For many, Fiji’s constellation of islands offers the perfect beaches for relaxing. But put your head below the waves and you’ll find yourself in the soft-coral capital of the world, surrounded by underwater gardens, bright darting fish and graceful manta rays. Whether you’re an experienced diver or still learning which way to point your snorkel, Fiji offers a sublime underwater experience.
Planning your Fiji dive
Fiji’s climate makes it a year-round dive destination and the warm, shallow waters of Fiji’s many reef-fringed lagoons are the perfect training environments. Most resorts offer their own dive operators, who can offer everything from introductory resort dives for beginners to an open-water certification course for those really looking to take their skills to the next level.
The Mamanuca Islands and Yasawa Islands are a particularly great destination for beginners discovering the underwater world. They’re close to Nadi, the primary arrival destination in Fiji, and easy to get to – with great island-hopping adventures and activities. The dive sites are generally safe for novices and beginners, and many resorts have coral gardens and other easy places to explore if you’re trying to convert snorkelers to divers.
Once certified, there are many other fantastic underwater spots for all skill levels in Fiji. Experienced divers should check out the Great White Wall off Taveuni – possibly the best soft-coral dive in Fiji – the Nasonisoni Passage off Vanua Levu, and E6 in the Lomaiviti Islands, which features a phenomenal seamount that brushes the ocean’s surface.
The Suncoast along the north side of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu has perfect access to Bligh Water and the Vatu-i-Ra Passage, famous for its rich marine life. The most enthusiastic divers head to Breath Taker dive site. Rarely was a place so aptly named – coral-carpeted pillars 80 feet high bristle with reef fish, but the key draw here is the large concentration of really big open water species – including slick and stripy barracuda. You’ll certainly catch your breath here, so plan a two-tank dive not to miss out on anything.
From the northeastern town of Lautoka, Nai’a Fiji runs one of the most unique diving experiences in the South Pacific: 7- to 10-day live-aboard cruises through the diving hotspots at Lomaiviti, Bligh Water and the Namena Marine Reserve. Wake, dive, eat, sleep and repeat – all in the lap of luxury – with a new view every day.
On the south side of the island there are more than 20 dive sites near Pacific Harbour, the self-labeled ‘Adventure Capital of Fiji,’ mostly within Beqa Lagoon and its fantastic soft coral sites. These include ET, which features a vast tunnel more than 98 feet long, densely blanketed with sea fans and soft corals. Other impressive dives include Side Streets (soft corals, coral heads and gorgonian fans), Frigate Walls (a 155-foot wall in Frigate pass), and Caesar’s Rocks (coral heads and swim-throughs).
Where to stay: Volivoli Beach Resort has convenient access to northern dive sites, and Waidroka Bay Resort is a great choice on the southern coast.
The Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands
Just off the northwest edge of Viti Levu, the 50-odd islands that make up the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands are a behemoth of beauty that pack a powerful – and paradisiacal – punch.
If you’re new to diving, the coral-studded underwater cliff in the Yasawa Island chain called Lekima’s Ledge is an especially good place to wet your gills. The slowly descending series of ridges allow you to explore ever deeper as your confidence grows, and the site attracts large schools of fish as well as ample coral gardens. The visibility here astounds first-time divers and you can see for up to 130 feet through the water much of the year
Two immense pinnacles sit behind a barrier reef called Gotham City in the Mamanuca Island chain. Why the name? The superheroes here are the resident batfish, a reef species far prettier than their name might suggest. Other fish abound in a dazzling rainbow parade, although the tidal currents here mean that Gotham City isn’t suited to beginner divers.
Captain Cook Cruises offers all-inclusive cruises ranging from three to seven nights in various classes and sleeping arrangements throughout the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands, and make for a great way to explore the many beautiful dive sites scattered throughout these chains.
Where to stay: Resorts that are particularly well set up for diving include adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort, family-friendly Castaway Island Fiji and Mantaray Island Resort, which has plenty of good snorkeling as well as scuba options.
Vanua Levu and Taveuni
Fiji’s second largest island and its nearby rider, located a short flight or boat ride north of Viti Levu, are some of the tropics’ best-kept secrets.
If you could pick only one dive in the entire Pacific, there’s a good chance you’d choose Taveuni’s Great White Wall. It’s a cliff dive that stretches 100 feet below the surface, but as soon as you get close, you’ll understand why it’s also called the Rainbow Reef. It’s not just the fabulous colors that put it in the running for the best soft-coral dive in Fiji, but it has a stunning array of hard corals to boot, plus an endless kaleidoscope of reef fish darting about on their daily business.
For more of the best diving around Vanua Levu – and arguably in all of Fiji – head for Namena Marine Reserve, a protected 27 square mile park housing corals so vibrant and marine life so plentiful that it’s become the poster child for Fiji’s underwater world. It’s about a two-hour boat ride from Savusavu. The best sites closer in are just outside Savusavu Bay and include the suitable-for-all-levels Dreadlocks with its multicolored hard- and soft-coral garden; Dreamhouse, home to great schools of barracuda, jacks and tuna at a coral outcrop; and Dungeons and Dragons, a towering maze of drive throughs.
In the nearby Naisonisoni Passage, you don’t move – the sea moves you. A drift dive for more experienced divers, you’re drawn through a narrow passage like Alice down the rabbit hole, watching a succession of terrific scenes – dramatic coral formations, schools of groupers and passing sharks. There’s little time to stop on this underwater conveyor belt, but as dramatic rides go, it’s hard to beat.
Where to stay: Paradise Taveuni has its own house reef, or check out the long-established Garden Island Resort and Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji, founded by the son of the famous scuba pioneer Jacques Cousteau.
Sitting sleepily about 62 miles south of Viti Levu, Kadavu is the jumping-off point for the Great Astrolabe Reef, which stretches for nearly 45 miles, making it one of the longest barrier reefs on the planet. Astonishing dive sites abound here, with coral-carpeted pinnacles and tunnels. Ocean currents bring the big fish out to play too. Check out Eagle Rock – a group of rock pinnacles with abundant hard corals and masses of fish life – and Broken Stone, a beautiful underwater landscape with a maze of swim-throughs, caverns and tunnels.
Not all dives require oxygen tanks – some require a gentler approach. Manta Reef off the south coast is a perfect example. Enormous manta rays swim in the shallows here to be looked after by cleaner fish, becoming relaxed enough to allow swimmers to approach at a respectful distance. Despite their size, mantas are nervous creatures that catch fright at noisy scuba bubbles, so divers have to slip quietly into the water from a spotter boat, and only use their snorkels to meet these peaceful giants.
Where to stay: Easy access to the mantas and the Great Astrolabe Reef can be found at Matava Resort and Mai Dive Astrolabe Reef Resort.
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