The mere mention of Fiji brings to mind beauty above and below water – tropical islands scented with fragrant blossoms and the sound of rustling palm fronds. Divers have seen photographs and video, heard stories from friends of spectacular soft corals and brilliantly colored fish. As with most divers, Fiji was high on our “must-dive list”. It is a long trip however, that carries you across the International Date Line. Under most circumstances we would have opted for a liveaboard in order to maximize diving and then spent a few days on land. In this particular case though, we could not extend our trip and therefore elected to do a land-based resort. We took the recommendation for Wananavu Beach Resort and found it to be an utterly delightful experience.
If one wishes to discuss practical matters first, Wananavu is located on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, approximately 2.5 hours drive north from the Nadi airport. The distance allows you to see the small villages and much of the varied terrain as you drive slowly behind trailers bearing sugarcane or perhaps stop to allow livestock to be herded across the two-lane road. It became apparent that the idea of getting a car and exploring the countryside on our own in that part of the island would require both a four-wheel drive vehicle and a definite sense of adventure. The resort has a number of excursions that guests can take to local sites. We were not able to avail ourselves because of the timing of the dives, but if you have non-divers along or a “down day”, that would be the chance to check out the famous “Cannibal King’s” village.
As for the diving, managers Chris and Victoria Liles operate the in-house Dive Wananavu, a fully functioning dive operation with rental equipment, nitrox, and PADI instruction available. The gear storage area by the lagoon is nicely arranged and it is only steps to the boat dock and the two custom-built dive boats, Nami (Japanese for Wave) and the smaller Nami Lailai. Chris and Victoria’s goal is a simple one and that is, “To provide a land-based operation, with the feel of a liveaboard.”
From the moment you turn your gear over to one of the dive staff, you know you are in the hands of people who want to share their passion for diving. While the boats are rated for 18 and 8 people respectively, they try to keep them at a maximum of 16 divers (more commonly 14 though) and 6 divers respectively. The boats can make the run to the Vatu-I-Ra passage in approximately an hour and there are numerous other sites closer to the resort. As you plunge into the water of whichever site is selected, you quickly understand why this area is referred to as “the soft coral capital of the world”. On one particular site, “Wheatfield”, the mass of golden-colored coral swaying does indeed look like its namesake. There were so many clownfish of all sizes darting in and out that it was not possible to count them all. And as popular as little “Nemos” are, the spectacular colors of the angel and butterfly fish catch your eye with each vivid flash that passes you. Not that my husband, the photographer, didn’t appreciate them, but he was busy capturing pipe fish as often as he could and beautiful nudibranchs. Black-tip and white-tip sharks tended not to linger once we entered the water, usually gliding away within a few minutes.
Aside from seeing banner fish, unicorn fish, and a wide variety of angel and butterfly fish, there were many species that we never did identify nor capture in photo. One was particularly intriguing and another diver told us that we’d seen a dart fish as we described the peculiar shape. In addition to fabulous marine life and underwater topography, most of the sites were simple to navigate as they were pinnacles in one shape or the other and visibility ranged from 70-100+ feet. The pinnacles allowed for multi-level diving with plenty to see during the safety stop. Current was mild to moderate, only strong on the first day at one site.
We had both been keeping a very hectic schedule for months and made the decision to dive each morning and snorkel in the afternoon after a leisurely al fresco or beachside lunch. Shore diving is also available although the visibility at the resort itself is only approximately 20-25 feet. Despite that, there are lovely blue starfish and other marine life as well as easy access for getting in and out of the water. Snorkeling happened to work better for us even though several guests enjoyed the shore diving (Okay, the snorkeling part may have had to do with the leisurely lunch including cold beer).
As wonderful as the diving is, the resort is designed for relaxation and was exactly the kind of place that we needed. There are no telephones or televisions in the rooms and the internet is extremely limited. The idea of coming to Wananavu is to unplug and unwind.
The buildings are arranged in a tiered fashion with the lobby, gift shop, restaurant and bar at the top of the property to give a panoramic view across the water. The pool, complete with man-made waterfall, is the next level down with a path that winds to the far side to take you to the small spa area. When you book a bure (room), you can opt for garden, partial ocean view, or beachside. Native hardwoods are used throughout and with a small balcony off our partial ocean view room, we would sit at night and watch glittering stars as we listened to the slap of waves against the sand below us. The beach sand is groomed daily and the sunrises and sunsets are lovely. The birdlife is plentiful among the familiar tropical offerings of hibiscus, bougainvillea, and other flowering shrubs that I wasn’t familiar with.
It does take a few strolls along the foliaged-lined paths to become properly oriented and at the very lowest level to the left is the lagoon with the dive shop, boats, another beach area, and beach café that is open for part of the day. There was in fact, a black seahorse that had been resident in the lagoon for a while, but it had disappeared a day or two before we arrived.
Fijians are known for their hospitality and warmth and that was reflected among the entire staff. The food plan at the resort includes a large continental breakfast as well as cook to order if you wish. The two course lunch menu provides sandwiches, soups, entrees and desserts and it is expanded to three courses for dinner. Alcoholic beverages are an additional cost and there is a full bar service. There is a buffet every few nights and one night is usually devoted to a “Fijian Lovo” which features traditional cooking and later a “Meke” – story-telling through dance. A local trio provides music each afternoon and evening though and the “kava bowl” is available if you wish to try this regional beverage made from the roots of the kava plants. I confess that we did not choose to partake, although we most assuredly enjoyed the local beer, rum, and of course Australian and New Zealand wines.
If you plan to attend DEMA in Orlando in November 2013, you can stop by the Dive Wananavu booth and meet the Liles in person. Or you can log onto http://www.DiveWananavuFiji.com and access their Facebook Page at http://www.Facebook.com/DiveWananavuFiji.com for more information and blog posts.
Wining and Diving – California
The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.
**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.
California has over 1000 miles of coastline to explore and it also has over 1000 wineries so it is a perfect destination for Wining and Diving! It has always been a dream of ours to tour this rugged coast that makes for an epic road trip. Our trip, done over two separate visits, would take us from Fort Bragg in the north to San Diego in the south, along over 700 miles of one of the best coastal roads in the world. We flew into San Francisco, picked up a convertible Mustang, stuffed our diving and camera gear into every available space and headed north to start the wine tasting part of this trip.
Our first stop was to a vineyard whose wine we knew and loved already – Joseph Swan located in the Russian River Valley. They make a Zinfandel that could make you weep and so we wanted to visit the taste more of their wines that do not make it to the UK market. The drive through Russian River was worth the trip alone, with giant redwoods lining the winding road, sun shining, roof down, it was perfect. We also dropped into what must be one of the most eco-friendly vineyards in the world, Inman Family Wines. Organic and solar-powered, sustainability is key. Their Endless Crush Rose is a delight for a warm day on the terrace.
Whilst the sun was shining, the wind was also blowing and so our thoughts of diving in the north were put on hold. Instead, we visited glass beach in Fort Bragg, where over many years, glass tipped onto the beach has worn down to make smooth, multi-coloured, pebbles. A beautiful site, made from what was once rubbish dumped on the beach.
Further south, in Monterey, we reached the crossover point for our trip, as we moved away from wine tasting and into diving. We had one more vineyard we wanted to visit, again one we knew from drinking with friends in our back garden, Wrath Wines. They have tasting rooms in the delightful town of Carmel just a short drive from where we would be diving the next day. They wines are rich, full of flavour and their Pinot Noir is the best we have ever sampled.
Diving the Pacific Ocean in California has always been a dream, and so we had spent many happy hours on the internet researching the best dives and we made a list of the dives we wanted to fit in. Our first was Point Lobos in Carmel by the Sea. We were welcomed to this picturesque bay by a couple of Sea Otters floating on the surface, seemingly sunbathing. Our guide, Phil, had warned us that while the sea was flat calm, the winds had made visibility less than perfect. “You should have been here last week” he said, “when we had 20 feeding Humpback Whales by the boat at the end of the dive!” Our dive saw us swim through the giant kelp, explore anemone-covered boulders and be followed by a mischievous harbor seal. It was a pretty good start.
Heading further south we stopped in Ventura to do a day trip to Anacapa Island. A rugged volcanic island a couple of hours offshore. On the boat ride over to the island we saw whales, orcas and dolphins, as we skimmed across a flat calm ocean. On the dive we marvelled at the life covering every inch of the seabed and loved the bright orange Garibaldi fish who would face up to the camera as you approached.
We continued down to Long Beach, near Los Angeles, where we dived under a working oil rig, covered in marine life. We were joined by a playful young sea lion who zoomed around the small group of divers for over an hour. We also headed out to Catalina Island to dive the kelp forest and to look for the huge Black Sea Bass that the area is famous for. Diving in Giant Kelp is a wonderful experience akin to walking through a rain forest, the fronds towering above you and block out most of the sunlight in the denser patches, and letting dramatic cathedral light through making for a very atmospheric dive.
Our final stop was near San Diego, in the beautiful town of La Jolla. The coast here is home to a colony of sea lions that seem perfectly at ease sharing their home with locals and visitor alike. You can snorkel and dive here and we did both to enjoy these enigmatic creatures from both the surface and at depth. We also snorkeled with Leopard Sharks and turtles.
California offers the traveller so much. The coastal road is stunning, with forests lining one side and the vast ocean stretching out to the horizon on the other. The cities are vibrant with excellent nightlife; great food, drink and entertainment. The vineyards have some of the finest wines anywhere in the world and the diving offers some of the very best cold-water experiences we have had. Is there anything better than Wining and Diving in California?
- For more information about Frogfish Photography click here.
- For information about visiting California click here.
Diving holidays in The Maldives
We are delighted to welcome Ruth Franklin of Secret Paradise Maldives as a Guest Blogger. Over the coming weeks she will be sharing her personal, expert knowledge of this leading dive destination…
Life beneath the surface in the Maldives is an underwater Disneyland, perfect for dive enthusiasts. The Maldives is renowned as being one of the very best diving holiday locations in the world. There’s not only an abundance of reef life here but also spectacular coloured coral and crystal clear water.
WHY CHOOSE THE MALDIVES FOR YOUR DIVING HOLIDAY?
The Maldives ticks all of the boxes when it comes to diving holidays. This tropical location boasts visibility levels of up to 40 metres, making it a great destination for advanced divers. However diving holidays in the Maldives are not just for the experienced. The shallow lagoons and channels make it the perfect location to try SCUBA diving for the very first time. Plus what better destination in the world is there to gain your SCUBA diving certifications?
The Maldives is also home to a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The presence of currents in this island nation means that open water channels are perfect for drift diving and it’s also possible to swim with gentle ocean giants like manta rays and whale sharks. Don’t forget the Maldives has year round water temperatures of 26 – 29 degrees Celsius meaning you can leave your dry suit at home!
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR FOR DIVING IN THE MALDIVES?
Fortunately, the diving season in the Maldives is open all year round with the calmest conditions from December through to June. As the Maldives is located in the tropics, it is susceptible to both wet and dry seasons. June to November is the south-west monsoon season, bringing with it with overcast and wet conditions, especially in June and July. During these months expect slightly less visibility and different currents, although there is still plenty of marine life on offer, as well as sunny spells. Generally reef life is more varied and visibility is better on the western side of any atoll from May to November and on the eastern side from December to April. Reef sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads and whale sharks are found in the Maldives year round, along with manta rays and sea turtles, you just need to know where to head at the time of year you plan to dive!
MALDIVES DIVING HOLIDAY OPTIONS
There are a number of diving holiday options when it comes to Maldives. Here at Secret Paradise, we offer value for money diving holidays and tours that you will remember for a lifetime. Enjoy an all-inclusive guesthouse stay and be transferred by boat to incredible nearby dive sites, the same sites that you would dive from a resort but at half the cost! Our diving holidays are an affordable alternative to a resort stay and also allow you the flexibility of island hopping or if your budget is larger, atoll hopping to benefit from the best dive locations during your time of travel.
Liveaboards are a popular dive holiday option, allowing you to scour the waters for the ultimate dive spot each day. These days most liveaboards operate a year round schedule offering 7 night, 10 night and 14 night cruises, not only in the central atolls but to the deep south and deep north offering opportunities to discover less dived sites and pristine coral reefs.
OUR SECRET PARADISE DIVING HOLIDAYS
Here at Secret Paradise, we offer diving holiday packages in different atolls from the deep north to the Deep South and everything in between, allowing you access to what are some of the best dive sites in the world. Our diving holiday packages include Dharavandhoo, perfect if you want to encounter 100s of manta rays in Baa Atoll, Hulhumale if you need to stay close to the capital, Fuvahmulah for tiger shark encounters, Dhigurah home of the whale shark in Ari Atoll, Rasdhoo, the ideal location to spot a hammerhead and Gan in Laamu atoll, to mention just a few of our personal favourite dive locations.
Our island hopping itineraries in Male Atoll and Ari Atoll allow you to discover a range of dive sites and marine life whilst at the same time experiencing Maldives local life, tradition and culture, with or without a private dive guide.
All our dive partners are PADI affiliated dive centres and are operated by both local and European dive professionals. A personal interest is taken in promoting scuba diving in the Maldives, through education and awareness about the underwater environment here. Their objective is to encourage underwater conservation and safe diving practices.
Dives are generally conducted from the beach within an island’s inner reef for beginners or from a local dive boat, called a ‘dhoni’, for certified divers. Dive sites are chosen daily based on both the weather and current conditions as well as diver ability.
The dive teams will take you to the best dive spots and willingly introduce you to the characteristics of the underwater world of the Maldives. All offer boat dives, NITROX, night dives and a full range of PADI courses and will always ensure you get the best out of your dive. If you are learning to dive, you can do anything from completing a try dive or just the open water dive section of your PADI Open Water certification to completing the full PADI Open Water certification and more. Whatever you choose to do you can be assured of fun and safe diving with us and our partners.
Discover more of The Maldives with www.secretparadise.mv
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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue. With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after.
Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life. The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.
£1475 per person based on double occupancy. Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available. Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp. Flights and transfers are included. See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.
This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place. Come Dive with Us!
Call 020 3515 9955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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