Joining the boat today was Kath from Sydney, James from Sydney, Ilona & Natalie & Urszula from New York, and repeat visitors Mike & Michael & Peter from Colorado.
Snorkeling and kayaking from a secluded pristine beach on Vanua Levu were the first orders of the day. Back to the boat and a choice of diving or snorkeling in Natewa Bay. It's the second biggest bay in the Pacific, and its deep waters are little explored. Despite a lack of current to flush water and replenish nutrients, the visibility and marine life is surprisingly good.
With all the guests now aboard and settled in, it was time for dinner followed by an early night to get some rest for the packed itinerary in the week ahead.
Whilst some did yoga on the top deck in the morning sunlight, the divers embarked on an exploratory dive off western Rabi led by Divemasters Owen and Tim. It was real nice start to the day - descending down the wall to 20m, seeing a turtle & blue spotted stingray. A 5m safety stop hovering over the coral gardens was quite spectacular and we came across an enormous lionfish - poisonous but very shy!
After a serious breakfast of eggs, cereal, toast, and fruit we embarked on a coastal bike ride. The Colorado crew went on a walk through the village followed by a boat ride exploring the nooks and crannies of the jutted coastline.
The New York girls were keen to learn to scuba dive and our lunchtime anchorage on the SW of the island offered perfect shallow water off the beach for their introductory dive. Meanwhile snorkelers checked out the reef at Dolphin Bay, and James managed to get some nice photos of the abundant anemone fish.
A change in weather brought wind and rain, and we found shelter in a bamboo ceremonial hut as we took part in a traditional meke dance with the Micronesian settlers of Rabi.
A busy day was brought to a close with a lovo ground oven dinner of honey glazed pork and chicken, and onboard zoologist Tim made a presentation on corals and marine life of Fiji.
A warm orange sunrise lit the clear sky on what was a very windy day in the Somosomo Strait. From our sheltered anchorage we made out across the Strait for offshore diving at Rainbow Reef, only to make a judgement call to change course and dive at the sheltered island of Coral Levu - a decision based on the worsening winds and resulting choppy seas.
Biking along the Taveuni coast we stopped at the Meridian Line, famous church and botanical gardens - all before squeezing in another dive before lunch.
Motoring over to Kioa in the afternoon provided another chance to snorkel, this time at the renowned spot called 'The Farm'. The teal coloured water here holds a large numbers of a certain sting-free jellyfish which add particular interest to the site.
To visit the immaculately kept village of Kioa you need an invitation, and tonight we would be treated to special a Polynesian song and dance, typical of the islanders of Tuvalu further north in the Pacific.
The windy weather subsided enough to facilitate our passage out to Cobia island in the Ringgold atolls. A moderate swell made for an exciting dive site entry that preceded an otherwise mellow dive at spectacular Kokoda Point. Black tip reef sharks and some schooling baitfish were particular highlights.
With spring tides in full force we planned a careful itinerary for the volcano hike, and this perfect timing enabled a safe island drop-off. Admiring the flora and fauna on the walk, we came across a shy snake huddled in the rock and later a huge stick insect lying wounded in the dust.
More wall diving in the afternoon, with the super-clear water making 25m feel like 10m.
Steaming back towards Taveuni with cocktails in hand, Liga shared his wisdom and knowledge of Fijian history and culture - telling grizzly tales of cannibalism and showing us the funky haircuts typical of indigenous Melanesian culture.
The diving this morning was truly breath-taking. The site is known as 'Stillwater', having strong currents in places! Following the experienced divemaster on this kind of drift dive makes for an fun and easy experience. The nutrient rich current allows soft corals to thrive, pumping them up into electric hues of pink, purple and orange. Parts of the coral gardens, with their accompanying schools of multi-hued fish, were just amazing.
Moving west of Qamea we anchored off eastern Taveuni and set out mountain biking southwards down the coast. It's a challenging ride today and a few opted to ride in the support bus. Reaching the towering waterfalls at Tavoro creates a buzz of excitement and everyone is in the water cooling off from the sun. Jumping off the ridge behind the falls provides entertainment before we headed up through the rainforest to a second waterfall upstream.
BBQ lunch, yagona ceremony, melanesian meke, lobster dinner, a few drinks to celebrate with James on his last night, bed!
We just couldn't resist another dive at 'Stillwater' today, and it didn't disappoint! Untouched coral, sharks, exciting bathymetry - what more can you ask for?
Tim and Owen checked out the surf, and it proved to be quite big and scary. Stay tuned for photos coming soon. Some more surf reconnaissance later on revealed the rights to be peeling perfectly at about shoulder high, with makeable barrels on the inside.
Meanwhile, others ventured to a series of remote waterfalls in the nature reserve, and hiked back along the coast for lunch.
With our marine enthusiasts keen to get back in the water, we went for a sunset ssnorkel at the northern tip of the island. The shallow reef plateau is perfect in this kind of low light scenario. Kath came across an unidentifiable species of eel, and our anemone spotters just kept on finding nemo.
A slightly more relaxed day at Albert Cove still offered the usual morning activities - diving, snorkeling and yoga. Some divers perfectly timed their arrival at the reef's wall drop off, being greeted by a HUGE passing eagle ray. An inquisitive barracuda and more perfect soft corals rounded off another great dive.
The isolated self-sufficient villagers loved receiving prints of their photo that had been taken in prior weeks. Kayaking off paradise beach, we explored the protected corner of the bay and hiked up to the natural cyclone shelter provided by the thick wind-eroded rock.
Motoring back down Natewa Bay was a chance to review the week's images shot by the boat photographer, which was only disturbed by an onslaught of flying fish!!