Fiji was a most welcome break from the daily struggles in Iraq where I've been since 2004.

Such incomparable beauty among the reefs, on its islands, and with its people.

From close encounters of the best kind with sea life to meetings with local elders (and imbibing in the local brew) and mixing with enthusiastic school children -- it is a place that will remain in memory and to which I shall return with great joy. Cheers!
— Raoul Alcala, Founding Member since 2007.

Fiji

Destination Review: Fiji Diving

First Thoughts

Fiji is a place with beautiful islands, friendly and fun people, a vibrant native culture and some of the best diving in the world. Jacques Cousteau coined it the Soft Coral Capital of the World (more on that later) and that name has stuck and given Fiji much of its diving identity although it’s not always accurate. Fiji is safe and relatively modern for a developing island nation and the cost structure is moderate so it’s a good value. Culturally, Fiji is very interesting in that 50% of the population are ethnic Indians. So, in the country, there are two distinct and culturally (and socially) separate peoples: ethnic Fijians and ethnic Indians. The ethnic Fijians still live a tribe centered life, live more rurally, run most of the countrys tourism and the very highest levels of government. Ethnic Indians run Fiji’s businesses and many of its lower and mid governmental positions and live more urbanely.
Fiji also has over 300 islands of which only 105 are inhabited and a striking amount of diversity both above and below the water. Oftentimes people talk about Fiji as a homogenous place and that’s not the case. The diving is highly varied depending on where you go and even the cultural background of the local people that you will meet. The main island, Vitu Levu is large over 90×60 miles and mountainous as is the second largest island, Vanua Levu. The outer islands vary from idyllic sand spits to mangrove fringed. The first time we went to Fiji, we spent over a month and still had plenty left to see.

Why We Think Fiji Rocks or Doesn’t

Because it’s exotic, the islands beautiful, the soft coral diving AMAZING and the people the friendliest on earth. It’s also a relatively easy overnight hop from LAX so it can be done as a week vacation. There are many different areas of Fiji to explore. The Great Sea Reef and Great Astrolabe Reef are two large areas of hard corals within the soft coral capital of the world. It’s great to explore both! If you like shark diving, you’ve come to the right place as well. One of the world’s top shark dives is very close to the town of Pacific Harbour on Viti Levu.

Visit some of the local villages and schools and meet the friendliest people in the entire world. Learn and drink at a traditional kava ceremony. Fiji has a lot to explore.

Things that Rock

  • Maybe the friendliest people on earth
  • exotic feel
  • easy to get to and travel friendly
  • a claim to the best soft corals in the world
  • fantastic hard corals that nobody talks about
  • does have sharks, walls and macro that nobody talks about
  • one of best shark dives in world

Things that Don’t

  • not the greatest beaches where there is the best diving
  • no nightlife

The Diving

Despite what you may have been told, soft corals are NOT everywhere in Fiji you need to go to specific areas. Likewise, there are some stunning hard coral reefs in Fiji that nobody talks about, great macro, some good pelagic life and maybe the best shark dive in the world. The gorgeous, lush, color splashed images of Fiji that you see are courtesy of a soft coral called dendronephthya. Few other places in the world other than the Red Sea and PNG have dense patches of this coral and it covers the reefs in Fiji in fiery purple, pink, orange, red and yellows. There is also another beautiful soft coral called siphonogorgia that is abundant in some areas in Fiji. Dendronephthya needs current. With little current present, the soft corals are muted, but as the current increases, they inflate with water and their color really begins to shine. Also as the current picks up, planktivores (plankton eating fish) such as beautifully colored scalefin anthias spring up off the reef in polarized schools. Together, this forms a rich pageantry of color.
The best places for soft coral in Fiji are the Bligh Waters between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu where there are numerous reefs and pinnacles, the Somosomo Straight between Taveuni and Vanua Levu and Namena Island and its marine protected area.

Land Based or Live aboard in Fiji?

Diving a Liveaboard in Fiji is going to give you the opportunity to visit and dive a number of different areas including Bligh Waters, Wakaya, Gau and Namena. It provides the best diversity of diving. Again, it simply depends on your goal for your diving holiday. There are amazing resorts in Fiji so you need to decide if you want to put your toes in the sand at the end of the day and have some romantic time together or if you simply want to concentrate on diving four times a day and nothing else. Both options can (if you choose the right land based resort) provide an exceptional trip in an exceptional location.

The Naia Liveaboard Dive Boat

Rob Barrel and Cat Holoway pretty much invented liveaboard diving in Fiji, discovering and naming many of its best dive sites. Its worth doing the 10 day itinerary which includes Namena.

Dive Areas in Fiji

Choosing a land based resort can be tricky in Fiji because diving can range from downright poor to tremendous and from chock a block full of soft coral to a solid hard reef structure. Be sure you get what you want!

Bligh Waters

This area is off the northwest coast of Viti Levu and is the passage between that island and Vanua Levu. It’s accessed by liveaboards or resorts in northwest Viti Levu. It may have the best soft corals in Fiji, some fantastic pinnacles and even pelagics. It has dive sites such as E6, Mount Mutiny, Black Magic Mountain, Express and Lost World. This is our favorite area to dive in Fiji. Yes, currents can be ripping strong here but the soft corals and marine life are second to none in Fiji. There are a limited number of resorts from which to dive these waters but most of the live aboards service the area.

Somosomo Strait

This is the passage between Taveuni and Vanua Levu. It is accessed by liveaboards and land based dive operations from the west coast of Taveuni. It has dive sites such as the Great White Wall and Blue Ribbon Eel Reef. Fiji’s reputation as the soft coral capital of the world, stemmed originally from this area. When the currents run they create an endless food source for these kaleidoscope colored corals.

Great Sea Reef/West Vanua Levu:

This is one hour boat ride off the west coast of Vanua Levu. It is a beautiful hard coral reef with good fish life. In the winter time, it can see big swell. It is accessed by Nukubati Resort on the west coast of Vanua Levu near Labasa. While Fiji is known for it’s soft corals, there is great diving on the hard reefs as well. Do expect longer run times to the reef.

Savu Savu/East Vanua Levu

There are dive sites and pinnacles scattered along the eastern coast of Vanua Levu including some nice hard coral reefs. It is accessed by resorts on the east coast of Vanua Levu. Namena is accessible from here although it may be a 1 ½ hour boat ride. If you’re diving here for an entire week, you’ll need to repeat some sites.

Namenalala or Namena

Namenalal is a small island with a surrounding reef off the southeastern tip of Vanua Levu. It has one resort, Moody’s, and its founders have worked with local Fijians to create a marine reserve. The reefs that encircle the island have soft corals, good fish life and some pelagic life. It has dive sites such as North Save a Tack and South Save a Tack. It is accessed by liveaboards, the one local resort or from the east coast of Vanua Levu, though that is a long boat ride. Namena Marine Protected Area has marvelous soft corals, big critter diving as well and ripping drift dives!

Beqa Lagoon

Beqa is a large island located off the southern tip of Viti Levu. It sits within a lagoon and is surrounded by reefs. The diving here can be accessed by resorts on Bequ or Pacific Harbour – which is the town on Viti Levu opposite Beqa. Since the lagoon faces the big island, three major rivers run into it from Viti Levu and during periods of heavy rain can create poor conditions for diving in the lagoon. The rainy season is not recommended here. Beqa has patch reefs and small bommies, some of which are festooned with soft corals. The best diving is near the island of Yanuca. Beqa has the best shark dive in the world where you have the opportunity to see seven species on one dive including numerous large bull sharks and even a tiger shark. The action is intense. Not for the fainthearted. While the shark diving is amazing, you may find the diving at Beqa underwhelming compared with other areas of Fiji. Timing is everything in Beqa (prounounced BENGA).

Yasawa Group

This group of islands has the best beaches in Fiji. Unfortunately the diving isn’t the best as well. If you’re coming for diving, best to choose a different area.

Lau Group

This seldom visited group is in the far north of Fiji. It is difficult to obtain permits to go here and there are currently no liveaboards servicing it. It was profoundly affected by a large bleaching event and it is unclear how much the coral has bounced back.

Kadavu (Great Astrolabe Reef)

We have not visited this area of Fiji and have had mixed reports. If you have a report from diving at Kadavu, please let us know.

Our Favorite Things to Do Out of the Water

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.

  • Meet the Children. Fiji has some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and the children are simply precious. They LOVE to have their photos taken and watch themselves on video cameras. Get a portable printer and not only take photos but print them while on vacation and give them to the children. This is priceless for them!!!
  • Drink Kava. The national drink of Fiji, kava is made from a pepper root which is crushed with mortar and pestle. Then water is added and mixed with a rag to the consistancy and look of dirty dish water, yum!! Using a half coconut shell the ritual cup is passed around in concise order beginning with the chief and a series of hand claps before and after is appropriate. Kava has a numbing effect on the lips and….well the brain! In the old days the kava root was chewed and then spit into the bowl before mixing and drinking….MOST of those days are gone!
  • Surfing. Beqa Island has some top surfing breaks. Check them out!
  • Firewalking. No that doesn’t mean YOU have to do it and while it may seem a little touristy, this is actually a serious religious ceremony which strict adherence to protocol. It originated on Beqa.
  • Snorkel. If you are not a diver, you can still enjoy the magnificent reefs with just a mask, snorkel and fins.
  • Attend a Meke. A meke is the traditional dance ceremony of Fiji. It’s very cool to go to a village and see the dances rather than have a group come to your hotel. In the village you can interact with the Fijians.
  • Visit Koroyanitu National Park in the Mt. Evans range on Viti Levu. Projects like Abaca are in place creating hiking trails through the 25,000 hectare park.
  • Sigatoka Sand Dunes. Located just 2km outside of Sigatoka town, these beautiful dunes are a sight to behold. There is a visitor’s center as well.

 

Fiji Seasonality

Like many dive locations, Fiji has a warmer, wetter, lower visibility season, from November to April and a cooler, windier drier season from April to october. It is definitely possible to dive Fiji year around. Cool waters of the northern hemisphere summers bring clear waters but windy and choppy conditions to the islands. We like the shoulder season of November which often brings good dive conditions. June through October is the dry season. During that time, the water is clearest (100+) but it can be windy and water temps can drop into the mid 70’s. The wet season runs from December to April. During that time, the winds die down, and visibility is lower but still typically quite good (60+) and water temps are in the low 80s. Hurricane season is December through March. The transitional months of November, April and May might be the best times to go. Also keep in mind that weather can be different on different islands. The jungle mountains of Viti Levu top out at over 4000 and create their own weather. Quite often, clouds form by the afternoon and are dissipated as early AM rainshowers. The northern part of Viti Levu usually has clearer weather than the south.

Overall

What’s not to like? Fiji is exotic, travel friendly, easy to get to and has great diving all at a reasonable price. It’s a place that keeps drawing us back, almost every year and we have produced some of our most stunning underwater imagery here. As far as picking a diving area in Fiji, given one trip to Fiji, we’d dive the Bligh Waters or Namena any day.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Fiji

Two Fins UP

Request a Free Quote or Make a Reservation

Interested in traveling to Fiji?  We are here to help by sharing our global expertise.  Create your own personalized diving adventure by requesting a risk free quote.  It’s easy and there’s no obligation.  Or, if you already know what you want, you can make a reservation.

Or, join us on a Guided Diving Adventure.

REQUEST A RESERVATION OR QUOTE

 

Destination Extras!

Passport

A valid passport is required to enter and exit the Fiji. Please make sure that your passport is valid for three months from the date of exit out of the country and that you have enough space for entry/exit stamps. If you do not hold a valid passport, apply as soon as possible as it may take some time to receive. Always keep a copy of the face page of your passport located in a separate place than your passport. It is necessary to hold a return or ongoing ticket.

Departure Tax

Departure tax of seventy five Fiji Dollars (F$75.00) or approximately $40USD has to be paid at the Nadi airport on departure. Sometimes your departure tax is included in your air ticket. Be sure to inquire with your airline ticketing agent.

Health

Fiji is a healthy country, free from most tropical diseases. Inoculation will not be required unless a traveler is entering from a designated infected area. A good source for information is the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Call their 24 hour recorded Travelers Health Hotline at 404-332-455n 9, or toll-free information at 888-232-3228. The CDC also is on line at http:/www.cdc.gov. The following information is current as of February 18th, 2008. There is no risk of Malaria in Fiji at this time. Dengue fever is present now in practically all tropical environments. The use of mosquito repellant is always recommended when the insect is present.

Food

As when traveling anywhere in foreign countries, take general common sense precautions with food. Bottled water is recommended. All food provided by GDE will be of good quality however, any time a traveler eats food they are not used to an upset stomach or travelers diarrhea may result. Fiji’s multi-cultural population is mirrored in its cuisine. Fijian cooking draws heavily on seafood often cooked in lolo (coconut cream), pork, chicken and root crops. Indian and Chinese influence is enjoyed by all Fijian communities.

GENERAL TRAVEL INFORMATION

Baggage Restrictions

Luggage restrictions are an ever changing phenomenon in our post 9/11 world. Currently, individual airlines set the baggage allowance for checked luggage and TSA now sets the baggage allowance for carry on luggage. DO NOT expect any flexibility on baggage allowances in the US or from US based carriers overseas. US carriers are using new luggage restrictions on checked luggage to increase revenue. For carry on bags, the federal government now makes the rules and the rules are federal law. Current restrictions by American Airlines for example (and most other US based carriers) on international flights allow two checked bags per person not to exceed 50lbs weight and 62 linear inches in size (L+W+H). The weight limit for checked bags is 50lb. (You may bring more but will pay heavily for it up to 70lbs). It is a good idea to check with your airline if you are an elite member of their frequent flyer programs. . TSA guidelines limit carry on items to one bag per person not to exceed 40lbs weight and 45 linear inches in size (L+W+H) and one personal item. A personal item is defined as a purse, briefcase, computer bag, CD case or SMALL backpack. You can visit the website of your airline or the TSA for up to date information at www.AA.com or www.tsa.dot.gov/public/index.jsp,

However, with all of that said, if you are flying with Air Pacific, below are the baggage allowances:

Cabin baggage

All destinations

Passenger Type Class of Travel Piece Allowance Weight Allowance
Adults Business 2 x 105cm bagsTotal dimensions of the 2 bags
must not exceed 115cm (45in)
7kg per piece
Economy 1 x 105cm (39in) bag 7kg per piece
Infants (0-2 yrs) All classes n/a n/a

Checked baggage
Travel to/from Los Angeles

Passenger Type Class of Travel Piece Allowance Weight Allowance
Adults Business 2 pieces with total dimensions
of the 2 pieces not exceeding
270cm (106in) and no 1 piece
exceeding 158cm (62in)
30kg per piece
Economy 2 pieces with total dimensions
of the 2 pieces not exceeding
270cm (106in) and no 1 piece
exceeding 158cm (62in)
23kg per piece
Infants (0-2 yrs) All classes n/a 10kg + stroller

 

Total dimensions are measured by adding together the height, width and depth of the bag.

Duty free

USA-
Visitors aged 17 have an allowance of 2 litres of alcoholic spirits, or 4 litres of wine or 4 litres of beer and 500 cigarettes or 500 grams of tobacco product. Other items like personal effects and household effects for residents or intending residents should not exceed $400.

Restricted Exports (subtitle small)
Whale’s teeth, traditional breast plates of pearl and ivory, ivory necklaces and artifacts made from whales teeth due to their sacred ceremonial roles in Fijian history.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON THE FIJI ISLANDS

 

Electricity

Electricity to all the main centers is 240 volts, 50 cycles AC

FIJI plug adapters: the grounded plug adapter WA-16 and the ungrounded plug adapter #2. These are the recommended wall outlet plug adapters for FIJI.

Gratuities

Tipping is not a usual custom in Fiji and generally resorts ask guests to make a donation at the front office for Staff Christmas funds to be distributed amongst the staff at the end of the year.

Telephone

AT&T access from Fiji is 004-890-1001.

Alcohol

While alcohol is available in Fiji, most Fijians do not drink it and it is not encouraged. Most Fijians prefer to drink kava, a drink made from the pepper root. Kava, while it can have a slight numbing effect is not a narcotic.

Country in Profile

Location/size-

Fiji is a Melanesian island group located in the South Pacific at 175 degrees east longitude and 18 degrees south latitude. The islands are about 1,770 kilometers (1,100 miles) north of New Zealand. The group comprises 332 volcanic islands scattered in a horseshoe across an area of ocean some 595 kilometers (370 miles) across. Fiji has a total land area of 18,270 square kilometers (7,054 square miles), of which 87 percent is made up by its 2 largest islands, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu. Comparable in size to New Jersey, with a coastline of 1,129 kilometers (702 miles), Fiji has more land mass and people than all the other Melanesian islands put together. The capital of Fiji is Suva (pop. 77,366), on the southeast shore of the island of Viti Levu. The country’s highest point, also on Viti Levu, is Mt. Victoria (Tomanivi) at 1,324 meters (4,344 feet).

Culture

Fiji was first settled about three and a half thousand years ago. The original inhabitants are now called “Lapita people” after a distinctive type of fine pottery they produced, remnants of which have been found in practically all the islands of the Pacific, east of New Guinea, though not in eastern Polynesia. The Lapita people are said to have originated from South-east Asia and are also ancestors of the Polynesians. Vast distances were crossed to complete the settlement of the Pacific to Hawaii in the north, Rapanui (Easter Island) in the east and Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the south. Unlike the islands of Polynesia which showed a continuous steadily evolving culture from initial occupation, Fiji appears to have undergone at least two periods of rapid culture change in prehistoric times. This may have been due to the arrival of fresh waves of immigrants, presumably from the west. Prehistorians have noted that a massive 12th century volcanic eruption in southern Vanuatu coincides with the disappearance of a certain pottery style, and its sudden emergence in Fiji. Fijians are usually called “Melanesians”. However, from a cultural stand – point, they are seen to be very similar to the Polynesians as over the centuries, their contact with the neighbouring Polynesian islands of Samoa, Tonga and Rotuma have seen the Fijians come to share much of the Polynesian language and culture.

Time Zone

While the 180th Meridian passes through Fiji, the International Date Line has been adjusted so that the entire archipelago falls into the same time zone. Fiji is 12 hours AHEAD of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Fiji does not have daylight savings time and daylight is from about 6am to 6pm. The concept of time is fairly flexible in Fiji so relax and go with the flow. When it’s noon in Fiji it is 4pm the previous day in San Francisco and 7pm the previous day in New York, just to give you a reference. Add one hour to these times if the US is on daylight savings time.

Population: 849,000 (2010 Est.)

Relatively high standards of health care have given Fijians a life expectancy at birth of 67.94 years, with an infant mortality rate of 14.45 per 1,000. The population remains young, with a median age of 21; about 34 percent of the population is clustered between the ages of 5 and 20.
Only a third of Fiji’s 332 islands are inhabited, and three-quarters of Fijians live on Viti Levu, the largest of them. In 1996 53.6 percent of the population lived in rural areas and 46.4 percent in cities. Of the latter group, 46.7 percent, or a little less than a quarter of the total population, live in the greater Suva district. The other main urban center is Lautoka (pop. 36,083), on the northwest shore of the island of Viti Levu.

Language-

English is the official language. However, Fijian and Hindi are also taught in schools as part of the school curriculum. Indigenous Fijians have their own dialects and you can tell which province one comes from, from their dialect. Indians, too have their own, and generally speak a distinctive Fiji-Hindi dialect. This is not the same as the one spoken in India.

Common idiosyncrasies of Fijian words:
The letter “b” is prononounced “mb” Therefore, Bure is “mBure”
The letter “d” is prononounced “nd” Therefore, Nadi is “Nandi
The letter “q” is prononounced “ng” Therefore, Beqa Island is “Benga Island”
The letter “c” is prononounced “th” Therefore, Caneili is “Thaneili”

 

General Fijian dialect (understood by all villagers at Fijian villages):

  1. Bula – “Hello”
  2. Ni Sa Bula or Bula Vinaka – A warm “hello”
  3. Andra Vinaka – Good Morning
  4. Kava – traditional narcotic (relaxing) drink)

 

Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m, highest point: Tomanivi 1,324 m

Religion-

A multiracial, multi-cultural nation, Fiji is represented by all the major religions of the world. This is quickly obvious to the visitor who will see Christian churches, Mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples in towns and the countryside. More than half of Fiji’s population are Christians (52.9%), Hindus (38.1%), Muslim (7.8%), Sikhs (0.7%), Others (0.5%).

History of the Fijian Islands

According to Fijian legend, the great chief Lutunasobasoba led his people across the seas to the new land of Fiji. Most authorities agree that people came into the Pacific from Southeast Asia via the Malay Peninsula. Here the Melanesians and the Polynesians mixed to create a highly developed society long before the arrival of the Europeans.

The European discoveries of the Fiji group were accidental. The first of these discoveries was made in 1643 by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman and English navigators, including Captain James Cook who sailed through in 1774, and made further explorations in the 18th century.

Major credit for the discovery and recording of the islands went to Captain William Bligh who sailed through Fiji after the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.

The first Europeans to land and live among the Fijians were shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from the Australian penal settlements. Sandalwood traders and missionaries came by the mid 19th century.

Cannibalism practiced in Fiji at that time quickly disappeared as missionaries gained influence. When Ratu Seru Cakobau accepted Christianity in 1854, the rest of the country soon followed and tribal warfare came to an end.

From 1879 to 1916 Indians came as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations. After the indentured system was abolished, many stayed on as independent farmers and businessmen. Today they comprise 43.6 per cent of the population.