Tropical Dive (MatangiDive)

As the tiny island of Matangi appeared in the distance, our excitement grew about the next few days of diving and the promise of a tropical retreat, Fijian style.

Only six miles off the east side of Taveuni is a group of islands which include ,Qamea Laucala and Matangi. Laucala and Matangi being privately owned. The tropical resort on Matangi Island is an ideal base to explore the area's coral reefs. MatangiDive operates daily dives where they are based out of Matangi Resort. Their jet-fast boat provides access to diving not experienced by other Taveuni dive operators.

Arriving on December 30, we were also interested to see how the New Years celebration would enhance our tropical vacation. Spending Christmas and New Years in the tropics with warm evening breezes instead of hugging a cozy fireplace is an interesting change. What nicer way to spend the holidays than to walk hand in hand on soft sand beaches barefoot while welcoming the coming year.

Situated on a sandy beach off the eastern side of the 240 acre private island is Matangi Island Resort owned and operated by Noel and Flora Douglas. The day dive concession, Tropical Dive [MatangiDive] is owned and operated by Nigel and Carol Douglas

We saw the open-air beach restaurant and deck as we approached. Matangi has 14 bures built along the water's edge. Some are round in shape, while others take a traditional rectangular shape. There are three tree-houses and cliff top bures which are uniquely built into the surroundings. These are generally reserved for romantic escapes.
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The best time for divng is generally from May through October when there is less plankton in the water due to the cooler water. The visbility is thus good and can be more than one hundred feet. The Fijian summer months (November through April) generally finds excellent weather with blue skies, calm seas and less tourists.The water is warmed which can lead to less but still very good visibility.

Matangi Dive has a water-jet boat and is one of Fiji's fastest. We were impressed on how quickly we reached the dive sites of Motualevu Reef to the east and along the eastern side of Taveuni. They sometimes run all-day dive tours to the Somosomo Straits, Ringgold Group, Heemskerq Reefs and other further out rarely explored dive areas. . There are times when a smaller boat is used if there are only a few divers.

Our first two dives were at Seven Peaks and the Fan which were similar having many beautiful red gorgorian fans and some small outcrops of soft corals. As we search for interesting coral growths to photograph, we found several beautiful shells. After inspecting and enjoying them, we carefully replaced the shells to their previous home.

Lynn found and photographed a bright yellow fish with blue lipstick which later turned out to be called a three-spot angelfish (not exactly what she was looking at).
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At Noel's Wall we found purple clams, firefish and several nudibranchs. It is located on the Motuilevu Atoll about 10 miles east of Matangi Island. A vertical drop-off starting at 30 feet has cannons and swim-throughs with lots of beautiful hard coral. This dive site is most famous for soft corals and pelagics.

The reef is full of fusiliers, surgeon fish, golden fairy basslets, unicorn fish, and queen angels. Barracudas, bronze whalers and trevally are also seen sometimes in large schools.

Also located on the Motuilevu Atoll is Cross Channel, another vertical drop off starting at 15 feet and falling to over 1,000 feet. We were briefed on the availability of long-nose hawk fish which we were on the lookout for within the soft corals, sea fans and whips.

I found a rare carport anemone that generally does not have anemone fish associated because of its extremely sticky tentacles. However, a resident clownfish seemed very much at home. Long sea whips, nudibranchs and flat worms were also seen.

The dive site is also known for large fish especially when there is some current. With our heads buried in the reef looking for little stuff, I had to remind myself to look up, not to miss the sharks, tuna, travelly, king mackerel, barracuda and huge schools of fusiliers that swam overhead. Biggest problem on this dive is which lens to use, macro or wide-angle.
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Located on the coast of Qamea with a depth ranging from 10-120 feet with gradual slope is Nuku Balavu, a very popular night dive favored with mild currents. Under a brilliant night with a million-billion stars in the sky, we readied our gear and lights for a dive into the dark waters.

This is a wonderland for macro-photographers especially at night. In the dark, many nudibranchs move freely in the open.

Reef flatworms and nudibranchs color patterns can closely
resemble one another. The most visible distinction is the lack in the flatworms of the tuft of gill filaments found in the nudibranchs. The yellow kunei nudibranch with its purple spots and fringes, sporting well developed external gills and horns, is a find to photograph.

I also found a six-foot synaptid crawling on the bottom. They resemble giant worms but are actually sea cucumbers and are very active at night. They are very soft and flexible and inflate their bodies with water to move quickly. Although not dangerous, their sticky surface makes them unpleasant to handle.

Two different Pleurobranchs were also found that night. My favorite is one of the largest with its very unique brownish-red spots. The sea slug probably weighed two pounds!
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In addition to diving, there are a lot of other activities to part take in. On our first day, we hiked one of the nature trails around the island. Past empty beaches (at low tide), coral outcrops and through open areas under the coconut palms, the hike is very interesting especially at dusk when the sky is full of giant fruit bats also known as flying foxes.

The day after News Years we filled the morning with two dives off the eastern side of Taveuni. After the second dive we were dropped and shuttled by van to Bouma Falls. After lunch, we climbed past the first falls and refreshed in the soothing waters of the middle falls. The water was up considerably from our last trip to Taveuni only a year ago. The views from the trail overlooking the plantations and sparkeling waters below with Qamea and Matangi in the distance, are to die for!

All of the many activities, diving, hiking, swimming, snorkeling or beach combing requires lot of food and there was plenty of it. New Years afforded a special feast. Delicious traditional and Fijian food were served and no one was shy. Some of the items in the feast were prepared using the traditional Lovo outdoor cooking pit. This was not only fun to watch but produced very succulent meat and fish.
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After our New Years feast, the collection of Americans, Ausies and a Japanese couple, did our best to party far from the outside world. This was probably the most noise the islanders had heard in a year.

After a walk on the beach at 1 am, we drifted back to our bure to sleep it off. In the morning we were awoken by the heavy rains from cyclone Zoe. Although it caused little damage to the Fijian Islands, it did force us to spend a peaceful day in our bure listening to the tropical storm.

The resort atmosphere is very informal and relaxed. Dress is very casual. Of course when one get wet several times a day, hair styling is kept to a minimum. Laundry services is offered free and appreciated. You do not need to bring many clothes.

On our last day we were treated to massage in the special bure by the beach. This service is offered by FijiSpa and is also owned by Nigel and Carol Douglas. This was a wonderful conclusion to the activities of the week as our bodies were plied with fragrant oils relaxing every muscle. Outside the bure, the sounds of the ocean and tropical birds filled the air.

This part of our trip pasted way too fast. The days were quickly filled with diving, hiking, swimming and eating. New friends were forged both with the staff and the guests. Even long after we are gone, Matangi Island will be graced with some of the best in remote, exotic tropical adventures to be found.