A RoMANTAic Lau Adventure

Destination: Vatu-i-ra, Namena, Wailagilala, Vanua Balavu, Katafaga, Ogea, Fulaga, Navatu Reef, Gau, Wakaya, Makogai & Sea Mounts!
Trip Date: Feb 10th - Feb 22nd, 2024 - Comments
Author: Bel&Mike
Welcome Back: Almost everybody!
Congratulations: Jeannene on her 250th dive, Mark on his 1,500th dive and Heidi on her 500th dive from NAI'A!

Water temperature: 84-86F/29-30C

The 2024 Season is on and our first trip had everything we could have asked for. Plenty of return guests? Check! 14 out of 17 (including NAI'Aholics Heidi, Bruce and Mark, whith more than 60 trips between the three). Fiji’s most scenic destination for the itinerary? Check! The Lau Group is heaven on earth. Manta filled dives with the opportunity to name new mantas and help with manta science? Check! We named 5 and contributed with information on another 5. Storm weather to both sides of Fiji to keep us on our toes? Check! And we got away with mainly beautiful sunny days, if a little windy at times. Just enough to make Heidi and Jan sleep really well and to make Trent a little green.

In December 2022, while on board NAI’A, Heidi heard about this Lau expedition. That was Heidi’s 16th trip on NAI’A and she had never been to Lau, neither had her “dive husband” and Fiji Fish book author Mark Rosenstein. So, Heidi decided to highjack the trip and fill it with people she (and we) like. 14 month later, here we are, with her 11 “reef friendly certified” friends, plus Adam&Gail, Barbara and Jane (all four NAI’A returnees) and David&Alison, who arrived at the last possible second to join our trip. Our checkout dive had terrible viz, courtesy of the weather moving from the Solomons, but Mark saw a fangblenny he had never seen in Fiji before, which makes it a special dive!

Photo by Bruce: Birds in Wailagilala, Fiji's only true atoll 

Photo by Chard: Notcho Manta

Photo by Mike: Lauan waters

We cruised all night to Vatu-i-ra, and with the new moon upon us, it was a “hit the water running” kind of day. The wind was mostly mild, but the heavy surge kept us away from the shallows. Mellow Yellow, Coral Corner, Maytag and Howard’s Diner were as fishy as we remembered, with special appearances by two massive humphead wrasse, a few reef sharks, a shy devil ray, huge Spanish mackerel, snubnose pompanos, leopard blennies and hunting lionfish. Spinner dolphins made an appearance right after lunch and Master Bruce introduced us to our new crew member, Crabby Abby. Heidi and Doug kept alive the “Diver of the day” tradition, a sure way to entertain us all in the evenings. We were set for a wonderful trip!

We moved over to Namena (and away from the wind) for another day with incredible dives. The excessive rains in the mainland affected our visibility close to the surface, but down there everything was as pristine as we left two months ago. Schoolhouse was a checklist of the briefing (we hit all the schools, plus the rainbow runners!) Mushrooms and Tetons were critter havens with several different nudis (at least 2 we hadn’t seen in Fiji before), arrowhead crab, a ribbon eel and an orangutan crab. We only missed the bubble snails (BUBBLE, J9, bubble). The Arch and Kansas were super sharky, full of scads and covered in longface emperors. Our big find of that dive was a 7-foot (ish) giant pacific grouper. Jaw dropping. Like watching a pre-historic fish. Unforgettable!

Our long crossing to Wailagilala was rather easy and we arrived to low wind and bright sunshine. We cooled down with two morning dives at the passage and the wall. We saw a few different schools of snappers, a juvenile mimic filefish, a leaf scorpionfish, barracudas, curious white tip sharks, a moray eel and some beautiful coral formations inside the passage. In the afternoon we rested from the long passage and toured the abandoned resort on the island, mainly inhabited by hermit crabs, birds and fruit bats. Bill went full native and learned how to husk coconuts with our crew. We had a VERY krilly night dive with some interesting larvae swimming around, a slipper lobster and a sleeping turtle. Jan got attacked by megalops (crab larvae), and she even brought a few back in her suit, just in time for Valentine’s day.

Photo by Mark: You can always count on him to find the best wrasses!

Photo by Mark: Photos that non-fish geeks may like.

Photo by Mark: Juvenile mimic filefish, one of a few seen on this trip

Photo by Mark: A fruit bat, or flying fox. We saw many at Wailagilala and Vanua Balavu

A short passage later, we arrived at Trigger Rock, a sea mount not named after the trigger fish, yet filled with many of them. A gentle current guided us through the ridge and a beautiful coral garden covered the top of the site. Many pyramid butterfly fish were much shallower than their usual depth, some gray reefs and white tip sharks approached us curiously and crouchers and hawkfish populated the branching corals. Two muck dives on Bay of Islands followed, with poor visibility but plenty of critters. Cardinal fish and shrimpgobies were everywhere, some pipefish, special slugs we hadn’t seen in Fiji before and a very special duo of tozeuma shrimps.

At the end of the day we took the guests on a cruise of Bay of Islands, with the skiffs taking us through the small passages between the many small limestone islands covered in resilient vegetation. We saw some birds, but the sky action came mainly from the fruit bats. On the night dive we saw a mustache conger, disco clam, flatworms and many krill, but no crabs, to Jan’s delight.

We moved to Katafaga and enjoyed two amazing dives before the wind drove us away. We double dived Magic Roundabout, saw many humpnose unicornfish, snappers, various butterflyfish, some small grey reef sharks and a few white tips. We also saw barracudas hunting, Jeannene found an octopus, Jan spotted two eagle rays and a rare guest on Fiji dives also made an appearance: a black tip reef shark. Not a bad way to celebrate Mark’s 1500th dive. We rocked and rolled to Lakeba and anchored for an unbelievable lamb shank dinner and a quick rest before heading many more hours south to Ogea.

The island provided us with the perfect shelter we needed for the strong east winds. Two morning dives at Slumberland did not disappoint, and the poor sharks were feeling rather ignored with all the attention of the divers going to the four mantas at the cleaning stations. These are four new mantas to the Manta Trust database and we got to name them (Mayhem, Notcho Manta, OnoMantapoeia and Flygill) as well as contribute to manta science! Not only that, Jan spotted yet another eagle ray. Chard even tried to feed them with old krill left in his strobe diffusor, but it was a hard pass. After the wind picked up, a muckier dive provided some more pipefish, a moray eel and a small pufferfish. We followed that with another amazing cruise, this time at Bay of Plenty, and we got to go ashore on a beautiful beach. The only possible way to end such a day was having our world famous Kava Party, one of the biggest perks of the NAI’A itinerary.

Photo by Doug: Muck diving Bay of Islands. Cardinal with eggs in his mouth

Photo by Mark: Tozeuma shrimp, a first for him (and us!) in Fiji

Photo by Bruce: Cruising

Photo by Mike: Bay of Islands

Photo by Doug: Moray eel

Photo by Doug: Jeannene's octopus

Photo by Mike: Ogea from above

Photo by Chard: Manta moment

We woke up slowly but quickly perked up with another great morning dive. The longnose hawkfishes (lucky lefty) begged for more manta time (and got it with Notcho) and the longnose filefishes explored Meo’s Garden, which had lots of sharks. We cruised to Fulaga and, although we could not come into the passage, we got two dives there. We dived both the passage and the wall, and these were the most beautiful dives in Lau, with plenty of healthy corals, schooling snappers and barracudas, abundant and assorted small reef fish, more eagle rays, a few white tip sharks and multiple humphead wrasses. After the last dive, some guests cruised the inside of the lagoon before we headed back to Ogea for dinner and a short rest before the long passage to Navatu Reef.

We arrived early after a bumpy night, but Navatu provided us with all the shelter we needed. We dived Hayley’s, then a little north of that, then just over the south point to the east side for a drift dive. Sharks were a constant throughout the day, and just about everyone saw at least a pair of very curious baby grey reefs, and the luckiest (Adam&Gail) saw a shiver of 30-40 of them. Mark saw another lifer, Gail found an octopus, and Alison found both a very cool octopus and a huge blotched stingray. We also had barracudas, snappers, humphead wrasses, flasher wrasses and a few bundoon fangblennies, a usually rare occurrence. After an early dinner, many celebrations and a heartfelt hymn sung by the crew, we headed further west to Gau.

The powers that be, aka mother nature, decided that incoming current at Nigali passage would be extremely late and equally brief, so we dived the outer slope and the reverse passage. Many crown and moon jellies were being eaten by fish, J9 and her boys saw a manta in the channel, Trent saw a hammerhead with Mike and Bill & Michelle found a leaf scorpionfish. At Jim’s and Anthia’s we had the most beautiful dives (Barbara and Jane’s favorite) with many dancing fusiliers, surgeons and anthias, as well as a mini school of longjaw mackerels. David, Alison and Heidi got the luckiest and stretched their dive to 70 minutes to hang out with a new manta ray, this one barrel feeding and aptly named Barrels! Our village visit, our first in Somosomo in 3 months, was heartwarming and absolutely fun. Bruce hit the spot perfectly when he gifted the children some animal masks.

Photo by Doug: Clingfish

Photo by Chard: Baby shark, one of many

Photo by Chard: Jelly time!

Photo by Bruce: The best idea for gifts to the children in a long time!

We started our Tuesday at Wakaya, and we made clear “this is not manta season”, so remember to enjoy the beauties that this place has to offer us without clinging on to the manta dream. So, we obviously saw at least 5 different individuals (Dingo, Snoot, Hlla, M240 and Riley) in encounters lasting between 15 and 60 minutes! We also saw two leaf scorpionfish, 3 freckled seahares, a baby filefish and some curious barracudas. We moved to do our 4th dive and night dives at Makogai, where the critters are plentiful. Longnose filefish and hawkfish made appearances, as well as flabelinas and a well camouflaged scorpionfish (which Jan almost kissed). The night dive was shrimpy, but luckily not krilly.

The weather allowed us to dive the sea mounts on the last day and what a treat it is to be able to finish this incredible journey at E6 and Mount Mutiny! Our guests were spoiled with the breathtaking scenery of these healthy and rich pinnacles. As a bonus, both skiffs got to see a hammerhead, plus all the feeding & hunting action throughout all three dives. The weather contradicted the forecast and we had a dry return home with a beautiful sunset. The perfect way to end this wild journey with our NAI’A friends.

Photo by Bel: Snoot, Riley and Hlla

Photo by Mark: Our pristine reefs

Photo by Mark: Hammer time!

And so we begin 2024 in style!


“Lomaiviti is nationally significant for its important role in reseeding Fiji’s reefs and providing fish refuges.”

Dr. David Obura, Cordio and WWF Marine Biologist

~ Dr. David Obura, Cordio and WWF Marine Biologist