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Diving Fiji from Wananavu Beach Resort

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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.

We only saw the unicorn fish on a few dives

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 with angel fish, there was an array of butterfly fish such as this Saddleback Butterfly

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.”

Clown fish in anemones were so plentiful that it was difficult to choose a favorite

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.

Beautiful Regal Anglefish were seen on almost every dive

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.

Blue star fish were a feature in snorkeling off Wananavu Beach Resort

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.

 

Charlie Hudson is the author of Deadly Doubloons, Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the US, and other dive-themed novels and non-fiction. She and her husband, Hugh, are both retired Army and live in South Florida where they pursue their “fun” second careers. You can see all of Charlie’s work and access her blog at http://charliehudson.net

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Scotland Underwater

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The first in a series of blogs about Scotland Underwater from Ross Mclaren…

Here in Scotland our driech and dreary weather is world famous. But actually, the copious amount of rain that we often moan about, is responsible for a cacophony of colours across our beautiful country.

The one place that might not always be as renowned for being vibrant and colourful is our seas and lochs.

As always there’s exceptions. Our beaches on the north west coast are covered in golden white sand and with turquoise water that might be mistaken for the Maldives… albeit a wee bit nippier… and we’ve even got a few wee lochs (called Lochans) with some pretty green shades to them, but for a good percentage of our coast and lochs, it’s a steely grey mass that greet us.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Scotland’s underwater world mirrors the water it lies beneath. Now, I’m not going to pretend you’re going to be met with a rainbow of colours found somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef, but actually the vibrancy found under the waves definitely took me by surprise.

Disclaimer! I’m no expert in marine biology or underwater photography! I’m pretty much a guy with “all the gear and no idea!” I started out with a wee GoPro and built my camera “rig” up to something that’s now resembling an octopus. But, I’ll be completely honest, I have no real clue what I’m doing in terms of settings, etc. It gets put on “Auto”, I turn the lights on, try not to disturb the marine life and press the button hoping for the best. Quite simply, I’ve fallen in love with our underwater world and do my best to try do it some justice through my photos.

One of the most beautiful marine species I find photographing, and to be honest probably one of the easiest, is the anemones. We have such an abundance of these from deadmens fingers, to firework anemones, and the colours that can be found are just breathtaking. The patterns and shapes they make as they glint in the light of the torches and with the movement of the water is magical.

They might not be the most exciting sea creatures but the humble crab is also a fantastic specimen to capture, and again we have a wide variety. I’m not quite sure what it is but you can almost see/feel the attitude oozing out of them when you catch them in the beam of the lights.

I say this to almost anyone who’ll listen, but I always said I would absolutely love to get sweeping wide angle photo of a wreck. Those are by far my favourite photos to look at. Seeing these hulking feats of human engineering being reclaimed by nature and appreciating the scale of them in one scene is awe-inspiring. Sadly in Scotland with our visibility (well certainly in the areas I frequently dive) it’s not really possible and when it is, it really doesn’t do it justice. However on the flip side Macro photography here is definitely rewarding!

Last summer I had one “photographic goal”… get a nudi! I was desperate to capture a wee sea slug, but no matter how hard I looked I could only find one all year and when I did my GoPro just didn’t do it justice. This year though, well it seems to be a completely different story! Every dive we seem to come across at least one… it also helps when you’ve an eagle eyed dive buddy! With the new camera and macro lens the quality in photos has improved as well. It’s not just the number we’ve seen but the variety we’ve spotted as well! There are so many different kinds, different colours and shapes. It can be a wee bit frustrating trying to hold myself still in the water and getting the camera to focus in on this tiny wee creature, but it’s so worth it!

The dogfish/catshark isn’t particularly uncommon in the UK and it’s no different up here in Scotland, if you know where and when to look. They are absolutely stunning to photograph and, although not overly colourful, the texture of their “skin” and their eyes is absolutely incredible.

Now cucumbers are most definitely not my favourite vegetable… but sea cucumbers… those I do love! I genuinely can’t get over how cool they look. They remind me of wee trees and I’m totally mesmerised watching them bring the food to their mouths with their tentacles.

Jellyfish! The scourge of beach goers everywhere! The dread of someone shouting “JELLYFISH” and hoping beyond hope you aren’t caught in a tentacle brings back childhood memories. So until I started diving the “evil” jellyfish was much feared. However, since I started exploring the underwater world and seeing them in all their glory, I have come to appreciate jellyfish for they unbelievable beauty and grace. I love watching them float past (from a distance!) and seeing the shapes they take in the water. They are so full of grace!

Even the most dived sites can throw up a wee surprise every now and again. We’d headed to one our usual haunts with the main goal of logging a couple of deeper dives just to build up to Scapa later in the year. We descended down to around 38m where we planned to swim along for a wee bit before ascending again. There were a few rocks, but generally not much life but I took the camera anyway, you know, just in case.

Now these guys aren’t completely uncommon here on the west coast, but they’re mainly found at night and until now I’d never spied one, let alone photographed one! Bobtail Squid/Little Cuttlefish! I’m not going to lie, I was so excited! I actually thought I was slightly narked as it appeared out of the sand. This wee fella was so cool! The colours were absolutely breathtaking and getting the opportunity to photograph them was just amazing.

Scotland isn’t the diving capital of the world; we’re not going to suddenly become a top dive destination on many diver’s bucket lists. BUT we do have some incredible marine life, with such unbelievable colours! Although it’s not the easiest diving you’ll ever do, when you do get that moment it makes it feel all the more special.


For more from Ross, follow him on Instagram @underwater.ross and on Twitter @outdoorsross.

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A Red Sea Scuba Scene (Part 2 of 2)

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The first two days of diving were amazing – I think you’ll agree after reading Part 1 of the blog HERE. We left the Brothers Islands setting sail for Daedalus – the southernmost point of our itinerary around 275km southeast of Hurghada. Conditions were perfect for our crossing and continued throughout our day at Daedalus for three dives. I was so excited for this site as it was the highlight on my previous trip and I’d also had word it was the hot spot for oceanic whitetips the last couple of months.

A feeding hawksbill turtle pays no attention to the divers on Daedalus.

We moored up by the lighthouse at the southern point of the island and was thankful to see there weren’t as many boats as at the Brothers. Our first dive was a rib dive to the North Point to drift out in the blue at around 25 metres+ in the hope of seeing scalloped hammerheads. I wasn’t expecting the same action as my previous trip with schools of around 20 hammerheads due to difference in the time of year and sure enough the action didn’t hit as big. We spotted a couple of lone hammerheads between the group deeper than 40 metres. After spending half the dive in the blue we came back to the stunning East wall with its amazing soft coral and small fish life. Towards the end of the dive we had an incredible encounter with a feeding hawksbill turtle that was completely comfortable with our presence as it fed on the soft coral. It’s always a pleasure seeing turtles.

Oceanic whitetip shark swimming under the sun at Daedalus.

Although we were on the rib once the dive was finished, the action wasn’t over. As we neared Scuba Scene we saw some commotion with other ribs in front stopping and looking in the water. Initially the rib skipper said it was a whale shark but as we neared we saw the unmistakeable dorsal fin of an oceanic whitetip shark break the surface. In fact, there were two of them and they were really excited. I lent over the side with my camera and got my best photos of them as one came to investigate bumping into the camera. This is what I love; this is what gets me excited and sure enough for the next two dives I decided to stay under our boat at around 5 metres for most of the dives. There were three in total around Daedalus and I had some incredible close-up encounters with them. This is what I was here for and I was so happy after our day at Daedalus with the oceanics.

Although the conditions at Daedalus were like glass, the weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the next two days and the decision was made to journey back north to Elphinstone instead of staying for another day at Daedalus. I was a little disappointed as it would mean missing out on some more great shark action. However, I missed out on Elphinstone on my last trip due to bad weather and was happy to get the chance to dive there finally.

Lionfish swimming amongst the stunning reef of South Plateau, Elphinstone.

Sure enough the winds picked up during the night and it was a lot more choppy when moored up at Elphinstone. With Scuba Scene’s size, it was very capable of dealing with rougher seas and we planned for a full day there. We had two morning dives before deciding to head inland as conditions worsened. My dive buddy and I stuck with the South Plateau for the two dives and both were stunning. The life on the plateau was amazing as lionfish were in abundance and while photographing them I got surprised by my very first torpedo ray. It was only a juvenile and what a cutie it was as it swam over my dome and turned just before it hit me and swam away. Two friendly hawksbills were again a highlight as they didn’t care for the divers exploring the plateau. While ANOTHER oceanic whitetip really made our trip to Elphinstone in bad weather worthwhile. FIVE different oceanics on the trip; I was happy to just get one but buzzing with the action at three different sites.

Colourful pyjama nudibranch on a night dive at Abu Dabab 3.

It wasn’t all bad leaving Elphinstone early as we managed to get an extra dive in with a night dive at Abu Dabab 3 after an afternoon dive there also. The afternoon dive was a highlight of the trip for me as I got to experience something different with a “cave” dive of sorts. My dive buddy sat the dive out but guide Adma Rashed was eager to get in as he loved exploring the caves. I was soon following him exploring a shallow cave system through the reef. As it happens, this was his first time exploring the whole way through the system and he was so happy after the dive. I’m no cave diver and have no interest in deep cave exploration but this was really fun and different to everything else on the trip. I’d certainly like to do more of this relaxed type of cave diving.

One of the many moray eels at Small Giftun Island.

The rest of the trip for the Thursday and half a day on the Friday was Red Sea reef heaven again. A night dive at Mangrove Bay provided a couple of cuttlefish (I love cuttlefish) and also my first time seeing a Spanish Dancer underwater. Although we tried the seagrass at Marsa Shona and saw a green sea turtle from the surface, we couldn’t find any underwater and soon left to explore the reef – an amazing reef full of blue spotted ribbontail rays to enjoy. We finished with two dives at the Police Station dive site around Small Giftun Island. The gorgonian fan corals were a beautiful sight but the highlight of diving here were the huge moray eels and, in particular, one huge free swimming moray that swam next to me for a brief period right at the end of my last dive.

WHAT A WEEK OF DIVING!!!! Thank you Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving.

Exploring a shallow cave system at Abu Dabab 3 was a real highlight.


Sean Chinn travelled as a guest of Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving. Scuba Scene is available to book exclusively through Oyster Diving. Please contact info@oysterdiving.com or call 0808 253 3370 to find out more or reserve your space!

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