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Fiji has an abundance of resorts with a wide range of price and beauty. While the main island of Veti Levu offers wide sandy beaches and mega resorts (especially along the Coral Coast in the south), the best snorkeling is found off of small islands -- many quite close to the coast.
We traveled to Fiji in August of 2000, not long after the coup and kidnapping of members of the parliament. Although travel advisories were still in effect, there was no obvious danger or inconvenience to tourists. In fact, it turned out to be a great time to travel since the uncrowded resorts were welcoming tourists quite enthusiastically. Fiji may take quite some time to return to democratic government, but that should not be an obstacle to traveling there.
Most people don't expect the water to be a bit cool, but come prepared for water in the mid to high 70s -- especially in their winter (more like Hawai'i than Tahiti). Their summer water temperature can be into the low 80s, but the air temperature will be quite hot and humid. Fiji is known for its colorful soft corals, but you need to travel in our winter to see those at their best.
Weather patterns across the islands greatly affect the snorkeling.
While the islands of the northwest are relatively dry (the Yasawas) --we didn't see a drop of rain there-- other areas receive much more rain. If you happen to be staying near a river and the rain is heavy, you won't be able to see a thing close to shore. Of course, heading out by boat can usually take you to some good snorkeling and rain won't interfere unless you get cold easily. Dive locations often (but not always) offer good snorkeling away from river mouths.
BLUE LAGOON CRUISES
fax (679) 664098
Blue Lagoon Cruises offers 2, 3, and 7-day cruises along the Yasawa island chain northwest of Nani. They depart just a half-hour taxi ride from the Nadi airport (town of Lautoka). These very popular trips offer excellent snorkeling along with picnics on palm-lined white sand beaches. They vary destinations depending on local weather, but can usually find calm beaches with nice reefs near shore. This is great snorkeling for beginners and they have various float devices for those who don't even swim well.
The atmosphere on our ship was casual and very friendly. While they often have large numbers of Australians and New Zealanders, these countries were warning people away from Fiji when we were there. For that reason, the ships weren't full and our passengers were mostly vivacious Italians, with just a few Americans and German-speakers. We were greatly impressed that Blue Lagoon was sending ships out as long as they had even ten passengers, because the crew numbered 26!
A typical morning of snorkeling brought sightings of bicolor angelfish, lots of anenome fish, crosshatch butterflyfish (as well as teardrop, raccoon, oval, lined), Oriental sweetlips, humbug dascyllus, and the strange striped macherel that cruises along in schools dropping its jaw to scoop up plankton. Colorful Christmas tree worms were common on the coral. Most of the snorkeling was in fairly clear water about 5-10 feet deep and an easy swim from shore.
Reefs weren't large, so it was easy to see it all. In high tide we could usually swim over the top, but the rest of day we snorkeled along the edge of the reef.
The Yasawa's are the drier section of Fiji, so rain is rarely a problem. Visibility tends to stay excellent.
Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time -- including the ones who said "I usually don't like cruises, but this one is different." Meals, of course, were ample, good, and frequent. The trip to a local village was excellent with some great music and dancing. All costs and tips except Scuba are included -- unusual for cruises. This is a cruise we can highly recommend for any age. Though it is not inexpensive, it offers good overall value, and a chance to see a different face of Fiji.
MARLIN BAY RESORT (Beqa Island)
(800) 542-FIJI (in California)
fax (949) 646-8097
In contrast to the Yasawas, Beqa Island and the whole southeast are very lush, meaning it rains a lot. Marlin Bay Resort is the only one on Beqa Island and is set in a beautiful garden location. The original units were built directly on the ocean, but new ones are being build a ways back from the water.
The units themselves vary quite a bit in size, decor and view, but all are attractive. We definitely prefer the oceanfront units rather than the newer ones, which we'd really call 'garden view'. For the time being, you pay the same for either, and you cannot count on getting oceanfront. You may want to do some negotiating about this. It seems that big dive groups get priority on room assignment. The newer units do have lots of lovely art from Indonesia.
Meals and diving can be included in the resort package or can be purchased separately (we prefer unbundled, but it seems that most folks come in with the full package, and love all the good food). Meal times are set and they offer two choices at each meal. Drinks are extra.
Excellent snorkeling is available right in front, but low tide requires walking a ways to the small channel since it's too shallow to swim over the reef at that time. The good stuff is about 300 yards out from the beach and extends in both directions along the outer edge of the reef. We were quite impressed by the variety of fish we saw, although not everyone would want to swim quite as far as we did.
To give you an example of what we saw on a typical snorkel right in front: white-tipped reef shark, Titan triggerfish, regal angelfish, barracuda, a variet of spade fish & batfish, all sorts of butterflyfish, smallish colorful clams, a school of about 60 striped mackerel cruising along with jaws dropped, Oriental and harlequin sweetlips.
Then comes the rain! After a day of torrential rain, there's no point in snorkeling from shore because the brown river runoff will remove all visability. In that case it's necessary to have their boat drop you off at a deserted island nearby or tag along with the divers.
While many of the offshore sites are within 15-20 feet of the surface, others are too deep for snorkelers. The dive boats sometimes fill with divers and divers always get priority. This is definitely a dive-oriented place, and non-divers must find other ways to enjoy themselves.
A trip to a deserted island complete with huge picnic is available each day to one couple only. This is fun, and quite reasonably priced. The dive boat (heading out to any of numerous sites between Beqa and the mainland) is always available for snorkelers unless it fills with divers. This can sometimes leave the snorkeler with nowhere to go. Swimming from the resort is poor because of all the shallow water near shore. Do try the dive boat at least once because the coral heads rising from crystal-clear deep blue water provide a uniquely lovely experience.
We suggest you settle your bill, reviewing any extra charges, well before your morning departure time, to allow resolution of any problems. Better yet, check as you go along, so you understand how much extras cost.
Marlin Bay Resort is beautiful, lush, charming, and has wonderful diving and snorkeling nearby. Many people fall in love with it, and come back repeatedly. As snorkelers, we'd try to come in the drier season so that the close snorkeling was reliably clear.