A one-hour flight from Nadi brings you to Labasa on the westside of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island. From the airport you can take a very scenic taxi drive to Nukubati Island Resort. Since business class and cheap Fiji flights usually arrive on schedule, you can purchase a map so you can be familiar with some of the destinations. Don't hesitate to ask the locals for help because they are friendly and accomodating. If you have the time, you can arrange a taxi from Savusauv on the otherside of the island.
We drove through the interior of Vanua Levu. The lush tropical valleys and mountains straight out of a adventure story. The three-hour drive took us past remote villages, very green mountainous terrain and vibrant plantations; the best that Fiji has to offer.
We arrived at a small dock where members of the Nukubati staff were waiting to take us across in a small motor boat to the resort island. Five minutes later, we arrived at the beach and a welcoming party who were to become our new found friends.
Nukubati is one of the best kept secrets in Fiji. We had heard from some locals that the diving was not all that great on the North side of Vanau Levu. Boy, were they wrong! The Great Sea Reef hosts some of the best diving in Fiji and because of its remoteness, has a very healthy population of large fish. Our divermaster Voggy and his family have been diving these waters for generations and know the best dive sites, including where to find manta rays.
Fiji's Great Sea Reef is the world's third largest barrier reef and is home to a staggering array of life, from tiny nudibranchs to vast schools of fish to turtles, dolphins and manta rays. The reef system (also locally known as Cakaulevu) is over 125 miles long and has been added to the areas Fiji plans to be included in their Marine Protection Areas program.
One thing that makes diving the Great Sea Reef at Nukubati an extra joy is that each set of guests gets their own divemaster and boat. As we were the only divers on the island at that time our divemaster was Voggy whose family has owned the island for generations.
The Great Sea Reef has the highest percentage of all sealife in Fiji, including more than half of all known coral reef fishes and three-quarters of all known coral species. Nukubati Resort is the only dive operator that make this area available to divers.
We left in our private dive boat for our first Great Sea reef experience. The resorts will also provide all your dive gear including dive computers at no additional charge.
The reef within range of the resort is accessible through three passageways: Nasekeci in the south, Ravi Ravi (closest to the resort) and the North Passage near Kia Island. Once through Ravi Ravi Passage, Yoggy located our first divesite, Fish Market.
We descended and swam against the current towards the reef, past a large dog-tooth tuna that must have been well over 100 pounds. Then we came across a large school of barracuda, spadefish and to our delight, a school of Oriental Sweetlips. We generally come across one or a pair of sweetlips but never us meeting a whole school!
Now at the reef, there were spotted sweetlips, a pair of clown triggerfish and a very large French
Angelfish, all of Lynn's most favorite fish at once. We also saw several sharks including a whitetip,
grey reef and bronze whaler. There were turtles and countless fish to occupy my attention.
All of a sudden we heard Voggy making a noise and I looked up just in time to catch a Black Manta cruising past my head. The manta swam away and in the excitement of the moment, Lynn and I tried to catch a photo but our cameras could not capture its beauty from afar. We dove as long as we could hoping that the manta would honor us with a returned visit.
After that dive, we felt that we had done it all. The visibility was close to 200 feet and we could see perfectly as far as the eye could see. It was clear and beautiful. The water was calm and getting on and off the boat was a cinch. During our interval, we were offered cheese, crackers and fruit, definitely a welcomed treat.
On almost every dive we saw sharks, many more than other areas of Fiji. Some were cruising the walls or sleeping under rock overhangs. Every few minutes our divemaster would motion that another shark was close. Even if I was photographing tiny subjects with the wrong lens for big fish, I stopped to watch these magnificent creatures as they went about their normal daily activities.
Cave Reef is just one of these spots. The area has a nice wall and there are swimthroughs and a vertical valley where sharks hang out. They swim up the reef, back and down in a circular pattern. We hung there and watched the action as several sharks circled around us in helter-skelter fashion. We swam through a large break in the reef that was laden with soft corals and the sharks whizzed by at the exit. It was so much fun!
Boston Aquarium was another wonderful dive site. The visibility was less than at Fish Market and we
were worried that it would not live up to our first dive. Before we knew it, we came across another
school of Oriental sweetlips and another Clown triggerfish.
Our divemaster pointed out a large stingray, asleep in the sand. Lynn edged close to photograph the ray. Stingrays are very sly and you need to approach them carefully and slowly. As she clicked off a couple of frames, the stingray decided that he had enough and split in a cloud of dust.
We were impressed with the abundance of fish. Schools of blue tang, red bass and barracuda were seen on most dives. Other places in Fiji we saw beautiful soft corals but not as many fish. Here it's not fished out as yet and looks more like it used to in other places.
Hopefully with the adoption of the Great Sea Reef into Fiji's Marine Protection Areas program, this fish population will remain one of the last strongholds in the world.
A visit to the Great Sea Reef is not complete without a trip to the northernmost dive site known as the End of the World. On the horizon, the island of Kia grew larger. We turned west and went through the North Passage, a wide channel, not too deep with braking surf on both sides. We spent some time looking for manta rays that like to cruise this channel.
There are a couple of dive sites at this remote area but most are unidentified. If you are lucky to dive one of these you might be able to name it. We dove both the dive sites called "The Cut" and "The Point."
As I decended into the Point at the End of the World, I readied my video camera for the large fish action. Voggy motioned behind me and as I turned, I was engulfed in one of the largest schools of fish in my 30-year diving career. The fish just kept coming, and coming and coming some more!
As the gigantic school of Bigeye Jacks departed, I turned around to catch sight of a Spotted Eagle ray, with a
tail more than twice its body length. After that, watching the reef sharks was a little ho-hum.
Equipped with wide angle lens, separate macro underwater cameras and video, I was tempted to take more than one camera on each dive. You never knew what was going to happen next! As exciting as the large fish experiences were, the reef sports an amazing array of small fish and other sealife.
Whether it is trying to catch images of rockmover wasses, chase a banded sea snake or photograph the remarkable colors of the many reef fish, there is no shortage of subjects. There are countless Christmas tree worm displays and tiny nudibranchs hiding in the gorgonians or under rocks.
The time spent at the End of the World went quickly and I did not noticed that the sky overhead had begun to grow cloudy. Once back on the boat, I realized that the black clouds that filled the horizon were were advancing on our location. We raced to make it through the passage but the squall overtook us and we were pummelled with a hard rain that was at times blowing horizontal due to the strong aft winds.
Now blinded by the rain, we crept through the passage while the sounds of the wind drowned out the surf on either side. We had only Voggy's experience to guide us. Once safely through the passage, the clouds parted briefly to reveal a blue sky behind the pounding white surf over the reef. One could not have asked for a more exciting day!
When you are not diving, there are numerous activities to occupy your day at Nukubati. You can walk
around the island and explore the mangroves on the other side of the island from the resort. Wind
surfing, sailing and the two-person glass-bottom boat are yet other means to explore the area.
Lynn's favorite activity was to sit under an umbrella on the beach and paint tropical seascapes until the last light. My favorite was to chase after and try to photograph brightly colored Collard Lorys that makes Nukubati Island their home.
The Lory, which is actually a small parrot, flys fast and low with the whistling of the wind through their wings. The silence is broken with the piercing shrill of their metallic call. High in the coconut palms, this brightly colored parrot finds its home and feeds on the sweet nectar of the flowers. They can be very playful, hanging upside down on the end of whips like twigs, swinging madly about and shrieking. I tried very hard to photograph these mischievous elusive birds.
One day between dives, we came across some of Voggy's relatives that were out for a day of fishing. We couldn't help wondering if the giant lobsters in their boat would make their way to our dinner table. When we returned to the resort we inquired if lobster was on the evening menu. We were told that the evening's meal was already set but to be patient.
Seafood is Nukubati's specialty, freshly caught off the resort, with tropical fruits and vegetables from their own gardens. Their cooking style is Fijian, featuring traditional South Pacific recipes and a selection of premium Australian, New Zealand and French wines and champagnes (all complimentary).
Each time you enter the main lodge you are sure to find Gordon, the resort manger and friendliest of hosts. Gordon had a genuine smile on his face from the time we first set eyes on him to the moment we left. He had come to manage the resort after an unfullfilling employment as a Fijian civil servant. Who wouldn't be smiling with a job like this, in such a beautiful location surrounded by palm trees, sand and a warm tropical sea. And the food is so good!
Voggy (pictured here on the right of his father) is a happy man too. His family has lived on this island since it was given to his great, great
grandfather. Nukubati was first occupied by a Fijian warrior clan led by a fierce cannibal chief
In the mid 1800s, Ritova gave the island to the German American, Jacob Steiner, in exchange for his skills as a gunsmith. Jacob and his island bride settled on Nukubati which has remained in the family to this day.
All of the staff at the resort were a pleasure to be around. They were happy to adjust to your schedule and you could take your meals anytime and anywhere. If you wanted to eat in the formal yet casual privillion, on your veranda or on the beach, you only had to ask. A special treat was to have a very romantic breakfast or lunch on a small unihabited island, a short boat ride away. There they will set up table and depart while you play on your own private island for a day.
Nukubati embodies the statement "have it your way."
Then, of course, there were the sunsets! For a short time in January, the sun sets over land. The rest of the year it dips into the ocean.
We found that that the sunsets that were created after a brief rain during the day were specutular. We could barely wait to see what the next day would bring. We long for the day we can return to our own private paradise.