Tui Tai Adventure Cruises -- Reaching Remote Diving

Tui Tai means "chief from another land." While on board this 140-foot sailing schooner, we were treated like visiting royalty. We were welcomed aboard with the traditional Kava ceremony, which included guitars, ukelele and song around the Kava bowl.

It is their tradition to begin the journey with a Kava ceremony. On the top deck, the staff introduced themselves around the Kava bowl and we were invited to do the same. Music is also a very important tradition aboard the Tui Tai. Every evening the staff serenaded us with music which gave a warm ambiance to the boat.

We began our five-day journey to remote regions with pristine reefs, volcanic atolls, empty beaches and lush rainforests. Our journey would take us through the Somosomo Straits past Taveuni and Qamea islands to the remote Ringgold archipelago, then back to Koro Island before returning home. We would be visiting remote exotic areas that were rarely visited. And so the adventure begins!

We awoke in the Somosomo Straits between the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni. I was eager to visit the Rainbow Lodge, our favorite location from an earlier trip to Fiji but was sad to learn that a hurricane had wiped out the resort forcing the owners to sell their property to private owners.

The Great White Wall is undoubtly the premier dive spot in the Somosomo Straits. This was to be our fourth dive along this steep wall covered with colorful soft corals. As it is a deep dive, surpassing the safe sport diver limits, the wall appears white even though the corals actually process a multitude of colors.

Jerry's Jelly is another wonderful dive site. Like the Great Wall, it is covered with colorful soft corals. The reef appears more like cotton candy than jelly.

One of the great things about the Tui Tai is the wide range of activities that are offered, apart from diving. Tavenui Island is known as the Garden Island. Its lush rain forests provide many opportunities for jungle trekking. The hike to any of the three Bouma waterfalls is spectacular, even during dry periods. This time we were fortinute that the waterfall was a real gusher!

Local children were playing in the pool below the falls. They would jump from the high ledge and plunge in to the bubbling waters. After lunch, we bathed in the cool pool of the waterfall and swam as close to the heavy downpour as we dared. There was not time to hike to the second or third falls (a full day hike) as we had planned an afternoon dive and a tour of Qamea village. Another action packed day!

That night we set sail (without sails, just the motor) for the Ringgolds. We awoke in the morning to this remote island group surrounded by the Ringgold Barrier reef. For several years I have heard about the diving here which is only accessible by live-aboard, so I was eager to get wet.

Tim, our dive master from a small mountain top village in Kadavu, promised us big fish at a dive site called Wall Street. We did see a shark almost right away and then a bumphead parrotfish and several Titan Triggerfish in hot mating percute. They were chasing each other and giving love pecks.

At the end of the dive, a small whitetip shark came by and we followed it for a while. There were many giant clams with brilliant mantles outstretched. Rock movers are one of the most fascinating wrasses. They appear as leaves blowing in the wind. I can watch them for hours. Of course, that is what it takes to capture their antics on camera.

Another small fish that is difficult to photograph is the yellow fang blennies which are endemic only to Fiji. After several attempts, I was able to catch a good image with its dorsal fin raised.

For lunch we went to a small picturesque beach on a tiny volcanic island. Large black volcanic rock are sliding into the sea amid white sands. The beach was alive with hermit crabs which provide much entertainment.

A banded sea snake moved along the rocks. This snake is one of the world's most poisonous but holds no threat to humans when viewed underwater. On land, we viewed it with more caution, but several of us followed it till it slithered into the ocean.

After lunch we dove Kokoda Point where we saw several grey reef sharks and a school of barracuda. The sharks were cruising the deep wall some distance below us. We decided to do a third dive for the day and thus a nap was required. We bathed in the quiet afternoon breeze on the top deck, savoring spectacular views of the Ringgolds.

The night dive began at dusk. Aboard the dive tender, Tim searched for the best point to drop over the side. He picked a good location because we encountered a sleeping turtle, a slipper lobster and a spider crab hiding in the coral.

Moving across the sandy bottom was a large Triton with its mantle extended. several members of the cone family have poisonous darts that have been know to kill humans. This was thankfully not one of them. It is still wise to leave all the cone shells well alone.

After the night dive, we quickly cleaned our gear and showered in time for another dinner on the top deck under the stars. Before we finished eating, the nightly entertainment had begun. We left while the singers were happily drinking their kava. We did not need a sip to help us sleep.

The fatigue of the day full of diving and the beach picnic on that tiny volcanic rock had already set in. Although tired, we were excited as we prepared ourselves for the trip to Koro Island and the adventures that would await us there.

Nacamaki Village on the island of Koro has received recognition for their marine conservation work with turtles and sharks. The village is made up of five clans of which Kini is one of the chiefs. He explained at the evening Kava event to welcome the guests of the Tui Tai, that the turtles are their sacred ancestral gods. Many generations ago there was a sacred turtle that said that it would favor whichever village built the highest pile of fertile soil. The village of Nacamaki won the challenge and so the turtle became their protector. To this day, no one in the village has ever been attacked by a shark.

The son of the turtle ventured a long distance to Kadavu to offer its protection but the locals killed and ate it. The people of Nacamaki to this day are not friends of anyone from Kadavu. Turtles are rarely seen around Kadavu but frequent Koro. We took the hike up the jungle path to the point where the sacred turtles are called.

The village elders climb into a tall tree and summons the turtles to come to the crystal clear bay below. The ceremonial calling ritual for the turtles to surface failed on our attempt. It was explained that the turtles almost always float to the surface when summoned but failed to do so that day as one of the Tui Tai's crew was from Kadavu. Even though he was sent away, it was enough to displease the turtle spirits. However, Lynn is convinced that she saw one appear.

There are numerous resorts in Fiji to choose from but only a few live-aboards offer the remote exotic adventure that is made possible from a ship. The Tui Tai with its Fijian staff not only take you to these remote cultures but surround you with authentic Fijian hospitality while on board.

In the evenings on the boat the staff play music and drink their Kava. It makes for a great ambience to enjoy the traditional drink or just relax after dinner. Occasionally it rained for a short time in the evening. After the rain stopped, the air was so fresh that a stroll around the deck was called for. While we looked over the side of the boat, schools of tiny fish, jellyfish and an occasional sea snake played in the ship's lights. All the while, sounds of Fiji played in the background.

It is hard to believe how much we packed into our five short days aboard the Tui Tai. We traveled to remote islands, dove rarely visited dive sites, visited island cultures, hiked and swam in jungle rivers and all the while, the ukeles kept playing. Now as they sang the "goodbye" song, we longed for another voyage on this adventure schooner.