interesting places to visit. The resort is located on Natokalau Bay and it is a short boat ride around the point to Canabuli Bay, which is used for picnics and snorkelling. Energetic folk can climb up to the old Wailevu Fort, which was built by the villagers in the early 1800’s on the highest point above Canabuli Bay. There is also a Cannibal Cave just around the point from Sova (Sacred) Bay.
Canabuli Bay is named after a mythical visitor who landed there to repair the mast and white cowrie shells (buli) on the front of his canoe. We visited this lovely beach several times during our stay. We had morning tea there as a surface interval between dives and got to know it well. While snorkelors from the resort paddled around in the burning sun, we sat in the shade in T-shirts, caps, sunglasses, polypropylene suits rolled down and dive boots! We fair-skinned Queensland divers have a healthy respect for those ultra-violet and infrared rays! I used a new 4-hour water resistant 30 Plus sunscreen which has a consistency like glue and does not come off! However, there was some bright pink skin in evidence at the other dinner tables in the restaurant at night.
Naigani Island Resort
The resort itself was built on the old coconut plantation in the 1980’s as a time-share resort with modular structured bures. There are large, safe kayaks and surf skis for a little paddling exercise. A polypropylene suit and dive boots are perfect attire for handling these craft. There is also a ‘Nine Hole Barefoot Golf Course’ where Neil’s golf ball got stuck in a coconut tree. There is no jetty, so leaping ashore is the start of a “get away from it all” holiday. In fact a jetty would be an eyesore and would spoil the natural beauty of the island.
Riley’s Restaurant/Bar is the restored homestead of the original white settler on the island. Mr. Riley was a colourful Irishman who helped the local chief to defeat his enemy in battle. The restaurant is decorated with historical photographs, replica Fijian artefacts including efficient looking clubs, and four-pronged forks for the ritual eating of enemies. However, the hardware on display did not put us off our food! All of our meals were delicious. The service was excellent, with a plentiful supply of New Zealand and Australian wine. Jone, the bar tender, was very quick to learn our habits! We enjoyed crab, mussels, fish, pork and chicken with taro and coconut. Our favourite entree was Kakoda (pronounced “kakonda”), which is chillied raw fish in coconut milk, served in an open coconut.
A magnificent Lovo Dinner was held at the pool on New Year’s Eve where the energetic crowd danced the night away with the local musicians. One of their favourite Aussie songs was “You’ll come a’kava drinkin' with me”! On New Year’s Day we were taken by boat to Canabuli Bay for a swim and a barbecue lunch.
There are many activities for non-divers on the island. Jenny took a break from diving and went with my wife on a day trip to the nearby historic island of Ovalau where they visited the town of Levuka, which was the original capital of Fiji. They did a little shopping and brought back a sulu for me to wear, and some good Australian Chardonnay for our pre-dinner drinks at Neil and Jenny’s bure. The sulu kept falling off until Tooman showed us how to tie them correctly!
About 20 people from the village are employed at the resort. My wife went on a walk to the village to meet their families. She also went to the village church for the New Years Eve service. There are several cultural walks on the island including the spring water pond at Natokalau Bay, the old Wailevu Fort, Cannibal Cave, and Sova Bay. The Naigani Island Resort has a very informative web site at www.naigani.com.