Saturday, February 9, 2008

NAI’A thru Friday, 08FEB08…..

After a day at Namena Marine Park, it became apparent that weather conditions there were not optimal for the best diving, so we pulled anchor and headed closer to Vanua Levu and all the Nai’a dives sites there…

We dove Rob’s Knobs, Ron’s Rocks, Rick’s Delights, UndeNaiable, Humann Nature, Cat’s Meow, E-6 and many other beautiful sites. Currents ranged from mild to medium, visibility wasn’t the best – maybe 60’, but we saw lots and lots of sharks, blue-spotted stingrays, giant grouper, schools of many spotted sweetlips & different types of fusilers. The hard corals on some sites were heavily damaged on the tops of the reefs but the staghorn & table corals are the fastest growing, so they will recover quickly. The deeper hard corals had minimum storm damage and the sea fans and soft corals everywhere were unaffected.

The swim-thrus on some of the sites were amazing…full of giant sea fans and soft corals of every color. One of the swim-thrus contained a 300 lb + grouper! Lionfish were tucked under overhangs and swimming out in the blue. Several blue ribbon eels were seen and photographed, many nudibranch varieties were spotted and the usual Pacific marine life was vibrantly beautiful.

My favorite site of the whole trip was Cat’s Meow, named after Cat Holloway. Cat is an underwater photographer and wife of Rob Barrel who’s one of the Nai’a owners and who, incidentally, joined us on this trip. It was great fun seeing the video of evolution of the Nai’a from a booze cruise party boat into the beautiful Fijian sailing vessel she is today..and seeing Rob in shoulder-length blonde curly hair at a slightly younger age!

Back to Cat’s Meow…..what a gorgeous dive site! A huge swim-thru full of amazing colors, a gorgeous bommie totally encrusted in hard corals from the sea floor up to the top with lots of leather corals, black coral bushes, other soft corals and tons & tons fish life swarming it. The top 1/3 of the bommie is covered in fluorescent red anemones full of tomato clownfish skipping about…the rest of the bommie is covered in table corals and other hard and soft corals with anthias of every color skimming over the top, schools of trevally and fusiliers crusing by and hawkfish jumping from coral head to coral head!

This was a fabulous trip, in spite of the weather! We all know that you can’t predict when things like cyclones will decide to appear but the Captain and crew did their darndest to give us high quality diving. Safety is paramount so some of the dive sites they wanted to dive were not available to us, they found us more than suitable replacements. The tender drivers were there with “Bulas” the moment our heads broke the surface and handled our gear as if it were their own. Peni, the chef, and Suli & Seri were fabulous in taking good care of our non-diving needs.

One of our fellow passengers, Debbie Lathrop, wrote us a trip poem and has given me permission to share it with you….enjoy! It was, indeed, a trip of a lifetime!

Six divers out
Six divers in
With tales to tell…
About their swim.

Bubbles & bullshit…
Were bantered & braved
And the underwater antics…
Leaned towards the depraved.

Frantic poking & pointing…
And peering into the dark
All in hopes of a peek
At a white tip reef shark.

And rewarded they were…
For their dive guides knew best
Where the nudibranchs hang out…
And the trigger fish nest

The lights went out….
It rained like heck,
Even the squid left the ocean…
And littered the deck!

But the girls kept us fed
And kava filled the boat
We sang silly love songs
And made sounds like a goat

The seas were not calm
And the sun did not shine
But the trip will be remembered…
As ONE in a lifetime!

Debbie Lathrop

About that village visit!

Makogai Island was a Leper Colony from just after the turn of the 20th Century until the 1960’s. Everyone living there when they turned it into the Leper Colony was forced to leave the island and look for homes elsewhere. Our host for our visit was the current Chief, Chief Watson, and his family relocated to Suva where he went to school and lived for many years.

The Leper Colony had a very large hospital, a cinema and a jail as well as housing for the doctors and nurses and then cottages for the lepers, segregated by race, Fijian, Indo-Fijians, & Tongans.

When the colony was closed in the 1960’s, the local villagers were allowed to return to Makogai and resume their lives there. After a rousing welcome by the whole village at the shore, we had a tour of the grounds with Chief Watson, saw the cinema and could look at the jail, but because of the cyclone damage, couldn’t get close enough for a guided tour. The generator powering the village dates back to 1911 and was one of two that was left when they closed the Colony and is still providing electricity to the local villagers! For all these years they’ve been using spare parts from the second one to keep the first one operating!

After the tour, we were invited into their community house where we were “officially” welcomed by the chief and our Nai’a chief, Eddie, gave a greeting on behalf of the Nai’a and her guests and presented the village with a gift of kava. We then participated in their kava ceremony and watched several groups of school children perform local dances and songs for us. One of Chief Watson’s main concerns is not allowing the local culture, songs & traditions die out so the children are schooled by the elders in Fijian culture & traditions as well as regular schooling. Everyone speaks English since English is the official language of Fiji, but all children are raised speaking their own dialect of Fijian.

After the school children finished their dancing and singing, all of us were gathered up by individuals and we all performed several dances together! After we were worn out from all the dancing, the whole village sang us the Isa Lei (farewell) song and escorted us back to our waiting tenders and back to the Nai’a. It was a lovely visit and so wonderful to see the culture being handed down to the next generations.

NAI’A….Tuesday, February 5

An early morning journey brought us from Namena Marine Preserve to Makogi Island. With the remaining effects from Cyclone Gene still exhibiting themselves, it was decided to leave Namena and look for calmer waters.

The first dives were split between Becky’s and Rick’s Rocks. We dove with Captain Johnathan and dropped into calm waters…we made our way along the pinnacle just observing all the marine life to be seen. With the flashing of John’s “torch” , we headed over to see what amazing critter he may have found… was a HAIRY ghostpipefish…our first ever! It was tucked into a little crevice on a small patch of coral, red in color and totally awesome!

Other sightings on the dive were a beautiful white leaf scorpionfish, lots of different nudibranchs and then a beautiful banded sea snake hunting along the top of the reef!

When we surfaced, Johnathan told us that we’d missed “Becky’s” but that we were at “old Becky’s” and we were renaming it “Hairy’s”!

For the second dive, we went to Rick’s Rocks and the other tender went to “Hairy’s” and Johnathan found a second, smaller, hairy ghostpipefish, so there was a pair there!

Rick’s was also covered in hard and soft corals and an eagle ray was spotted out in the blue and a juvenile rockmover wrasse sighted.

Dive three was at Ron’s Delight and it was, indeed, delightful! It was time to take out the wide angle lens (finally) and it wasn’t a disappointment! The coral bommie is totally covered in soft corals of every imagineable color. We also spotted two pairs of lionfish cruising along the walls of the bommie and watched a small turtle chomping on a sponge near the top of the reef. The reef-top was amazingly covered in all shades of pink hard & soft corals…a most beautiful dive, one for which Fiji has earned the title “Soft Coral Capital” of the World!

After the third dive, it was time for our village visit….more later!

NAI’A on Monday, February 4…..

Welcome to our 2nd full day aboard Nai’a. We left Vatu I Ra early, early in the morning and headed to the Namena Marine Preserve Area….the local village on Namena had requested that a very large area around their island be set aside as a Marine Preserve and that request was granted a number of years ago. A $25 Fijian fee is levied on all guests diving in the Marine Preserve and it’s a “no take” zone so no fishing or collecting of specimens is allowed inside the preserve.

Our 1st dives were at either Teton I or Teton II depending on tenders, and both groups found that Cyclone Gene was still exerting a hold on diving conditions! Visibility was not at a normal level and the currents were totally unpredictable, but critters large and small were spotted by everyone. Sharks were seen, lots of various nudibranchs, leaf scorpionfish, schools of trevally and jacks and fusiliers were collecting at the head of each pinnacle to take advantage of the currents and food supply.
The top of both pinnacles are totally covered in lots of hard corals and literally thousands of anthias and clownfish! Unfortunately, with the strong currents, it was hard to enjoy them to the fullest, but hawkfish cavort on the reef tops and unicorn fish are seen off the tops of the bommies….safety stops were challenging to say the least!

After two dives at Teton I & II, the usual scenario is to cross the lagoon and dive North Save-A-Tack passage on an incoming tide. Well, much to everyone’s chagrin, apparently the lagoon was too full to allow an incoming tide! That’s one of the things that oceanic swells from cyclones can do, apparently! Anyway, after waiting a bit to see if perhaps the tide would, indeed, change, it was decided to dive the wall next to the passage instead. Several sharks were seen cruising the wall and a great dive was had by all.
The dusk dive was done at Two Thumbs Up and the bommie was covered in soft corals of all colors, pipefish flitting across the reef and sharks seen out in the distance!

The day ended with the Kava Party after dinner. The Fijian have beautiful voices and everyone participates in the kava party. Traditional Fijian songs are sung as well as popular contemporary favorites. The guests are welcome with the traditional kava drink and lots of music and merriment….a grand time was had by all!

NAI’A Sunday, 03FEBRUARY….

BULA and welcome to our Nai’a trip!
We boarded mid-afternoon on Saturday and after a greeting by our hostess for the trip, Sonia, and introductions of our fellow guests, we settled into our cabins and set up our dive gear. The normal Nai’a protocol is a short cruise out on boarding day to do a “check-out” dive so everyone can make sure their gear is functioning properly. Because of the cyclone, it was decided to forego our dive on Saturday afternoon and remain at the dock while the remnants of the storm left the area.

Late in the evening, Captain Johnathan headed east, remaining in the lagoon, hugging the northern coast of Viti Levu. Apparently Cyclone Gene wasn’t ready to release his grip on Fiji yet! It was a very smooth sailing inside the lagoon!

Early Sunday morning found us outside the lagoon near Vatu-I-Ra where we did our first dives. It was still cloudy and overcast but we had a great dive at Howard’s Diner, named after Howard Hall of the Imax “Coral Reef” fame.

Dive two was at Maytag and it was becoming increasingly apparent that the cyclone was having some effects not only on visibility but on currents! Currents that should have been slacking weren’t and tides that should have been going one way were going the opposite way! All in all, we had some good dives on Sunday, but the conditions weren’t optimal. No night dive was scheduled on Sunday due to the windy conditions.

All the guests were asking our Fijian staff for some “no rain” dances overnight!

Friday, February 1, 2008


Just a short note with some more "typical" Fijian photos...things are pretty much back to normal here in Fiji.....

We're off to the Nai'a for some fabulous diving...will update when we return on 09FEB....Moce (good bye) for now.....