Fiji has always been a bucket-list destination for in-the-know divers, but here’s my advice: Move it to the top of your list as soon as you can. The waters surrounding the 300-plus Fiji islands offer a tantalizing bit of everything—thrilling wall dives, heart-pounding shark encounters, and arguably the planet’s most diverse array of soft coral (more than 400 species are said to be found here).
Another plus is that Fiji has dive sites for all skill levels. More advanced divers will want to head to Taveuni, the Somosomo Strait, or Beqa Lagoon, while beginners will find lots to enjoy in the relatively serene waters off the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands (favorites of Hollywood location scouts; both Castaway and The Blue Lagoon were filmed in these parts). Here, a look at two very different but equally rewarding dive destinations: Namale, on the lush island of Vanua Levu, and Vomo, a pristine island on the northern edge of the Mamanucas.
I flew out of Los Angeles on a brisk November night, aboard a nonstop Air Pacific flight to Nadi, Fiji’s international airport on the main island of Viti Levu. I promptly transferred to a domestic flight to Savusavu, on the northern island of Vanua Levu. From the Savusavu airport, it’s a short ride to the exquisite Namale resort, which has an on-site dive shop staffed by some of the most perceptive divemasters I’ve ever had the pleasure to dive with.
My first dive was to Diamond Wall, a mere five-minute boat ride from the Namale dock. The water was a comfy 81 degrees, and the vis was in the 60-feet range. The drop-off beckoned and I descended to 110 feet, where I swam amid hard and soft corals and a smattering of white-tips. I did a lazy ascent along the wall, checking out the sculptural overhangs and swim-throughs. While there is some bleached coral in these waters, it’s still a healthy and breathtaking area, well populated by Moorish idols and clownfish.
Another don’t-miss dive here is Dreamhouse, considered by many to be Vanua Levu’s top site (it’s best reached from Namale or the nearby Koro Sun Resort). The current can rip but the effort is worth it, as divers are routinely rewarded with pelagic sightings. Descend to 30 feet, where you’ll encounter a coral-clad pinnacle inhabited by brilliant reef fish. They weren’t on view during my visit, but local divers tell stories of regular encounters with tiger sharks and hammerheads.
Topside, Namale has lots to offer, with a first-rate restaurant, spa and out-of-this-world accommodations, making surface intervals a distinct pleasure. In the evenings, the resort often presents “mekes” (traditional Fijian dances), and on my last night at Namale, my dive buddies and I were treated to an angelic performance by a choir of Fijian children.
When you picture paradise, chances are you imagine a place that looks very much like Vomo, a heavenly private island fringed with white sand beaches and crystalline waters. It’s an ever-so-romantic getaway (which may be why it was chosen to be the dream destination on the most recent installment of ABC’s ).
Vomo is easily reached by boat from the Denerau Marina, which is a short cab ride from Nadi; it’s also accessible by a 15-minute helicopter ride from the Nadi airport. The island has only one hotel: the Vomo Island Resort, which offers superbly appointed accommodations, extraordinary dining, and a full slate of water sports (kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling). Diving is arranged through Subsurface Fiji, a dive shop on nearby Beachcomber Island.
The waters surrounding Vomo (and its tiny satellite island, Vomo Lailai) are calm and fairly shallow, ideal for checkout dives and beginners. But more experienced divers will also enjoy their bottom time here because the dramatic coral formations are in blooming health (I saw no sign of bleaching). Two of Vomo’s top sites are Ronnie’s Reef, a conglomeration of fish-filled canyons; Vomo Caves, a patchwork of caverns and swim-throughs; and Shark Alley, just off Vomo Lailai.
Wherever you go in Fiji, you will be greeted with a warm “bula!” And whenever you leave Fiji, you’ll likely be serenaded with the traditional farewell song, “Isa Lei,” which has a haunting, tuneful beauty. The song will stay in your mind long after you’ve returned, because it’s hard to get out of your system, just like Fiji itself.
Deborah Kirk is the former Travel and Features Editor of Scuba Diving.