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1997 Fiji – Nai’a Cruise

Diving Extravaganza

 

I was picked up in my hotel at the evening of the 3rd to be brought to the Nai’a which was moored in Lautoka. By the time the other passengers and I arrived on board you could almost taste a festive atmosphere. We we’re welcomed by the crew and immediately luggage was unloaded. The Nai’a was indeed beautiful as in the brochure, a wonderful 40 meter long motor-sailing yacht. During my first exploration of the ship it became clear very soon that I made the right decision when I booked the cruise. After I unpacked my luggage and setup my diving gear there was still some time left to get to know my fellow divers and the crew. Everybody was very excited about the coming up week.

The next morning the rest of the divers arrived on a direct flight from L.A. As soon as they were boarded we left Lautoka for our diving adventure. It was a couple of hours sailing to the first dive spot so time enough for an extended briefing about the boat and to relax at the sun deck. By the time we arrived at “Nukurauvalu passage” I was pretty excited. Before everybody started to kit up we received an excellent briefing about the dive spot, which was typical before every dive. 

Then it was time to go to the skiffs which brought us to the actual dive site. Both Hans, my buddy, and I had some buoyancy problems but as soon as we had settled the right amount of weight it was time to enjoy ourselves! As soon as I was submerged I was surprised by the excellent visibility and the enormous amount of fish. Parrotfish, lionfish, Moorish idols, they were all there. Time flew by and after 40 minutes the contents of my cylinder forced me to surface. 

We were picked up by the skiff and instead of going back to the Nai’a our skiff driver Rusi had a surprise in mind… He had spotted dolphins a bit further on and so he brought us over there so we could snorkel with them. What an experience! It was awesome being surrounded by the dolphins and hearing them sing. What a fantastic site to start the week with. The second dive that day was also done on the same spot. During the whole dive everybody could hear the dolphins sing but we couldn’t see them which created a wonderful atmosphere of excitement amongst the divers. The singing of the dolphins almost distracted us from the beautifully colored coral which we passed by. Once again I didn’t feel like surfacing but the cylinder contents didn’t show any mercy…

Day no. 2 we spent at E-6. This dive spot turned out to be spectacular. A fantastic wall going down as far as 1000 mtr covered with stunning soft coral. My favorite area however was the cathedral! This was a gigantic swimthrough. It was so lush covered with soft coral and big fans I felt like floating in a colorful rainforest. It was almost surreal! Leaf scorpiofish, lionfish, clamps, stonefish, turtles. They were all there. Rob, the owner of the Nai’a and one of the diveguides pointed my out to a aurora ananome with a tiny whiny clownfish in it. Wow. During the 3rd dive of the day a hammerhead shark passed by below us and a bit later I spotted a white tipped reef shark. We passed gorgeous valleys before we entered the cathedral once more.This dive site was really unbelievable.

The nightdive even brought new sensations! As soon as everybody was in the cathedral our dive guide Rusi pointed us to dim our lights. We turned out to be surrounded by numerous flashlight fish who were constantly blinking with their eyelids. I could hardly believe my eyes. The whole atmosphere was so overwhelming. I saw a Spanish dancer and also another shark passed by. In one of the many caves I spotted an enormous crab. What a day! Where do we go from here….

During the night we sailed to Gau, another dive area. In the morning we dove twice at Jim’s alley. The scenery was totally different here. There were lots of coral-heads with rich fish life. Loads of unicorn and humpback fish. I also spotted a titan trigger, butterfly fish and thousands of other small and colorful fish. There were some nice swimthroughs and Rusi showed me a leaf scorpionfish and rare red colored ananomes where lots of clownfish swam in. I had not enough eyes to see everything cause so much was happening during every dive. In the afternoon we dove at Nigali Passage. As soon as we descended a school of barracuda’s passed by. A nice drift took us on a ride through the passage which was very entertaining. The visibility was stunning, at least 50 meter and ehh… we were not alone! Hundreds of fish surrounded us. I swam in a school of big eye travevally’s which was a fantastic experience. Groupers, grey reef shark, snappers and barracuda’s passed by. We found a sheltered spot so we could enjoy the fish parade a bit longer! This was Diving Extravaganza! After we were picked up by the drift again we were brought to a fantastic coral garden. Here I spotted Moorish idols, clownfish (one of my favorites) and lots of nudibranches. The atmosphere during the dusk dive was completely different. The current had a different direction and the water was not as clear. In the distance I spotted an eagle ray and closer by I saw lots of pufferfish and nudibranches. 

The next day we were still in the same area to visit some other dive sites. Anthias Alley was the spot where divers could have their teeth cleaned by cleaner shrimps, an experience that I also had to undergo. It was fabulous although I could not hold my breath long enough to have all my teeth cleaned… A bit further on we were showed two blue ribbon eels. They were a bit shy but nevertheless I got a good look at this fantastic creatures. During the second dive the current was quite strong so we stayed at one of the coralheads. This was a good opportunity to have a close look at some of the smaller details: heremite crabs, shrimps, and an amazing lot of other life which was living between the coral.

In the afternoon we went back to Nigali passage for a shark feed session. After the descend Rusi positioned all of us in a semi-circle. After everybody was in place the bate (fish head) was brought in and the show started! Within seconds the grey reef sharks appeared and approached the bate. It was a very impressive and exciting experience but I think I must have missed heartbeat or two when some of those sweeties really came close! What really made me nervous were the jacks who seemed to be more aggressive than the sharks. Still I would not have missed this dive for anything in the world! Never before had I seen so many sharks so close by… Still not enough diving for that day I also participated in the night dive. We saw an enormous amount of nudibranches and a big pufferfish which blew itself up because it was irritated by our presence. It was a very interesting dive where once again I focused a lot on small details.

The evening was celebrated in Fijian style when the crew sang for us on deck and we shared some bowls of Kava. It was the perfect way to finish another day in paradise.

The day after I missed the first dive because I had to much Kava (the traditional Fijian drink) the night before! Of course the other divers saw manta rays on this dive. I could not believe it, I was so eager to see manta rays and I overslept when they were there! Aaaaarrrrggggh…. Anyway, the week was not finished so there was still plenty of chance. I did not have to wait long! When the skiff brought us to the dive site we spotted a couple of manta’s and our skiff driver stopped to give us a chance to snorkel with them. I was totally excited (once again). Wow, what a fantastic creatures! During the dive however we didn’t see any. Instead of manta’s I had another “first time” experience. Together with Amos Nachoum, one of the other divers onboard, I went for a deep, deep dive and yes, I got pretty narked during this one. I felt really light headed and was extremely focussed on the data my computer was showing me. Later Amos told me I had very big eyes and was reacting extremely bold to his signals. Also I forgot to put air in my BC before ascend so it was a long way back up… It was a good experience though but nothing to be done without a very experienced buddy! The afternoon dive I behaved again properly and followed Rob, our dive guide. I followed him up to a nice coral garden. Rob showed me a lionfish but just when I wanted to make a photo he kicked me to get my attention to a manta ray passing by very close. I could not believe my eyes. How beautiful and what a gracious movement! Fantastic, a dream came true! A bit later I played with “killer” clownfish who bit in my finger end spotted an eal hiding between the coral. During the night dive we found some big parrotfish who were sleeping in their protecting cocoon. Rusi showed us some manta shrimps and big flatworms. The atmosphere was once again magic. Also this day was full of new surprises. Bubbalicious!

At this stage of the cruise I was floating 24 hours a day, not only during the dives but also in between I was mesmerized by all the impressions. The 1st dive of this day only added more food for this state of mind. Mount mutiny was a fantastic wall dive with lots of beautiful colored siphonogorgia coral blending in from the top and bottom of overhangs. So lush, so colorful, so surreal… I saw a whitetip, a turtle, clownfish etc.. The absolute highlight of this dive was the coral however. The 2nd dive of the day brought us on request back to E-6. On the way to the cathedral I spotted an old anchor and I decided to spent quite some time in the cathedral hanging upside down and doing “flying exercises” between walls, through alleys and holes. It was awesome. (No, I was not narked again as the maximum depth on this dive was only 20 meter but diving in such an environment just drives you crazy!). On the third dive I explored some alleys I had discovered west from the cathedral. I really loved the blue look through where you could spot the surface high above the alleys. Magic! This night was the last possibility for a night dive on this cruise. Only Amos and I were interested so Rusi could show us a lot of details. By now I had already learned where to look between the soft and hard coral so I spotted a lot of crabs, shrimps, fish and nudibranches. We went into the cathedral where I found the aurora ananome again with the little clownfish. At the exit of the cathedral we bumped into a jellyfish before we had to surface as the skiff was waiting for us, as usual after every dive.

I couldn’t believe we already started the last day of our cruise. Time seemed to have passed by in a flash. Still there was some diving to be done. The morning dive was done at Yadua, the catacombs. There were lots of caves and caverns to swim through but visibility was not as good as we had before this week. Also the coral was not as lush and colourful as before. Guess I was spoiled by all those fantastic dives this week. At the end of the dive I spotted a whitetip reefshark. It must have been my state of mind as some of the divers surfaced really enthusiastic about this site. Anyway I decided to skip the 2nd dive at the same place and take a little rest. Although the whole trip was very relaxing the diving made me feel pretty tired. The last dive of the trip was in the same area but at a new, unexplored site which gave it a bit mysterious atmosphere. It was beautiful! A lot of coral heads were formed in front of the coastline. Stunning area. I spotted a lobster, a fantastic black/blue nudibranch and lots, lots of fish. The swimthroughs were awesome once again! What a worthy say goodbye dive for Fiji!

In the afternoon we visited a little village. To honor the local traditions everybody was dressed in a Sulu. After we received permission from the village chief we entered the village where we were warmly welcomed by the villagers. 

We gathered in a central building where a welcome ceremony was held. Rusi, the spokesman of our group, explained the villagers who we were and what we had been doing the last week. Also fresh Kava was offered. To celebrate our arrival kava was prepared and everybody got a couple of bowls. The local women came in afterwards and surprised everyone of us with a beautiful chain of flowers. Fantastic. After this we made a walk through the village to get a good impression of the village life.

The school was the pride of the whole village and was located on a hill with a good overview of the village and the bay. Back in the central building the party already had started… Our crew members were singing and playing guitar. Also the kavabowl was going around. The local women performed a dance for us and afterwards it was our turn to join. Excitement was big in both parties and we had lots of fun. Unfortunately time passed by to soon and we had to say goodbye and return to the Nai’a before dark.

To summarize this week I can easily say the diving in Fiji is the best I’ve done so far! Every diver’s dream came true… Dolphins, manta rays, hammerheads, sharks, you name it, they were all there. The coral was the most colorful and lush I’ve seen so far, the fish life extremely rich and varied. Visibility was amazing and the water had a nice temperature (24 C). What else can you wish??

During the whole week we were totally spoiled by the crew, no effort was enough for them to please the passengers. They were always there for a friendly chat or if help was needed. Every time you wanted to go out diving you could be sure your cylinder was well filled and ready for you in the skiff. The dive deck was very spacious indeed so nobody bumped into each other. The dive briefings were excellent and I really learned a lot while I was diving with Cat, Rob and Rusi, the three dive guides. They showed me a lot of small details I would have missed normally. For instance the aurora ananome’s with the tiny whiny clown fish, the leaf scorpion fish, the nudibranches, I would never have seen them without Cat, Rob and Rusi. Their enthusiasm and thorough knowledge of the dive sites assured that everybody got most out of their dives.

On board it was good recovering from all the impressions. First there was the wonderful hot shower on deck after every dive. It was good taking a rest in the tastefully decorated lounge watching video shots from previous dives. The food was absolutely tasty and beautifully decorated. A simple breakfast before the 1st dive stopped the first hunger. After the first dive a fully cooked breakfast was served with every day new specialities. Lunch was a stunning buffet with every day a good choice of salads and hot plates. After the afternoon dives there were always snacks available. (My absolute favorite was the raw fish plate, yummie!) In the evening a wonderful 3 course dinner was served with complementary wine, I’m sure lots of five star hotels will envy the Nai’a for it’s kitchen crew, they did a terrific job. To finish off the day I fell totally satisfied in a deep sleep in one of the air-conditioned stateroom below decks. Gently rocked by the waves and dreaming about the stunning dives of that day and wondering what tomorrow would bring while we sailed to another stunning dive site…

However good the diving was, how luxurious the accommodation and how tasteful the food, it was nothing compared to the friendliness of the entire crew. They seemed to be in a good mood 24 hours a day. In the week aboard of the Nai’a a warm friendship developed between the passengers and the crew. A nice chat here, a joke there and always somebody was singing or playing music. I really missed that after I left Nai’a. Every single member of the crew played his part (or her part, sorry Cat I haven’t forgotten you!) to make the trip an unforgettable experience. Thanks to them the trip really became a big success!

I’m sure by now you are convinced about how nice the trip was. In case you want to know more about the Nai’a and it’s trips visit their website but ehh…be careful, once you’ve been on board of this ship you will be hopelessly spoiled, just like me! Don’t complain afterwards I didn’t warn you. 

Continue the adventure in Fiji