|In many exotic world-class dive destinations around the globe you have two ways of approaching the diving -- a land based resort operation making day trips to the various dive sites or a liveaboard vessel that cruises the exotic locale presenting the most time available on and in the water. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and perhaps in no place is that choice more pronounced than in Fiji.
Fiji is a South Pacific Island paradise, above and below the waters. Two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are surrounded by over 330 smaller islands, all of them in turn surrounded by fantastic coral reefs, as with just about any in the South Pacific. "Fiji Fantastic!" is its well-earned nickname. But as a diver and tourist, how do approach it? Land or liveaboard based? Here is a comparison and in the end a conclusion and our recommendation.
Warm breezes wisp through the palm trees on the beach and in the hills. The amount of green is almost staggering. Finding their way up the beach from the nearby village children play in the water just outside your villa. Smells of a lovo dinner fill the air mixing with the fragrances of the salt air and flowers on the hillside. This is what I woke up to from my afternoon nap today, lounging in a hammock. Lalati Resort on the island of Beqa was showing to me the full flavor of the natural island side of Fiji.
Things are relaxed and very slow paced. The 8:30 dive boat this morning left at 9:15 a.m. -- that's Fiji time. And none of the guests seemed to care. A bit more time with coffee and fresh baked muffins in conversation with fellow travelers. Some crazy photographer even broke out their laptop to show off their latest and greatest underwater images from colorful underwater Fiji (Oops! That would be me.) But nobody was in a hurry. The magnificent dive sites were not going anywhere and everybody interested still got in their two great morning dives.
The dive sites covered throughout the week were never more than a 15-minute boat ride away. Most were incredible pinnacles of coral with vertical sides (bommies) dropping from 15 feet to 60-80 feet. Personal favorite was Carpet Cove where every square inch of the reef was covered with coral and soft coral with swirling brightly colored tropical fish above, in and out. The highlight of that dive, however, was the huge underwater arch with hanging gorgonians and soft corals.
At Lalati Resort they specialize in the laid back. The villas are exceptionally large with big comfortable beds. There is room to spread out. There are no TVs (Honeymoon villas do have TV's; go figure), no phones. Most of the villas (there is only 10 for the ultimate in personalized attention) are right on the beach. There is a spa with various treatments and massages offered and full bar. Other activities available at the resort include a kava ceremony (the mildly narcotic national drink of Fiji), forest herbal walks, kayaking, hiking (one trek in particular ascends to a jungle waterfall) and more.
The attitude at Lalati may be laid back, but there is a lot to do just the same. I especially enjoyed our walk in the jungle and poking around the tide pools. But perhaps the best part of the entire Lalati Resort experience (other than the diving) is the people, the beautiful and joyful Fijian people. We sang and danced and drank kava.
Aboard the Island Dancer II we dived and dived and dived some more. You could make up to five dives a day, if you so desired. The onboard nitrox made that a bit easier but most of the nitrox divers I spoke with onboard were diving the nitrox with their computers set on air. Even so, the availability of nitrox was quite nice.
Aboard the this luxury liveaboard we seemed free as a bird, pretty much going any where we wanted to and diving anywhere the boat could take us. We cruised to distant islands, rarely seen reefs, and swam with fish not used to seeing divers. The fullness of Fiji's underwater realm exploded in our faces. And of course, we had our cameras in hand to capture it.
Venturing forth from the capital city of Suva we headed north and grabbed our first mooring. Spotted were numerous sharks, hammerheads, and mantas all cruising over healthy reefs in 100-foot visibility. Later dives at other various atolls during the week we dived with more sharks, saw ghost pipe fish, numerous varieties of nudibranchs and other colorful invertebrates. For the photographer, it is definitely a target-rich environment, with the blizzards and varieties of tropical reef fish. But our favorite morning of the trip was the snorkeling opportunity with a Mama Humpback and her baby!
A great advantage of liveaboard diving is your gear is based in one spot and never moves (with the exception, of course when you are wearing it). I had only to slip on my wetsuit, then my gear on the swimstep and--bang!-- I was in the water. On occasion we would take the inflatable dingy upcurrent to drift dive back to the main boat. Nothing could be easier.
Even though this portion of our trip was boat based, we had time to visit a remote island village, have a kava ceremony and be entertained by the villagers.
You now should have come to the proper conclusion that Fiji is a must-dive for traveling divers. But how should you approach it? Liveaboard or land-based resort? Do both! You will be taking the time, effort and expense to get there (actually easier and less expensive than you think), so why not saturate yourself in the full Fijian experience? If you can afford it (again, not expensive as you may think), schedule a two-week trip and spend one week on the liveaboard and the next week on a lighter-duty schedule at the resort, as two divers we met aboard the Island Dancer II planned. (We did the reverse and wished we had done it the other way.) Can't afford both? Pick the routine that best suits your dive style but definitely go dive and experience Fiji.
I can't say enough positive things about both Lalati Resort on Beqa Island and the Island Dancer II. And Continental Airline was an excellent way to get there. Vinaka to all of them.