If you followed the dive destination by budget feature in Sport Diver, you know that you don’t need a wallet full of cash to enjoy a great dive vacation (though it doesn’t hurt).
In the third part of this series, let's take a look at managing editor Rebecca Strauss's exotic trip to Fiji where she lived the dive life like a proper A-lister.
Ultraluxurious Week In Fiji
Don Santee is not one to brag. He’s joined me for lunch in the poolside pavilion at the luxe Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Savusavu, Fiji. He manages L’Aventure Diving, the on-site PADI Five Star dive shop, and it takes someone else to tell me that he was the divemaster on Calypso, as well as the expedition leader for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Adventures. And even better, the man himself — Jean-Michel — is at the resort to celebrate his 75th birthday, and I’ll be diving with him this week.
I’ve just arrived at JMC, and from the fresh-from-the-tree coconut punch to a staff who seems to know my first name as I step from the shuttle, it’s clear that I’m about to be pampered. Guests are housed in a smattering of 25 bures — traditional thatched Fijian huts — with rich, locally sourced Fiji pine floors and plantation shutters thrown open to the breeze. Each guest is treated to a foot massage and scrub on the deck of her bure upon arrival. Luxury? Heck yeah.
After my foot massage, I take a guided stroll around the lush grounds, which ring with the sound of Fiji bush warblers and the constant call of bula, “hello” in Fijian. The land is alive with tropical plants; the resort’s on-site organic garden provides 25 percent of the resort’s produce. (I can’t resist the impulse to pluck a ripe passion fruit from the vine during my tour.)
Each day revolves around a theme: Day of Fijian Culture, Day of Ecological Awareness, Traditional Day of Rest, and each features activities delivered with a personal touch. On the eco- day, there’s a river kayak trip; on the day of rest, there’s a Fijian church service; and on the day of culture, we visit Nukubalavu village, home to most of the resort’s employees.
The personal touch carries on to the diving too. Weather permitting, boat captains ferry guests the 45 minutes to Namena, a tiny island and marine preserve, site of the resort’s best diving. At Manta Mount, we hang in the water for 20 min- utes watching a graceful ray swoop through a cleaning station; at Pinnacles, we spiral down one and then up another coral tower, each bursting with life — lionfish, napoleon wrasse, crew (this time including Jean-Michel) drops in on Nasonisoni Passage, a rollicking drift dive where we see sharks, turtles, rays and the usual reef residents — all at top speed.
Later that week, I talk to Jean-Michel before his big birthday bash. Of all the places he’s been, he keeps coming back to Fiji, and it’s not just because of his namesake resort. It might sound like a cliché, he says, but “the thing that makes this place is the people.” I can’t argue, as another warm smile and a bula usher me to the dinner table.
Roundtrip airfare: LAX to Nadi on Air Pacific starts at $980
Two-tank dive at L’Aventure: $180, not including rental equipment
Food/drink: Local brew, Fiji Bitter, at JMC: $12 Fiji (US$6.40); a pineapple at the Savusavu farmer’s market: $1