After ten days spent in Savusavu the winds were finally forecast to abate and thus enabling us to head east and to windward, down the Somosomo strait, to Viani bay and the legendary (for scuba divers) Rainbow reef and its plethora of dive sites. So after taking advantage of the "all you can eat curry evening" at the Waitui marina we departed the following morning.
We slipped our dock lines at 6 am with 6 other boats that had also been waiting for favorable weather and travelled in all directions. We headed east and the wind was on the nose and the waves were coming over our bow and at times bucking like a bronco. Pretty uncomfortable but after about an hour the winds died down and so did the seas. Although we had to motor all the way to Viani bay, about 45 miles, against the prevailing winds, which was expected, it was a worthwhile trade off for being able to visit this amazing reef.
On entering the reef the water became flat calm and we made our way over to the head of the bay and one of the three anchorage sites. Some of our acquaintances on Moonshadow were in one of the anchorages so we chose one of the other spots and found there was a mooring bouy available which is owned by the legendary Jack Fisher. Jack called us on the radio and said that it was OK to pick up the mooring and assured us it was good for a 30t boat. He said he would be over later to see if we wanted to use his dive guide services.
Jack paddled over in his battered aluminum dinghy despite having an outboard motor and came aboard for a cup of coffee and a chat about his services. As I mentioned before Jack is a local legend in that he has been diving on this reef for over 50 years and knows every spot. Although he no longer dives he provides expert advice and piloting skills to take you out in your own boat to the various dive sites, anchor in appropriate places and gives you a detailed run down of where to go and what you will see. Local Fiji dive operators charge somewhere between US$100 and $175 for a two tank dive on the reef. Jack charges US$10 per head for a whole day. A bargain if there was ever was one. You do however have to have your own dive gear and it helps to have your own compressor to refill your tanks. So we booked Jack for the following day and were joined by Neil and Jessie (Red Thread) and Thomas and Gaylyn on SV Qi who were also staying in the anchorage.
The White wall dive is famous for its profusion of white soft corals that bloom in the strong current running through the strait. We all descended to 60 feet and entered a swim-through that descended to about 80 feet. The swim through, or cave, walls were covered with brightly covered corals and fans with an abundance of fish lurking amongst the cover that they provide. As we exited the cave we turned left and there was the White wall. As the name suggests it is wall and it is absolutely vertical, dropping to the depths beyond scuba capability. The wall is covered in soft coral, most of which is white giving the appearance that the wall is covered in snow. The current was running fast and we were swept along the wall at around 90 feet. The corals were literally vibrating as the water ran over and through them. As we moved on we saw more purple, crimson and emerald green soft corals. It was quite a trip (man).
We all surfaced and Jack was dutifully waiting for us in Sarita. How wonderful to be able to do a drift dive and be picked up my your own home when finished.
We boarded Sarita, removed our gear and Just set about cooking a wonderful lunch. Jude was apoplectic at not being able to dive due to her broken arm. We found out early in the week that you cannot dive with a broken bone due to the possibility of getting nitrogen lodged in the damaged bone during the repair process. We have to wait another 10 days before she can dive.
As we had lunch we filled the dive tanks with the compressor. It's really noisy but it's worth the annoyance to be able to fill your own tanks.
After lunch, and a suitable surface time, we motored back out of the lagoon and we dived on the equally famous Purple wall, which as the name suggests is similar to the White wall but with mainly purple soft corals. Again, it was amazing a profusion of spectacularly colorful corals and small fish.
The following morning we boarded Thomas and Gaylyn's yacht, Qi, and headed back out to the lagoon with Neil and Jessie and Jack at the helm to take us to another five spot. Jack anchored Qi off the reef to dive The Cabbage Patch. Jude, Gaylyn, Thomas and Katya snorkeled the reef while Neil, Jessie and myself went for our dive of the day.
The cabbage patch is so called for its large area of hard corals that resemble cabbages but in a much larger scale. The area is quite bizarre. These green coral formations are a perfect home for many species of fish who use the coral as a wonderful protection by hiding in the "leaves" of the coral cabbages. This is another drift dive and goes down to about 70 feet. There was so much wildlife to see here as well as the coral.
|Viani bay school|
After our dive for the day we had one snorkel on the reef just for good measure before Jack piloted Qi over to Taveuni and Neil took the rest of us back to our boats in his dinghy for the evening.
|The school bus|
In the afternoon Jude and I went ashore to check out the school and hike up to the top of the hill to get a view of the bay. The school was very impressive and set in a beautiful location on the shores of the bay. The pupils of the school come from all around the bay and number about 100. Most of the children get picked up by a school boat, the local equivalent of a school bus. Each morning it would go by our boat and we could hear the children chirping away. We walked along the shore to the school, chatted with a few friendly locals who told us where to find the path to the top of the hill. When we arrived at the school one of the children led us up the hill. His name was Patrice and he told us that he came to school each morning on a horse along the path and that it took him about one hour. We walked back down the hill and continued along the path towards Buca bay which weaved its way through the verdant forest with the sounds of birds aching through the trees. We passed a couple of simple houses made out of corrugated iron but well maintained with colorful gardens but we did not see anybody. After about 45 mins we turned back and made our way to the school where we watched some of the older boys pay touch rugby.
|School rules "No throwing mangoes"|
The following morning we took Sarita back out to the reef with Jack piloting us again to do two more dives: The Fish factory and Annie's Bombies. The fish factory was particularly good and as the name suggests there were so many fish of all colors, shapes and sizes. The corals were pretty good as well and we also saw a pair of octopi and some crown of thorns starfish (sea stars). After the dives we headed back to the Cabbage patch dive spot to snorkel the reef. I stayed on Sarita while Jack too the others out in the dinghy and followed them due to the strong current. Jude thought that this reef was the best snorkeling she had done ever, even better than the middle anchorage in Makemo, which is saying something.