Diving on both ends of Viti Levu, Fiji – Bligh Waters & Beqa Lagoon

I have been fortunate enough to visit Fiji twice.  The first time was on the way back from Papua New Guinea and we dove Bligh Waters on the north end of Viti Levu.  I was really impressed by the visibility of Bligh Waters!  I was afraid it would be a let down after PNG but it wasn’t at all.  Fiji is known for its colorful soft coral.  What they don’t tell you about soft coral before you get there is that soft coral requires current to open up & look so beautiful.

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It really is stunning to see the many colorful corals and sponges of Fiji.  They also have a great variety of fish and critters in Bligh Waters.  We mostly dove pinnacles in the open ocean.  These dives are best reserved for an experienced diver because of the possibility of strong currents.  That said, there is diving that is for all experience levels in Fiji.

The vista from our resort, Wananavu,  was unbelievable as you can see below.  We were treated to a nightly Kava Kava ceremony and the friendliness that Fiji is famous for.  Literally everyone was friendly and gave a “Bula” when they saw you.  That is the Fijian greeting.  You really felt welcome and appreciated.

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The topography underwater was pretty spectacular too.  There was a lot of structure and swim-thrus on some dives.  The one above was one of my favorites.  The water was so clear and blue it made for a really spectacular background for shots like the fan below.

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The colors are so fun underwater.  When you put a light or flash on it, it comes to life.  There were a lot of critters too.  The nudibranch above is such a pretty one.  They are fun to photograph because there are hundreds of varieties.

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The second time I visited Fiji for a dive trip was to the southern end of Viti Levu to dive Beqa Lagoon.  This is an easy diving area.  There are lots of pinnacles and rock outcroppings to swim around and between.  You just never know what you were going to see.  Nudibranch’s, octopus, eels, anemone fish, scorpionfish, and many others.

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I really enjoyed the anemone fish here (nemo fish).  There had been some rain before we arrived so the visibility was not nearly as good as my last trip but there were so many things to see, it was great diving.  I also experienced El Nino for the first time.  I never knew what a difference in water temperature it really made.  The water was at least 4-5 degrees cooler and when diving, that is a huge difference.  They offer a shark dive there that is pretty entertaining.  You can see up to 7 different shark species on a single dive.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any spectacular pictures because of the visibility but the memories are priceless.

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We stayed at Waidroka Resort on the south end of Viti Levu.  They offer both diving and surfing.  The staff was wonderful and had that same friendly Fijian style.  One day we went diving at Frigates Reef, one of the favorite surf sites too.  It was great!  I would say that for experience level, Beqa Lagoon is more suited to all levels, including a new diver than Bligh Waters.  I would also say that you would see so many things here, if you were a new diver, it would boggle the mind!

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It is hard to compare the two ends because the weather made the diving so different.  I really enjoyed both but the visibility and water temperature make me naturally prefer the diving in Bligh Waters on the first trip.  However, if those two things had been equal, there was a lot to see on the southern end that made it really fun.  The shark dive and the variety of fish and critters made it special.  Getting to Fiji is really pretty easy.  From LAX, it is an easy 10 hour flight on Air Pacific with great food, great service and free wine.  How can you beat that!

 

Papua New Guinea diving from the Chertan – Diving in a truly remote destination!

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It will be hard to get all that is great about Papua New Guinea, both diving and otherwise into one post.  I can’t say enough about how unique this destination is.  It is such a remote jungle location that it takes a huge effort just to get there.  We met the boat, the Chertan, in Alotau for a 9 day tour of the Milne Bay region of Papua New Guinea.  To give you some idea of where it is, it is the eastern half of the Island of New Guinea and the western half is in southern Indonesia.  It is north of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef,  just south of the equator and west of the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal from WWII) in the South Pacific.

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Because it is remote, the diving is pristine and fabulous.  It is at the meeting point of the Solomon Sea, the Coral Sea and the Pacific ocean.  There is a lot of variety to the dive sites.  They are famous for muck diving but there are a lot of pinnacles and reefs too.  There were a respectable number of sharks and rays but this is really not the big pelagic destination that some others are.  This was the first place I saw several new critters.  It was my first cuttle fish like the pair above, pygmy seahorse, ornate ghost pipefish, mandarin fish, mantis shrimp and many colorful nudibranchs.  It is the only time I have ever seen a lacy scorpion fish and the large spanish dancer nudibranch like the one below.  These nudi’s are over a foot long and I believe they are only found here!

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Because the Chertan is a liveaboard, you can dive off the boat or off the small skiff.  They will pick you up where you surface or you can dive or swim back to the big boat.  That is a wonderful way to dive!  I love liveaboards and for this type of a destination, it is the only way to go!  We made a couple of stops on land to round out the experience.  We visited one of the skull caves that are a reminder the days when there were cannibals there.  These skulls, seen below, are actually encased in the stalagtites & stalagmites of the cave.

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The natives make crafts and you can buy them when you visit.  I picked up a couple of beautiful wood carvings inlayed with mother of pearl or something similar.  I just love them and they have a very special memory attached.  We called it the Papua New Guinea mall, see above.  Another fun sight was the native kids (like the photo below) in boats that would row out each morning and sell fresh fruit to the boat.  It was indescribably good!

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There were several opportunities to snap stunning sunset or sunrise photos like the one above.  We also made a brief stop at Tawali, the resort that is a sort of sister operation to the Chertan.  We dove on the house reef to see the mandarin fish and Spanish dancers.  It is still the only photo I have successfully gotten of them mating.  Tawali is a beautiful shore-based dive resort built into the jungle but with a blending architecture that looks pretty natural.

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The diving in Papua New Guinea, while varied, it still better suited to an experienced diver.  There are a lot of dives where the current can come up suddenly or change directions suddenly.  I don’t think you need to have a zillion dives but you should have a good amount of ocean dives where there is some current to be able to adapt to the changing conditions without getting too stressed out about it.  You also need VERY GOOD buoyancy control because the muck dives are one of the special things you travelled all this way for and one careless fin kick can stir the muck and ruin the dive for everyone.

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This is another one of those bucket list destinations and not one you do every year.  Even though these types of trips are not cheap, I always feel like I have done something so special that it was worth the effort and cost involved.  I have been to quite a few places that very few people ever make it to and that is a great feeling!  I don’t want to get too old to dive and say “I wish I had done that…”  In closing, if you are looking for a remote destination to dive, this is a good one.  You can see species here that are found nowhere else and not see another diver outside your group while you are diving.  I can’t think of anything that is better than that!