Born and raised in Fiji, Jone had already done thousands of dives in the Taveuni area while working as a divemaster. This was his first time back home after four years living in Germany and his first time diving the famed Bligh Waters. Needless to say, he was very excited. About the food, the diving and not least, the kava! None of them was a disappointment. On his very first dive at Maytag, he dropped in on three grey reef sharks circling among a massive school of horse-eye jacks. Joshua turned to him and opened his arms, welcoming him home. Jone admitted after the dive that he was almost moved to tears. Later that evening, after his enormous plate of Fijian crew food, he was caught in a similarly emotional state while drinking his first cup of kava on the dive deck with the boys!
Oh, it’s so good to be home.
That first dive would set the tone for a ten-day charter consisting of a group from the Frankfurt area, led by Robert. From Vatu-i-Ra, we headed north to Vuya to check in on our friend the hairy ghost pipefish at Cat’s Meow. The red one was not to be found, but we caught a ghostly white one hiding among clumps of algae. That night, our guests spied the bizarre broadclub cuttlefish, quite rare in Fiji.
At North Save-a-Tack, in the Namena Marine Reserve, the current did not perform as expected so the viz wasn’t great, but we found scalloped hammerheads, grey reef sharks pursuing oriental bonito, schools of jacks and barracuda nonetheless. At South Save-a-Tack, Captain Johnathan found another hairy ghost pipefish and Joshua located Kamasu’s cuthona, a great name for an elaborate nudibranch. It was half moon and the current at NSAT still wasn’t behaving. However, despite the abnormal conditions, we caught up with a couple hammerheads in the blue water.
That night, our German guests boisterously banged on every percussion instrument they could find at our kava party! Of course, Jone was the last man standing. Because of a tragedy on the island of Gau, we were forced to make a spontaneous decision to visit the village of Kiobo on Vanua Levu, instead. This visit was sweet, informal and personal. The first song played, by their chief, was a traditional German song. This brought great smiles to the entire group… and a bit of blushing because they didn’t know all of the words, unlike the Fijian chief!
Hide and seek - by Corinna
Hairy ghost pipefish or juvenile ornate ghost pipefish? - by Corinna
Big Mo, have you been eating spinach? - by Corinna
Crafty camo crinoid clingfish - by Corinna
Peek a boo, I see you - by Corinna
Strike a pose - by Corinna
Smells like... sand - by Corinna
Trapezia crab standing guard against crowns-of-thorns - by Corinna
Up, up and away - by Didi
Tornado of horse-eye jacks heading to Kansas - by Didi
Hooray for boobies! - by Hans
Nice spread - by Paulo
Aww... süβ - by Paulo
Turtle on the top reef - by Paulo
I know the pipehorse is tiny, but in Big Mo's hand... - by Paulo
Garden of garden eels - by Paulo
Rarely seen, octopus outside during the day - by Paulo
We have liftoff - by Paulo
New color variation of dermatobranchus - by Titus
School of torpedoes - by Didi
The next day, off the island of Makogai, our guests welcomed Thanksgiving with a fly-by from a large manta ray, followed by a traditional American style feast. Our chef, Mita, works magic on a daily basis, whipping up sumptuous meals in a tiny, rocking kitchen and she really stepped up her game providing juicy roast turkey, spicy sausage stuffing and pumpkin pie! Being from Germany, this was the first Thanksgiving for almost all of our guests.
Joshua brought a bit of his (and many other) family’s tradition into our Thanksgiving feast by going around the room having everybody say what they were thankful for. This was sweet and sentimental. The most hilarious comment came from Brigitte, quite a nervous diver, “I’m thankful for coming up!”
Somehow, nearly all our guests managed to roll out of bed the next morning for the first dive at Vatu-Vai where we saw a huge scalloped hammerhead shark casually swimming over the reef less than 40 feet deep. That gung-ho attitude continued as we explored Vatu-i-Cake, then E-6 where 12 divers did the night dive and 15 did a dawn dive at 6am the following day. The early wake-up was definitely worth it for those that saw the 2 hammerheads. On the night dive, we saw many of the usual suspects, plus a bearded brotula and a startled white tip reef shark.
A few suffered from various colds and ear troubles including Johannes, who, once recovered from his cold, was so keen to get back underwater at Mount Mutiny that he jumped early... but not entirely on purpose. Normally, everybody back-rolls on the skiff driver’s 3 count. While gearing up, the skiff was broadsided by a large wave and Johannes fell off the skiff into the water – to the great amusement of the rest of the skiff! Not missing a beat, he popped his head up and yelled “3!” Later, Martine and Paulo were lucky enough to have very close encounters with 5 hammerheads, one pursuing a school of blackfin barracuda. Deep on the pinnacle, Amanda spotted a species of dermatobranch that doesn’t appear in the ID book. Looks like we’ll have to write the authors again to see if we’ve discovered a new species.
We rounded off our excursion where we started, with one last dive at Vatu-i-Ra, where an octopus, white tip sharks and a vivid slender roboastra nudibranch were waiting for us. Because everybody had to fly early the next morning, they spent the rest of the day basking in the radiant Fijian sun.
“Joann & I had a remarkable experience here in Tonga! Our diving trips mostly entail liveaboard boats and this one was the best yet – great crew & great food! You are fortunate to have the ownership in place to allow you to do it right! We won’t easily forget our “Whale Week” on NAI’A – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime gig!!”
~ Terry & Joann