Tuesday, 22 July 2008

IN Depth - Fiji - DIVE Rest of the world

IN Depth - Fiji

For British divers, Fiji represents the ultimate escape: it lies some 2,000 miles northeast of Australia and 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

For British divers, Fiji represents the ultimate escape: it lies some 2,000 miles northeast of Australia and 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. That's about as far from Britain as it is possible to be, but the journey is not as punishing as you may believe - two sets of ten-hour flights via California or the Far East, and you're there. The question is… where are you going to stay? The most important thing is to choose a resort or boat where the diving programme suits you. Simon Rogerson reports on some of the establishments available to visiting divers, each with its own distinctive character

The Great Astrolabe Reef

Some of the most spectacular hard-coral formations in the world can be found along the Great Astrolabe, an immense barrier reef that protects the southern and eastern shores of the Kadavu island group. Diving here can be challenging, as the channels between the reefs and the outer sea can be subject to fast currents and heavy swell. Still, the reef diving is of the highest standard, and there is still scope for discovery.

One of the more mellow attractions in this area is Fiji's 'other' big animal dive, Manta Reef. The reef starts at 12m and drops down to about 26m on either side, but you only really need to go deep for the first few minutes, to allow the mantas to get used to your presence. They tend to occupy the top of the reef, and move away if you invade their territory too early in the dive. Mantas visit this reef regularly to socialise, feed and be cleaned - and local operators at Matava dive resort claim a 70 per cent success rate in finding them. DIVE saw between two and six rays here over six successive visits, but they are quite shy and should be approached with maximum caution, lest they depart.

Elsewhere, the Astrolabe has some thrilling drift dives, where you can encounter unusual 'up' currents, which send you swirling up the water column by four or five metres before spitting you out. It's more frustrating than dangerous, but it does add to the thrill of diving these waters. Typical Fijian soft coral sites are on offer every day, but visitors should ask to dive Big Point, a new site discovered by the guys at Matava. This is a hidden reef promontory that extends outwards from the main reef, far into the open Pacific. It has semi-resident schools of jacks and barracuda, but it is fast acquiring a name as a place for unexpected encounters - whale shark and mobula rays were both present during DIVE's visit, to the amazement of local divers who say such creatures are 'never' seen on the Astrolabe.

We have little hesitation in recommending Matava resort as a base for diving the Great Astrolabe and Manta Reef. It's a small eco-resort on Kadavu Island run by three friends; with some of the friendliest staff we have found anywhere. There is no road network to speak of in Kadavu, so it's a 50-minute ride by fast boat to the resort. Once you're there, the concerns of day to day life just melt away - the burres or huts are set against a hill with panoramic views of the Great Astrolabe and a small island just offshore (ideal for kayaks and snorkelling).

The owners are a laid-back bunch, but the place is extremely well run and has a very homely feel; it's like becoming part of a very cool family who spend all their time diving and drinking Kava. To stay at Matava is to experience Fiji at its most alluring."

IN Depth - Fiji - DIVE Rest of the world