3 June 2022 –
Melbourne weather forecast – cold (12 degrees) – wet – overcast – (miserable…)
Ra Province – Fiji – warm (29 degrees) – dry – sunny – (heaven!!!)
Thank god we decided to meet at the airport at stupid O’ Clock in the morning, Virgin only had 4 out of 12 check in counters open… and even though we got there ridiculously early, it still took an hour to check in… Finally, we’re through, luggage is checked through to Nadi – Fiji and we’re off to Sydney to connect with our Fiji bound flight.
Once in Sydney, we transferred from domestic to international where we moved straight through to the international gate to go through security and progress to our flight… once again, on paper, we had ample time… none of us were prepared for what we were about to encounter… A queue so long that we all began to worry that we’d never see the inside of our plane.
Eventually, we made it on the plane without any time to spare…. 4 hours later, we landed in Nadi!
Moving though the airport in Nadi wasn’t much quicker than moving through the airport in Sydney and in all fairness, components of the delays are due to the new requirements of having to inspect mountains of paperwork pertaining to vaccination status and associated health declarations backed up by travel insurance with a Covid cover cluase etc…
Following this, we finally boarded the bus bound for Voli Voli Beach Resort…..
With the various delays encountered and the bus reaching a dizzy speed of 60Kph on straight downhill runs and the road trip to Voli Voli punctuated by copious amounts of roadworks and peak hour traffic on Fijian country roads, the sun had set and stomachs could be heard grumbling through the bus, I made contact with Voli Voli checking on estimated arrival times and whether the restaurant would still be open or not…
With Voli Voli notifying me that the restaurant would be closed, the suggestion was made that a menu be sent to me via Messenger, that I circulate the menu to the crew, take their order and send that back through to Voli Voli for them to have dinner ready when we arrived – I put my waiter hat on and soon found myself walking up and down the isle of the bus taking food orders from everyone and sent the orders through to Voli Voli.
Upon arrival at Voli Voli, we were greeted by Simon and some of his staff, and asked to relax, not worry about our luggage, it would be taken to our rooms for us, but to simply head down to the restaurant, relax, have a drink, and sit down to dinner… By that time, we’d been on the go for 22 hours and were all starting to feel it and looking forward to a bed and a good night sleep!
With allowances made for us to be able to have a little sleep in, we met for breakfast and finalised bits of paperwork prior to heading down to the dive shop for a briefing and boarding the boat for our first 2 dives of the trip, a short boat ride later and we moored the boat at THE AMAZING MAZE, and with buddy pairs allocated, we entered the water. Casting our minds back to the previous day where we left Melbourne at 6 degrees of temperature, we entered the water at 27 degrees! This dive was to be our “Check Out” dive, a cruisy fun dip getting us accustomed to the conditions… By local standards, Viz was bad (10mts) but there was a lot on show with little nudibranchs, colourful soft coral everywhere, Glass Shrimps, and millions of colourful fish atop the coral head. A one hour surface interval and a change of location to dive site #2 DREAM MAKER, again, lots of macro life with Nudibranchs and other miniscule creatures, some nice swim throughs, a couple of curious Giant Trevally swimming past, and yet another action packed safety stop on the coral head, completely hypnotised by the amount of life existing in the shallows.
Upon returning to the resort, we were briefed on the service provided by the resort, we left BC’s on board to be hosed down by staff, we simply had to wash the salt off our gear and hang it on the provided racks and hangers and the crew would lock it away at night in a ventilated room to finish drying off. Our gear would in turn be brought out in the morning for us to get ready to dive with all over again!
By this time it was around 2pm and lunch was our next activity to be had… One thing that is for sure is that Voli Voli understands and knows only too well that diving makes you hungry and they didn’t disappoint with a lavish lunch menu that pleased everyone!
The afternoons were ours to do with whatever we wanted, several of the crew took that opportunity to have a look around the resort, others caught up on some sleep with an afternoon Nanna Nap… Next thing you know, we’re all back in the restaurant for dinner…
I could rave on and on about the food but I won’t, let’s just say that you could have been reading this menu in any of Melbourne’s top restaurants and not only was the description of the food well done but it was accurate and the meals didn’t disappoint… The service was superb, friendly and efficient, the presentation was stunning and the kitchen was incredibly accommodating to individual dietary variances.
Today’s the day! We’re heading into the BLIGH WATERS to one of my all times favourite dive sites, BLACK MAGIC MOUNTAIN. A coral pinnacle that drops to a platform at about 24/25mts. After tying up to the mooring we were briefed with a forecast of a current upon entry. They weren’t wrong. This was a rather robust current that challenged some of the most experienced divers in the group. Following our descent, we headed around the pinnacle to an area where patrolling Reef Sharks swam effortlessly, moving back with the current and around the lee side of the pinnacle. We encountered schooling Barracuda, a couple of rather large Spanish Mackerels, some schooling Giant Trevally, and finished up doing our safety stop on a coral head that would have had you thinking that you were diving in a tropical aquarium. A one hour surface interval back on the boat munching on the freshest and tastiest pineapple on the planet, helped down with a muffin and coconut cookies and we were ready to dive our second site for the day – POT LUCK. This dive site also holds fond memories for me, this is the first location outside of PNG and the Solomons where I found a Pigmy Sea horse many years ago, speaking with the dive crew, that Pigmy Sea horse was only seen a handful of other times that year and never again since… BUT… we were in for a treat, our guide found us a Ghost Pipefish. The disguise/camouflage was so amazing that there is no way that I would have ever seen this little critter on my own without having him located and pointed out, aside from that, we had Moray Eels, more Reef Sharks, more schooling Barracuda and some safety stop entertainment courtesy of an anemone housing a family of clownfish
Again, we headed out early to get out into the Bligh waters, our first dive today is HEART BREAKER, an incredibly easy to dive, reef wall covered in soft coral formations with some stunning swim throughs, and tons and tons of small reef fish species, again, a one hour surface interval and we were back in for dive 2 at a place known as INSTANT REPLAY, a fabulous wall dive with all creatures great and small. Reef Sharks, Barracuda, Spanish Mackerel, Giant Trevally, and an elusive Scorpion Leaf Fish sitting in a small recess in the reef structure awaiting his next ambush, and to top it off the smallest of small crabs, the Hairy Coral crab! I found this tiny critter on the coral head doing my safety stop and brought him to the attention of the guide, he noted its location down on his slate and spoke with me about this little guy once back at the resort, it so happened that he’d never seen one before, he’d only read about them and knew that they lived in the Bligh Waters.
On the boat again, this time heading for a protected site in the lee of the islands, AKUNA MATATTA. An interesting reef structure with multiple bommies and lots of swim throughs, again a veritable aquarium full of life with yet another sighting of a Ghost Pipefish, some schooling Barracuda, an inquisitive yet territorial family of Clownfish to finish off the dive keeping me entertained during my safety stop. Following our surface interval, we moved to our second site for the day, NEPTUNE, where we had again the pleasure of seeing reef sharks, schooling Barracuda and a distant Spotted Eagle Ray to top off the bigger end of the fish scale (pardon the pun) with the obligatory safety stop on the coral head, teeming with small, colourful fish species.
The reality of the fact that we now only have one day of diving left calls for a get together to have fun, chat and laugh about events of the last few days… So… this means it’s PARTY TIME! I organised a few platters of finger foods to be brought down to the stunning Luxury Oceanfront Villa that I’ve called home for the last few days, a round up of the remains of the duty free purchases made upon departing Australia, some tunes playing in the background and the incredible bunch of people who joined me on this trip and the party was on… a couple of drinks later and the Man Kinni was being handed around, worn proudly and posed in for photographic opportunities, a synchronised BULA from in the pool, a daring but successful attempt at harvesting a coconut from a tree, a cocktail made using the said coconut from the tree, and a general consensus that SCUBA CULTURE needed to do this again but with an option for a 10 day trip…. All in favour – motion carried!
The last day of diving is now upon us! We’ve boarded the boat, analised our Nitrox, set up our dive gear and on the way to another sheltered site called GOLDEN DREAM, named due to the yellow soft corals that cover the upper parts of the site. The site made up of a series of bommies, all closely located to one another providing some amazing swim throughs and providing the predatorial piscatorial residents with a myriad of hiding, camouflaging and ambushing opportunities, once again, this site didn’t disappoint with visibility of around 30mts and amount of fish and macro life on show!
Once the surface interval was over, we headed to the second dive site for the day, a new reef, seldomly dived and now plotted into the GPS as SCUBA CULTURE’s KYLIE’S REEF! Named after our effervescent dive club member Kylie W. This dive site also turned it on with 30mts viz, great swim throughs, lots of Nudibranchs, a visit from a Spotted Eagle Ray, a White Tip Reef Shark, schooling Barracuda and the now usual entertainment put on by millions of fish on the safety stop including a Lion fish displaying its full splendour.
Looking back on the dives of the trip, we’re able to draw interesting comparisons between dives done close to the mainland and in the shelter of islands and dives done in the open expanses of the Bligh Waters… Certainly, the first thing that jumps to mind is the visibility in the Bligh Waters being better than the closer sites, the coral heads where we did our safety stops were all incredibly exciting with the amount of marine life on show, the Bligh Waters also had a greater amount of the larger Pelagic fish than the closer sites.
Our last day where the selected activity for the group was the Dolphin Encounter… Unfortunately, the dolphins must have either been out for a hunt or at a stop work meeting and were missing in action. Having said that, the crew was taken to snorkel a reef and came back absolutely raving about the experience with no regrets of not seeing dolphins.
We’re on our way back to Australia, I won’t go into details about the debacle that we had to suffer at the hands of Virgin airlines but suffice to say that we will not be using that airline company in any hurry again. Additionally, Australia could learn a lot from Fiji’s efficiency with airport procedures.
The trip was a HUGE success, obviously due to the amazing crew, service, accommodation and assistance of the management and staff at Voli Voli Beach resort but probably and most importantly due to the mix of wonderful people who came along, there was never a dull moment, the entire week was packed fun and laughter from start to the end – to our divers – THANK YOU.
Thank you to our photography enthusiasts who very kindly allowed us to use their images. Liz, Claire, Judith, Kylie, James & Nancy.