It was another rainy day the next morning as I repacked things more tightly for a flight on a small plane to Vanua Levu. I’d booked a flight direct to Savusavu and had been warned that it was a tiny airport reached by a tiny plane. Unfortunately internal fiji flights have a lower weight allowance so I was more than a bit worried about just how much it would cost me as the airline’s excess baggage page was a convoluted mess. Thankfully it turned out to be a realtively minor $42ish FJD of overage. Entertainingly I was also asked to step on the scale with my carryon which turned out to be a hint to just how tiny the plane was.
I actually didn’t realize myself as when I was sent out onto the tarmac unescorted all the lady said was ‘turn left.’ I was almost at the door of the first plane to the left when someone shouted at me. Turns out another plane had arrived since the door lady had been outside I guess and I walked around the wing of the larger plane to find myself boarding a little twin otter. We were all told to sit in our assigned seats as the weight distribution had been set up appropriately for the load. In the end there were only 7 of us on the plane as it taxied and took off.
The view once we were up was spectacular. Fiji is just ridiculously full of reefs and lagoons and sandbars and from above with the sun shining down they were on display. I’m not usually one to take photos from an airplane window but come on.
Savusavu itself turned out to be a tiny town covering the south rim of an old volcanic crater. The airport was barely more than a shack and some tarmac though and I was thankful when a former local visiting from Sydney let me tag along in his cab to town as despite this being one of only two flights no taxis had come to the airport. I’d regret not buying some more supplies at the time but I didn’t yet have a grasp of just how far from town my lodge was or what I had for kitchen supplies. I stocked up with water regardless and some other drinks and snacks and hopped back in the cab for the Vosa Ni Ua Lodge.
The lodge was less a lodge than a small collection of Bures on a hill not far from a gorgeous crystal green bay just hitting low tide as I arrived. My room was a fairly large space with a small kitchenette along one wall with a very odd combination hot plate/toaster oven. Sadly the tide meant there wasn’t any hope of snorkeling that afternoon.
The caretaker of the property realized that I happened to have arrived on the one night of the week that a local garden restaurant was open roughly a 20 minute walk down the road. I gather in the higher season it’s a bit more raucous of an affair but there was a lively crowd of expats that live along the ‘Hibiscus Highway’ east of Savusavu and the pizza was phenomenal. It was a motely collection of Brits, Kiwis/Aussies a few Germans and several other Canadians. I gathered roughly half the folks lived here on a seasonal basis and a few of them were shorter stays. Luckily I’d thought to bring a flashlight as it was beyond pitch black the entire walk back home.
Vosa Ni Ua seemed to be the last of the accomodations on this section of the highway and it was very much on the fringe of cell range, I’d tried to call my chosen dive folks but had to resort to email. Thankfully this operator was on the ball and actually got back to me at six the next morning when I was woken by the sun streaming through the louvres I hadn’t closed. I’d been warned that EVERYTHING in most towns in fiji closed on sundays so I happily agreed to go out for a few dives on sunday.
Saturday then was spent heading into town on the coastal bus and exploring Savusavu/provisioning some foodstuffs. It’s an odd little town. Based on what I saw in my guidebook I’d guess it suffered a bit from covid as a number of the restaurants and such seemed to have closed. It’s one of the only places you can legally enter the country with a yacht and has a bit of that vibe with two small marinas and a new large one being built just offshore. There are a couple yacht club/bars that I gather are filled with salty boaty types in the evenings during the busier months.
Savusavu bay is actually a volcanic crater and at several points along the beach steam rises from subsurface pools. There are a few hot spa pools available as well but I didn’t partake as it was 32 or so every day I was in the area.
The next morning I was picked up by my divemaster bright and early and taken about halfway back to town to their home base at the Savisi Island resort. To my delight our proposed itinerary included two of the sites I’d most wanted to visit from earlier research. The wind was up a bit but by the time we got to the ‘dreamhouse’ site it had fallen enough that the divemaster’s scouting report revealed good vis and a helpful current. The big draw of this site is that it’s known to have frequent visits from hammerhead sharks… and to my absolute delight we saw not one but SIX of them during the course of the dive. Their weird silhouettes emerged from the gloom and set my heart pumping a bit, these aren’t little reef sharks after all though they’ll generally leave humans alone unless you’re trying to piss them off.
Much to my disgust when we got back above water I got confirmation that one of our divers had seen a manta as well but I only caught the vaguest of shapes and didn’t get a good look. The hammers were amazing though and something I’m very happy to check off my diver’s SEEN IT list. As we surfaced and did our safety stop we were surrounded by an absolute cloud of batfish to the point where if you suddenly turned your head there’d be an eye staring into your mask until it startled away, it’s not uncommon to have a curious school check you out but it hasn’t happened for me with anything that size before.
After a surface interval with some of the tastiest pineapple I’ve ever put in my mouth (that the divemaster apparently grows in his garden the lucky jerk) we set out for another nearby dive site called Dungeons and Dragons. It’s absurd how close most of these are to shore and in fact dreamhouse was literally right off the outer reef by our lodge. Were the waves calm you could have kayaked out to it.
This site was a labyrinth of outcroppings, hard and soft coral and long swimthroughs. Swimming highlights were a couple of weird endangered wrasse I forget the specific name of, lots of clownfish and angel/damselfish. I wasn’t quite careful enough in one swimthrough and managed to yank my regulator out of my mouth snagging it on a rock but I was happy to find I was super calm about it and followed the recovery procedure without needing any help.
One of the coolest spots on the dive was a small trough filled with colour changing coral that is sensitive to pressure changes and will change hues if you get close. All in all these two dives were the highlight of the trip so far just from sheer variety.
Pro Tier Snorkeling
Energized by the morning’s dives and revitalized by some food and a short half-nap/half musical interlude I took advantage of the tide finally aligning better and went down and across the road to snorkel. The caretaker had told me the night before that some young teen had stayed there the year before and drawn a map of the lagoon’s corals/swimthroughs. It turned out to be quite a great little map and I spent the rest of my time in Savusavu snorkeling around the lagoon.
There was a reef superstructure with a few large rocks and caves, coral outcroppings and sudden drops into deep tunnels and pits. I’m not a good enough free diver to really mess with the swimthroughs without a tank but I still dove down to play peekaboo with some of the larger specimins hiding just out of sight.
The truly spectacular thing about the snorkeling was that at high tide you could very easily get over the edge of the reef and swim right over the 25/30 meter drop. The barrier between two environments is where you often see the neatest stuff and the visibility was just astounding. When the sun was out you could clearly see the life on the bottom and a fair ways out into the deeper lagoon, all while still protected by the outer reef. While my other stops on this trip have all had amazing snorkeling just offshore, this was a spot that the owner of the lodge called some of the best snorkeling in Fiji and I agree with him. A snorkel in that bay is easily on par for variety of sea life and sheer beauty with a good portion of the full scuba dives I’ve ever done.
While I have many other places in Fiji I would want to add on if I come back I would seriously consider going back there just for a snorkel. The fact that there are still a ton of dive sites there, a marine park that begs for a special trip and another nearby island that’s supposed to be amazing (though rainy enough at this time of year that I didn’t visit this time) just means I’ll need to come back
I’m just now realizing I forgot to mention one of the coolest non-aquatic parts of this stop. Every night at dusk I sat out front of my bure and watched squadrons of bats turning around the sky hunting the evening bugs. None of these guys were small and a few were of a size that they’re probably in the flying fox category. They dove and swooped all over the valley down to the sea and it was wild just how many there were every night. I find bats absolutely fascinating and while I may not have made it over to the more rainforesty island of Taveuni this trip where the rarest of them lives but I’m glad I got such a display. Sadly none of my pictures came out though, not surprising given light conditions alas.
In any case, after one last meal back in town and a stressed sleep (I kept worrying that my alarm wouldn’t go off in time and I was waiting for snorkel gear to dry overnight and pack at 6am) I caught a very early morning, equally tiny flight back to Viti Levu and went in search of the last stop of my Fiji journey.
But that’s the next post…
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