Diving with Manta Rays and waiting for Naiqoro Passage
13.11.2012 26 °C
Thursday-Thursday (Day 6-13)
Besides meeting interesting people and enjoying good food our third passion that we wanted to indulge in during this trip is scuba diving. We are by no means experienced divers and we haven’t dived in more than three years, but we always enjoy it tremendously whenever we do it. We are planning to dive in most countries that we are travelling to this time and Fiji is certainly one of them and you can’t be in Fiji without at least snorkeling – the water is pristine and the corals reefs and fish variety is quite stunning.
For passionate divers, just the name Great Astrolabe Reef elicits visions of endless coral walls, coral chimneys or racing through the Naiqoro passage in heavy currents. The Great Astrolabe Reef is the fourth largest barrier reef in the world and more then 100 kilometers long. Our destination island of Kadavu is on the Eastern edge of the reef. You can either take a ferry or a small plane to Kadavu and in order to save some time we decided to take a small 12-seater turbo prop plane where we were the only passengers together with a Polish couple. It was a beautiful, short 45-minute flight over to Kadavu with stunning views over the Viti Levu mountain range, beaches and corals reefs along the way. The landing was relatively smooth despite some cross winds but we have heard stories of scary landings during storms where the pilots had to use all their skills and maverick personalities. So if you are afraid of flying, taking the plane to Kadavu in less than perfect weather might not be the best choice for you – you might be better off taking the ferry which seems to present you with a very different set of challenges if the sea is not calm. But if you crave a vertical nosedive down the mountain range and screaming passengers just before the two pilots pull the nose up for a very bumpy landing put this flight high on your bucket list.
The airport building would not quality for a toll booth in many countries but these are the charms of remote locations – no TSA or grim looking immigration officers; you pick up your bags directly from the plane and look for anybody with a pick up truck who takes you to the boat for the transfer to the resort. Due to a communication problem the resort didn’t even know when we were arriving but that’s no problem on an island that welcomes zero to 5 guests per day during low season. The guys from our resort packed us and our luggage into the truck and without using many words took us to the small dive boat on the other side of the island.
The boat ride to the resort is just beautiful, racing along the lush green wall of the island on one side and the reef break with high waves on the other. You can’t but keep staring into the incredibly clear and pristine waters, corals just feet beneath the boat.
When you approach the resort you feel like you are in a different world, set back in time to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. We were greeted by the other guests who were having lunch on the terrace of the main bure (term for house in Fijian) and we also met Lee again, the guy we met on the plane and who told us about this resort. The name of the resort is Matava and I’d urge you to check it out if you plan a visit to Fiji anytime soon. Their website is http://matava.com. The owners are three partners, two chaps from the UK and a woman from California. They started it ten years ago and have build up quite a good reputation as an eco friendly resort. There’s no electricity on the island, everything is solar powered, they have their own organic garden and even a few beehives to produce their own honey.
Besides Lee and his girlfriend Jess there were a few other guests, a family of eight from the US who are all divers and who turned out to be some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. Also, there was a fellow called David Fleetham (www.davidfleetham.com) who is a professional underwater photographer and who was shooting photos for Diver’s Magazine in Canada. He’s been making underwater photos and videos for over 20 years and he told some incredible stories about all the countries and dive sites he’s visited over the years. He also showed us some of the incredible photos he shot. Anna and I actually went out with him on a dive on the first day after we arrived here. It was just fun to watching him under water getting within inches from the fish and corals with his 50 pound camera equipment without breaking a sweat.
Our first two dives on our second day on Kadavu were on Manta Reef and the name says it all; it’s a reef that regularly attracts pods of manta rays for feeding and as a cleaning station. But before we went on the dive boat to drive to our dive site which is about 45 away, I had to make an important phone call. Now, most of us rarely get to places where there’s no land phone or cell phone connection. Actually, you can use your cell phone here but you’d have to climb up the mountain and find this one spot on the island that gets a weak cell phone signal. If you are lucky you might be able to make a phone call that gets interrupted regularly. Luckily Matava has a satellite phone and the procedure to make a phone call looks like this: you tell one of the hotel staff, in my case Taa, to call the operator and get a free line for a phone call. So Taa and I walk to the edge of the little terrace right on the water and sit on one of the recliners because that’s the spot with the best satellite phone connection. Once Taa had phoned the operator, she called back and I could make the phone call which was to my mum because it was her birthday. I talked really, really fast in order to contain costs but mum was super happy to hear from us and talk for a couple of minutes while being on the other side of the world. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear what she was telling her birthday guests; must have been something like, “well, my son just wished me happy birthday from a remote island in Fiji and says hi to everybody”. Anyway, I believe with that call I have put some money into the emotional bank account with my mother. And it didn’t even cost me that much I have to admit; the rates even for satellite calls in Fiji are really low due to the increasing competition of phone companies in Fiji, from Telstra, to Vadafone to Digicel; all competing for the same relatively small market.
Well, after the call to my mum we left for our dive site and our dives were just terrific. Once we suited up and got into the water, just the three of us, Anna, myself and David Fleetham plus our dive master Vice, descending for the first time after 3 years felt a bit strange but we all made it down to about 20 meters (65 feet) relatively quickly. Colorful corals and hardly any current made it very easy for us and we just hung out for a while waiting for manta rays to show up. Sure enough, after about 7 minutes the first manta showed up and came so close it almost touches us, just gracefully ‘flying’ above our heads. This happened another three times and we ascended all exited and took a small tea break on the boat. This is the first time for Anna to ever see a manta and she just loved it. Our second dive was equally nice and just before we ascended back to the surface this really dark black manta cam over the coral ridge, lingering for a few minutes and seemingly just enjoying our company. It was the biggest manta I’ve ever seen and it must have been 5 meters (15 feet) from wingtip to wingtip according to our dive instructor. So, our first day of diving on the Great Astrolabe Reef couldn’t have been more exciting and “successful”.
The video below was taken by a lovely couple from Southern California who are both dive masters. They graciously let me steal one of their videos of the mantas that they shot during one of the dives - thanks so much again, Diana and David! It's a great display of a pod of Mantas being unusually playful. So, if you are a sucker for encounters with big fish and mantas in particular this is definitely the place to go since Manta Reef at Kadavu is giving you a very, very high chance of seeing not just one but whole pods of mantas every time you dive here.
The next several days were a mix of relaxing, kayaking, reading and having long discussions with our newfound friends Lee and his girlfriend Jess and some new visitors to the island. We went diving a couple more times and stayed within the reef since the weather was changing and strong winds and high waves prevented us from attempting to cross the surf break and dive on the outer reef with unpredictable weather and strong currents. Unfortunately this made it also impossible to dive the Naiqoro passage but that'll give us a reason to come back to Matava and Fiji.