Fiji spoiled any future diving experience for me. It ruined all chances of ever experiencing that “wow” feeling again. The Rainbow Reef or Great White Wall is still one of the world’s best kept secrets – let me reveal it to you!
I joined the Tui Tai Expedition on a 5 day live-onboard diving and adventure cruise around the island of Taveuni, a 20min flight from the capital, Suva. Editor’s note: the Tui Tai is currently undergoing renovations after it was hit by a cyclone.
Despite Tui Tai being recommended from a friend who got a PADI certification there, I did not chose the trip because of that. I wanted to experience a different side to Fiji, away from the very touristy areas in the main island Viti Levu. Fiji is not, by international standards, a touristy place, but the summer months do see a large amount of visitors and some areas can be packed with all sorts of tourists, be it Europeans who have come all the way on a gap year or Kiwis/Aussies escaping the cold months.
To me, the Tui Tai was an opportunity to see a more genuine cultural side to the country and, of course, to snorkel in the amazing areas and to swim with dolphins and manta rays. Even without diving, the trip is still highly worth it. In fact, most of the other 15 guests were not divers, leaving the diving to me and a Norwegian family of 4.
By the time I made it on board, I had already been rightly convinced by a friend to get my diving certificate. I completed the theory in the evenings and the pool sessions were in the open sea, on an isolated and beautiful beach. By day 3, I was already a certified diver and allowed to go on the maximum 4 dives per day.
I can’t be more grateful to the friend that convinced me to do this, because this has been, to date, the most incredible diving experience of my life. Even better than Sipadan, Thailand, Samoa or Tonga. Particularly the Great White Wall where we dived on the last day of the trip. However, it also ruined any future diving adventures for me – nothing remotely compares to the beauty of Taveuni, the Rainbow Reef or the Great White Wall. I keep my hopes high for some places I have yet to dive in but after every dive so far I still miss the aquatic zoo that was Fiji.
The Tui Tai
The Tui Tai is an old refurbished sailing vessel with comfortable rooms and amazing food cooked fresh every day. The boat sails around the waters of Taveuni for 7 days in a loop.
Most of the guests are from Australia or New Zealand and it is a very popular trip for families with teenage kids, as there are a lot of activities to do every day with some culture thrown in. Couples will also find it a very romantic and a few of the higher end suites have star beds – beds where you can watch the stars from.
A typical day would start at 7am with a breakfast of toast, coffee/tea and juices followed by an early morning dive or snorkel around the area. On return, the crew would have the hot breakfast orders ready for us to recover all energy spent. We would then head for another dive or snorkel for those interested. Before lunch, the crew usually took us on a land excursion. This could be to kayak, trek up the rim of a sunken volcano or climb up a waterfall.
Lunch would then take place usually back on the boat. The afternoon started with another dive or snorkelling trip. Almost every night there was a trip to the mainland to witness a traditional dance or ceremony from either a Micronesian, Melanesian or Polynesian tribe that lived in the area. Guests get to participate in the dancing and singing as well. The days ended with dinner back on the boat. For the divers, a night dive was also possible after dinner.
The food was delicious. The crew cooked it and it was served in very generous portions, with fresh meat or delicious fish and always finished with cake or dessert. I managed to put on a couple of kilos on this trip despite the very active days we had. Hard to pass up on the hot breakfast pancakes.
Going through one of many rock formations, the Tui Tai gives you the magical chance of experiencing some of the most remote parts of Fiji, away from tourists and the businesses on the main islands. Some of the dive sites are hard to reach and you will therefore have them all to yourself. In our trip, we only saw other divers in the Rainbow Reef’s Great White Wall on the last day and even that meant only 3-4 other people. Aside from Tui Tai’s guests, the dive sites were served by some of the dive operators in Taveuni and its surroundings, but tourism has yet to take off significantly in the area so it remained a very well kept secret.
Fiji’s Rainbow Reef
The experts rate the Great Wall as one of the best dives in the world and if you get to see it you will immediately know why. It has, undoubtedly, the most amazing corals you will ever see as well as lots of pelagic animals, mantas, reef sharks and turtles. The entire Rainbow Reef is truly magical because it is made of soft corals of extremely bright colours. It is hard to imagine it until you see it.
The Great White Wall, part of the Rainbow Reef, was the final climax of our trip. Just as I thought things could not be more beautiful or special, there we were, at 30m below the surface, witnessing a wall covered with shining white corals that looked like someone had lit them alive and sprinkled them with snow. I lost track of time and of depth and quickly found myself at 35m in a state of mixed drunkenness from the depth and nitrogen in my bloodstream, as well as the perfect beauty of the surroundings. Nothing will ever compare to the magic of that wall.
The Great White Wall and its environment are the result of a very rare phenomenon that pushes large amounts of water through the narrow shallow passage of the Somosomo Strait. The pressure creates currents which are rich in nutrients and feed the corals, allowing them to expand and grow. There is always a strong current in the area which encourages the corals to show their true colours. The current also makes the dive easy, as you just stand still and let the water take you on a sight seeing tour of the wall and you come up the other end.
Jacques Cousteau named Fiji the “soft coral capital of the world” and you can easily understand why while diving. The Great White wall is also known for the diverse and rich marine life which was at times overwhelming. Reef sharks, turtles and other large pelagic fish were everywhere. There were caves, rock formations, coral fans, large schools of fish and even the famous Christmas Tree coral worms everywhere.
But The Great White Wall was not the only incredible experience on the trip. On the 1st day before I arrived, guests got to snorkel or dive with enormous manta rays which live in the area relatively close to the surface. So just a mask and snorkel was enough to swim with them. The photos from my crew were incredible.
The details : How to get there
The Tui Tai is a long journey away for most people. You first need to get to Fiji which has direct connections from LA, Auckland and a few cities in Australia and more recently Singapore. Then you fly to Taveuni where you can be picked up by the crew and driven to the boarding point. It is not extremely hard, but unless you already live in one of the Nadi direct connection airports you should add 1-2 more flights. From Europe, that is a trip half way around the world but is very much worth the effort.
Best time to visit
Fiji has mild weather throughout the year but it is best to go in the winter dry season (June to September) so you can enjoy sunny days without much rain and better visibility. The winter temperatures cool down a bit (surface maybe to low 20s) but the water remains pretty warm, even for a summer person like me! I can imagine the warmer summer months might be a bit unpleasant when you go on shore as day temperatures in the winter months were quite high and the weather very humid.
What to do
You can see a sample itinerary on the Tui Tai website but as mentioned above there are land activities and cultural visits every day so it is not just about being in the water. The ship does not move a lot so in fact there was not a lot of sailing.
Do not miss any of the land excursions because they were all very nice. We went kayaking around the rim of an old volcano now submerged in the ocean. Another day we trekked up a mountain to bathe in a couple of waterfalls. We climbed up several flights of stairs above the bay and then crossed a stream until we reached the top where the waterfall was. We were in the real jungle. We also got time to enjoy the postcard perfect Fijian beaches and even a massage by the onboard masseuse.
And of course, we dived, dived, and dived. Do it, even if, like me, all your future diving experiences will be spoilt.
Make sure to plan your trip at the practical level.Fiji is a beautiful country but there are a few things that are not what you would expect elsewhere. So read about everything you need to know before going to Fiji to be prepared.
Book the 7 day trip where you get to do both the White Wall and the swim with mantas. You can usually join the trip anytime, even if they have set dates. But it might be less efficient to join in the middle of the trip as the boat may not be close to shore. The crew organised my local flight connection from Suva to Taveuni and this was included in the price when I booked on an offer – you should ask if they still do this though.
Prices are between $1,500 and $1,900 for the single room which had its own tiny bathroom and AC. Cabins are split into different comfort levels and if you pick one in the upper deck, you also get a small balcony/chill-out area. You are on a boat, so the space in the cabins is small. AC ensures that you can sleep well on the hottest nights.
The ship had a professional underwater photographer on board who came with us on a couple of excursions to take the photos that you see on this article. Buy the photos and videos that they offer to you at the end, you won’t regret it as they are beautiful. If you have a GoPro, bring it with you too.
For the excursions on land, bring some waterproof sandals which will come in handy when you walk in the park, trek in your swim suit or climb up a waterfall on the wet slippery surface.
Spend one night under the stars on the top deck of the boat. They have a few small mattresses and blankets for this, you won’t forget the starry nights. Away from the pollution, the sky has never been so dotted with shiny stars and The Milky way.