I am headed to the South Pacific for scuba diving in Fiji. This is my second visit to this beautiful series of Islands. Both visits have included land and underwater excursions organized by Oceanic Ventures, Inc. Boris joined me on the first visit when we were based on Taveuni Island. Our location on that island was better suited for non-diver activities than the remote resort we are staying at. Boris loved his hikes to area villages and meeting their chiefs. These were definitely the highlight of his trip.
Getting to our resort on Vanua Levu Island (which means “big land”), the second largest island in Fiji, includes three plane rides and boat. Although there is an airport in Savusavu on Vanua Levu, we are flying into Taveuni, the third largest island. It is closer to our resort to fly in there and take a boat to our resort at Sau Bay. The resort is not reachable over land. There are over 700 islands in Fiji, including three large islands where most of the population lives. In fact, 75% of Fiji’s population lives on the coast of its largest island, Vito Levu. Most of the large resorts, the capital and major cruise port of Suva, and the international airport at Nadi are also located on Vito Levu.
It has been a year and a half since my last dive trip; I generally like to dive at least twice a year to keep my skills up (and because I love it). This trip is also special because we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first diving family I met. Rocky and their daughter Stevlana took Scuba Rangers together. Scuba Rangers is a pre-certification class for children to introduce them to scuba diving. Since then, all of us have been certified and have dove together on several occasions.
Jane and Igor (the anniversary couple) picked me up for the drive to the airport. We will fly United to LAX, meet up with the rest of our group, and then take the long flight over the Pacific to Nadi, Fiji. I am used to my three 70-pound bag international limitation on United and wasn’t prepared when I found out just a few days ago that I had to pack all my dive equipment and clothing in one 50-pound bag. They also weigh the carry-ons, so I can’t really hide anything there. The hardest part of packing was figuring what to eliminate.
For ease and safety reasons, I take and dive with all my own equipment except for weights and cylinders. I also like having a new swimsuit each day. That is not going to happen, so I guess I will be doing some washing while there. The Sau Bay Resort is small and our group will be using all the rooms so I really don’t need to be particular with what I wear. You really can’t look worse than you do when you come up after a dive so these people will see me in that far less than glamorous state. Even marginal effort will have me looking better at dinner.
After landing in Los Angeles, we had to transfer to the International Terminal. We had a snack while waiting for the Fiji Air flight check-in to open. Since there is only one flight a day, we didn’t want to risk a miss and came in early. Most of group is traveling together from Houston, but we have two additional divers joining us at LAX. One is Susan who now lives in New Hampshire, but who caught the diving bug while living in Houston. She was happy to leave the snow behind and join us. The other diver is Randall who is flying in from Chicago. He is the father of one of our Houston divers. (You will see the photography of his daughter, Zaide Scheib, all taken on this trip, throughout these Fiji trip posts. I didn’t take my underwater camera for weight reasons.) At 75, Randall is just now getting certified and will complete his open water dives for certification in Fiji. What a fabulous gesture on his part to go through this process to share something his daughter loves.
After check-in, and with everyone now together, we stopped at a Steak restaurant beyond security for a nice final meal before boarding. I actually had a fancy burger, something I know I will miss while abroad. I really don’t like airline food and am happy to be full and skip the meals on board the plane. I was happy to take a pill and sleep about 5 of the 10+ hours of the flight. I can’t sleep on a plane without that sort of assistance.
After landing in Nadi, we had to clear immigration and customs and make a quick move over to the domestic terminal for our third flight to Matei, Taveuni. They weigh you with your carry-on bag to determine weight distribution on the plane and give you a seating assignment. Fortunately, the ticket agent just writes down your weight and doesn’t say it out loud. We have the first morning flight out of Nadi for Taveuni and were all but three of the passengers on the plane.
The plane, with its unpressurized cabin, gives you a fabulous view of the island with its low flight pattern. We arrived in Matei to learn that all the luggage did not make the plane due to weight limitations; this doesn’t bode well for our afternoon checkout dive. They told us the remaining luggage would all be on the next flight. I wasn’t too surprised. We went through this the last time we came to Tavenui.
The “airport” at Matei is little more than a crude shelter. However, there was a small gift counter if you wanted a snack or last minute souvenir. After sorting out the luggage situation, we boarded two vans. One van had the bags that made the flight in it; the other van carried the passengers. From the small airport, we took the 30+ minute ride to the dock and waited for the resort boat. It must have been a “Kava Night” last night because the guys were a little late to get us.
After boarding the dive boat from the resort, we rode over to the Sau Bay Resort on Vanua Levu. We were greeted in song by the resort staff on the beach and were handed a coconut with a welcome drink inside. The resort has no dock because of the vast difference in the water line due to the shifting dives. We had a “wet landing” meaning you rolled up your pant legs, put on your flip-flops, and stepped into the water to reach the resort. Staff brought all the bags ashore.
We had a orientation in the lounge area, were shown our cabins, and then returned to the lounge/dining area for a wonderful breakfast. Since most of our dive gear wasn’t expected to be here until sometime after 3 pm and the seas were really choppy, the group decided to forego the checkout dive and just nap and relax in the afternoon.
I grabbed a shower and only after shampooing my hair did I realize that my comb was packed in my checked bag that had not yet arrived. Woops. I had to just clip my hair up for lunch. In the afternoon, I took the opportunity to get a 90-minute massage. The spa is open-air and you enjoy the sound of waves, the wind blowing across your body, and the best body oil you have ever smelled. Bera eased by travel stiffness and helped the swelling in my feet. At the end of the massage, she braided and arranged my hair. The rat’s nest on the top of my head was tamed.
We had a lovely candlelit dinner to end our day. Tomorrow is an early start for our first day of diving.