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06 April 2014

Fiji's Great White Wall - Diving after this will never be the same again



Yes, that's me, trying to pose for the camera, at the Great White Wall

Fiji spoiled any future diving experience for me. It ruined all chances of ever experiencing that "wow" feeling again.

A quick search for the top dive sites in the world proves that the Rainbow Reef and/or Great white Wall is still one of the world's best kept secrets - let me reveal it for you!.


I joined the Tui Tai expedition on a 5 day live aboard diving and adventure cruise around the island of Taveuni, a 20min flight from the capital, Suva. 

The rainbow of soft corals
Despite getting the recommendation to try the Tui Tai from a friend who got PADI certified on it I had not chosen the trip because of that. I wanted to experience a different side to Fiji away from the very touristy areas in the main island Viti Levu. Fiji is not, by international standards, a touristy place but the summer months do see a large amount of visitors and some areas can be packed with all sorts of tourists, be it Europeans who have come all the way on a gap year or kiwis/Aussies escaping the cold months.

To me, the Tui Tai was an opportunity to see a more genuine cultural side to the country and, of course, to snorkel in the amazing areas, to swim with dolphins and with manta rays. Even without diving the trip is still highly worth it, in fact, most of the other 15 guests were not divers leaving the diving to me and a Norwegian family of 4.


By the time I made it on board, I had already been rightly convinced by a friend to get my diving certificate. The theory was completed in the evenings and the pool sessions were in the open sea, on an isolated and beautiful beach. By day 3 I was already a certified diver and allowed to go on the 4 dives a day.

In a snap decision I reached for it, I shouldn't have but there and then she looked so beautiful and friendly

I can't be more grateful for the friend who convinced me because this has, to date, been the most incredible diving experience, much better than Sipadan, Thailand, Samoa or Tonga, particularly the Great White Wall which we dived on the last day of the trip. However, it also ruined any future diving adventure - nothing remotely compares to the beauty of Taveuni, the Rainbow Reef or the Great White Wall. I keep my hopes high for some placces I have yet to dive but after every dive so far I still miss the aquatic zoo Fiji was.

The Tui Tai boat
The Tui Tai is an old refurbished sailing vessel with comfortable rooms and amazing food cooked freshly every day. The boat sails around the waters of Taveuni for 7 days on a loop. 

 

Most of the guests are from Australia or New Zealand and it is a very popular trip with families with teenage kids as there are lot of activities every day and some culture thrown in. Couples will also find it a very romantic trip.

A typical day would start at 7am with a breakfast of toasts, coffee/tea and juices followed by an early morning dive or snorkel around the area. On return, the crew would have the hot breakfast orders ready for you to recover all energy spent. We would then head for another dive or snorkel for those interested. Usually, before lunch the crew takes you on an excursion on land. This could be to kayak, trek up the rim of a sunken volcano or climb up a waterfall. Lunch would then take place usually back at the boat. The afternoon starts with another dive or snorkel trip. Almost every night there is a trip to mainland to witness a traditional dance or ceremony from either a Micronesian, Melanesian or Polynesian tribe which lives in the area. Guests get to participate in as well dancing and singing. Finally, the day ends with dinner back on the boat. For the divers, a night dive was also possible after dinner.

You are free not to go on any of the activities but it is best to make the most of the trip - you can relax and rest when you get back home :)

Food is delicious, cooked by the crew with very generous portions, a cake or desert always to finish off and fresh meat or fish nicely cooked. I managed to put on a couple of kilos on this trip despite the very active days we had :)

Going through one of many rock formations
The Tui Tai gives you the magical chance of experiencing some of the most remote parts of Fiji, away from tourists and the business of the main islands. Some of the dive sites are hard to reach and therefore you will have them all to yourself. In our trip, we only saw other divers in the Rainbow Reef's Great White Wall on the last day and even that meant only 3-4 other people. Aside from Tui Tai's guests the dive sites are served by some of the dive operators in Taveuni and surroundings but tourist is yet to take off significantly in the area so it remains a very well kep secret.

The Great Wall is rated as one of the best dives in the world by the experts and if you get to see it you will immediately know why, it has, undoubtedly, the most amazing corals you will ever see. The entire Rainbow Reef is truly magical because it is made of soft corals of extremely bright colours. It is hard to imagine it until you see it. 

Reef sharks are very common
The Great White Wall, part of the Rainbo Reef, was the final cllimax on our trip. Just as I thought things could not be more beautiful or special, there we were, at 30m below the surface witnessing a wall covered with shining white corals that looked like someone had lit them alive and sprinkled them with snow. I lost track of time and of depth and quickly found myself at 35m in a state of mixed drunkenness from the depth and nitrogen in my bloodstream as well as the perfect beauty of the surroundings. Nothing can compare to that wall.

This environment is the result of a very rare phenomenon which pushes large amounts of water through the narrow shallow passage of the Somosomo Strait. 
The pressure creates currents which are rich in nutrients that feed the corals allowing them to expand and grow. There is always a strong current in the area which encourages the corals to show their true colours. The current also makes the dive easy as you just stand still and let the water take you ona sightseeing tour of the wall.

Jacques Cousteau named Fiji the "soft coral capital of the world" and you can easily understand why while diving.

The Great White wall
Apart from beautifully colorful soft corals every dive had a tone of fish and there were always reef sharks, turtles and other large pelagic fish in sight. The quality and quantity of marine wildlife was overwhelming. Everywhere you looked there were new species you had not yet seen, new formations, a cave, a group of turtles, a school of fish, a swim through... 

But diving was not the only incredible experience on the trip. On the 1st day before I arrived guests got to snorkel or dive with enormous manta rays which live in the area. You basically jump in and are surrounded by these large elegant creatures. I sadly missed that because I joined on the 3rd day of the 7day trip to make my 5 days but I shall return to experience it because the photos from my travel companions were extraordinary!


 
The details

How to get there

The Tui Tai is a long journey away for most people. 

You need to first get to Fiji which has direct connections to LA, Auckland and a few cities in Australia then fly to Taveuni and then be picked up by the crew and driven to the boarding point. It is not extremely hard but unless you already live in one of the Nadi direct connection airports you should add 1-2 more flights. From Europe, that is a trip half way around thwe word but very much worth the effort


Best time to visit

Fiji has mild weather throughout but it is best to go in the winter dry season (june to September) so you enjoy sunny days without so much rain and better visibility. The winter temperatures cool down a bit (surface maybe to low 20s) but the water remains pretty warm, even for a summer person like me! I can imagine the warmer summer months might be a bit unpleasant when you go on shore



What to do 

Enjoying down time after a hour's kayaking
You can see a sample itinerary on their website but as mentioned above there are land activities and cultural visits every day. 

Do not miss any of the land excursions because they are all very nice. Whether it is a kayak around the rim of an old volcano now submerged into the ocean or a trek up a mountain to bath into a couple of waterfalls it is all well worth the effort. You will also get some time to enjoy the postcard perfect Fijian beaches.

And dive, dive, dive. Even if, like me, every next dive is never going to be as beautiful, do it, it is the experience of a lifetime

Practicalities

  1. Book the 7 day to ensure you get to do both the White Wall and the Manta. You can usually join the trip anytime even if they have set dates but it might be less efficient to join in the middle of the trip
  2. The crew organised my local transfers to Taveuni and this was included in the price when I booked as an offer, ask
  3. The price was around USD2,500 per person excluding diving and alcohol all-in. That was for single ocupancy, double sharing is much cheaper
  4. Cabins are split into different levels and if you pick one in the upper deck you also get a small balcony/chillout area. I had a single cabin and it was ok. You are on a boat so the space in the cabins is small. AC ensures that you can sleep in the hottest nights. bathrooms are rather tiny
  5. Buy the photos and videos. The Tui Tai has an in-house professional photographer and videographer who comes with you diving under water. You can then buy the photos at the end of the trip and they are totally worth it, they are stunning (some of my photos on this post were taken by the professional photographer). If you have an underwater camera bring it with you too 
  6. For the excursions on land bring some waterproof rough sandals which will come in handy when you walk on the park, when you trek in your swim suit or when you climb up a waterfall
  7. Spend a night under the stars on the top deck of the boat. They have a few small matresses and blankes for this, you won't forget the starry night. Away from the polution the sky has never been so dotted with shiny stars,
MY TIP

If you can't do the 7 day trip, make sure not to miss the manta rays