Diving Fiji aboard the motorsailor Nai'a gives access to an underwater dreamscrape
Kansas is one of my favorite places to dive. Not the state; instead I am referring to a magnificent mesa-shaped reef that rises through the clear waters of Bligh Strait between the Fijian islands of Vita Levu and Vanua Levu. The site's misleading name is derived from the monolith's crowning meadow of golden gorgonians that ripple in currents like wind-touched wheat.
But any similarities to the monotonous, monotone Midwestern landscape ends the instant you slip over the undersea cliff and descend into what I consider the world's finest soft coral garden. Every inch of wall, as far as you can see, blushes red, lavender or gold. Crimson sea fans highlighted with puffs of white polyps and multi-colored crinoids contribute to the splendor. And as if this is not enough, cloud after cloud of orange anthias dance around the vertical garden's fringes. Look a bit closer and you will spy red coral trout with electric blue spots slipping through the tangle of shadows.
A PHOTOGRAPHER'S DREAM
Wide-angle shots that capture the essence of a reef scene are one of the most formidable challenges for underwater photographers. Typically something always seems to diminish the image: a lack of good visibility, large suspended particles, unsightly bare rock patches between corals, or too few fish to provide dimension and character to the shot.
In most locations, an entire dive is spent seeking a single pleasing angle for a panoramic shot. But not in Fiji, where it seems that every underwater vista should be on a postcard. Such extraordinary reefs as these will make even a bad photographer good.
Another nearby reef is so famous with photographers that it has been named E-6 after the film processing chemical used to develop the thousands of rools of film exposed there. Not only are the outer walls of E-6 thickly adorned with colorful marine life, but towering chasms of interconnecting passageways, as narrow as footpaths and as wide as streets, cut their way through the massive plateau. If the thrill of exploring these sun-streaked passages doesn't make your imagination soar, you have no business in the underwater world.
FISH BY THE THOUSANDS
If you have a penchant for fishwatching, Fiji is the place to be. Not only is there great biodiversity, with nearly 2,000 fish species including the rarely seen leaf Scorpionfish, dragon wrasse, and both elegant and Helfrich's dartfish, but also few reefs have been overfished providing sanctuary for large schools to flourish undisturbed. And if critters are your thing, wait until you see the invertebrate life. One of the most delightful examples is the scarlet cleaning shrimp. If you take out your regulator and open your mouth next to their den the wispy crustaceans will swim out and clean your teeth! There are dozens upon dozens of nudibranch species forging about, including the stunning black and gold flower pedal sea slug. Feather stars of every color and pattern imaginable are scattered about the reefs. Large thorny oysters with gaudily colored and patterned mantels cling to walls under ledge overhangs.
TO REACH THE REEFS
Most good reefs in Bligh Strait are far from shore and reached by liveaboard diving cruisers. Fortunately for divers these are the home waters of the 120-foot luxury motorsailing yacht Nai'a. A crew of 12 pampers its 18 passengers. They make the evenings, after night dives, an exceptional experience with native, kava-inspired music.
The Nai'a's wide 30 foot beam provides nine large, two-person, air-conditioned staterooms complete with their own bathroom. There are no buffet chow lines here: delicious and hearty meals are individually served in the spacious main salon.
Dinners complete with white tablecloths and complimentary wine. The large camera room has both 110 and 220-volt charging stations. E-6 processing and Nitrox are available. The Nai'a also makes special excursions to whale watch in Tonga, dive Vanuatu and other central Pacific Islands.
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