On the northeast coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island, near the town of Raki Raki, lies a beautiful resort called Wananavu.. Lacking an airport, Raki Raki can be reached by car from either Nadi or Suva. For the serious diver in search of the best soft coral Fiji has to offer, the journey is well rewarded.
Combining the Wananavu Beach Resort with either or both of the two dive operators, Crystal and Ra Divers, is definitely the best way to go.
Crystal Divers operated by Dan and Linda, will take you out into the center of the Vatui-i-Ra channel, where the best diving is found. In 1995, Dan moved to Nananu-i-Ra island where he pioneered the diving in the Vatui-i-Ra passage. It has now become famous as the premiere soft coral location in all of Fiji.
Aboard the Crystal Explorer, we traveled about one hour into the center of Vatui-i-Ra channel where the current is basically the same as the popular Bligh waters or the Charybdis reef.
Dan and his staff have discovered all but two of their world class dive sites. Crystal Divers is the only group to use this area. Although some live-aboard dive boats pass this area, they lack the precise knowledge of the dive sites and the currents. (See editor's note at end of article)
Please note that Wananavu Beach Resort is an wonderful destination but Crystal and Ra Divers are no longer in operation. The story is too good to be completely removed from the Fiji Dive Guide.
The area is also attracting marine biologists and serious underwater photographers. With an Associates Degree in Marine Sciences from Santa Barbara City College and Fiji diving experience dating back to 1991, Dan is a valuable resource as well as an expert dive guide.
We had only limited time so we focused on the best Dan had to offer. Dive sites included G6, Garden of Eden, Black Magic Mountain, Instant Replay, and Dan's favorite, Purple Haze. Black Magic Mountain is a pinnacle jutting out the sea floor rising to within 15 feet of the surface. It was beautifully covered with soft corals and schools of small fish. Lynn captured on her digital camera a flatworm and a yellow leaf fish. Calm conditions allowed for an easy dive with many photographic opportunities.
To really experience the soft corals of Vatui-I-Ra Channel one has to endure strong currents. Dropping over the side one day, Dan descended to a pinnacle completely covered in purple soft corals. The dive site that Dan named "Purple Haze" remains one of his favorites.
On our dive to the Garden of Eden, we passed by Purple Haze, and I mean passed by. The currents were strong and we had only a brief minute to hold on to a rock outcrop to view the purple pinnacle and look for the big sharks that frequent this high current area. It was too murky to see any sharks and the current was too strong to make it out to Purple Haze. The pinnacle that was literally covered with purple soft coral.
It was quite scary for Lynn so she held my hand not to be swept away. This is what Dan loves as the soft corals are at maximum bloom under the strong conditions. But this was even too much for the die-hard Dan.
As we turned the corner the strong current was gone as fast as it arrived leaving us in a calm and majestic coral garden. In this garden of eden, we played and photographed coral and marble groupers, purple flatworms, black crinoideas and the very quick dartfish.
We also had an opportunity to dive with Ra-Divers based out of Wananavu Beach Resort. They dive the clear waters (during certain seasons) off the northern coast of Viti Levu around Nananu-i-Ra Island. This area is full of fabulous corals, fans, sponges and is abundant in marine life. Walls, caves, swim throughs, drop offs and coral heads make diving interesting. There are whitetip sharks and occasional turtles.
Ra Divers frequent such dive sites as Golden Dream, Breathtaker, The Pinnacle and The Maze.
Divemaster Noks entertains while leading us through this wonderland. Dream Maker is a beautiful swim through with big fans but not much current. The gorgeous soft coral walls have white wire and red whip corals. Schools of red snappers are very common.
Golden Dream seemed like it lasted forever ending up in a shallow garden after a lovely swim-through. We spent a lot of time photographing a big lionfish as it danced under a ledge. Small yellow pufferfish and albino pygmy pufferfish darted in and out of the reef.
At the end of a full day of diving, the Wananavu Beach Resort awaited our return. This resort is far away from the other large resorts of Viti Levu. The deluxe bures have balconies that overlook the ocean and Nananu-i-Ra island. A late lunch atop the restaurant's ocean view deck after diving is well appreciated. The friendly Fijian and Indian staff make the stay at Wananavu, an extra special experience.
John Gray and his family own and operate this resort with efforts dating back to 1990. The whole family has been involved, lending to a very comfortable and personal feeling of the resort. With the convenience of both Crystal and Ra Divers, Wananavu offers an excellent base to experience the best in Fiji soft coral diving.
Editor's Note: Dan has been diving for over 35 years in the military, as a commercial diver, and with recreational diving in Fiji. He spent 3 years pioneering scuba diving in the Northern Lau group from Vanau Balavu. He is very familiar with Wakaya Reef, where manta ray have been know to frequent. Few of the live aboards visits this area. The Manta Network is planning a special research trip to reach this area in 2004. Please contact us if you can help this important project in any way, including funding.