Fiji and Tonga: DIVING                                      

Last Updated: May 15, 2002 

"Who wants to ride a leopard shark?" asked Roland, our dive master in Tonga. Both Karen and Scott wanted to, and Roswitha looked on dubiously.


Scott's regulator within a foot of the leopard shark  Note the pilot fish at the tail of the leopard shark (the third extension on the shark's back) 

After one gets comfortable with diving, the experience moves into the cool stuff that can be seen or done. And the bigger the fish, the more unique the animal, or the tighter the cave, the cooler it is. All with safety in mind, of course. There are lots of dangers to diving, and they should not be taken lightly. Aside from the technical aspects, such as breathing properly, watching your air reserve, and your time under water, you also need to keep up with the group and watch out for your dive buddy. Then there are the dangerous fish and things. Sharks are rather uncommon, but one does need to watch out for poisonous things like stone fish (which disguise themselves on the bottom, and can inject a very lethal toxin if stepped on) and sea snakes (which are curious, but rarely bite unless provoked). Moray eels get a bad rap - although they look ferocious with their gaping teeth, they are just breathing, and are so shy that they will usually just back into their holes. Usually. So, this quest for cool stuff, especially when one has a camera, often becomes the measure by which one rates a dive. OK, besides things like visibility, current strength, and whether or not the dive master yells at you for stupidly pushing the limits. Chasing after a sea snake is not a bad thing, but only if it results in a good (well, at least adequate) picture, like Scott did at the White Wall in Fiji. Swimming through a tight opening at 70 feet deep is OK if your dive buddy is there to free your buoyancy vest from the coral that it has gotten caught on, like had happen to Scott at No Name Reef in Tonga. Riding a 10-foot leopard shark is also OK if Roswitha has the camera to photograph it when Scott does it.

Unfortunately, we did not get to ride the shark. Feeling trapped as it tried to get away, it quickly passed Karen and Scott as it swam off, and, for some reason, the camera did not trigger, so we don't even have a good picture of it. Mantas did not show up at Manta point. We were in the wrong location to see Susie the whale shark. But, we still did see cool stuff, much of it in the detail, color, and uniqueness. The reefs in both Fiji and Tonga were pristine, and lived up to their reputations. Rainbow reef in Fiji had great colors, and its White Wall (named for the numerous soft white coral) was teeming with life and detail. We descended through a large cave (wide enough to swim three abreast); Big Eyes (nocturnal fish named for their large eyes) hung upside down from the cave roof, orienting themselves to it like a floor. We then drifted along the wall, which was covered with the white coral as well as sea fans and colonies of Christmas-Tree Worms. These worms look like pairs of little feather dusters, and come in red, white, yellow, blue, and green. They pull into their tubes when threatened by a touch, current, or camera flash, and slowly re-extend to sieve plankton from the water. Giant clams display their saw-toothed grins fringed with purple, gray, blue, or green lips, and may snap shut when threatened. Their clamping is strong; a diver who gets something (a flipper, finger, or flashlight) can get trapped if they are not careful. The varieties of corals range from simple lumps to brain coral heads, huge patches of cabbage coral, forests of stag horn coral, and many others. In Tonga we encountered an enormous plate of Pyrite coral larger than two divers end to end. In Fiji, a sparkling school of barracuda (with big-toothed underbites) circled us as we descended. Sea anemones have stingers on their tentacles, which they use to stun fish; the tentacles then drag the fish to their stomachs where the food is slowly digested. Pairs of clown fish, oddly immune to the stings, adopt an anemone, and live within its tentacles for protection. When approached, the clown fish will stare out defiantly, knowing that they are safe. They do that until, of course, a camera is trained on them; then they swim away to hide, leaving only the anemone's tentacles waving in the current. At one point we saw a patch of garden eels in the distance, waving like reeds, but they are notably shy, and had gone back into their holes before we got close. Unlike them, the sea cucumbers can barely move, so it is easy to find them in their odd shapes and colors. We also suspected them as the source of weird cow-patty-like piles of stuff on the sandy bottom, but never really figured it out.

Scott's second dive in Fiji was at the Rainbow Reef's "Corner," and it was a location with a very strong current. Such a dive needs to be planned carefully, with enough energy and air left to deal with it. Normally, a current is used for a drift dive, where the boat drops you off at one point, and then picks you up further down current. In this case, the current was localized, so we could swim out of it, and then re-enter to get back to the boat. In this case, ascending the anchor line was like climbing in a hurricane gale, with both the line and the diver being pulled strongly sideways. It was fun, actually, except for the last few meters requiring you to pull yourself into the boat, which was exhausting.


Night dive in Fiji - a female crab was releasing eggs into the current  A feeding frenzy under the surf in Fiji  Scott had to chase this sea snake for several meters before getting a picture  We saw many sea anemones and clown fish on each dive  A Picasso Fish    Swarm of fish next to a dock  Striped Zebras 

Taveuni, and Fiji in general, is well supported with dive operators. One must always be careful of the dive operator, their equipment condition and quality, and their attention to safety. Taveuni's top-rated dive company is Swiss Fiji Divers , but Scott was not able to dive with them because they were taking the day off. Aquaventure , next door, is a smaller outfit, with somewhat older equipment, but is quite competent. Their dive boat is small but workable, and they certainly know the area. The small size of the boat limits the number of divers, which is always a good thing. They have two dive masters on each dive, which is helpful with inexperienced divers, and especially when there is higher current. Our dives included an American couple who had just been married at their resort, and were recently certified. (Talk about taking multiple risks at once…) In some cases, having inexperienced divers along can be a real drag, but they did very well. Also nice to note are the level of refreshments that are provided. While this may seem frivolous, it is important to supply energy, relieve dehydration and dry throats, and to clear the taste of salt water between dives. Aquaventure landed us on a deserted beach, offered cold sodas and warm milky drinks, cookies, and papayas chopped from the immediate jungle while we racked up the surface time needed to breathe off the nitrogen, which accumulates at depth.


The NewlyWeds (and NewlyDivers) in Fiji 

Lifuka and the Ha'apai island group (Tonga) are only served by two dive operators (both originating from Germany). One operates out of the Sandy Beach resort. Roland's Ha'apai Divers is based three minutes from Billy's place, and is really just Roland and his boat. His equipment is good, if a little tired, and the fact that it is only him on board his small boat limits the flexibility; he has to be able to anchor, and cannot do any drift dives. Still, he knows the area very well, and is careful about safety. The fact that there are so few divers about means that most of the sites are in great condition and uncrowded. It also means that much of the area is not explored, so the mind reels about what might be out there. The only real thing lacking is refreshment - he only provides a great tomato/lemon drink after return, so it is important to bring snacks or lunch along. But, among the rest sites between dives is the longest sand beach in Tonga, on an almost-deserted island. And he knows where to find the leopard sharks, although saddling up is our responsibility.


Dive break in Tonga at the longest Tongan sand beach (w/ White Fish and S.... Fish) 
Roland's anchor point at the dive shed  Our motly crew 
Roswitha floating in front of a huge plate of Pyrite Coral  Pyrite Coral up close 
     
   
Scott aka Whitefish  Karen and Erhardt 
Roswitha and the Boat 
Anemone  Christmas Tree Worm  Christmas Tree Worm  Giant Clam  Sea Cucumber Poop?  Sea Cucumber   Staghorn Coral and striped fish  Clown and Anemone  What are you looking at?  Blue-tipped Staghorn Coral  Clown and Anemone  Cabbage Coral  Tiny blue fish hiding in coral  Huge lobster  Clown and Anemone  The nice thing about anemones is that they don't swim away  A field of cabbage  Another clown/anemone pair  Hey! There's some more blue fish in coral  And again. But these are different places. Really.    Tou know what this is, right?  Touch me and my friend will sting you. 

 

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