Name That Fish!
We had a slightly ‘unusual’ group for this trip and it made for the most welcome of changes! We welcomed onboard a full charter of guests from the REEF organization i.e. a bunch of divers who really – and we mean reeeeeeeally – like their fish! Here largely to conduct fish surveys/counts, these are divers who move in extreme slo-mo, really take in their surroundings, observe each and every last fish and, accordingly, find something exciting on every single dive. It’s so refreshing to see such proactive diving: we love it! And how enjoyable for us, to be able to slow the whole process of diving down and appreciate the things that most people just swim on past….
We began the trip with our usual check out dive at Samu Reef, dusky conditions (we have short days in Fiji at this time of year) but enjoyable nonetheless. Vanessa found a pregnant Sarasvati shrimp she was pretty excited about but wasn’t too sure whether to show anyone since it didn’t have gills and scales! After dinner, we stuck around Lautoka for a few hours, to pick up a few late-arriving guests, including REEF’s fearless leader, Christy. Not going anywhere without all that knowledge!
Photo Credits (Left - Top, Bottom, Center, Right - Top Bottom) Laurie, Christy, Robert,Christy, Robert
We made the journey round to the northern coast of Viti Levu overnight, arriving at Nananu I Ra by morning. We enjoyed four great dives in this area: 3 by day and 1 going out at dusk. Dive briefings were great fun, evolving into a session of ‘Name That Fish!’, during which Vanessa and Chad would describe the mystery fish in the slightly ‘obscure’ words of former guests. ‘The fish with all the tassels down his back’ being the Dwarf Hawfish, ‘the wee, grey fuzzy fish’ being the Spotted Croucher and ‘the majestic sea flap-flap’ being the Manta Ray (ok, we stole that one from Facebook). Many of the group were quite content to wander (slowly!) off and do their own thing in peace, whilst others did follow us around, albeit at a much more leisurely pace than usual. We had a wonderful time venturing into Labyrinth and The Maze and were so content we could have stayed there for days. While our divers were often focused on the smaller fish, we were all still very happy to see several white tip reef sharks in the area, mainly because they are a clear indicator of a healthy reef system. This dive region is in gorgeous condition: the hard-coral gardens blow us away every time, with so much life packed into every inch of space. Those who ventured out for the dusk dive on Pinnacles had a fun time, with scorpion fish all over the place, along with a load of marble shrimp and hydroid crabs.
Photo Credits (Left, Top RIght, Bottom Right): Big Mo, Big Mo, Christy
From Nananu I Ra, we made the long journey south to the island of Gau, where we would spend the next two days. We time our trip around the Nigali Passage dive down here – one of NAI’As ‘signature dives’, we believe – but we have many other warm up dives in the area that are very enjoyable too. On the first day, we tackled Jim’s Alley and Anthias Avenue while we waited for prime conditions in the Passage. Both were looking stunning! The first dive was super peaceful and easy, giving everyone a chance to slowly wake up. By the time of the second one, the current had picked up and we all got a good workout. But, boy, did it plump up the purple soft corals: they were looking incredible! And, as long as we tucked into little pockets of shelter around the reef, we could still slow down and enjoy the smaller stuff. For example, we found several Reeftop Pipefish, a juvenile sea snake, a teeny porcelain crab and a little nest of Anemone Fish eggs. That afternoon, the ‘main event’ – Nigali Passage – was sure worth waiting for. The current was coming in hard which was challenging for our divers but they’re a tough bunch and it made for an incredibly fishy dive! And we finally found the right people to appreciate our unusual black variation of the Longnose Butterflyfish hanging around the Cabbage Patch!
The next day, we began with leisurely dives on Jungle Jig and Nigali Outside Slope. Some of our divers came back with claims of the highest fish count of the trip thus far: awesome! We saw some HUGE Dogtooth tuna cruising by in the blue, as well as three juvenile white tip reef sharks seemingly playing together in the shallows. After lunch, we set out for the Passage again; some choosing to dive it the same as the day before – gliding straight down the middle through all the barracuda and sharks – and others deciding to mix it up and stick to the reef on the side of the Passage, in the hopes of finding some different species. If no one else, Vanessa at least learnt a new fish! The TP phase of the Clown Coris: an ugly bugger, poor thing… so cute as a baby!! To finish off the day, we squeezed in a quick souvenir shopping session before dinner. And after dinner, those who still had energy, got out their laptops, cameras and Fish ID books to work through the days findings. Good work REEF team!
Photo Credits (Clockwise from upper left): Jet, Donna, Donna, Marilyn
From Gau, we began to venture back north, stopping at the island of Wakaya for a full day of gorgeous diving along the deep wall there. We have probably never dived these sites more slowly and it was such a pleasure!! The water was beautifully clear, the current was mild and it was glorious just to hang still and take it all in. Everyone enjoyed picking out all the individual species crowded into such a small space: Randall’s Shrimpgoby, Leaf Scorpionfish, Squarespot Anthias, Decorated Dartfish etc. Some of our divers were coming back with fish counts of over 150 different species: wow! That afternoon, we enjoyed a little visit into land at the island of Makogai, led by Chief Chuck (has a ring to it we think!), and after dinner a few headed out for a night dive on which a Pearl Fish stole the show! We wish all our divers were so easily pleased…!
Photo Credit (Clockwise from upper left): Kara, Kara, Kara, Tracey
Departing Makogai in the early hours of the morning, we arrived bright and early at our next destination: the Namena Marine Reserve. We spent two beautiful days here and the diving was spectacular. Tetons 1 was phenomenal – probably the best we’ve ever seen it – and a few were even lucky enough to see a huge Scalloped Hammerhead circle by a couple of times. The top reef was a hive of activity with Flame Hawkfish, Spotted Crouchers and Zebra Dartfish. Meanwhile, our divers on Tetons 3 were enjoying an enormous Thorny Ray, nestling in the sand and stirring up a storm. Two Thumbs Up was pretty-pretty with their gorgeous soft corals and never-ending macro life. A few enjoyed the teeniest, tiniest baby sole we’ve ever seen! Our deep walls, Grand Central Station and Schoolhouse, were both impressive: jacks, barracuda, sharks…all the big dogs! Though these divers found a ton of the cool small stuff, too, including the elusive NAI’A Pipefish. It was Kansas that stole our guests’ hearts though, with multiple declaring it the best dive of the trip. It IS hard to beat!
The first night in Namena, we gathered on the dive deck after dinner to enjoy a Kava Party with our crew. ALL the musical instruments were out and everyone got involved: Tracey played every instrument going and Bruce enjoyed a solo on the bongos. Sue became renowned for her kava drinking rather than musical – ability and shall be known forevermore as Tsunami Sue! The second night, we sent out another night dive, with the infamous Big Mo: he lived up to his reputation, showing his divers a pygmy seahorse and a Rumenganis!!
Photo Credits (Clockwise from upper left): Big Mo, Tracey, Big Mo, Big Mo
We spent the next three days diving in the heart of the Bligh Waters. First up: Vatu I Ra! Both Go Mo and Maytag were looking fabulous, albeit with a ‘healthy’ current to deal with! Hard work, we know, but they sure were fishy! And we did find some cool creatures: a massive Giant Moray, a white Leaf Scorpionfish and a cute little octopus. Mellow Yellow lived up to its name and was a firm favourite: so much so that several guests asked to repeat it the next day! The next day, we also spent the morning tackling our two great sea mounts: Mount Mutiny and E6. The viz was fantastic and a few divers saw a Hammerhead cruise by below them! For the afternoon, we ventured back to Vatu I Ra: the current had magically disappeared since the day before but our divers were perhaps a bit more used to it and had great dives. After dinner, we went out for the last night dive of the trip, at Charlie’s Garden: we saw a huge pleurobranch, a couple of big squid, an inquisitive White Tip reef shark and Hawksbill turtle up close and personal.
For our last day, we tackled the region known as Vuya and, again, had some spectacular dives; at Cat’s Meow, Humann Nature and UndeNAIAble. We swear the visibility was the best we’d ever seen! We all felt very fortunate to be part of such a special trip, we didn’t want it all to come to an end. But come to an end it did, as we bid our guests farewell the next morning: some heading home, some on to new adventures! We do hope to see you all again soon. In the meantime, in the words of Douglas Adams, so long and thanks for all the fish!
"It's the wonderful people that make this such a memorable and delightful experience. Thank you to the crew of NAI'A for all your hard work..." Robert & Marilyn
"Vinaka! Great time diving with you again. A hui hou - Until we meet again" Donna
"An exquisite boat and outstanding crew makes this such a memorable experience" Neil
All Squared Away by Robert
At the Round Table by Mike
Blue Upon Blue by Robert
Cabbage Patch by Marilyn
Chief Chuck And His People by Kara
I May Not Be A Fish But Damn Am I Good Lookin! by Laurie
I'm Not A Fish, Sue Me by Robert
I'm Your Biggest Fan by Mike
Inter-Dive Study Session by Christy
Nosey Longnose Filefish by Christy
Teeeeeeeny Rockmover by Donna
The Office by Laurie
This Way Or That by Tracey
We Are Family by Donna
“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