Fiji is one of the world's premier scuba destinations, deserving of a top spot on any diver's bucket list. And for many, it's also a place that deserves a repeat visit, because it's impossible to take in all of Fiji's underwater riches in a single trip. This nation of 330 islands is surrounded by the largest coral reef system in the southwest Pacific. Divers are presented with nearly 4,000 square miles of barrier reef, coral pinnacles, walls, lagoons and shallow bays—all ripe for exploration.
Of course, not all sites can be reached from any one island or any single dive resort. So, the key to getting the most from a Fiji dive trip is deciding on priorities and interests, then choosing a destination. Beqa lagoon delivers thrilling shark encounters; resort’s on Viti Levu's north coast offer prime access to the Blight Waters; to the South, the Coral Coast is known for both reefs and relaxation; Kadavu has an off-grid vibe and the Great Astrolabe Reef; the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands are picture-perfect and surrounded by colorful reefs. All great choices, but on my recent trip to Fiji, I decided on another of the country's top-billed regions: the Somosomo Straits.
The Somosomo Straits is the narrow body of water that separates Fiji's second and third largest islands: Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Somosomo means “good water” in Fijian, and the name is appropriate because the tidal currents that ebb and flow through the straits deliver a rich stream of nutrients to support a rich assortment of soft corals and an abundance of fish life. This region is home to some of Fiji's most storied sites on the Rainbow Reef and the Namena Marine Reserve, including the Great White Wall, Zoo, Fish Factory, Annie's Bommies and Grand Central Station. In addition to the hundreds of species of hard and soft corals found on these sites, there are colorful sponges and crinoids, nearly 1,200 species of reef fish, thousands of varieties of invertebrates, and chance sightings of sharks, dolphins and manta rays.
To take in the full scope of the Somosomo Straits, I planned a two-island itinerary that began on the east coast of Vanua Levu. An inter-island flight brought me to the Savusavu airport, which is a short van ride away from landmark properties such as the Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort and Koro Sun Resort & Rainforest Spa. These resorts offer a number of excellent reefs close to shore, and also puts you within range of the Namena Marine Reserve, which is known as one of the fishiest places in Fiji. There, I swam with the schools, ran into some large grouper, shadowed a prowling whitetip reef shark, and devoted some bottom time to searching the cracks and crevices for the small stuff. One highlight of my time of Vanua Levu was the sighting of a pair of hammerheads during an early morning dive.
Stop number two on my Somosomo dive adventure was Taveuni. Known as Fiji's Garden Island, this 25-mile-long swath of green is home to a handful of boutique resorts scattered along the coast. These properties are within an easy boat ride of Rainbow Reef, and because the island's central mountains shelter the straits from prevailing winds, waters are generally calm. Dive operators will tell you that the key to experiencing the Somosomo Straits at their best is timing the currents. During slack water, the soft corals generally pull their tentacles in, hiding their true colors. Then, once the water starts flowing, the reefs blossom in shades from red to purple. Island dive operators are adept at timing the currents, and on planning divers in the water at the right time and place for drift dives that can be exciting, but are always safe. Over the course of a week-long dive vacation, there will be several chances to catch each site at the right time. This includes the most-asked-for site, the Great White Wall.
Diving is the main attraction on Viti Levu and Taveuni, but the various resorts also offer a range of water sports and land-based activities. Both islands remain largely undeveloped, creating opportunities for nature hikes, visits to waterfalls and excursions to uninhabited offshore islands. Even more special is the warm and welcoming attitude of the resort staffs and the local community. Fijians have been called the friendliness people in the world, and that becomes apparent from the moment you are welcomed with a song and a stress-relieving foot massage. Throughout your stay, you will be treated more like family than a customer, and when your stay finally comes to an end, the staff will send you on your way with a rendition of Isa Lei, Fiji's Beautiful Song of Farewell, which asks “oh forget not when you are far away.”
And like so many who travel to Fiji and dive among the corals and fish, I won't forget, and I will return.
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