Most of our guests come on NAI’A as one of many liveaboards they do over a period of time. This charter however, 6 of our 14 guests were liveaboard virgins! While they had some idea of what to expect, having avidly followed (especially Terri) this very same Divemaster Diary that you are now reading, the pressure was on to show them the very best of what we do! There was also a good deal of witty banter during the trip, with a handful of boisterous folks cracking jokes and poking fun at each other. Together, we kept each other laughing for the duration of the voyage.
Dave and Terri were here to celebrate Dave’s 60th. This falls in a long line of romantic gestures going back and forth between the two of them, starting with his surprise marriage proposal 7 years earlier, which would take me a whole extra page to describe! This time, it was Terri’s turn to surprise Dave. After dinner in Wakaya, we dimmed the lights, brought out a cake and in came the crew singing happy birthday, to which Dave clapped along merrily. Needless to say, he was very surprised as the cake was set before him. After all, his birthday was two weeks ago! Thanks to a bit of prior warning, Terri was ready with her GoPro at hand to film the moment. Gotcha! Dave L, your move.
Also on board this week, we welcomed Joe Senior, back for his third trip aboard NAI’A, this time bringing with him his son, Joe Junior, and daughter-in-law, Willi, who followed the veteran’s example by getting certified to dive Nitrox. A spritely 73-year old, Joe Sr. showed us all up by being immaculately presented at all times, diving in a 3mm shorty and pulling himself into the skiff without even a second’s thought. His secret? 2 oranges every morning! Almost makes you want to move to Florida…
The weather started out wet and gloomy, but quickly improved early in the trip. On our first full day of diving, we visited the Vuya area. The current was raging at Cat’s Meow, too strong even to explore the front side of this intriguing pinnacle, so we clung to the leeward side where we spotted oodles of exciting macro life and scores of plankton-feeding fish. Tiny critters continued to endear our guests throughout the day, with a sea spider and juvenile rockmover wrasse at Nasi Yalondina, hydroid-hungry flabellinas at UndeNAI’Able Pinnacle and, at UndeNAI’Able Wall, the creamy chromodoris. And for the 3rd time in as many charters, a nudibranch laying eggs . This time, it was a blue dragon nudibranch laying a beautiful white curl of eggs, frilled and with curled edges, just like the adult!
Then the next day, the orange-finned anemonefish was spotted guarding its brood at Jim’s Alley. The temperature of the water has dropped again (down to an average of 81oF). Perhaps this is a cue to marine life that it is time to reproduce… or perhaps we’re only just noticing it. Elsewhere amongst the reefs of Gau, we encountered a spotted eagle ray, banded sea krait and a sharksucker sucking onto another sharksucker. Now you know how it feels!
It was now time to enter the natural channel through the reef known as Nigali Passage. As always, it was a thrilling dive “even without the sharks!” as Janet commented upon returning from our first dive there. As usual, we saw many interesting creatures in the passage, including four species of barracuda, three species of snapper and three species of trevally, before arriving at the bleachers, where the grey reef sharks made slow, close passes. What a day!
After breakfast every day, Joshua gives an environmental presentation, a short talk accompanying a video on a different marine biology subject. This is always incredibly well received with a very good turnout and most people learning a lot more about the stuff they are seeing underwater. Kathy took this to the next level becoming this trip’s most diligent student, carefully taking notes in a notebook she bought here in Fiji, apparently for this very reason!
On day four, we visited the paradise island of Wakaya, by which time the sun was now blazing. And not a moment too soon! We would want all the sunshine we could get to see the amazing fish we would be lucky enough to encounter here. We’re talking about eagle rays, hawksbill and green sea turtles, a school of oriental bonito, a close and prolonged encounter with some beautiful manta rays and even a scalloped hammerhead shark. Gabi, Dave M and Janet later took a skiff ride along the coast as the sky lit up with a stunning sunset.
Which way to turn? - by Bryan
Light my fire! - by Bryan
UFO - by Bryan
Swoop - by Bryan
Piping hot - by Bryan
Nudi time - by Dave L
Going down - by Dave L
Ahh! Look out! People! - by Dave L
Earning his wings - by Dave L
"Is he gone?" - by Dave L
Juvenile bicolor parrotfish - by Dave L
Walking on bubbles - by Dave L
Sunshine over Kansas - by Dave L
We're streaking! - by Dave L
Our new ornate on E-6 - by Dave L
Creepy crawly - by Dave L
Cheese! - by Dave M
Gloomy and morose - by Dave M
Explosion of color I - by Joe Sr.
Explosion of color II - by Joe Sr.
Explosion of color III - by Joe Sr.
Do you mind? I'm trying to photograph the water surface! - by Joe Sr.
We squeezed in three dives at Makogai before our village visit. The highlight dives took place at Rick’s Rocks, where so much fascinating macro life can be found, including the shortnose pipefish, popcorn shrimp, leaf scorpionfish and even the mysterious winged pipefish. This last fish looks uncannily like a stem with leaves growing from it. Once all the guests had changed into sulus and doused with bug spray, we launched the skiffs to the tiny village. There, we drank kava and danced with the locals. Afterwards, dental hygienist Kathy gave a big bag of toothbrushes and egg timers and demonstrated to all the children on a massive model set of choppers the proper way (and time) to brush one’s teeth. It was a good thing Carole and pediatrician Gabi stayed back to assist because it was a well-attended event.
The fifth and sixth days of the trip were spent visiting the colorful pinnacles and sheer wall drops of Namena Marine Reserve. Although it was still windy and cool, the sun was shining, bringing out the vibrancy of the lush reefs here. At Grand Central Station, a dive well known for its many oddities, we saw something that surprised even our guides: a blue dragon nudibranch crawling over the head of a golden mantis shrimp! Well, at least we know one thing the mighty mantis doesn’t eat. That night, it was one strange creature after another, from a glorious flatworm wrapped around a gorgonian branch to a fleshy Poss’s scorpionfish and a decorator crab so covered with anemones, it was only its legs that gave it away. After the night dive, we hosted our diver guests to a kava party. Dave M entertained us with his version of a Canadian monkey and Kathy and Gabi outlasted the group while banging on percussion instruments. On our second day in Namena, we ventured onto unexplored reefs, Purple Hill (working title) and countless parallel bommies running down current from North Save-a-Tack’s Arch. In addition to a great show of fish activity on the wall, our divers saw the splendid garden eels, Helfrich’s dartfish and a cluster of four pipefish together. On one dive here, Janet discovered her very own (inappropriately named) dive site…. you know the one!
The wind began to howl again as we motored towards the isolated mid-channel sea mounts of E-6 and Mount Mutiny. Inside the narrow entrance to E-6’s Cathedral, Big Mo found an ornate ghost pipefish, a nifty addition to an already spectacular site. Not to be outdone, almost all divers saw the rare and distant silvertip sharks at Mount Mutiny. Amanda’s group actually saw three together, in pursuit along with a grey reef shark, of plankton-feeding fish. Silvertips are very sleek and seem to be more athletic than their reef-dwelling cousins. All of our guests chose to skip the night dive in favor of hanging out with our crew, singing songs and downing bowls of kava.
Our last two days of diving we spent at the exciting and varied dive sites of Vatu-i-Ra, an area pending marine park status. Strong currents all day meant challenging diving, but plenty of predators like grey reef sharks, Spanish mackerel and the intimidating giant trevally. There were also plenty of macro critters, such as the Kunie’s chromodoris, sea spiders and two NAI’A pipefish. On the last day, the wind really died down, creating great conditions for our closing dives. And once again, several new friendships were made and several more promises to return to NAI’A.
Thank you so much for a fabulous trip. Most amazing crew who made us feel so welcome – nothing was too much trouble. The skiff drivers were cool, calm & collected even in very choppy seas near shallow reef & the engineers efficient. Loved Johnathan’s talk & seeing him around, loved the singing & Joshua & Amanda – you are fantastic. I laughed the whole way thorough the trip.
What an awesome trip. We had the best time, laughed a ton and enjoyed everyone so much. Thank you to the crew and Joshua & Amanda for making us feel welcome on your home! We will never forget you and your hospitality. This trip will be in our memory forever. We will miss everyone and think of you often. Will start saving our $$ to come back again soon.
-Dave L & Terri
NAI’A and its crew is the best. What a wonderful time! Thank you for going above and beyond in every way. Mita, Suliana and Wais – fabulous food. Johnathan, you are the most welcoming and cool. Big Mo, thank you for great guiding! Bucksy, Lai, Peni, Mosese – thank you for the great fills and big smiles. Moji, Joji and Koroi – thanks for always being there to pick us up and sometimes LITERALLY. Most of all, thank you to Joshua and Amanda – YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!
-Carole & Oliver
“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