Escaping to Kadavu - A Fiji Secret

Part 1: Waisalima Beach Resort

Aerial shot of the Great Astrolabe Reef, FijiYes! We had arrived in Fiji for our two week stay. We were lucky that the Nadi (pronounced NaNdi) airport had very comfortable couches as we had to wait till midday for our flight to Kadavu (pronounced KaNdavu). During that time we learned the proper pronunciation of Nadi and Kadavu as they were announced over the speakers and we kept wondering why on the schedules they left out the 'n'. Obviously, we were very new to the Fijian language....
Kadavu is only one hour south of the main island Viti Levu by plane and it has a tiny little airport at Vinesea. From there, most transport is by boat as there are not many roads on the island.

The little plane that brought us across had only four other passengers, including Mike who runs the dive operation Viti Watersports at Waisalima Beach Resort.
Before we knew it, we boarded the boat that was going to take us to the resort. According to the Waisalima web site this was going to take us an hour. Small fish hovering just about a plate coral, Kadavu, FijiThe boat was stable, solidly built and we had a great skipper, but unfortunately this did not protect us from the torrential rain that started soon after we left the shore! The wind picked up and the surface was rough. Our luggage was protected by a tarp and I was lucky enough to be given a raincoat.
We arrived 3 hours later at Waisalima Beach Resort and we were well and truly wet, but the rain eased. The tide was out, which left the boat about 100 meters off shore. While the staff busied themselves with getting boxes with food supplies off the boat, we stepped into the ankle deep water and started to carry our own luggage and dive gear to shore.

As I tried to keep my balance on the sandy bottom I heard a big splash and cursing coming from behind. My dive buddy had fallen over in the water with our camera bag!

Fortunately, we had spent enough money on that bag that although it was drenched on the outside, by some miracle the cameras inside were fine and we only lost our mobile phone. All of a sudden I felt SO tired....and very wet.

Bures at Waisalima are right on the beach, FijiWe were showed our bure pretty much straight away and I don't think I ever appreciated a warm shower more than that afternoon.
Our bure was one of the two deluxe ones with its own ensuite bathroom. The bed was comfortable and clean. Overall facilities looked a little tired, including a hole in the bath tub. However, this was definitely sufficient for a relaxing holiday and it all fitted in with the entire experience of a remote, pristine destination.

There are also four smaller bures with shared bathroom facilities at a more economical rate. All bures are built in the traditional style using all local timbers and palm fronds for the ceilings and walls. All bures are right on the beach and surrounded by coconut palms, a great setting. And of course in front of each bure .... private hammocks. A great spot to spend the afternoon....errr....reading.

White-tip Reef Shark, FijiAt Waisalima electricity is mainly generated through solar energy and we both thought this just added to the feeling of being far away from everything that makes life complicated and stress full. Who needs more than a gently breeze coming through the windows and the sound of small waves lapping onto the beach at night?

The Main Bure at Waisalima, FijiDespite some drizzling rain and strong winds the view from the main area was stunning; the ocean was right in front and we could see part of the island opposite, named Ono. Nibbling on some of the biscuits we had brought we chatted the rest of the afternoon to staff and the other two guests. Soon enough we had some cold beers in front of us and a beautiful dinner of chicken curry, a local vegetable called 'Fern of the Forest' cooked in coconut milk and chocolate pudding with custard sauce as dessert. This was the life!

One of the other good things about Waisalima was that we got to meet some of the locals in a very casual way. Of course, they all spoke English very well as English is one of the three official languages in Fiji. I reasonably quickly gave up trying to learn Fijian, but soon enough you learn the words 'Bula!' (pronounced Mbula) , meaning Good morning, Good day or just Hello, or used when drinking kava and 'Vanaka Vakalevu' or 'Vanaka' for short, meaning Thank You (bit of a tricky one I thought).

The meal times offered the great opportunity to taste some of the local vegetables such as breadfruit, a spinach like vegetable called ro-ro cooked in coconut milk, fern of the forest, vundi, which is a species of cooking banana and one I didn't like too much: dalo (described aptly as 'a dry, starchy root crop'. Pretty much sums it up). Besides the vegetables there was chicken, beef, pork or fish at dinner.

Kava Ceremony, FijiThe cook Mariani performed some miracles in that kitchen. We had wonderful desserts, great breakfasts, fresh bread, pasta dishes for lunch, salads, fresh fruits such as bananas, pineapple, papaya and coconut. Each and every meal was lovingly prepared. The vegetables and fruit used for all meals are grown at the resort or by the local farmers.

On one of the days we didn't dive we visited the village Sogasa Vou. You can actually book an overland trek there with Maureen, which must be amazing as most of the island is very pristine. It takes about 4 hours walking though, so I was happy we went by boat this time around.

Once we were there two of the local boys accompanied us to a nearby waterfall where we had a swim. Afterwards there was an informal kava ceremony back in what I assume was the main bure. This is where I got my very first taste of kava. The drink was as muddy as the water at the waterfall and I thought it tasted faintly like aniseed, nothing too bad. The middle of my tongue went numb pretty much straight away. Most locals pulled a face when they finished their cup, but went back for more. After two small cups I had enough, but I was intrigued by this whole tradition.

Aerial shot of the Great Astrolabe Reef, FijiWhat I had read about the kava ceremony was very different from how it was conducted that afternoon. It was more fun than I imagined and not so official.
The diving operation at the resort is run by Viti Watersports. The main office and dive shop are located in Nadi. While we were there Sharon and Maika were our dive guides and they did an excellent job in looking after us.

Our first two dives were at a more sheltered part of the Astrolabe Reef, in between Ono Island and Kadavu. 'Split Rock' has an amazing underwater landscape with mazes of swim-throughs. Maika seemed to know each and every turn and trench and he didn't loose his way once.

We got to see small soft coral trees and a few species of fish we had not seen before including Red-eye Gobies (Bryaninops natans) hovering just about a small plate coral. There were dart-fire gobies, blennies, a school of Blue-fin Trevally, fusiliers, plenty of anthias and some anemonefish as well. Not a large numbers of fish though, but a lot of different species.

Conditions improved and were able to dive other parts of the Astrolabe Reef in the following days. Being the fourth largest barrier reef in the world it is amazing that there are only so few dive operations, but we weren't complaining.

Unidentified Rabbitfish, Fiji'The Archway' was probably my favourite of the sites we dived during our stay at Waisalima, as it was exactly how I imagined diving in Fiji to be. Beautiful! A slopey reef covered in healthy corals and a lot of life, especially in the shallows. A smallish Grey Reef Shark made an appearance and at the end we also got to see a White-tip Reef Shark There were different species of triggerfish, fusiliers in small schools, an Eagleray and all kinds of angelfish. The dive site lends it name from a large swim-through. The Archway itself didn't have much growth on it, bar a large Gorgonian Fan and some whip corals.

And I wasn't complaining about the water temperature either - at a depth of 27.5 meters the water was still 27C! The visibility was great that day with 30 - 40 meters.

Another great dive site was 'Turtle Lair'. Right underneath where we entered the water was a beautiful coral garden that extended to the wall dropping off that we swum along. Hawksbill Turtle at 'Turtle Liar', FijiVery, very healthy growth and I wondered how this would compare to Christmas Island, Australia which was the last place I had seen such healthy corals. Six-banded Angelfish cruised past us a few times. They are very shy creatures and to photograph them you have to almost have a limitless amount of bottom time or be just lucky! Tim pointed out another species we hadn't seen before. A pair of what looked like Rabbitfish; funny lips, black body, with a bright orange/yellow caudal fin.

Right at the beginning a school of Barracuda passed and then surrounded us. We also saw four turtles, all of them Hawksbill Turtles. One of them had a bit missing and the front of its carapace was mangled. As it turned out, this little turtle was a bit of a celebrity in the area.
Soon, five large Eaglerays cruised over our heads and across the reef flats.

Long-nose Bird Wrasse, FijiAnother fish I hadn't seen before had an emerald green body with yellow and it had a see through caudal fin. It looked a little like a gobyWe were also treated to several species of Surgeonfish and butterflyfish I only knew from books. Fantastic. We both noticed there weren't many species of nudibranch, but that might just have been the season. Some Longnose birdwrasse were hanging nose-down above some stag horn corals.

What a fantastic dive!

Bight yellow damsel, FijiAnother place you are bound to visit when staying at Waisalima it the Naigoro Passage Marine Reserve. Several dive sites are located just inside, just outside and right in the middle of the passage. As we learned later, people had tried to dynamite the reef right there to create a passage for the ferry, however, right in the middle was a hard rock that was not blown away by the explosion. This is now called Eagle Rock and it is a great site to encounter numerous Grey Reef Sharks, who love to hang out in the current. They don't like divers much though and will generally leave after having had a quick look at you.
I noticed a lot of different species of parrotfish at the more shallow reefs, including an almost black parrotfish and with a contrasting bright turquoise patch on the side. It just looked stunning.

One of the sites right on the side of the passage on the way out is 'Purple Wall', where most of the wall is covered in purple soft coral trees
We went back on a different day and dived 'The Fishmarket' nearby, and as the name suggests there were plenty of fish. We saw more Grey Reef Sharks, a White-tip Reef Shark, a Green and a Hawksbill Turtle and a large Stingray with a stumpy tail.

Giant Moray poking its head out, FijiAnother site I absolutely loved was the 'Japanese Gardens'. This site really looks like a landscaped garden with beautiful coral heads scattered everywhere. We had some great light as it was not very deep. There were more anemones than we had seen on any of the other sites and one had two different species of anemonefish living in it. A Grey Reef Sharks zoomed past. A large Eagleray came across the reef flats and swum out into the blue. We saw Scribbled Leatherjacket, Lined Surgeonfish, anthias, fusiliers and a large moray eel.Before we knew it our week at Waisalima was over.

We had enjoyed our stay and the fact it was easy to get to know the other guests, the locals as well as the staff. It would have been good to have some fish ID books there to find out the names of the fish we saw.

Upon booking make sure you get an itemised quote that includes your daily meals and boat transfer to Waisalima, else you might be up for a surprise. There are no shops or restaurants right around the corner and you can't prepare your own meals.

The term 'Resort' might make some people expect something a bit different, but if you prefer a remote, laid-back retreat from day to day life and are looking for a feeling of island life this is the place to spend a bit of time.

After our last dives we had a quick shower and some lunch. We packed our luggage on board the boat that would take us to our next destination on Kadavu: Matava!

Part 2: Matava

Main Bure at Matava, Kadavu, FijiIt only took us 30 minutes to get to Matava by boat. Each healand we passed and each corner we turned us showed us more of the undeveloped hills of Kadavu.

Matava itself is located in a small cove and at first sight you don't see much of the resort. However, once you step on land you can see the main bure right in front. The other bures where people stay are amongst beautiful tropical gardens with all kinds of flowering bushes, papaya trees and banana trees. Narrow paved walkways meander through the grass in all directions.

We were welcomed at the little jetty by Maggie, who gave us an introduction of the resort and how the diving was conducted. Our bure was only a short stroll away and yet felt very private.

Bure in garden setting at Matava, Kadavu, FijiBasically, we were staying half-way up the hill that forms the back-drop with a stunning view over the ocean. In the distance, we could see the waves breaking on the Astrolobe Reef. Again, we had big bunch of fresh flowers in our room and hibiscus flowers were put everywhere.

A real luxury was that our luggage was already brought to our bure, so we didn't have to carry it ourself. I immediately took to the verandah to soak up the atmosphere with help of a cold beer.

Inside the bure with fresh flowers, Kadavu, FijiSmoke drifted through the resort as staff was preparing the 'lovo, a traditional underground oven, used to cook meat, fish and vegetables for dinner that evening. We heard the dull thumping of people pounding kava roots together with the faint stringing of a guitar. Because I was the impatient one we wandered back to the main bure where a kava ceremony had just started. We sat down on the floor and I had only a little cup ('low tide') while some of the other guests earned titles such as 'King of Kava'.

As it started to get dark oil lamps were lit everywhere, creating a wonderful atmosphere.
Once the kava tools were packed away all guests had a look at the unpacking of the 'lovo'. We helped carry the food back to the buffet table and started having dinner. It was delicious and I tried to have a little bit of everything, which, of course, ended up being way too much! There was barracuda and parrotfish, chicken with spicy papaya salsa, cassava, potato and my favourite Fijian vegetable: ro-ro in lo-lo. I felt extremely well to put it lightly!

All meals at MATAVA are a social affair and you get to know all the other guests. There was always plenty of food and the staff was very attentive to make sure you had everything you'd need. The food was of a high standard and well prepared.

A pair of beautiful butterflyfish, Kadavu, FijiThe diving at MATAVA was very well organised. After breakfast we would slowly make our way to the dive shop near the jetty and put our gear together. The staff carried it all to the boat. Surface intervals were held on the boat and there was plenty of opportunity to go for a swim in between dives in the turquoise water.

Cabbage patch at Naigoro Passage, Kadavu, FijiSome of the diving from Matava also happens at Naigoro Passage, so we had another chance to swim with the Grey Reef Sharks, which is always a good option. This time around it was a little more rough, so it was decided to do a more relaxed second dive well inside the reef at 'Cabbage Patch'.
This dive was fairly shallow with plenty of life to see. Largish bommies were scattered throughout the area, some of the covered in Cabbage Coral. Because of the way it grows this coral always has plenty of hiding places for all kinds of critters, so we spent quite a bit of time peeking in between layers. Some Big-scale Soldierfish with their large eyes had found their spot below the cabbage corals, hovering just above the sand in the semi-darkness. Our dive guide managed to find the tiniest black Leaf Scorpionfish.

A huge moray eel ducked for cover when we came past and, fortunately for one of the divers in our group, it did not respond to the white hand flapping inches away from its mouth (and teeth). There's one in every group!

Swimming with the Manta Rays at Matava, Kadavu, FijiOne of the most exciting dive sites for us would have been Manta Reef. You have to be a bit lucky timing-wise as the boats don't go there every day as it is a bit of a trip. After about 40 minutes we reached Manta Reef. The site is at a reef that runs parallel to the main reef and is covered in all kinds of coral, anemones and soft corals. Generally, the Mantas cruise up and down the reef and divers are advised to stay to the side or 'hide' in indents in the reef to make the experience last as long as possible.

When we were there the visibility was maybe 10 - 15 meters, but we got to see the Manta Rays pretty early in our dive. They were huge! Some of them were almost completely black. Soon enough we were able to distinguish the different animals and we got to Swimming with the Manta Rays at Matava, Kadavu, Fijiknow which ones were the cheeky ones and would come closer and closer!! A real challenge to photograph the entire animal sometimes. We got a real thrill out of this experience. Apparently, the week before the visibility had been 30 meters and the divers got to see 15 different Manta Rays! Because this site is relatively far away we also did our second dive with the Mantas. How lucky were we?? On the way back we saw a pod of Spinner Dolphins, riding the bow wave of our boat.

A bit of a shame that we didn't explore the actual reef right underneath, but we felt that we would not have another opportunity like this very soon.

Clown Triggerfish, Kadavu, FijiMy favourite dive site of the ones I managed to dive while we were in Fiji was Coral Wonderland. This site has ridges and bommies completely covered in many species of healthy looking corals. There were Gorgonian Fans in different colours and sizes, long whip corals, decent size table corals and beautifully coloured soft coral trees. The variety of growth was amazing and there were so many fish species as well. There were angelfish, butterflyfish, surgeonfish,
All of a sudden we were surrounded by a large school of Yellow-tail Barracuda. I didn't want to leave, it was magic. Very slowly and reluctantly we went up.
Our very last dive while staying at Matava was just around the corner from Eagle Rock at the Naigoro Passage. Upon descending we found ourselves amidst a school of Yellow-tail Barracuda. We kept swimming along and ended up in another gorgeous coral garden. A light current pulled us along and since we were not very deep at all it was a little surgey, but we were still able to look at all the different coral species and the lively 'crowd' of reef fish.

Wandy snorkeling in front of Matava, Kadavu, FijiMost afternoons we spent reading, writing up our dives, looking up fish we saw during the day or browsing the books in the Matava library at the main bure.
You can always take out one of the free kayaks if you'd like something more active or swim across to the small island just across from the resort.

If you go for a swim, make sure you bring a mask and snorkel as there is heaps to see on the reef right in front of the resort. First you'll come across a sea grass bed. For the trained eye or the very patient people you might be able to find several pipefish and seahorses. A Scorpionfish covered in a purple sponge, Kadavu, FijiIf you swim a little further you'll find coral growth right up to where the bottom slopes down and become sandy. There you'll find different coloured Christmas-tree Worms, Sergeant Majors, triggerfish, butterflyfish and quite a few juvenile fish. In the sandy patches a few colourful gobies hang out, including the Blue-band Gobies. People have also seen Banded Seasnakes.

Too soon we had to pack up again and get ready to be brought to the airport. Once we were up in the air, we pressed our nose against the windows to be able to see the last glances of Kadavu and the Astrolabe Reef.

A few travel tips from us:
- A dry bag would have been a handy accessory as you spend so much time on the water. Especially when travelling from one place to the next by boat you can make sure that travel documents and cameras are safe. Also handy if you'd like to bring a dry T-shirt for in between dives.
- You can't always drink the water coming from the tap, so it is a bit of a bigger effort to make sure you drink enough water. In the tropics and when you are diving in particular this is very important.
- Although electricity is limited, both Waisalima and Matava enable you to recharge your camera batteries etc. Don't bring you hair dryer or curling iron though as that would use WAY TOO MUCH. At Matava they do offer a hairdrying service: driving around in a boat for five minutes really fast!

Selection of video clips from this trip

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