With a population of around 900,000, the stunning tropical islands of Fiji (all 332 of them) are home to the most friendly people on Earth, and some of the best diving as well! With winter on the way in New Zealand, and daily temperatures in Fiji ranging from 25 to 33 degrees, I knew where I'd rather be. Packing my dive bags, I headed for the main island of Viti Levu, Fiji, to dive with sharks and check out the soft coral capital of the world!
A short flight from New Zealand, or a rather long one from anywhere else, Fiji is a diver's dream. With visibility between 20m and 60m, 24 to 28 degree water and an endless list of dive sites, it can be tricky to choose just one area to base yourself. With the hopes of photographing big sharks and soft corals, Waidroka Bay Surf & Dive Resort ticked all the boxes for me. The resort is tucked away in a lush, tropical rainforest and is a gateway to a surfing and diving paradise. First established in 1994 as a dive lodge, it is now an eco-friendly, boutique resort that specialises in surf and dive adventures. With a fleet of 5 boats, a knowledgeable crew of local Fijian captains and my 2 experienced dive guides, I knew I'd be in for a great week of diving!
I was in Fiji to shoot soft coral and shark images, so the plan was to get in as much diving as time would allow. This meant double dives most days, and even a few triple dives. What a dream, a week of non-stop diving!
Unlike many resorts, the dive centre is conveniently located on its grounds. With boats leaving from the front yard, there are no transfers and no meeting points. You just get up in the morning, have breakfast (banana pancakes, obviously) walk the 10 meters to the dock, load the gear and head out diving. The centre is well set up with a dry room to securely store your gear, a compressor for filling tanks, tonnes of weights (excuse the pun) and a whole range of dive gear available to rent if you decide to 'travel light'.
The ideal location of Waidroka means you spend more time diving and less time on a boat. Most sites are just 10 minutes away, whilst the furthest is a mere 45 minutes, however, with dolphins, whales, turtles, seabirds and warm sunshine, plus the anticipation of an awesome dive, most of the boat rides feel like a few minutes. Once there, just tie up to the mooring buoys which were set up to protect the coral and maximise your in-water time. With sites like Beqa Lagoon, Ponti’s Playground and the Aquarium (aptly named because it's like diving in an aquarium) there are enough sites to keep even the most experienced divers happy, whether you're just doing a Try Dive, interested in sharks, wreck diving, deep diving, drifts or just want to go exploring, there's a site for everyone...
Under the water
The toasty 28 degree water was incredibly relaxing, and every time I sank below the surface it felt like I was diving in a bath, wearing just my boardie's, a Flexa Thermo top and 1.5mm 2nd Skin Shorty on overcast days, most dives were around the hour mark. The great thing about Fiji is you don't need to dive deep (but if you want to you can) sticking to our ND limits, the majority of the dives were done in the 10m to 30m range where there was plenty to keep us occupied, with heaps of time for lunch, changing batteries, and warming up during long surface intervals, this was some of the most relaxing diving I've ever done. Two to three dives a day felt effortless and I never even got cold, although a 3mm or 5mm is generally recommended, The Mares reef suit would be perfect for this diving.
As mentioned earlier, Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the world, and it certainly did not disappoint. Huge gorgonian fans were abundant on the majority of dives. One dive in particular is called Fantasea because apparently there are lots of “fans ta see" (good one Matt…). Well, I can confirm, Fantasea certainly lived up to expectations, there were plenty of 'fans ta see'. As we swum through beautiful arches, explored caves and circumnavigated pinnacles, it really felt like we were the first people to dive here, undersea explorers, with not a single other dive boat around, it was like we were exploring new territory, not a feeling you get very often anymore.
Amongst the beautiful corals and huge fans there were also tons of “fish ta sea”, pelagic species like tuna, barracuda and spanish mackerel were a common sight on the drop offs and during our safety stops, the diverse fish species that accompanied us during the dives was just mind blowing. I saw a new species on every dive. We even had stunning spotted eagle rays join us on a dive. If you're lucky, leopard sharks can sometimes be spotted too.
Diving the Wreck
During my Fijian adventure, one of my requests was to dive the Tasu II wreck. The story goes, that the 200 ton Taiwanese fishing vessel was caught fishing illegally in Fijian waters. After fining the crew, the vessel was confiscated, the poachers were sent back to Taiwan and the ship was sunk in the sheltered location where it still lies upright today.
Located in the crystal clear waters off the Yanuca Islands, the ship was sunk in 25 meters of water on the sand, and over the years has become an artificial reef, home to an incredible array of life. Some of the main attractions are its resident pipefish, soft and hard corals, tiny popcorn shrimp and garden eels. At no deeper than 25 meters, there is plenty of time to explore the whole ship. Do note, however, that as this vessel was not sunk specifically for diving, you are not permitted to enter the vessel. There are wires, cables and exposed bits of steel. This shouldn't be a problem though, as there is plenty to see and explore outside the ship.
Shark diving in Fiji is some of the best in the world, and as well as the incredible soft coral, is what it's famous for. The sharks in Fiji were so epic I have decided to dedicate another blog to this topic, so check back shortly for Part 2!
Overall, my Fijian diving experience was one I will never ever forget! Having dived all over the Pacific, I can honestly say this was some of the best diving of my life. I would like to say a huge thanks to Waidroka Bay Resort, my dive guides Matt and Em, and our fantastic skippers for an incredible week's worth of diving. Whether you just want to experience scuba diving, get your heart beating with a shark dive or explore the fantastic reefs of Beqa Lagoon, be sure to get in touch with the team at Waidroka, you wont be disappointed!
Dan's Top Tips for Diving in Fiji
Book a shark dive: This is a must , and I'm not saying this because I love diving with sharks. Even if you are dead scared of them, this dive will change your opinion forever. Yes, they are huge, yes, they have teeth, but they are the most graceful creatures you will ever see under the water. There's nothing more amazing that coming face-to-face with the most misunderstood creatures in the sea. Don't overthink it, just do it!
Take your dive computer: With multiple dives over multiple days, it's important to stick with your dive profiles and ND limits. I use the Smart
Mask and snorkel
: I always take my own mask and snorkel. No matter how good the dive centre's rental equipment is I know my mask fits and trust that it doesn't leak. Nothing ruins your holiday more than a leaky, foggy mask !
Take a torch: At depth you lose colour, the first to go is red, leaving you with a blue green tinge. The gorgeous fans look brown, shine a bit of light and you'd be surprised at the amount of colour you're missing out on. The EOS 10RW
is a great, light, travel option with a powerful beam.
Take a drybag: Most dive boats get relatively wet. I take my dry bag everywhere I go. I put spare batteries, a towel, a t-shirt and anything else you could possibly need. I use the Mares XR dry Backpack
is a must on a dive holiday, make sure it covers what you plan to do!
Enjoy the dives: If you're like me, it's not often that you get to enjoy stress-free diving in bath temperature water. Enjoy the dive, try not to race around the place trying to see everything. Diving's not about covering distance. Relax, go with the flow and see what you can...you can always come back another day! ;)
Vinaka , Happy Diving !!
Images and text by Dan Westerkamp
Want to join me on the adventure of a lifetime? I specialise in personalised underwater photography expeditions throughout the South Pacific. Join me in search of Sharks, Humpback whales, new dive sites and so much more.
Get in touch for details !!
12th October 2020