Diving in Taveuni
Dive Somosomo's Garden Island
The Somosomo Strait which runs between Taveuni Island and Vanua Levu is one of Fiji's best known dive destinations and it is served by both dive resorts and liveaboard. The strait almost single-handedly earns Fiji its title as the "Soft Coral Capital of the World".
Many divers come to Taveuni just to witness the excellent soft coral blooms that occur when the current is running just right. Normally the currents are little more than a gentle helping hand along the way, guiding you past some of the most wonderful proliferations of soft corals on the planet.
Large bushes of pink, brown and orange span out to capture the passing nutrients and create the remarkable spectacles of colour that portray Taveuni scuba diving. When the current is present to any reasonable extent the grateful corals expand to their finest and most enchanting, whereas without the current they would retract into barely visible balls - and who wants that?
It is not all sessile stuff when diving at Taveuni however, as the nutrient rich waters also promise plenty of plenty of pelagic fish species. You can expect to see barracudas, reef sharks and manta rays, particularly at a site aptly named 'the Zoo'. Nearby, the world famous Rainbow Reef and Great White Wall have been noted in the 'Top 10 Dive Locations in the World' by U.S. Divers magazine.
There are also some interesting sites off the little islands in the north east of Fiji's 'Garden Island' which you will surely visit if staying for several days. Here there is less current but still plenty to see and these sites make a change from the Somosomo Strait where diving can, in every sense, be truly breath-taking.
Dive Site Descriptions
Annie's Bommies - Sadly this is not a site named after a local Fijian woman with an hourglass figure. Rather the term refers to the several large conical protrusions from the sea bed that characterise this Taveuni Island site. In many ways Annie's Bommies is typical of the diving to be found in the Somosomo Strait and is essentially a continuation of the wonderland known as the Rainbow Reef.
When you're scuba diving in Taveuni, this is one site you will notice a marked difference in, depending on whether there is a strong current or not. Without current it is pretty enough and there may be a fair amount to catch your eye. When the current runs however, it is an almost violent affront to the senses, bursting with floral beauty. The marvellous colour of the scene simply cannot be over-stated and is enough to make even the most world-weary diver dewy-eyed.
Annie's Bommies may not feature a dramatic wall, but it is a great spot to take your time to investigate the nooks and crannies, weaving in and out of the bommies and taking a breather when sheltered from the current. At these times you can leisurely explore for small things like nudibranchs, gobies and pipefish.
All the while it is worth keeping an eye out for leopard sharks resting on the bottom, perhaps in the company of blue-spotted rays, and you are always likely to see the gaping mouths of moray protruding out from their sheltered holes.
You may not meet Annie, or ever have the chance to get to know her, but you are sure to remember the day you had a good look at her bommies.
Cabbage Patch - Back-rolling into the clear waters of the Somosomo Strait, which does much to justify Fiji's claim to be the soft coral capital of the world, you might expect to be met with impressive views of soft coral on every dive.
However, at spots like this the soft coral presence is no more than normal. What is impressive about this spot, close to Garden Island Resort, is the vast field of cabbage coral which stretches well beyond the area of sight. There seem to be layers and layers of pristine yet fragile plates of coral, bedecking the Taveuni seabed, as it slopes from a sandy floor at around 30 metres up to the shallows of 8 to 10 metres.
But there is more for you to marvel at than the coral itself. You should look out for unicornfish, arc-eye hawkfish, Achilles tangs and scalefin anthias; and the occasional banded sea krait, to name but a few. When you're diving in Taveuni you may, if you are in luck, come across the bicolor fang blenny. This is a long yellow blenny which is endemic to Fiji and can be seen striking out at other small fish that enter its territory.
On the sandy areas watch out for pairs of fire dartfish, shrimp and goby partnerships, and sea cucumbers such as Thelnota anax and Bohadschia graeffei (the one with the black frilly tubercles stretching out from its front end on to the sea floor).
Coral Gardens - The coastline around Paradise Taveuni Resort has several dive sites on offer at Vuna Reef that are sheltered from the prevailing island winds. After only 10 minutes scenic boat ride from the resort, you will arrive at one of the best sites in the region, Coral Gardens.
This aptly named site is formed by 3 streams, or 'fingers', of lava that once flowed into the ocean at this spot. You will start the dive in the shallow shelter at the top of the first finger and, once settled, begin your drift onwards. This is a site that can be dived at any depth and during the descent the first glimpses of the many soft corals can be seen.
This is a popular feeding station for the larger reef fish and parrotfish. Triggerfish and surgeonfish can be seen in abundant numbers. The first finger also provides a home for the reef's smaller residents, with squirrelfish hiding beneath the overhangs and anemonefish guarding their offspring.
In between the lava fingers are large sandy areas, the first of which is dominated by colonies of garden eels swaying in the current. Coming to rest on the sand in front of the second finger, you will have the chance to pause and appreciate the throngs of fish. Anthias are present in their hundreds, schooling bannerfish swim past and boxfish dart in and out of the hard corals. Hovering above the lava finger also allows you to watch the schools of pelagic fish that gather here - barracuda, snapper and yellowfin tuna are common visitors in Taveuni.
Hammerhead sharks and manta rays have also been spotted although you will need to have luck on your side.
Heading up the third and final lava finger, keep an eye out for juvenile blue ribbon eels bobbing in the entrance of their homes, or triggerfish swimming past. As you reach the top of the finger and the 5 metre mark, you will enter a labyrinth of swim-throughs. Perfect for whiling away a safety stop, this maze of corridors provides a fascinating end to the dive.
The Edge - U2 can enjoy this excellent site which is found some 30 km from Taveuni mainland at the Motualevu Atoll. The Edge is one of a 3-piece collection of dive sites and if you still haven't found what you're looking for during your vacation here, this may be the one.
Regardless of the weather above the ocean, it's a beautiful day here where this vertical drop-off enjoys great visibility, allowing for the spectacular colours to come through. As with elsewhere at Taveuni Island, there is no shortage of soft corals throughout, but there is also room for plenty of hard corals and a few leather corals. You will notice as you make your way along the wall there are a few overhangs and windows at each elevation which make great photo opportunities, with or without you in the frame.
This is another site where you can dive well below the point of staring at the sun, but there is no real benefit to this since the diverse coral gardens above 20 metres are the sweetest thing about this site. Queen angel (of Harlem) fish and blue-spotted coral trout are among the highest profile reef fish here. With a keen pair of eyes you might spot a poison-fang blenny mimic which is even better than the real thing. This lemon-coloured sub-species is endemic to Fiji.
You should also bear in mind that this site is a good location for checking out the mysterious ways of the magnificent anemones which might have contracted into their brightly coloured balls or be displaying their fine fingers in the current. Whatever happens, you are bound to find yourself among the contented passengers back on the boat having been to The Edge.
Fish Factory - On the inner side of Vuna Reef is one of its best know sites - Fish Factory - a site that offers much for beginners and advanced scuba divers alike.
Generally dived on a rising tide, your Fish Factory experience begins on sand in the turquoise waters near the central Taveuni lagoon of Vuna Reef. Descending to 10 metres, you will find yourself hovering above the white sand floor amongst a multitude of coral bommies. If you are a more advanced diver you can descend further down the slope if you wish to achieve some depth, but in truth the best sights are to be found around the 15-20 metre mark.
Drifting with the current, you will encounter schools of damsels and anthias darting about the bommies. With a closer look, pincushion stars and a variety of nudibranchs pepper the sea bed while large moray eels grope hungrily for food.
This is great site to keep an eye out to the blue as well, as schools of pelagic fish often pass by. Barracuda, Spanish mackerel and trevally are common visitors, while whitetip reef sharks often cruise the bommies. Even pilot whales have been spotted here by some lucky souls.
As you progress through the dive, the rocky outcrops and hard corals start to dominate and eventually become the solid wall that forms most of the Vuna Reef, and it is here that the soft corals really shine. Covering the rock wall the pinks, purples, yellows and oranges of the corals are on full display as the nutrient-rich current passes by. Turtles can often be found swimming along the rock wall and blue spotted rays rest in the crevices.
Fish Factory is also a great site for snorkellers, so it truly offers something for everyone and is a wonderful glimpse into the underwater world of southern Taveuni.
The Great White Wall - "Great" is a bland term too often thrown about but here it is justified, for it describes one of the most dramatic sights and sites you are likely to witness, and certainly one of the major diving attractions of Taveuni.
A lot depends on hitting it at the right times as regards current and tidal changes. The dive will probably begin for you at a tubular cave around 15 metres depth, festooned with hard and soft corals as well as colourful sponges and crinoids. There may be a few resident lionfish and morays greeting you as you cruise along.
Once you have filed through this swimthrough towards the exit at about 25 metres and turned left, you might be forgiven for thinking you had your ski holiday and your dive holiday mixed up, since you emerge onto what looks like a sudden snow-covered drop. This almost vertical wall (surely a black run) is blanketed with white coral.
Between the white coral are little splashes of orange, green and red but the overall effect is undoubtedly that of a great, white wall. Square-spot anthias seem to be the pre-dominant fish on the wall as they dash around against the white backdrop. However the wall itself, with its white blanket, several whip corals playing home to gobies and a few large gorgonians, is the undoubted star attraction.
The wall plummets dramatically into the abyss and you will too if you don't keep an eye on your depth gauge, for given the snow-blinding scene, it is difficult to monitor depth using points of reference. One interesting change however is that as the depth increases the wall takes on a more iridescent lavender hue (dilly dilly).
Fiji is not renowned for its deep dives but this Taveuni site does give you an opportunity to get down to where the air tastes differently if you so desire, although there are no additional deep water features other than the great lavender wall itself. If conditions permit your guide may also lead you through another swim-through or 2 which are home to soldierfish, squirrelfish and fairy basslets.
Unique, dramatic and rewarding all apply to this, one of Fiji's signature sites. If you have been growing tired of scuba diving lately, this is going to be the one that saves you, and after all, it's the Great White Wall.
Jerry's Jelly - At some stage on your Taveuni dive holiday a helpful guide will explain to you that 2 deep and wide bodies of water move tidally through the narrow and shallow passage that is the Somosomo Strait. This volume of water movement in such a small channel is why the current picks up. At some stage when you are diving in the Somosomo Strait those words will echo in your ears. This site could be one of those times.
You are likely to begin your dive by dropping down to around 18 metres with the reef on your left shoulder. If the current is of medium strength you can cover a reasonable distance along this reef, finning only gently to maintain your position. Innumerable garden eels rise up from their burrows to feast on the nutrient rich water rushing past their front doors, and dropping back inside only if you venture too close for comfort.
As you continue your drift, keep a look out for Spanish mackerel, dog-tooth tuna and white tip reef sharks as well as smaller but no less impressive nudibranchs in big numbers. At some stage you will come to a point which involves crossing over a reef flat before dropping down on the other side of the reef into the lee of the current. You may find the speed of the crossing breathtaking, and as you career over the flat you will see the reef crossing beneath your body at an exhilarating rate.
Then as you edge slowly back into shallower water, the current will again make itself felt. The very top of the reef is at about 6 metres so it's slightly too shallow for safety stop purposes. This means that the safety stop begins when all the divers in your group, who will be holding on to some rocky part of the reef and with their bodies (and bubbles!) horizontal, simply letting go and allowing the current to pull them along as they off-gas for 3 or 4 minutes and reflect on the excitement of this Taveuni dive, whose conditions you are sure to encounter on at least a few occasions in the Somosomo Strait.
Paradise Reef - This is the house reef of Paradise Taveuni Resort, which is easily accessible from the marina's jetty and can be dived on any tide and at any time of the day. It offers scuba divers a wide diversity of terrains so could in fact be subdivided into separate sites.
You can spend all your time enjoying the shallows around the jetty where you will be surrounded by quite small coral heads, or you have the option of quickly descending a steep slope of beautiful hard corals to 30 metres.
By heading north along the slope, you get the chance to discover the many small creatures that have made Paradise Reef their home. Damsels and blue chromis abound, nudibranchs and leopard cowries nestle in the crevices, and banded sea snakes delve about looking for food. The chance of big encounters always exists too. A pair of spotted eagle rays may glide silently past and manta rays have been spotted just 20 metres from the jetty.
If you choose to head south from the marina, you'll witness the sheer diversity of Paradise Reef. The steep slope shallows out, accompanied by an army of cheek-striped fusiliers, and becomes a large sandy bottomed area ranging from 5-15 metres. This is a photographer's playground with lionfish of all sizes, and displays of Christmas tree worms sprinkled over all the coral heads. Further on you'll find yet another new territory - a field of sea grass guarded staunchly by its resident anemonefish and scoured for food by hungry titan triggers.
This incredible diversity can also be experienced on night dives when the reef's nocturnal residents come out to play. The rocky outcrops become the perch for hundreds of feather stars eager for food, while the eyes of hermit crabs and banded shrimps gleam in the torch light. You can also witness the true spectacle of Paradise Reef at night with the glittering dance of the flashlight fish. With their pouches of bioluminescence glowing under their eyes, the flashlight fish speed past divers like a cloud of stars before vanishing into the night.
Pot Luck - Dropping into a depth of around 12 metres you can see the ocean floor here from the surface as you stride excitedly off the dive boat. As you sink down you may be met with a proliferation of fish congregating around a series of coral heads. A large school of jacks is often present facing into the mild current and often joined by smaller schools of sweetlips and barracudas.
After drinking in the sight of such a number of fish, the dive proceeds to become a matter of drifting gently with the current towards the north if conditions permit. This means there is a sloping wall to your right shoulder which drops to a sandy, sloping bottom at around 30 metres, rising to a height that varies between 15 and 10 metres. The slope features quite healthy coral coverage, mostly in the form of staghorn coral and table coral, with a number of giant clams and fans also present.
When you dive Taveuni Island you should look out for the unusual sight of parrotfish in large numbers, effectively schooling as they swarm around the slope, munching the hard coral and then excreting it in puff of fine sand that slowly cascades down to the sea floor. Interestingly these groups consist both of blue green parrotfish and pure purple ones!!
You may also run into a banded sea krait or two at this site, and the local dive guides are more than happy to handle them, so you can take your time to marvel at the beauty of their sleek black and white bodies before they are released and weave their way effortlessly through the water and past the awestruck scuba divers.
The site may be called Pot Luck, and of course underwater there are no guarantees, but for numbers and variety of fish, Pot Luck may be a better bet than many other Fiji dive sites and it is also one of the most easily accessed of the dive sites in Taveuni.
Rainbow Reef - is one of the first sites people mention when talking about diving in Taveuni or Fiji. In fact the area is big enough to be subdivided into several sites and all but the shortest of stays will probably see you visit here on more than 1 occasion. Parts of it are also known as Rainbow's End or Rainbow Passage.
As you descend to begin this Taveuni dive you will see below you a great profusion of colour as this site consists of several bommies adorned with a great array of soft corals in such colours as to be reminiscent of, yes, you guessed it, a rainbow!
Currents are normally a factor here and of course this means the soft corals often look their most magnificent and the nutrients mean there is plenty of fauna to keep you amused. There are masses of colour everywhere as you make your way around the island reef which drops down from about 9 metres to a little over 20 to the sandy bottom.
Swarms of little orange basslets seem to hurtle all over the place in and around the reef, dotted with nudibranchs, crinoids and Christmas tree worms. There are also a lot of anemones around swaying in the current and being determinedly protected by the resident anemonefish. Also keep an eye out for both adult and juvenile clown triggerfish who seem to like this area of Taveuni.
Further removed is the big stuff so don't keep your nose buried in the bommies. Behind you there may be barracudas and white-tip reef sharks as well as the possible appearance of leopard sharks moving languidly with their huge tails slicing through the current.
Rainbow's End - This spot is unsurprisingly found on the edge of the cluster of dive sites known as Rainbow Reef, which is home to some of the finest diving in the Somosomo Strait. The slope is decorated with table corals and other varieties of Acropora, as well as some boulder corals and porites, usually playing host to several bored clams and Christmas tree worms.
There is always plenty of life here, more typically numerous individuals rather than schools, so you can spot parrotfish, red-breasted wrasses, emperor and blue girdled angelfish, Napoleon wrasse, long nose butterflyfish, and moorish idols. More numerous are the redtooth triggerfish and fusiliers, both blue streak and blue and yellow. In the sand you can look out for blue ribbon eels, as well as gobies standing guard while their shrimp partners take care of the house work.
Sites like this in the Somosomo Strait can leave the student of fish names with a long list of species, while the less informed diver might say "We saw every fish imaginable", which typifies the rich rewards of many of the dive sites in Taveuni.
The Stairs - Just a 10 minute boat ride from the Paradise Taveuni Resort is Vuna Reef, a beautiful reef system that is dived exclusively by the resort. A C-shaped reef wall jutting off the south-western tip of Taveuni Island, Vuna Reef offers sheltered lagoon sites for beginner divers and exciting wall dives for the more advanced.
A big favourite with the Pro Dive Taveuni team is a site known as 'The Stairs', situated midway around the reef. As you descend, the first impression is of the sheer scale of the walls stretching away in all directions and covered with hard and soft corals. On reaching 28 metres you are met by a swimthrough and overhang covered in the soft white corals that Taveuni is famous for - and with the current flowing past this point, the corals are fully extended to feed on the passing nutrients.
Moving on, scuba divers enter the shelter of the wall and reach the bottom of 'The Stairs' - a set of swimthroughs that spiral up the reef like a staircase. Large enough to accommodate several divers at once, the ambient light reveals sponges and corals encrusting the walls.
After you wind your way up the 'stairs' you will exit out onto a plateau in 12-14 metres, home to a sudden profusion of anthias, fusiliers and parrotfish. It's hard not to linger long here. Another series of swim-throughs back down the wall will see you pass a vast gorgonian fan. Whitetip reef sharks are often seen here, cruising silhouetted in the exits of these stunning archways, and leopard sharks can be found relaxing in the sand.
The dive does not end here, however. Depending on the rise and flow of current, it is possible to progress along the wall of Vuna Reef and encounter some of its other residents - butterflyfish, moorish idols, trumpetfish and Maori wrasse are all here, along with Spanish mackerel and trevally. Gradually you will ascend the reef wall until reaching your safety stop when you can spend the last few minutes of their dive along the top of the reef, enjoying your last glimpses of the marine life.
How to Dive Taveuni
The best way to dive here is by staying in one of the resorts on the island. This allows you quick and easy access to the Somosomo Strait and the other Taveuni diving sites, and can also make it easier for you to explore some of Taveuni's topside attractions. There is also a liveaboard adventure cruise that plies these waters and nearby islands.
Although you can visit Taveuni all the year round, the main diving season is April to October. This coincides roughly with the period which sees the best visibility: Fiji's winter months of July to September. At this time the wind can kick up a little in the Somosomo Strait making the surface a little choppy and potentially as cool as 22°C.
November to January tend to see the most rainfall with the rainy season officially extending into March. During these summer months water temperature can reach a pleasant bathtub 30°C.
Some creatures' presence in the Taveuni area is seasonal: Mantas from November to May, turtles from October to April, and (although unlikely) humpback whales from July to September.
Good for: Large animals, reef life and health, visibility
Not so good for: Snorkelling
Depth: 10 - >40m
Visibility: 15 - 40m
Currents: Gentle to very strong
Surface conditions: Mainly calm but can be choppy further from shore
Water temperature: normally 28 - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: 20
Access: Resorts and liveaboards
Recommended length of stay: 7 - 10 days