Moody's Namena -- Island of the Sleeping Dragon

Out in the northern Koro Sea is the island of the sleeping dragon. Surrounded by blue clear waters and a barrier reef renown for its soft corals and abundant marine life is Namenalala. This island's name means "empty" and was uninhabited until Tom and Joan Moody moved there in 1983. As we flew over Namenalala in route to Savusavu where we were going to catch a boat to Moody's Namena Resort, we looked out the plane's window to see below an island that has a shape that resembles a sleeping dragon.

There are two ways to get to the island. From Savusavu you can take the one hour boat ride across the sparkling waters full of spinner dolphins, pilot and Mekie whales or by seaplane from Nadi. The seaplane experience is wonderful as the low flying plane skims the surface and follows the transparent reefs to Namena.

Tom Moody met us at the dock and gave us a ride in his all-terrain vehicle up the hill to one of the six octagonal-shaped cliff side rooms. Each bure has an unique character and are spread widely around the island. Our bure faces Vanua Levu with five doors that open to a balcony and wide ocean views. Below the blue clear waters call to us. Tom gave us an island tour showing his handicraft in converting this uninhabitable island into a lush island retreat. Over the last twenty years, Tom and Joan built the resort in a way that improved only a small area while maintaining the rest as a nature reserve. They have worked hard to provide a unique Fijian experience while protecting the land, animals and the reef for guests and future generations.
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The South Pacific claims over 300 varieties of corals, more than three times that of the Caribbean. The Fiji Islands are known as the soft coral capital of the Pacific and Namena Reef may well be the epicenter of Fiji's soft corals. Staying at Moody's, is an convenient way to dive the reef and have plenty of time left over to enjoy the island and catalog our dives. See our long list of marine life from our short stay.

Diving is generally done in either the North Save-a-Tack or South Save-a-Tack passageways. One of the best dive sites in the south pass is Chimney's and is well worth diving as many times as your stay permits. We dove it several times and due to changing tide conditions, found it to always be an exciting wild dive with different surprises.

Chimney's is a series of four or more bommies each covered with an assortment of soft corals. We dropped down on one bommie that came within 15 feet of the surface and found a virtual wonderland of corals and fish. Descending further, we swam towards two deeper bommies and spied several big tunas passing by. The first pinnacle offered an amazing selection of marine life to photograph.
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North Save-a-Tack Passage is a spectacular setting with sheer walls dropping to a depth of more than a mile, wide sandy plateaus, soft coral covered archways and look throughs and several large bommies. The bommies are not only coated with a thick carpet of soft corals but their tops are in shallow water teeming with life in the bright clear waters.

The variety of marine life is so varied from tiny nudibranchs to schools of large pelagic including white-tipped sharks and the occasional hammerhead. Portions of the sandy plateau at about 90 feet deep are covered with spotted garden eels swaying gentling in the breeze. Large white-tipped sharks can be found sleeping on the sandy bottom while schools of barracuda swim overhead.

At the far end of the sandy plateau is a soft coral covered arch connecting two likewise covered bommies. Spotted sweetlip rest in the shadows not interested in the passing divers. Open to the other side is a widening channel with more capered bommies. When the current and light conditions are just right, you can peer through the "Window of Dreams," one of the area's main attractions. Under almost any conditions, there is an abundance of photographic opportunities.

Under a small rock outcrop, camouflaged among the soft corals, two leaf scorpion fish wave constantly as if it was just a bit of vegetation adrift in the sea. Several times we searched for one without luck but this time the leaf fish's eye gave away its location.
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Namenalala is a mile long densely wooded island with three beaches and walking trails. Maintained as a nature reserve, birds flourish. Hawksbill and green turtles that use the island to nest from November through March are also protected.

Lesser frigates soar overhead while red-footed boobies nest in the trees. Every nest contained a fat fluffy baby booby. Fying foxes camp in the forest and emerge at dark to claim the skies. On the ground are several special of birds including the banded wren which was thought to be extinct. Bird watching is one of the enjoyable activities from the bures or along the mile of hiking trails. Songs of birds fill the island's air waves.

The beaches around Namenalala are protected as a turtle sanctuary. After nearly 10 years of trying to protect Namena Reefs from over fishing, Joan Moody has now taken another approach. Didi is the son of a local chieftain and has work for Joan as a dive master. With assistance from Joan, Didi has begun a process to educate the Fijians on how to protect their natural resources.

He is now working with the Fijian Government to create a Marine sanctuary around Namenalala. Ten of the surrounding villages who own the fishing rights have come together to establish the marine reserve. Although their traditional fishing areas only extend three miles of shore, the chiefs would like to see the entire reef protected.

In 2001, Didi (Sirilo Dulunaquio) was awarded an environmental scholarship from the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) based in the United States. CORAL sent Didi to Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean for a two week intensive training on how to set up and manage a marine park. Armed with this knowledge, Joan hopes that Didi will have a significant impact on the local villagers attempts to protect Namena Reef for generations to come.
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The Moody's have limited the number of bures to six. These are widely separated for maximum seclusion. A short walk down the hill from our bure was a white sand beach frequented by herons and used by turtles during nesting season. With so few people on the island, hammocks generally go unused.
We knew when dinner was near by the smell of fresh baked bread that filled the air around the central bure that served as a meeting place, lounge and library. Home cooked dinner family-style around a large round table, featured lively conversation. In the center, a lazy Susan rotates food to your place.
It took a little practice to eat, talk and spin the lazy Susan without catching someone else hand in the process.

An evening ritual became sitting on the deck that surrounds our bure and watching the gentile lapping of the waves as they sweep in from the reef beyond. By day we enjoyed the pleasure of the underwater world, by night the serenity of the tranquil island tropics.

A warm breeze sways landward. Clouds mask the full moon all except for a spotlight that breaks through and casts its moon beams upon the glistening ocean. This is a place for lovers upon the back of the sleeping dragon.
While in Fiji we were fortunate to dive the Namena Reef twelve times. Each time we were not only impressed with the underwater landscape and abundance of soft corals of every imaginable color but by the multitude of marine life. Although not a scientific survey, here is our list of marine life from our short visit from late December 2002 to early January 2003.
Anemone Fish Orange-fin (Amphiprion chrysopterus), Dusky (A. melanpous)
Baracuda Sphyraena geie
Bat Fish P. teira
Butterfly Fish Teardrop (Chaetodon unimaculatus), Saddled (C. ephippium), Humphead Banner (Heniochus varius), Bennett's (C. bennetti)
Damsel Fish Three-spot ( Dascyllus trimaculatus)
Eels Spotted garden eels (Heteroconger hassi)
Fairy Basslets Purple Queen (Pseudanthias pascalus), orange
File Fish Scrawled
Fusiliers Pterocaesio tile, Caesio teres
Grouper Coral Grouper (Cephalopholis miniata), Potatoe Cod,
Hawk Fish Falco (Cirrhitichthys falco), Freckled (P. forsteri)
Hawksbill Turtle
Moorish Idols Zanclus cornutus
Oyster Spiny Spondylus sp.
Parrot Fish Bleeker's (Scarus bleekeri)
Pipe Fish Coryrhoich intestinalis
Puffer Fish Blackspotter (Arothron nigropunctatus, yellow phase)
Scorpion Fish Leaf Scorpion (Taenianotus triacanthus)
Sharks White-tipped, Reef
Snappers Black and White (Macolor niger)
Star Fish Crown-of-throns (Acanthaster planci)
Sweetlips Spotted (P. chaetodonides)
Tobies Crowned sharpnose puffer (Canthigaster coronata)
Trigger Fish Clown (B. conspicillum), Titian (B. viridescens)
Unicorn Fish Naso unicornis
Wrasses Humphead(Cheilinus undulatus), Bird (Gomphosus varius), Yellowtail Coris (Coris gaimard)