By: Marjorie and Doug Brent
We're novice divers, with freshly minted "C" cards. We did all classroom and pool work at the Peninsula Diving Center, then completed our certification on a referral basis at the Cousteau Resort in Fiji. This approach to certification worked great for us. By the time we got to Fiji, we were quite well prepared with all of the dive skill and knowledge basics, and were able to complete our certification program during the first two full days at Cousteau.
It takes longet than you think. Some people go to Fiji via Hawaii, breaking the trip into two roughly equal-sized bites. We went SFO to LA to Nadi (pronounced Nandi), - the international airport on the west side of the of the largest Fijian island, Viti Levu. The popular Quantas/Air Pacific flight leaves LA at 2:00 PM, and arrives in Fiji at around 10:00 PM the next day - roughly an eleven hour flight, plus time change. Most people spend the night at an airport hotel in Nadi, then leave the next morning for their final destination. This final leg will be between 30 and 60 minutes on a twenty-seater inter island plane.
Fiji is formed from an archipelago of more than 300 islands, with two large islands representing the primary population centers. As noted above, you will lland in Nadi, on the western edge of Viti Levu. At the far eastern edge is Suva, the capital of Fiji. The other large island is located to the northwest and is call Vanua Levu.
Fiji is supposed to have seasonal weather, but from what we could read, the weather varies only slightly. It is a hot and humid tropical climate. Some areas, particularly Suva and the southern edge of Viti levu, the Coral Coast, are described as being in a rain belt. Although we experienced some typical tropical downpours while in Fiji, they lasted only briefly, and were usually a relief from the heat.
Resorts are located all over the two large islands, as well as many smaller islands.
About half of Fiji's people are native Fijian - a Polynesian/Melanesian mix, and about half are Asian Indians. Most of the people we dealt with were native Fijians, and we have read that it is typical for native Fijians to hold the front line jobs, with Fijian Indians often running the back office jobs.
Our experience with the Fijian people was wonderful and unique. Even in light of a very poor, really subsistence-level economy, Fijians are a happy people who neither resent nor revere the tourists. They will deal with you as an equal, welcome guest in their country.
Our two children, a seven and ten year old, were with us. Fijians seem to especially love kids, and had a warm and protective attitude towards them. We could see that even if the kids were out of our sight for a minute, a cook or gardener or really anyone in the vicinity would be keeping an eye out for them.
We stayed in two different hotels. We spent one week at the Cousteau resort and another week at Toberua (yes, pronounced Tomberua) resort. Cousteau is located on Vanua Levu, just a few miles from Savu Savu, the main city on the island. Toberua is located on its own small private island, about fifteen miles by boat from Nausori airport which serves Suva on Viti Levu.
Toberua was a great family place to visit, but not great for diving. We don't have our own SCUBA gear, and Toberua's rental gear was very limited. Also, the boat they used to get us out to the reef was more like a large row boat, and not one I would like to be in in heavy seas. Having said that, the reef near Toberua is beautiful and the one dive we did make was great.
Better than diving there was the snorkeling. It was also great because we could do it with the kids. We'd all hop in a boat, take a fifteen minute ride to the lagoon side of the reef, then drift with the current for an hour or so before being picked up by the boat.
Cousteau is really set up for diving. It has a dedicated dive operation with a first class dive boat, and plenty of rental gear in good condition. It has a dive master and trainer who are both who are both PADI certified instructors. You can also rent quality underwater cameras and have the film processed there. Cousteau also has a very interesting live broadcast capability. Out kids were able to watch divers live on TV and ask questions via two-way radio.
Both hotels are small - each with less than twenty bures (huts). Cousteau is a bit classier (with prices to match). Cousteau also has a beautiful fresh water pool that the kids love. Toberua, with no natural fresh water source has a salt water pool. We enjoyed both resorts very much, with one caveat - don't go to Fiji for the cuisine. The food is okay, but not the great dining experience brochures will tout. If you want great eating, go to San Francisco.
As new divers, we don't really have a reference point, but we certainly loved the diving in Fiji. We did not make it to the world famous dive sites, a couple of which were within an hour boat ride from Cousteau. Instead, we daily would take about a fifteen minute boat ride to the ocean side of the fringing reef, then dive in at one of many idfferent local sites (in nine dives, we never hit the same spot twice).
Conditions were great. The water temperature was between 82 and 85 degrees. We never even wore dive skins. Visibility at its best (and typically) was at our guess over eighty feet, although one day it may have been in the thirty to forty foot range.
There was an abundance of marine life - but mostly small. We dove in one area called shark alley where people do see reef sharks, but we didn't see any. We did see lion fish, sting rays, sea horses, sea snakes and many varieties of star fish and eels. The biggest fish we saw was a large (100 pound?) grouper who was definitely acting a bit territorial. Also while on the surface, we saw a family of porpoises.
The stunning thing about diving in Fiji was the underwater seascape. There are seemingly infinite variety of hard and soft corals. On one dive, the whole ocean floor was covered with a bed of soft coral. At first, it was almost disorienting to see the seascape undulating in the slight surge, but after a moment, it just looked magical. Some parts of the reef, including a dive site called "fingers" were almost a maze of passages, and at times you would go around a corner to a sheer drop-off, certainly many times deeper than the 100 foot visibility allowed you to see.
We saw sea fans, sea pens, nudibranchs, and corals, corals, corals. And I think we are for more!
- Bula (mboolah) means hello, goodbye, welcome and much more. Say this frequently, or even say Bula Bula.
- Vinaka means thank you, Vinaka vaka levu means thank you very much. Again, use frequently.
- Even though not big beer drinkers, a daily bottle (or more) of Fiji Bitters is highly recommended.
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