Scuba Diving Fiji – An Introduction
Fiji sits on the International Date Line about 2,100km north of New Zealand, 3,200km northeast of Australia and 5,000km southwest of Hawaii in the South Pacific. More than 333 islands (110 permanently inhabited) and 500 islets are scattered over an area of 1.3 million sq km.
The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87 per cent of the total population of 884,887. The capital, Suva on Viti Levu, is Fiji’s principal cruise port and the international airport is at Nadi on the west coast of the island.
Fiji DIVE map
Nearly 90 per cent of the population lives on the two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Most people live on the or near the coast and the islanders have a deep bond with the ocean. The majority (51 per cent) are native Fijians with a substantial minority of Fijian Indians (44 per cent) and a small number of Europeans, Chinese and other Pacific Islanders. The largest foreign currency source is tourism followed by sugar products.
The islands are mountainous, with peaks up to 1,324m (4,341 ft), and covered with thick tropical forests.
TRAVEL | NEED TO KNOW
Travel basics to help you with your trip…
Fiji has a tropical maritime climate. The cool, dry months of May to October are considered the best time to visit. The hot, wet, season runs from December to April.
Visas issued automatically on arrival for visitors from the US, Canada, most Commonwealth countries, South & Central America, Western Europe, Israel and Japan valid for four weeks.
Rented SIM cards are the most cost-efficient means of using a mobile for local calls and can be bought easily at the airport for about FJ$1.99 a day. Country code: 679. Operator 010. Emergency number: 911. Service can be patchy in the outer islands.
The Fijian dollar ( FJ$) comes in five, ten, 20, 50 and 100 denomination notes
Fijian, Hindi and English plus a multitude of local Austronesian minor languages. Several consonants will seem unusual to English speakers: B is pronounced mb as in member, C is pronounced th as in father; D is pronounced nd as in Monday, G is pronounced ng as in sing and Q is pronounced ng as in angry. For example the island of Beqa is pronounced BEN-ga.
Fiji poses no major health problems for travellers, although it’s a good idea to have your tetanus, hepatitis-A, and hepatitis-B vaccinations up-to-date.
Nearly all international flights land at Nadi Airport. Flights are available from Australia (4 hours); New Zealand (3 hours); Hawaii (5 hours); Singapore, Hong Kong & Seoul (10 hours) and San Francisco & Los Angeles (10 hours). There are lots of domestic flight options but check weight restrictions on luggage.
Electricity supply: 240 volts/50Hz, with three-pin plugs. Some resorts and liveaboards cater for US 110 volt, but check with them before travel.
Fiji lies just west of the international date line. Therefore, when coming from the east (USA) you will lose a day when travelling to the islands but gain one when returning. Fiji is 12 hours ahead of GMT.
DIVING | ESSENTIALS
Fiji is one of the few places left where you can coral reefs that have not been over-exploited, over-fished or damaged. There is a long tradition of living in harmony with the sea and its marine life and the traditional land tenure system rigorously protects tribal lands and waters from misuse.
The islands are mostly shallow atolls with large lagoons, stretches of barrier reefing and extremely deep water channels. The passages through the barrier reefs or between the islands create heart-pounding dives. A lot of the best dives are full-on drifts and you need good buoyancy skills to experience their full glory.
While there is plenty of resort-based diving mostly from small day boats, Fiji is also the perfect place to explore by liveaboard. The standards are high in the well-developed diving industry with first class guides and good rental equipment.
From June to October visibility can be well over 30m. in the off-season (December to March) plankton blooms can reduce visibility to less than 20m. But the plankton does attract large pelagics such as oceanic manta rays.
The hyperbaric chamber based at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in the capital Suva (pictured) is currently non-operational awaiting maintenance. Diver Alert Network (DAN) is encouraging divers to check they have suitable medical evacuation insurance and to stick to conservative dive profiles.
Averages a comfortable 23°C/75°F in the high season from April to October. The warmer waters (30°C/86°F) during the winter months of December to March can lead to plankton blooms.
A 5mm full-length wetsuit during winter months from May to October. A 3mm full length or shortie during summer months from November to April.
DIVE | DRIFT DIVING SKILLS
Drift diving is, for many divers, their favourite form of diving. Jump in, float along and let the ocean do all the work for you. No need to worry about where you left the boat, when you run low on air you can surface and the boat will be waiting for you. In ideal circumstances, that would be the perfect drift dive, but very often, circumstances are not ideal. With the full force of the ocean directing your progress, the currents can push you into places you really don’t want to be. Fortunately, some basic tips, preparation and good diving practice can help prevent most unnecessary drift diving problems.
Dive at the right time
By and large, currents are driven by two factors: tidal movement and the wind. In many locations, diving at the wrong time of tide can be unpleasant at best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Worldwide tide tables are available online, but they do not indicate the strength of the current. In general, diving around the high tide is preferred, but there’s no substitute for experienced local knowledge
Check the current
As currents are also driven by the wind, surface currents are not always a clear indication of what the current is doing at depth. Checking the direction before descending is often a wise decision. In clear water on coral reefs it’s quite straightforward – If all the fish are pointing north, then the current is running south. Other indicators could be seaweed, bits of rope from mooring lines, or particulate matter as it drifts on by.
Surface Marker Buoys
At least one member of each team, and preferably all divers, should carry an SMB on every dive. In some areas, local regulations mandate that this should be carried throughout the dive, but in many locations, carrying an inflatable ‘safety sausage’ (delayed surface marker buoy, or dSMB) is sufficient. Currents can change suddenly and without warning, and being able to let the boat crew know where you are if the dive plan changes is hugely important, and in some cases, life-saving.
Stay close to the reef
Staying within a metre of the reef or bottom, where the current breaks up due to turbulence as it hits whatever’s in the way, will reduce the effect the water has on your body. Being too far off the reef means you may end up travelling much faster than other members of your team, and you run the risk of being pushed out to sea, or affected by the dreaded ‘down-current’
The larger the surface area you present to the current, the more it will act on your body. If you swim upright, you will get pushed with a much greater force than you would if you are in a horizontal position, parallel to the reef or bottom.
If you’re overweighted, you will need more air in your jacket, which means your jacket will present a larger surface area to the current, and your legs may be dragged down, which means you will find it difficult to remain horizontal. Correct weighting is important for all diving, but not a lot of people realise how overweighting can affect you in a current.
Staying close to your buddy at all times, and keeping the rest of the team close by is standard diving practice, but if one buddy is more affected by the current than the other, then separation can happen very easily and very rapidly. In a strong current, especially if the visibility is poor, you can lose sight of your dive team within a matter of seconds.
Keep your eyes peeled. A split in the current often brings with it a different water temperature and you can see the shimmer of the thermocline. If all the fish in front of you are swimming as hard as they can in a different direction to the one in which you’re travelling, there might be a change in current ahead.
Point of no return
Diving certain reefs – especially island reefs or those with corners – in a strong current can mean that if you’re not careful when you run out of reef, you will get pushed out to see. Staying close to the reef will help a great deal, but in some locations, it’s better to shelter from the current if possible or exit if you can’t. Local knowledge of a safe exit point is invaluable, as are SMBs
Hooks of any kind are hotly disputed among the dive community, but they can be a great aid to safety when called upon. There’s usually something you can hook onto without damaging coral or plant life, but don’t use them to dig around unnecessarily
Don’t fight the current
If you have to swim against the current, stay as low and as horizontal as possible, but don’t overexert yourself. In mild currents, a lazy fin kick will keep you stationary, but if the current picks up, you will end up swimming backwards. If you’re being pushed off the reef, swim at right angles to the current to return. Don’t fight the ocean, you will lose!
When conditions are right, drift diving is awesome. Sit back, relax and let the ocean take you on tour…