Diving in paradise at Toberua, Fiji


After a long haul flight from London via Bangkok, and another from Sydney, Brisbane and Nadi, our small charter plane arrived in Suva around six o'clock in the evening. Suitably exhausted our spirits were soon revived when we were happily greeted by our taxi driver, which was arranged for us. We were on our way to the boat jetty, which would in turn take us to Toberua, the island off the eastern tip of Viti Levu where we were staying for the next seven days.

Village Orchid at Toberua, FijiIt was dark by then. Not having travelled to Fiji before we were not quite sure what our journey entailed. The boat snaked its way through dark passages, under bridges and past thick forests of mangroves. It felt like the Mekong! It was actually the Navuloa River. Sai, our steady, silent steersman gradually took us into the open ocean, guided by what seemed to be sea legs and intuition. The air was exhilarating. As we ushered past faint rims of darkness to our right, Sai indicated to a part of the coast, which was in fact his village. We would spend an afternoon there with the villagers later that week. Half a dozen or so lights beckoned not long after and Sai pointed to Toberua to let us know we were almost there. The island was so small! A tiny dot compared to all that we had passed in our view from the plane. A little piece of paradise as it would turn out.

Our hosts greeted us warmly at the jetty: the manager, dive instructor, three serenaders, other staff, and even some guests came down to see who it was arriving. Both Kit and I were still jetlagged and slightly overwhelmed at the welcome. A small kava ceremony was given to us and after a brief tour and chat we made our way to dress for dinner. This time of evening was, we discovered, where the heart of the island lies. The time when both guests and locals come together to collectively spend time assessing each other's day. More on that later.

The Resort

Bure at Toberua, FijiToberua is 4 acres at high tide, and 20 acres at low tide. One funny story we heard was of a guest who rose early on her first morning, donned in gym gear and water bottle to power walk around the island and it took her only 20 mins at a stretch. Part of its charm is that one never feels as though you are stranded, or have a lack of privacy. Indeed it is quite the opposite. You may be walking along only to discover other guests tucked away in hammocks. Not once did I feel imposed upon.

The beaches are adequate stretches of sand with clear waters, which make it easy to take a dip. Some days an easterly wind would be coming in and yet only 25 metres across the other side of the island still from wind and drenched in sun. I found this remarkable. A blessing in that these South Easterly winds, together with the excellently landscaped grounds, prevent insects from arriving onto the island - another pleasantry. I did not see a single mosquito!

Local Fijians operate Toberua, which instantly makes you feel as though you are staying with hospitable friends, rather than staying at an impersonal resort. Each day a couple of activities are loosely planned for your choosing, diving (of course), fishing, beach golf (on the 16 extra acres of reef at low tide, and the only resort to do so), and complimentary expeditions to the Village, Bird Island, and boat trips to reefs for snorkelling.

Daily volleyball matches with staff, and plenty of ongoing things you can do to while away the hours like mini golf around the grounds' paths, or sailing. Kit and I were thinking at first that we would never do all those things, but we managed quite a lot of activities as well as a dive almost each day! Which brings me to the scuba experience.


A giant clam at Toberua, FijiIt is important that I mention now that it had been quite a while since my last dive. Living and working in London has prevented me from annual trips to the easily accessible diving sites around Australia so even my Advanced status was a bit of a laugh My last dive being in Fethiye on the south west coast of Turkey the previous year, which actually left a lot to be desired, since the azure waters were a delight but the sea life rare. In addition to this Kit had never dived before, so not only was I looking forward to my first South Pacific dive, but keen to see how Kit felt about diving as well.

Kit and his instructor Elli at Toberua, FijiBefore we could do anything of course Kit had to do his Discover Scuba introduction in the pool with Elli the island's dive instructor. I watched on to refresh my own skills and knowledge (and of course to take photos that might ultimately humiliate him later). Elli took Kit through the lessons one-on-one, thoroughly guiding him on each task that would allow him to dive accompanied by an instructor for the next 14 days (or the next 5 days with Elli herself) as well as the insights that would help him personally, according to his weight, swimming style, and conditions of the destinations we would visit

The next day we headed out. Fiji's reputation as a soft coral diving destination is not exclusive to the better-known areas of Beqa and other islands off the Coral Coast. The gentle islands to the east of Viti Levu provide sumptuous outcrops of reef teeming with sea life and, thank goodness, a noticeable absence of human traffic.

We stopped at what felt like about 10 mins to the east of the island just outside of the channel's reef, - how amazing it was to have these sites at easy travelling distance! This was a good beginner's dive for Kit and one I could reacquaint myself with the equipment. One great thing for us was in addition to the instructor, the dive master (and boat driver) was a local who knew the waters extremely well. I was beginning to get very exciting at my first pacific dive, and it seemed I wouldn't be disappointed.

Batfish at Toberua, FijiA butterflyfish at Toberua, FijiWe descended along a 12 metre reef wall teeming with coral. I'd never seen walls like this even where in Malaysia. I could see Kit taking in the view and coming to terms with the equipment, and wanting to scan the wall in greater detail but as we reached the bottom we made our way into the open areas and that would be mostly the type of seascape we would experience on other dives. We moved across bommies and table top coral for the next 40 or so minutes and took in the life. Honestly, there were too many types of fish to remember: Parrot fish, Trumpet fish, Trigger fish, different types of Surgeons - especially the many bright stripy sort that remind me of Ken Done paintings, large schools of Damsels in many varieties, Moorish Idols, schools of Batfish, and varieties of Gobies with a strange spiked Mohawk that tickled my fancy since they reminded me of a character from a Dr Seuss story. (or maybe it was a Blennie?). At such as shallow level we had an abundance of light and a clear 12 metre view to also spot the occasional Nudibranch. It was a great start to Kit's diving experience and my return to it.

Underwater landscape at Toberua, FijiThe next day we went to Shark Reef (much to a slight apprehensiveness due to name only), good for both beginner and experienced from 5m to 30m. Elli assured us that we may not see any sharks despite its name. We were lucky to! At different depths we saw four white tip reef sharks. Another guest came along for this dive, which meant Kit and Elli could hang around the 12 metre mark, and David and I could go deeper to 30 metres. David had a torch and spent most of his time with his nose under extended reefs and swim throughs looking for larger species. Fusiliers at Toberua, FijiWe did see two of the sharks at this depth and later we followed Kit and Elli to a dugout reef formation with two sharks of just over 1 metre nestling in to hide. We managed to watch them for a while, before they swam away.

The walls and outcrops here were spectacular, with fish darting in and out as we passed. Similar fish from the previous trip including giant parrot fish, large schools of blue and silver Fusiliers. We did see some more wrasse, of the black with white spot sort, and sea basses with their distinctive shape and large spots on their fins and stripy tails. Also differing varieties of Butterflyfish with their bright colour patches of yellow, white and black and distinctive single spot.

Underwater landscape at Toberua, FijiThe next day I did an advanced dive while Kit rested. We went to a spot called The Playground, which while it is a shallow dive, it has swim-throughs and caverns allowing us to integrate more with the topography and explore. We saw many of the types of fish mentioned above but the difference being it was inundated with fish. With the name of the Playground I joked that I expected it to be just like Finding Nemo where at the end of the film the fish are all playing, and well, it sort of was like that. The fish were out in full force and it wasn't hard to glide effortlessly across in clear conditions over bommies more schools of Fusiliers that I managed to get caught up in as they sailed past either side of me. We also saw spiral anemone and much fan coral. It was intoxicating.

An underwater landscape at Toberua, FijiOne last dive for both Kit and I together was at Alice in Wonderland. This spot was much the same as the previous day, although I was grateful that Kit this time could see it. The area was an undulating expanse of soft coral with fans and table-tops. Again many Wrasse, Fusiliers and Moorish Idols, with additional spotting of a Hawksbill turtle, which I chased, as flirted it with me allowing me to catch up. I tailed him around in circles of an open sandy area trying to catch a single photo until it sped off. I thought turtles were supposed to be slow?

I did one more dive before leaving Toberua, which was the following night. It was my first night dive and although intrigued, it made me exceptionally nervous! Such a clear night, we'd planned to go just out from the island, this time about 10 minutes out towards the south west side which I hadn't been to before. The dive was shallow (about 8 metres) following the reef along one side. It took me a while to change the way I normally assessed Underwater landscape at Toberua, Fijiunderwater, which meant adapting to a small view mode instead of wide screen! Such attention to detail was necessary to find the gems at this time of night. We managed to see open giant clams, shrimp feeding amongst rock, crabs, lonely damsels looking for a home for the night, and sea urchins of ridiculous appearance with long red spikes. I managed to accidentally startle Elli by touching her on the leg to get her attention onto the urchins. Hilarious! At one point she encouraged me to turn off my torch and enjoy the darkness with bright phosphorous sparkles emanating from our hands. Such fun. Surfacing to the water to a starry night sky after such a dive was a wondrous sensation.

Toberua offer all ranges of assistance with diving. Since it is a small island they are able to cater for single outings with knowledgeable experience, taking divers out to sites according to their choice, amount of people, and desired time. I've not encountered a tailored diving experience like it. Better still, Toberua's available activities means that if you are with those who do not wish to dive, there are plenty of other things to be doing.

Drool Food

All these physical activities require the body to have sustenance, and Toberua has a progressive restaurant with exceptional dishes. The head chef, Mala, has been catering for guests for over 30 years and continues to update the impressive menu. He has been trained and been attached extensively in the Australasian region, including Cassuarina Hotel in the Hunter Valley, Australia, the Observatory in Sydney, award winning property Huka Bay Lodge in Taupo New Zealand. As well as at the Wharekauhau Country Estate outside of Wellington. His culinary style is modern Fijian and Pacific delicacies with Asian influences. Each lunch and dinner is a 3 course meal offering options for starter, main and dessert.

A Fijian girl at Toberua, FijiI mentioned earlier that nighttime was where the heart of the island lies. For Kit and myself, this was true. The food was incredible and we like to eat! The menu is catered on a per person basis, so you choose from a select menu each day. The lunches are 3 courses and the dinners are 4. The menu is extensive, so there is little I can say that will do it justice, but among other amazing dishes, meals come to mind are, cheesy seafood bake, crab chowder style soup, Walu steaks, and beef pita stacks with Asian greens.

If you can organise being there for a Saturday night, you ought to. You won't be disappointed as the chef cooks a traditional Fijian buffet which is such a delicacy you can only experience it somewhere such as this (we stayed at other places after this week and the food just didn't stand a chance). American buffet breakfast include everything you could ever want (the papaya is delicious), if that isn't enough, morning and afternoon tea is also served. One of the most gorgeous things about night time at Toberua are the Serenaders. A troupe of three (or four depending on how lucky you are that day) guitarists who 'sing you to dinner' at your bure, and while you dine. These gentlemen are truly amazing, with tender singing voices, song choice and adaptability to a request. My heart soared on more than a few occasions.

The People

Toberua, FijiIt became apparent that tailoring a holiday experience to different needs is what Toberua is good at, and the beauty of the good souls on that island is that they aren't even aware of this fact. It's innate. Toberua is a perfect place for families or groups of people who want many different things from a trip simply because it is without doubt a superb diving holiday destination, but Toberua is not all about diving, they cater for enthusiasts as well as dabblers. Indeed of all the guests staying at the same time that we were, only one other was a diver, and this made for an intimate experience for us. Upon organising with the instructor were able to structure our dive sites and times. A Fijian girl at Toberua, FijiEven if we wanted to go out on a single trip, they would surely cater for that too.

Toberua is a resort dedicated to relaxation. The dictionary describes relaxation as 'a form of activity that provides a change and relief from effort, work, or tension, and gives pleasure'. The fact that relaxation is a form of activity in itself adequately describes the schedule of pursuits on offer at Toberua and appears to be inherent in daily life, and the structure to which these activities effortlessly cling to.

Our trip to Toberua was the best holiday I've ever had. It time spent in intimate company combined with hospitality, sincerity and gentleness exampled by our welcome in the village and church ceremony, and extended invitations to join the locals for after work kava treats. It was witnessed in the hospitality we received even if we went back for seconds at the buffet, post-dinner runs to the bar for ice in our drinks, the way they left Kit and I to take in the evening at our table well and truly after their closing, and the informal and conscientious conversations about what we could be doing with our time. Love it...dive anyone?

Underwater landscape at Toberua, FijiGetting There

From the west travel into Nadi and from there a flight (with Air Fiji or Sun Air) to Suva. Toberua will arrange a transfer from the airport to the boat, which will take you to the island. From the east travel to Suva and get your transfers there. The people at Toberua can organise the taxi and boat transfer once you have notified them of your arrival time in Suva.
There are 15 bures available on Toberua and peak season runs from 1st April until 31st October.

Underwater landscape at Toberua, FijiFor booking and rate information visit their website or contact the resort direct via email.

Big thank you to Brendan, Tracey and Hudson for your hospitality. Elli - your patience and humour attest to your good instruction - thank you so much, also to Len and Sai for taking us out. Zac and the boys for the tunes, you rock. Fiona and Maciu and the others, who indulged us in the restaurant, thank you. Chef! Truely amazing food. Maika and Mere for making us welcome in the village.

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