Meri reveals the true colours of the soft corals
on the White Wall, with her powerful torch.
Descending the drop-off into the depths
of the Somosomo Straits, we were captivated by the extraordinary
number of orange fairy-basslets around us; at 30 metres
Meri switched on her powerful underwater torch and a rainbow
burst into life along the reef wall. A profusion of magnificent
soft corals pink, orange, lavender, yellow and red, it was
absolutely incredible; my imagination ran wild.
We were on Fiji's Rainbow Reef between
Taveuni Island and the Island of Vanua Levu this enchanting
coral reef system had lured us back for the third time.
The underwater seascapes here are some of the best in the
world. It soon becomes apparent why there is a explosion
of fairy-basslets and soft corals on the reef everything
thrives in a strong, nourishing current. Ric Cammick, a
pioneer diver of Rainbow Reef, describes the area between
Taveuni and Vanua Levu as being like a huge funnel where
a lot of water rushes through on the incoming and outgoing
tides. The soft corals bloom only when the current is running,
which can whiz along at two knots. Normally we would avoid
diving in such conditions, but not here; when the current
is racing we know we are in for a treat. Ric's outstanding
knowledge of the Rainbow Reef has become quite a legend
over the years, we always find his expertise invaluable.
It was during our last visit that he took us to one of his
old time favourite sites, the Midway Reef.
Some years ago Midway Reef suffered
badly from a cyclone passing through the area and many soft
corals were destroyed. It was taken off the list of regularly-visited
dive sites while soft coral recolonisation took it's course
and was only just revisited prior to our arrival. Soft corals
develop very quickly if conditions are ideal and at Midway
Reef there was no exception. To Ric's delight, the reef
had fully recovered.
shot of coconut palm fringed
beach and hard coral reef, Taveuni Island, Fiji
Making our way down the anchor line
in the strong current was physically the hardest part of
the dive but once we reached the bottom the current was
easily negotiated. We slowly made our way across the saddle
of the reef then down the drop-off to a comfortable depth
where we found a mass of multi-coloured soft corals. The
concentration of fish feeding in the clear water column
included magnificent schools of banana and yellow-tail fusiliers
competing with several species of fairy basslets, and patrolling
trevally, surgeonfish, mackerel and barracuda. The colours
were vibrant and as the sun was at the right angle, we found
it difficult to move on. We spent the remainder of our dive
in this one spot. Later we found out that Ric had tried
to get our attention but we were so absorbed with the cameras
we completely missed seeing him. Apparently there was an
even larger concentration of fish and colourful soft corals
only 40 metres away'. The most famous of Ric's early Rainbow
Reef discoveries, and perhaps the most challenging, is the
Great White Wall.
1974 Ric and Do Cammick decided they had had
enough of New Zealand's cold weather and moved
to Taveuni Island to build a holiday house.
Already a keen diver, it wasn't long before
Ric started exploring the Rainbow Reef and made
some amazing discoveries. With an increasing
number of divers wishing to visit the area the
Cammicks established Dive Taveuni; their cliff-top
garden property overlooks the Somosomo Straits
and meanders down to a palm-swept white sandy
beach, turquoise sea and magnificent hard coral
gardens. The Cammicks are well known for
their hospitality, splendid Fijian/European
cuisine and of course, outstanding diving. They
cater exclusively for a total of 12 divers in
an atmosphere that is always pleasantly relaxed.
There's never a crowd. After a day out on the
Rainbow Reef aboard Dive Taveuni's 13-metre
custom built aluminium dive boat, guests dine
in the outside restaurant ("the deck")
with breathtaking panoramic views of the Somosomo
Straits. Accommodation is in modern deluxe bures
(houses) set amongst beautifully landscaped
gardens, with everything provided for, and the
beach is only a minute away.
Note: Ric and Do Cammick have retired since
this article was published. Dive Taveuni is
now offically known as Taveuni Island Resort.
With it's many overhangs, ledges, tunnels
and sheer 70-metre drop-off it is a spectacular dive and
one of our all time favorites. The dive begins with a steeply
descending tunnel laced with several fan and whip corals.
At about 25 metres the tunnel opens out to a huge wall completely
carpeted with icy-blue, almost white, soft corals; its stunning.
Aided by a current divers make their way along the wall
and exit through yet another tunnel about 100 metres further
down the reef which brings them out in the shallows. It
is here in the shallows that red soft corals proliferate.
The fish life is extremely abundant and on several occasions
we have sighted bisonfish. Due to the position of the Great
White Wall, it is directly affected by the state of the
tide and the strength of the current. The soft corals only
really bloom on the outgoing tide, on the incoming tide
they contract and shut down!
Another of our favorites is the Cabbage
Patch. This is the place where the giants of the hard coral
world are found. Unlike other sites, the Cabbage Patch isn't
massed with soft corals or the multitude of fishes, but
it equally as spectacular. Standing many metres proud of
the seafloor, these enormous emerald-green plate corals
have formed into shapes that look like terrestrial garden
cabbages. When we dive amongst them, we always feel dwarfed
by their incredible size.
The Rainbow Reef is a complex chain
of reefs about 30 kilometres long. There are many other
spectacular dive sites such as Blue Ribbon eel Reef, The
Ledge, Annie's Bommie, Barracuda Hole, Jack's Corner, Pandora's
Box and Coral Gardens, and more. Each one offers something
completely different and no doubt, there are many yet to
Aerial view of fringing coral reef. Taveuni
When visiting the region we always
take time to do a little exploring on land. Taveuni Island
is very special and has somehow managed to escape the fast
pace of this modern world and has not yet been exploited
by over-zealous tourist operations. How long this will last
remains to be seen. The people here are extremely friendly
and always return a smile, which makes a visitor feel most
welcome. Apart from a few productive copra plantations,
most of the island is still in pristine with tall mountains,
deep ravines and lush tropical jungles dominating the entire
length of it's interior. With some 435 square kilometres
of fertile volcanic land, this garden island paradise is
blessed with many spectacular waterfalls that add a touch
of romance; little wonder that Taveuni was chosen as the
set for the film `Blue Lagoon' and it's sequel.
After a long day exploring the island,
we often parked our weary bones at Audreys by the airport.
Here we discovered the world's greatest home baked cookies
and home brewed Kahlua coffee - but that's another story!
In dire straits as to your next diving
holiday? Try this South Pacific Paradise with world-class
diving - you won't be disappointed.
Text: Gary Bell
Photography: Gary Bell