Cruising Fiji – Viani Bay

The run from Savusavu to Viani Bay was about 50 nautical miles, along the southern coast of Vanua Levu, heading slightly north-east. There was more swell than expected, but our stabilisers seemed to have recovered from the issues during the passage, and we were not uncomfortable.

Route Savusavu to Viani Bay

Visibility (due to an overcast sky) wasn’t great as we approached the reef entrance, and although we had our multiple navigation systems including satellite photos all open on the flybridge, we would still have preferred to have better conditions to see the reef. However, we entered without incident, and then toured the anchorage trying to find some shallow water without coral heads. We failed, and anchored in 30 metres of water, putting out almost our entire 100 metres of chain. Since spending time there, we believe we could anchor closer in, finding perhaps 15-20 metres of depth without risking our chain wrapping around a coral head.

Viani Bay is a large, deep bay. It is protected from most all winds- but is more exposed to the south. It has scattered coral heads (bommies) that grow very near the surface. As they come from very deep water, it is easy for them to surprise you as you are motoring along. Although they are often fringing from a point or a small island.

Viani Bay Beach

There is not a village here, so Sevusevu is not required. 

Both Interval and Fortuna Star came by to welcome us to the anchorage, and were going ashore for drinks and dinner. We decided not to join, but instead had them both over for drinks the following evening, as they both departed Viani Bay the next day.

Viani Bay is home to Dive Academy Fiji, run by the very capable and hospitable Marina, who makes cruisers very welcome to have drinks and meals at the small resort, and offers a cruiser discount for diving which includes the very famous “White Wall” on Rainbow Reef.

As we hadn’t dived in a while, we spent time snorkelling, and then doing a shallow dive to check gear, and help Jenny with her equalising which is a problem for her and for me to get the camera assembled and tested. We signed up for two dives, on consecutive days.

The first dive was called “Passage” and was out by one of the entrances to the reef, east of Viani Bay. The entire area is called the Rainbow Reef, which is part of a barrier reef that lies along the southern coast of Vanua Levu. Just to the south of Vanua Levu is Taveuni Island. The narrow piece of water between Taveuni and Vanua Levu is called to Somosomo Straights.  These straits have strong tidal currents, and the reef along Vanua Levu are covered with hard corals, and prolific colourful soft corals. These soft corals open their feeding polyps when the currents flow, to capture the rich nutrients that flow with the warm water. 

Due to the currents, and the fragility of the corals, all diving is live boat, or drift diving. At Dive Academy, they use local skiffs- about 28’ long, open boats with a bimini for shade. They run 2 stroke outboard Yamahas. The Dive academy only takes 4 divers per boat, which is pretty luxurious.

The reef has an amazing range of soft corals which when feeding display a rainbow of colours, amazing reds, pinks, white, and pastel purples carpet the coral walls when the currents are flowing.

The “Passage” is one of the shallower dives on the Rainbow wall. It consists of two coral buttresses with a wide white sand canyon formed between them. The coral is alive with soft corals, the colours mesmerizing. Juvenile reef fish are thick amongst the coral heads. Canyons run across the buttresses.

It was a good dive. Jenny was paired with one of the dive masters, and I went ahead with another dive master to take photos. Jenny has equalization issues with her ears. After yesterday’s shallow dive, she was able to get down with the divemaster pretty quickly (for her).

I struggled to get my camera settings correct, and my strobes to fire correctly. My photos were basically ambient light, so were a disappointment for me.

The second day, we dived the Great White Wall.  This dive is a world class dive site. I (Ted) dived here in the late 80’s on a trip to Taveuni, and I was looking forward to seeing it again.

Located about 20 minutes from Viani Bay, Jenny and I joined Marina (owner of Dive Academy), the boat captain, and a dive master who was leading two other snorkelers.  The dive starts at the top of a swim through. It is marked with a buoy which remains underwater at all tides. Jenny used this line as a descent line. She got her ears cleared even faster this dive. The top of the wall is mostly hard coral outcroppings. Lots of small fish.

After Jenny was equalized, Marina led us to the top of the swim through. It starts at about 30 feet, and drop at about a 60-degree angle down to the wall and exits on the Great White Wall. Inside the swim through the ceiling was covered with soft corals. Marina turned on a dive light bringing the colours to life. Pastel colours, lots of glass eyed sweepers hang on the ceiling.

The swim through opens to the Great White Wall at about 90 feet. We come out of the swim through and are awed by the wall, almost completely with white soft corals, fully opened due to the current. We are now diving a vertical wall- with outcroppings and crevices all blanketed with colourful soft corals.

For some reason this area is mainly these white soft corals(dendronephthyanephthya). We move slowly along the wall; the current is not bad.  I look over at Jenny to see how she is. She looks good. But then I note that her BCD hose on her left shoulder is coming out of the BC. I come closer and see that the connection to the BC bladder is broken off- only the bottom half remains connected to the hose. The BC- which is used to compensate for buoyancy loss, is now utterly useless as a BC device. I ask Jenny if she is okay.

She appears confused, as I point out the issue to Marina. Jenny is having no issue with her buoyancy. We check on her, and we both stay close to her, monitoring her closely.

She is relaxed and doing fine. No reason to terminate the dive.

And we continue along the wall. Moving along the wall and up to the top of the wall as our dive computers tell us to ascend.  Finally, we are hovering around the top of the wall, we do a safety stop at 15 feet and just watch the reef go by as we float along. Marina has deployed an inflatable marker, so the dive boat knows where we are and is ready to pick us up when we ascend to the surface.

At the surface we help Jenny out of her gear. She still does not understand our increased interest in her, until we are all back on the boat. I show her the hose connection failure. The fitting has simply disintegrated over time. The BC is dead. And my lovely Jenny did a great job. No issues with not having her BC working correctly. I am really proud of her.

She did much better than I did with my camera system. My strobes failed to fire, and the Great White Wall photos are all Great grey…

Happy Hour started each day at 4pm at the beach bar, where our bartender, a colourful and flamboyant, Matthew would fix his Cocktail of the Day, usually rum based. With the Nordhavn buddies gone, we met others, including two boats from Bayswater Marina, neither of whom we had met while there – catamaran Balto, and Beneteau Mahi. We spent several evenings getting acquainted with Russ and Dawnielle on Mahi – fellow US expats now based in NZ. Russ and Ted discovered they are both fanatic Parrot heads, and we gave Russ Jimmy Buffett’s book “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” which Ted had just finished reading.

Our final day at Viani Bay, we joined a conservation snorkel where we planted coral, and viewed the giant clam nursery being created at a small island in the bay. We enjoyed a final Happy Hour cocktail and settled up before leaving early morning to head east towards Vanua Balavu.

A big Vinaka to Marina, Matthew and the Dive Academy team for another wonderful welcome and enjoyable stay.

Early the next morning, we haul up our anchor from the deep anchorage (30 metres) and retrace our route back through the reef and out the entrance into the Somosomo Straits.  We head northeast between Vanua Levu and Taveuni, and cross across the northern end of Taveuni for our overnight stop at Wailagalala Island. A route of about 63 miles.

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