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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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Into the Blue

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After a quiet year of no designated dive trips, September saw me return to the Red Sea thanks to The Scuba Place. M/Y Big Blue was my accommodation for the week and Northern Wrecks and Reefs was the itinerary. This was a big change for me, as I’d normally choose a Southern itinerary in search of sharks. Apart from a trip to Sharm El Sheikh back in 2013, while still a novice diver, I hadn’t been to the north and certainly hadn’t dived any of the major wrecks the Northern itinerary is famous for. It was a welcome change to try a different style of diving to what I was used to and YES!! It didn’t disappoint!! 

Big Blue’s spacious dive deck provides ample room and caters for max 24 divers.

The Scuba Place are the exclusive UK travel agent for the liveaboard Big Blue. With Big Blue being directly connected to Roots Red Sea, they can provide bespoke trips combining the two. I was also lucky enough to have a surprise visit to Roots at the end of my trip, but more about that later. Big Blue is a large vessel at 40m long and 8m wide, and it provides plenty of space for guests onboard. Even at full capacity with 24 divers, the spacious dive deck provides ample room for guests to kit up and prepare to dive. With 12 cabins set over 3 decks, I was lucky to get one of the twin cabins on the sundeck. Opening my door to the beautiful sunny blue skies and blue water of the Red Sea was the wake up I needed for a special day.

The whole trip was completed with the accommodating staff who couldn’t do enough for you. The food was delicious and well prepared. A buffet style, with dinner always being my favourite, while sunset snack time before the night dive on the back of the main deck was always a treat. Drinks provided after every dive and always someone on hand to help you kit up and de-kit, it was the finishing touches to what were amazing dives. The diving was facilitated by Pharaoh Dive Club, and with Mohammed in charge everything ran efficiently and safety was paramount. An excellent initial boat and dive briefing was followed by expert leadership throughout the week. Always willing to listen to the guests’ needs and what we’d like to do. Doing what they could to make it work, while keeping safety in mind. Last thing you want is a rigid schedule leaving room for disappointment. An extremely impressive week onboard and here’s how the diving went…

A Hawksbill Turtle comes to greet me on the stunning Jackson Reef.

We sailed north from Hurghada and it was so refreshing to be back in the beautiful clear water of the Red Sea. The first couple of days were more reefs than wrecks, as we hit some of the famous sites the north has to offer. JackFish Alley gave me a bit of déjà vu. I remembered 9 years ago doing my navigation as part of my Advanced Open Water; it was great to be back and spend more time exploring its beauty, a coral pinnacle full of glassfish and big barracuda being cleaned providing the highlights. It was Jackson Reef that was my favourite though as a Hawksbill Turtle added to the incredible life on the reef that is typical of the Red Sea. Close encounters with blue spotted stingrays, a crocodile fish and a huge puffer in one small area make the sandy bottoms as special as the reefs. Night diving provided some fun critters with devil scorpion fish, a bumbling stonefish and numerous pyjama nudibranch keeping me occupied.

My dive buddy John explores a lathe in the tool room of the Million Hope.

While the reefs dominated the first couple of days, we did get an introduction to the wrecks on offer. Our first came on our second dive as we penetrated the Dunraven. A nice easy wreck to penetrate with a lot of life amongst it and on it. I do get why you wreck lovers get so excited getting inside and finding your way through the cracks. It is exciting and this was more evident on our second wreck of the trip – the Million Hope. Not your typical wreck on a typical northern wrecks and reef itinerary but again this shows the bespoke nature of a Big Blue liveaboard with The Scuba Place. More apparent on our visit as we were the only divers diving it. The weather has to be right due to how shallow it is with parts visible above water. This makes it a great recreational dive, and making my way into the engine room was a real treat and then back out up the stairs. A real adventure and one of my favourite wrecks of the trip.

A Blue Spotted Stingray feeds in the sand on the corner of Thomas Reef.

Before the lust for rust really started halfway through the trip we headed to the Straits of Tiran and Ras Mohammed once more for Thomas Reef and the famous Shark and Yolanda Reef. Thomas Reef was another beautiful wall full of stunning coral including huge gorgonian fan coral, while a feeding Blue Spotted Ray and another Hawksbill Turtle completed the dive on the corner of the reef. Shark and Yolanda was a lot more adventurous due to the currents, as a short fight against it and then a quick drift with it had you wondering which way it would go next. It started quite calm with a gentle cruise past Anemone City, then all hell broke loose as we hit the corner. It was certainly full of life though, with schooling jacks and snapper comfortable in the raging current as we flew past. The current took us over the reef and to the Yolanda Wreck. It was good to be back after 9 years and see that it is still a great site full of life. A brilliant start to the week and we were now on our way to the famous wrecks of the North.

Stay tuned for part 2 soon.

For more information about diving on Big Blue:

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

john@thescubaplace.co.uk

Pyjama Nudibranch taken on the first night dive of the trip at Sho’ab Mahmoud.

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Halloween Special Part 2: PADI’s top 7 wrecks to dive in Bermuda

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Just in time for Halloween, we’re back with Part 2 of our deep dive with PADI into spooky Bermuda… 

  1. The Mary Celestia

Also known as the Mary Celeste, this Civil War-era paddle steamer hit a coral reef and sank to her watery grave 1884. She’s known as one of the oldest wrecks in the area and is well-preserved considering: divers can view both her intact paddlewheel and engine, plus her bow, stern, boilers, and anchor. Resting at 55 feet below the surface, a little piece of Mary Celestia made its way above water in 2015 after a few bottles of 150-year-old wine were discovered and delivered to sommeliers for sampling in Charleston, South Carolina.

  1. The Cristóbal Colón

This enormous ship is the largest wreck in all of Bermuda. Coming in at a whopping 499 feet long, the Cristóbal Colón was a Spanish luxury liner that crashed into a coral reef off the north shore in 1936. With an abundance of marine life that’s settled in and around the wreckage strewn across 100,000 square feet of the sea floor, she’s visited by snorkelers and divers alike. Today she can be found at depths of 15 to 60 feet, but she used to peek out the surface of the water when she first sank, up until she was used for target practice in World War II.

  1. The Iristo

Only a year after the Cristóbal Colón went down, the Iristo (also known as the Aristo) followed in 1937. The captain of the Norwegian freighter is said to have been startled by the Cristóbal Colón’s wreckage, which ultimately led to the Iristo’s own untimely fate. He ordered the crew to change course but the Iristo struck a submerged reef and went down too! Her wreckage remains to this day with engine, boilers, and propeller visible amongst spectacular coral.

  1. The North Carolina

Looking for an extra spooky dive? Check out the North Carolina’s ghostly “deadeyes” in rows along her deck railings – the uncanny sailing riggings look just like cartoon skulls. At depths between 25 and 45 feet, she makes for an eerie visit whether taking a shallow dive as a beginner or diving into the deep. Hailing from Liverpool, this 250-foot English iron hull sank on New Year’s Day in 1880 when she ran aground southwest of Bermuda. Despite attempts to raise her, she remains in the depths of the sea sitting upright with a collapsed mid-section.

  1. The Montana and the Constellation

Get a two-for-one dive in when you visit the Montana and the Constellation, uniquely stacked on top of each other to the northwest of Bermuda. The Montana wreck dates back to 1863 – the Civil War era blockade runner hit a shallow reef and down she went. The Constellation followed eighty years later in 1943 and some reports state that the Montana’s bow took her down! The American cargo ship was carrying building materials and scotch when she went down, so divers can view stacks of cement bags and glassware when they explore these shallow waters.

  1. The Hermes

Explore the outside or inside of Hermes, a freighter that experienced engine trouble and was abandoned by her crew. Built in 1943, the lonely ship was deserted until 1984 when she was acquired by the Bermuda Dive Association and turned into a sunken artificial reef. She’s known as a highly photogenic beauty with fantastic visibility. Fully intact with her mast pointing to the surface, Hermes has come a long way from desertion as one of Bermuda’s most popular dive sites.

  1. The King George

Another lonely and ghostly ship left to sink to the bottom of the sea, the King George is a large dredger that was built for the Bermuda Government. After arriving on the island in 1911, she served a few years before being towed out to sea and left to sink in 1930 when she was no longer needed for harbor operations. Fully intact and upright, divers can circle her from end to end on the quiet ocean floor.

Ready for a Spooky Dive in Bermuda?

If you want to dive into the spooky depths of Bermuda’s water, there are several different types of PADI certification to get you there.

Formal training for wreck diving is especially important for your safety as it involves special procedures, techniques, and equipment. The PADI Wreck Diver Specialty Course covers all the fundamentals and includes four scuba dives to give you practice in the open water.

Enrolling is simple: you must be at least 15 years old and have earned your PADI Adventure Diver certification or higher. PADI’s wreck dive certification covers the basics, from navigating the inside and outside of a wreck to the appropriate gear you’ll need for wreck diving. You’ll also learn how to plan and map a wreck site along with special techniques to protect the site’s integrity.

You complete your certification after four wreck dives with an instructor, and away you go! The eerie deep blue of Bermuda awaits…

Images: DIVE BERMUDA

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Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies. Price NOW from just £1195 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including: Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage 7 nights in shared cabin 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees Free Nitrox Booking deadline: Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price. Alternative departure airports available at a supplement. Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk. More Less

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