Soft Coral

Fiji Dive Sites

Namena MaRINE rESERVE

North Save-a-Tack Passage

North Save-a-Tack Passage is the dive site which drew Cousteau to Fiji. This site has it all (when the current is right): concentrated schools of big fish and phantasmorically beautiful soft coral bommies. With an incoming current (which is not synonymous with a rising tide), divers drop into the deep blue and swim along a sheer wall which tops out in about 100 feet. On the plateau above the wall, giant schools of bigeye trevally, scad, and barracuda are watched over by several gray reef sharks. On the periphery, white-tip sharks lie napping on the bottom in preparation for their night-time forays.

When your computer finally signals the end of your time on the plateau among the big guys, you let the current carry you deeper into the channel, where a line of bommies rise nearly to the surface. Two of the bommies are connected by an arch you could drive the ALVIN through. The sides and tops of the bommies are alive with color: gorgonia fans, black coral, soft coral, and every reef fish imaginable. As if this weren't enough, you can allow yourself to drift even further into the channel to Kansas, a small bommie covered with Sinularia soft coral which looks just like wheat fields swaying in the wind. This spot deserves at least two days of diving to appreciate fully.

Two thumbs up, tetons, mushrooms

These three divesites on the south side of the Namena Barrier Reef, directly across the lagoon from North Save-a-tack Passage, are flushed by clear incoming water when the current is going out at North Save-a-tack. Spectacular seamounts just on the edge of the drop-off, they collect the pelagics that patrol the drop-off and they are covered in soft-coral. It is difficult to focus small in such a grand arena, but those who do are rewarded with unusual little critters like leaf scorpionfish, hairy ghost pipefish, and cleaner shrimp keen to jump into your mouth to do a bit of dental hygiene.

Gau

JIM'S ALLEY

Jim's Alley is a soft coral garden in shallow water, home to zillions of reef fish. Jim's is a prime example of the kind of soft coral diving for which Fiji is famous. Cluttered with multihued soft coral and nearly every kind of reef fish known, Jim's is a lush garden which leaves divers in awe. As an added bonus, Jim's is a regular stop for four or five mantas, who can frequently be found feeding in the adjacent channel during the waning tide. Macro photographers, too, love Jim's because of the profusion of little creatures living among the hard corals, soft corals, and fans.

NIGALI PASSAGE

Nigali Passage is a narrow cut in the surrounding barrier reef which concentrates pelagics from miles around. Nigali is home to female gray reef sharks which number from 8 to 25 depending on the season. The channel also concentrates a huge school of trevally, three age-segregated schools of barracuda, about a dozen big flowery cod and an annoying concentration of fish I have dubbed snapass (one reference calls them snapper; one calls them bass). Because of the unique configuration of the channel, the incoming current does not coincide with rising tide as one might expect. With over six years of experience diving Nigali and using a computer database to organize current observations, we have become experts at diving the channel during its optimum four hour window of opportunity.

Nigali Passage well illustrates the advantage of skiff diving over diving from the mother ship. NAI'A's skiffs are able to drop divers well up-current and pick them up again half a mile away after they have drifted through the channel with the current. This dive would be impossible if you had to get back to where you started.

Cat's meow, humann nature, undenai'able

Three magnificent divesites that lie on the northern barrier reef that defines Bligh Water's Vatu-i-ra Channel, these sites feature both main barrier reefs with good protection from swell and current plus small off-lying bommies smothered in life. The names say it all: I named Cat's Meow for my wife, Cat Holloway and Humann Nature is named for Paul Humann, the renown fish book author, who reckoned it was the best divesite he'd ever seen. Much of the gorgeous soft coral featured in Howard and Michele Hall's IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure was shot at these two sites.

Mount Mutiny

Mount Mutiny is a seamount similar in many ways to E-6, yet much smaller, located only four miles away and named in honor of both Captain Bligh, who passed nearby shortly after the mutiny on the Bounty, and the passengers on a NAI'A charter who threatened mutiny unless they were allowed to dive the seamount again and again.... Diving is very much like E-6 in terms of pelagics and other fish life. The highlight of Mount Mutiny is the Rainbow Wall, a wall of unusual thin-stalked Chironepthya soft coral in a broad range of colors which blankets the south flank of Mount Mutiny for a distance of 200 meters in depths between 60 and 120 feet. This is one of the single prettiest soft coral dives anywhere.

VATU-I-RA

There are seven very distinct dives on the Vatu-i-ra barrier reef, several of which are among the best coral-reef dives in the world. The barrier reef protrudes north from Viti Levu into the Vatu-i-ra Channel, narrowing the channel to only 4.5 miles across. This is the same body of water that supports E-6 and Mt. Mutiny.

The area is regularly flushed by currents, which is why the reefs are so healthy. But our intimate experience in Vatu-i-ra over many years has taught us how and when to dive there so that we can benefit from the glorious reefs without having to fight the currents that make them that way.

E6 - A Photographer's Heaven

A seamount rising sheer-sided from 3,000ft right in the center of the narrowest part of Bligh Water's Vatu-i-ra channel, where it intercepts the flow of nutrients funneled between the two large islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Extraordinary diving! Pelagics are normally found on the two sides of the pinnacle flushed by currents, while delicate soft corals and fans decorate the protected lee side where NAI'A moors.

The Cathedral is a large swim-though lined in gorgonia fans and soft coral, with soft-coral trees growing up from the floor. A narrow opening above allows sun rays to penetrate to the floor of the Cathedral, illuminating the bright fans and soft coral like so many panes of stained glass, giving it the feel of its namesake. The floor is home to several different colors of poison-bristle nudibranch, while adjoining small caves shelter many large lobster. It is not unusual on night dives to encounter 20 big lobster out patrolling their territory.

Other highlights of night dives at E-6 are giant cuttlefish, arrowhead crabs, tiny soft coral cowries, colonial anemones on the gorgonia fans, and so many flashlight fish that you can navigate by their bright green light. Day dives at E-6 feature schooling barracuda, trevally, and surgeonfish, occasional hammerhead sharks and eagle rays, and a plethora of reef fish including anthias, fusiliers, and leaf scorpionfish. I discovered both E-6 and Mount Mutiny from the air, having chartered a private plane to scout potentially good dive areas in waters not normally frequented.