Loving Life in Lau
Just when you didn’t think Fiji could get any more amazing…you experience the beauty of remote northern Lau! Fiji you continue to amaze us from pristine coral covered reefs, stunning bays and breath-taking vistas - a trip that dreams are made of.
The sun finally started to shine just in time for the arrival of our local guests to Lautoka ready to board for the next big NAI’A adventure trip. Most of these guys feel like family to us now so we were super excited to spend the next 9 days together visiting some of our favourite spots, as well as exploring some new.
No messing around and once everyone had boarded we set sail for our first destination - Namena! We spent the evening on the top deck watching the sun set over the mountains of Viti Levu with our first sunset drinks - which became standard (instigated by the owners themselves Alexx and Todd). We continued to steam through the night to wake up ready for a full day of diving in the beautiful Namena Marine Reserve.
First up was Grand Central Station on the north side of Namena. As ever, a great dive with a big school of barracuda, some grey reef sharks, redtooth triggers, trevallies, snappers and emperors. Guess what….Abi saw a shark!
Then we hit Tetons 1 over on the south where there was a bit of current so some super action. This beautiful pinnacle was swarming with anthias, fusiliers, jacks, trevally and so many coral groupers. Abi became part of a school of jacks at one point. Steve described it perfectly – it seemed like the reef was breathing with the schools of fish compressing in and out in rhythm. Just amazing colour and life with the soft corals pumped up feeding – Renee certainly found her happy place!
Meanwhile Scott Todd, Alexx, Leann, Alfredo, Georgia and baby Dela headed over to Namena lala for a wander and some bird watching.
Next up was another south side dive at Tetons 3 where there were three ribbon eels and Scott found his orangutan crab friend (you know the one on the big (!) bit of bubble coral). This time the shark that Abi saw was a silvertip! It hung around with the group for a bit checking us out.
For our fourth dive we headed back to the north side. Those that wanted repeated Grand Central Station and drifted over to Kansas. A nice sharky dive with schools of barracudas and snappers. Mattia, Abi and myself dropped in at Kansas and made it across to Oz for an explore, past what seemed like the longface emperor convention, then back to Kansas. We found lots of network pipefish and hung out with the strangest looking map pufferfish as we ended our dive in the sinularia soft coral “wheat field” and waved at the Grand Central Station crew as they drifted by.
Mattia and Judy headed out for a night dive with Big Mo in Namena lala Bay and had a great dive finding lionfish, a hunting white tip, lots of crustacean critters and a tiny bobtail squid busily covering itself over with sand. Judy’s new torch did the job and everyone stargazing on the top deck could certainly pick her out from the group!
After a rather rock and roll passage we arrived at our next island destination – Qamea. We spent the morning exploring the bay and mangroves of Navivi Bay by kayak (Team Alexx & Todd, Team Dela, Georgia and Steve, Team Abi and Leann), SUP (Team Mattia, Scott and myself) or skiff (Team Judy, Sheldon, Kristina and Alfredo). The mangroves reminded me more of an enchanted wood, with a winding passage through the tall trees either side and rays of sunlight breaking through the canopy - so peaceful and magical.
That afternoon we moved around Qamea to Namata Bay and did a couple of dives out at Hard Rock (although I have now nicknamed it Claytons Clam Reef – Clayton our skiff driver is from this area on Qamea). Lots of species of fish, nice hard coral cover, some huge table acropora corals, a spooky aggregation of black snappers, whitetip reef sharks, Mattia found an octopus…and Abi…wait for it…saw a clam! There were tonnes of clams in fact, including some super cute (yes a clam can be cute) baby ones!
Meanwhile Scott kayaked to shore with Leann and Georgia, Kristina and Alfredo snorkelled the reef, and Alexx and Todd began a cribbage match.
From Qamea we headed east to the northerly most part of the Lau Group and started the day with an exploratory dive at Duff Reef. We dived along the deep outer wall of the reef and found baby grey reef and whitetip reef sharks, blacktips, and another silvertip shark, plus a school of pyramid butterflysh and two loggerhead turtles.
We then moved across to the beautiful sandy atoll of Wailagilala to spend the rest of the day walking, kayaking, and diving.
Visibility at the passage was great and we dropped in right on the cabbage patch. Kristina and I started our fish ID specialty dives (yay Judy we have another fish geek to join our team). We had a spotted eagle ray glide past, and a huge loggerhead turtle pass by (good spot Kristina!). The rest of the group headed off with Big Mo, and I'm pretty sure Abi saw a clam.
Over on the island we walked the beach spotting turtles and baby blacktips out in the shallows, and ducked the curious low flying boobies.
We ended the day with a sunset bonfire (vinaka Sly), with sunset drinks (and by that I mean Sheldon’s bottle of vodka, although Renee’s port was also flowing onboard! Remember what happens on Wailagilala stays on Wailagilala).
That night we headed south further down into Lau, and woke up at Trigger Rock for another exploratory dive. Both skiffs dropped in and dive teams swam in opposite directions around the large seamount. We were excited to find sharks and soft corals on one side of the seamount, a patch of turbinaria lettuce coral on another edge and the top covered in a pocillopora coral city! Judy and I watched the others start their safety stop but were too curious to be torn away from the reef - so stayed and scouted out flame hawkfish, leopard blennies and spotted crouchers in the branching corals.
After the dive we cruised across to our next stop – the Exploring Isles. We sat on the top deck and bow to watch the view as we came alongside the top of Vanua Balavu (meaning long island) and then around into Nabavatu Bay. Sly was up in the crows nest to help Captain Sue and Chief Officer Angus navigate their way around the reef to enter the stunning bay.
Wow what a spot! Once anchored we jumped on kayaks, SUPs and skiffs to explore. Judy, Sheldon and Abi went for a snorkel, and Todd and Mattia found a mangrove to paddle up. Steve and Georgia alternated between SUPing and staying with baby Dela, who by this point had become Anna’s little shadow following her around the salon – so cute! Just out of curiosity we also went on a dive to see if there was any muck diving fun to be had…well we got wet, and there were some huge mantis shrimps and feeding long-jawed mackerel but not much else.
Later in the day we took a hike up 272 (ish) steps, over a little farm and coconut plantation, and across to the most amazing look out point over the Bay of Islands – our spot for the following day.
A nice calm night at anchor means one thing on the NAI’A – Kava Party night! As ever a great time spent with the crew singing, playing music and partaking in a bilo or two of kava.
The next morning after breakfast (and a pre breakfast kayak for Leann with baby blacktips) we cruised around the picturesque northwest of Vanua Balavu and into the Bay of Islands (or Qilaqila in Fijian) – which is exactly this, a protected bay scattered with islets! We took a skiff ride exploring all around the bay as Abi (our adopted geologist) figured out the formation and composition of this absolutely stunning part of the world.
Team snorkel (Judy, Sheldon, Abi and myself) headed back to one patch of reef we found and ended up spending over 2 hours finding more and more reef below the island overhangs to follow. Just beautiful with plenty of hard corals and fish, this time it was two blacktips that Abi saw / was spooked by!
Meanwhile team SUP (Scott, Mattia and Leann) explored around the islets spotting turtles, blacktips and bats! Our SUP Kings Scott and Mattia ended up paddling for four and a half hours (yes they ached in the morning).
The next island on our itinerary was Vatu Vara. We woke up and watched our approach to the hat shaped island then jumped in for an exploratory dive.
Wow! We were treated to some fantastic visibility and stunning hard coral coverage. So many species of fish (just to really challenge Kristina taking the Fish ID course with me), hawk anthias, midnight snappers, barracuda, bird wrasse, steephead parrotfish, all the butterflyfish, and Big Mo made an octopus friend. We saw species of fish we don’t usually see like a black butterflyfish and whitemargin unicornfish. Such healthy corals creating a kaleidoscope of colours on this rarely visited, pristine reef.
We were so impressed we jumped straight back in after breakfast for another dive in the same area. Georgia had a close encounter with a turtle and Steve stated it was such a good dive he had no desire to dive again for a while – he was set! Todd found a gathering of fire dartfish and I heard a rumour that Abi saw a clam! Alfredo and Leann enjoyed some snorkelling on the top reef where they spotted turtles, blacktip reef sharks and Leann got circled by a curious trevally.
After lunch we moved north to the island of Yacata where we planned another exploratory dive on a reef wall, and then went for a wander on the beach before dinner.
Straight after desert we started to steam all the way back across to the Lomaiviti Group to spend our last full day at Wakaya. It was nice to be back to dive along a familiar wall that we last visited back in March. We dropped in for the first dive at Vatu Vai, then Blue Ridge, and then drifted from Blue Ridge to Lion’s Den. We were lucky enough to be welcomed back by a beautiful reef manta ray who cruised past a few times on its way to a cleaning station. Renee came back to the boat with the biggest grin, and it was Todd’s first manta whilst diving – we knew Wakaya would deliver! Another manta encounter on the third dive with a melanistic (all black manta) topped off the day of diving. Scott, Leann, Judy and Sheldon headed back out after for a snorkel in the channels to try their luck at finding some feeding, but alas no more – well you have to try.
We pulled anchor again straight after dinner to start our journey back. After some lessons in swell patterns from Big Mo and Chief Officer Angus in the bridge it was time for bed ready to disembark in Lautoka the following morning.
What a privilege to experience this rarely visited part of Fiji with you all. We truly didn’t want the trip to end. Fingers crossed for more exploring to come – looks like you better get planning the next adventure Alexx! Sota tale friends and vinaka vaka levu for the wonderful memories!
“After 60 years of diving all over the world, Fiji still surprises and intrigues me. Fiji is a destination uniquely safe and easy to reach yet it is the colour of our dreams.”
~ Stan Waterman, pioneering diver and filmmaker