Tales from Taveuni

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Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji, was to be our first destination on this diving tour of Fiji. As we flew over the mountains of the main island, and then out to sea, over deep blue waters dotted with miles of reef, we knew we were in for a treat. Taveuni is famous for Rainbow Reef, a large reef system with some of the best coral in the world, and we had two days diving to sample it and see if it could live up to our expectations.

elsdscf6437We stayed at the Garden Island Resort, which is located immediately off the beach, with Rainbow Reef right on the doorstep, some 3 – 15 minutes boat ride away (depending on which dive site is on the cards). The hotel has 30 rooms and a dining room with a wonderful view. The food here was fantastic, with Caroline getting a “Vegetarian Surprise” each evening made from fresh veggies grown locally. On our first evening, we wondered what the noise was outside our room as early evening approached. There was a cacophony of squabbling of some kind in the trees, perhaps birds coming into roost, we thought – but we were wrong – it is a huge colony of bats! The Fiji Flying Fox is a large bat with a white patch on the back of its head and the Garden Island Resort is home to huge numbers of them. Look up into the trees, and you can see hundreds of them hanging upside down from the branches during the day, and then flying overhead while you eat dinner in the evening. It is an amazing sight. We were also treated to a silent, close fly-by from a large owl, who swooped elegantly above our table; nature thrives here.

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Our room at Garden Island Resort was a real treat. It ticked all our boxes for what makes a great room on a trip: huge glass windows overlooking the ocean, a veranda to sit and relax (and dry out gear), a really good shower and finally loads of surfaces and electric sockets for setting up and charging our underwater photography gear.

paradise-taveuni-teamOur diving was with Paradise Taveuni, who picked us up from the so-called Korean Jetty each morning. Their boat, the Taveuni Explorer, is a catamaran, which can hold 30 or so divers, with plenty of space for camera equipment and an upstairs deck for relaxing. In fact, they were running the trips just for us over these two days, and so we had the boat and crew to ourselves. Alan, who owns Paradise Taveuni, a resort and dive operation, joined us so that he could share some of his favourite dives sites with us.

All of our 5 dives would be on Rainbow Reef, and our first dive site was called Rainbow’s End. As with many great soft coral dive sites, there needs to be some current to maintain the healthy reef, and so we knew we would be drifting along with the current on this dive. Whilst this made it harder to get great images, it was worth it to see all the coral in its full glory. Purple, red, yellow, orange, & green: the colours were simply astounding. Every inch of space is taken up with hard and soft corals. As we got shallower and crossed onto the top of the reef, the current died down and we could catch our breath and have a look around. It is not only the coral that is abundant, but the fish life too. Numerous anthias surround every bommie, and schools of fish rush past, seemingly oblivious to the currents, and in the distance, a turtle was grazing. All too soon it was time to come back up to the boat, and compare what we had seen. Rainbow Reef is a dive site that lives up to its name!

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Wanting to relax and take a little more time, without the currents hurrying us along, we picked two more sedate dives to fill the rest of our day. Mid Way and Freeway are shallow sites, with sandy areas and plenty of coral to keep us happy. Walter, our dive guide, took us on a slow tour of these sites, pointing out octopus, nudibranchs and other reef inhabitants. Whilst the coastline and resorts were terribly damaged earlier in the year by Cyclone Winston, it was fantastic to see that the main reef was still completely untouched by the storm… and in great condition. Between our second and third dives, we had lunch and a cold drink and chatted away about Fiji, Taveuni and the diving in the area. Paradise Taveuni are based in the South of the island, and regularly get sharks, mantas and even pilot whales and dolphins playing around the boat. It was a great first day of diving and a perfect way to start our Fiji odyssey.

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Our second dive saw us visit the most famous dive in the area: White Wall. This is regularly voted into the top 10 lists of wall dives around the word. The reason it is so special is that wall is covered in a white (or pale blue) soft coral- “the nearest Fiji gets to snow”, our captain Maikeli joked. The dive site is reached by descending down a swim through that cuts through the wall and deposits you at 25m into the blue. Turn left, and you see it – a wall stretching deep down into the black, covered in this amazing, almost glowing soft coral. It does indeed look like it has been snowing on the white wall. We drifted along, on a mild easy going current, and watched in wonder at the beauty of this reef, but all too soon, we had to start heading shallower, away from the white coral and back to the “normal” reef. Here overhang and swim-through entrances were lined with an abundance of variously coloured soft corals and sea fans.

The Paradise Taveuni team had really gone out of their way to make sure we saw all the best dives in such a short space of time. As we were flying the next day, they picked us up at 6:30 in the morning to ensure we that could do two dives safely, giving us 24 hours no-dive time before our onward flight in the morning. Our final dive was one of our favourites, a shallow reef called Cabbage Patch. As the name suggests, the reef here is covered in cabbage coral, with huge numbers of fish swimming between the coral fronds, and schooling above the reef too. Nick spent some time becoming one with the schooling fish and was soon in amongst them taking photos. The reef was alive with activity from hunting fish to tiny nudibranchs on their slow commute. In only 10m (30ft) of water, we could have spent many happy hours here.

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Back at Garden Island Resort we had a couple of hours free before we had to start packing, so we headed to the International Date Line. The 180 degree meridian is a short (if somewhat hot in the midday sun) walk up the hill from the hotel. We headed across a rugby pitch and were soon able to jump from the present day, into yesterday! Not something you can say very often! We took some photos and headed back to pack up. We then spent a very enjoyable evening with owner, Phil, and his friend Mike, discussing diving, Fiji, politics and life, all the while with the bats bickering and flying overhead. Magic.

Our thoughts from Taveuni as we head on to the next Fiji destination are that this is an island with a wonderful reef, friendly locals, great food, lots of bats and a place that we would love to return to.

www.gardenislandresort.com

www.paradiseinfiji.com

www.fiji.travel

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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