Cold Water Kitty

It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: New Year's 2022

When we heard that Fiji was reopening in December, we almost immediately booked a trip there for over New Year's.  It was the one place we had most closely been waiting to reopen so we could go there and dive.  After our last trip to Fiji, I decided that the ideal next trip would be a week on the Nai'a and then a week land-based on Taveuni (so we could dive Rainbow Reef a lot).  Since the Nai'a wasn't reopened yet, we had to settle for just the week on Taveuni :).  Based on (not that) extensive internet research and the limited selection that was available, we stayed at Paradise Taveuni, which was very nice.  Details are in the play-by-play posts below.

Taveuni: Getting There and Back

Taveuni: Paradise Taveuni

Taveuni: Day 1

Taveuni: Day 2

Taveuni: Day 3

Taveuni: Day 4

Taveuni: Day 5

Taveuni: Day 6

Taveuni: Day 7

Monday, January 3, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 7

We were supposed to do a 3 tank trip to Rainbow Reef on the small boat (there were just four of us), but for some reason the plan was changed to instead do two dives in the morning at Rainbow Reef and do a separate third dive in the afternoon. We were leaving at 7, so we had to get up a bit early, though in reality I've been waking up at like 5am all week anyway, so it just meant I had to actually get out of bed and leave the room earlier than usual. I had French toast for breakfast, which was predictably a mistake, because I was hungry while we were diving, due to the all-carb breakfast. On the plus side, there was mango AND coconut on the fruit plate this morning.

So we headed out to Rainbow Reef, and the water was dead flat, so we went very fast and made the best time we've made all week. It took like 20 or so minutes to get out there, and it was a very comfortable ride. As I mentioned, there were only 4 divers (Rob and me, plus two guys named Dave and Rick who we'd been on the boat with all week), and we posited that the fast ride was a combination of the flat seas, lighter load, and we had a different captain (Kim) who seemed more willing to use the full range of throttle positions :P Once we got out there, we discussed where to dive, and Dave (I think) mentioned Fish Factory, which was a site that had been discussed earlier in the week, which he'd dived on previous trips and really liked. Given the name, it seemed like a promising site.

We were diving with Christine as our guide today. She gave very clear, thorough briefin. Basically there was an area with a pinnacle from about 60 to 100+ feet with a lot of fish on it. She mentioned anthias of many colors, and anemonefish. And a combination of hard and soft corals. The site did have a ton of fish, but the coral was in pretty bad condition. I guess it was damaged in the last cyclone, as Dave said it used to be a completely different site. So while we did see huge schools of anthias, the backdrop was not that photogenic, so overall I thought it was kind of a dud of a dive.

After that dive, since it was our last day of diving and we really wanted to see more soft corals, we basically got to pick where to go. There were a couple of possibilities given the current state of the tide, and we decided to go back to Jerry's Jelly, since we really liked it last time. (Dave and Rick had both been on the previous dive there too, and did not have a great time due to the current, but they were kind enough to let us go there anyway. Christine again gave a very clear and thorough briefing and I think they both had a great time this time around, since there was more of a plan related to dealing with the current). One thing that Christine mentioned in the briefing was the possibility of down currents when we left the reef for our safety stop. She said if we saw our bubbles going down, not up, to swim away from the reef to get out of the down current. Cue foreboding music now.

The plan was to spend 15 minutes or so around the "jellyfish" bommie, then cross over to the other side of the reef and drift back along there, possibly ending up at Rainbow's End (I think we did in fact end up there, but I can't distinguish the various sites well enough to say... but it definitely had a similar look). I thought that the current at the bommies at the beginning of the dive was not as bad as it was on the previous dive, but Rob thought it was worse, and said there were spots he could photograph last time that he couldn't today. So who knows. But I spent more time on the main jellyfish bommie and less time on the other ones near it, because the other ones seemed to not have quite as much stuff going on (open soft corals, anthias). After maybe 20 minutes hanging out there, we headed to the crossover point.

This time around, I knew what was coming, so I got my camera out and just started videoing as we went flying across the reef. There was so much current that my light arm got pushed into a different position by the current, hehehe. Near the beginning of the crossover, we zoomed past a rock with some really nice, really open soft corals, which I managed to at least point my camera at, and which I knew Rob would not be able to resist trying to photograph. But there was no way I was going to hold station in that current, so I had to leave him behind :). The fish in that crossover section were hilarious, there was tons and tons of them streaming across the reef in a line and above the line of fish, there'd be a cloud of fish that got knocked back by the current. It was quite strange to watch. Eventually we made it to the other side of the reef and the ride settled down. Just on the other side of the reef, we saw a turtle. Yay! Last time, we saw a white tip shark there, so I guess it's a good spot to look for big stuff.

We then drifted back in the direction we'd come from, on the other side of the reef. I don't know if this section of reef is technically Rainbow's End, but it looks a lot like it, though we were going in reverse. There are scattered coral heads with tons of soft coral on them, and zillions and zillions of little fish all along the reef. It was a fun ride. At some point Rob hung back and was taking pictures, so I turned around and faced into the current and finned to stay where I was, while I waited, and waited, and waited. I finally (after 5+ minutes) signaled to Rob and told him we were moving. I wanted to enjoy the ride in the current, and Rob was annoying me. So I was hanging with Christine, with the others just a little bit in front of us, and once again, Rob fell behind (plus he was down at the bottom of the slope for some reason), and I had to swim into the current to find him. Eye roll.

It was past time to start our ascent, so Christine signaled to head to our safety stop and we swam off of the reef and headed up. Sort of. I wouldn't say that there was a dramatic downcurrent or anything, but I was definitely having trouble getting from 30 feet to 20 feet and when I looked Dave and Rick, their bubbles weren't going down, but they weren't going up either. They were sort of spiraling around in the 5 feet above and below them. It was intriguing. Just as I noticed that, I also noticed that I was no longer at 20 feet, hehe. It was nothing that a little air in the wing and attention to our depth couldn't solve. As we were ascending back up to 20 from our downward bobble, Rob swam over to me and gave me this "come here" hand signal and swam right up to me and was reaching out toward me. I thought he was trying to fix something on my gear, which annoyed me, because while trying to swim out of a downcurrent really did not seem to be the time for Rob to doink with my gear. So I kind of pushed his hand away, and after a brief exchange I realized he wanted my long hose. Ahhhh. Way to give an unambiguous sign that he needed to share gas! Okay so I deployed my long hose and we headed up from our 20 foot stop to 10 feet. As soon as I whipped out my long hose, Rick was practically on top of Rob to make sure everything was okay, which was very nice. Everything went fine, and when we finished our 10 foot stop and I signaled to ascend, Rob insisted on switching back onto his gas. This annoyed me, as it seemed to just make things more complicated for no reason. Of course right after he switched off of my long hose, he dropped to 15 feet, and I was like -- great, do I need to go down there and donate gas again (giant eye roll). We headed up to the surface, and Rob got an earful about both his ambiguous signal for my long hose and going off of it before we got to the surface. I think he needs a fundies refresher.

That all probably sounded pretty dramatic, but it was like 90 seconds of an hour long dive, and 60 seconds of it was us hanging out at 10 feet sharing gas.

After lunch, we headed back out to Vuna Reef, and got our pick of what site to go to.  Since we really liked the mini white wall at The Stairs, we asked to go back there.  I was kind of expecting this to be a disappointment of a dive after the awesome dive this morning, but it turned out to be a great dive!  First, the mini white wall did not disappoint.  We had fun hanging around in and under the ledge again.  But more importantly, Christine made some very good macro finds.  We saw both of the purple aeolids that I love, which was a nice way to wrap up the dive.  But the find of the dive was... drum roll... a pygmy seahorse!  She got my attention and I swam over and she was pointing to a little white coil on some hydroids.  At first I thought it was nudibranch eggs, and was expecting there to be a nudibranch there.  But it was actually the tail of the seahorse -- a tiny white pygmy seahorse.  He flapped a bit in the moving water and unveiled himself.  Then he took off swimming!  By the time that Rob appeared, he had landed on some little green algae leaves, which I think are what the seahorses on the house reef supposedly lived on.  Now I could see how one of those seahorses could hide in that algae.  Considering that Rob had been looking for a pygmy seahorse the entire trip, it seemed like a good last dive of the trip.

After the dive, Rob said that the seahorse didn't look anything like what he was looking for.  I told him that I knew that the pygmy seahorses in Fiji looked different than the ones in the Philippines and lived on different things, and since I couldn't remember what they looked like, I figured I had no hope of finding one, so wasn't even looking.  Apparently he did not remember that they looked different.  Doh.  I think this one is Pontoh's pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi).  There are some nice pictures of the various species here.  I think the ones in the Philippines are cuter (is that mean?).

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 6

It was really windy in the morning, and there was talk of it being too rough to go out in the afternoon/evening, but it ended up being crazy flat on the water for all three dives. After breakfast, we headed over to Rainbow Reef on the big boat. I think we made the best time yet getting over there, because it was so flat. It was really cloudy over Taveuni, but over the reef and Vanua Levu, it was sunny. For our first dive, we went to Purple Wall. We dove in two teams, and Rob and I were diving alone with a guide (Dee). We'd been there before, but not when the current was running, so we saw the purple fans and gorgonians on the wall, but not a lot of the soft corals were open. Today, the current was running, so we should see the soft corals too. It was an awesome dive! I told Rob afterward that I thought it might have been the best dive yet of the trip (he begged to differ -- I think he liked yesterday's dive at Jerry's Jelly better).

The current was quite strong and on the purple section of wall, near the top, there were tons of soft corals that were open. They were mostly purple with some white and the occasional pink. Some of the spots with soft coral had small reef fish darting around, but there weren't *that* many anthias and such (which is why Rob didn't think it was as good as Jerry's Jelly). We stayed on that section of the wall for almost 30 minutes, drifting down current, then swimming back to the beginning to get more photos and video. The current was strong, but there were little outcroppings that you could hide/rest behind when you needed to. Eventually I suggested to Rob that we go down the wall a little and drift past it one final time, and then we continued on from there. The reef kind of petered out and then we crossed over a finger sticking out in the deep (as discussed in our briefing). At this point, Dee thumbed the dive, earlier than expected. I didn't know if it was because she wanted us to ascend there or what. But once we got to our safety stop, we drifted over the rest of the group, who were still on the reef. Apparently there was another really cool section with some white and purple soft corals that we missed, grumble.

As I mentioned, I thought that was a super awesome dive. However, most of the other people on the boat were not as happy to dive in high current as we were, so we didn't get to do another awesome soft coral dive for the second dive (grumble). We went to a site which I think was called Nuku Reef, though I may have gotten the name wrong. This was described as having a combination of hard and soft corals. We'd go to the end and then circle back up the reef for our safety stop, before drifting off into the deep for the pickup. The reef here was really not that great, as Rainbow Reef dives go, though there were a lot of fish. The hard coral was in really bad shape in sections, and while there was the occasional soft coral, there weren't really any spots with tons of soft corals. There was also a decent amount of current, so I'm not sure why we couldn't have gone to a better site if we were going to dive in current anyway :). The fish life was impressive, tons of anthias, some barracudas off of the reef, but it was not my favorite dive.

After lunch (we both had kokoda, yum!) and a micro-nap, we headed back out to a site just north of the resort, whose name I didn't catch. Rob was shooting macro, so we were looking for critters. The site was described as three rock fingers pointing out into the deep, and the current was running south, so we'd just work our way over/around the fingers. It was a bit of a fail as far as macro dives go, but it was fun to look for stuff. We got separated from the group pretty quickly, and I found a whopping one nudibranch the whole dive (a bumpy dorid, and a boring one at that). Before we managed to get separated, one of the other divers, Rick, pointed out a green moray eel sticking out of a hole, and that may have been the highlight of the dive :P. Rob found a pretty big octopus in a hole, but it was really in a hole, so not photo or video worthy. When it was time to ascend, I shot a bag since we'd gotten separated and were drifting in current. It was my hot pink bag, which Kevin gave to me a while ago, but I have never actually shot before! It performed admirably.

We managed to find a guide to go night diving tonight, Oscar, so we headed out a little before sundown. We headed down the slope and of course Rob spent half of the dive looking for a Pygmy seahorse (more on that later). Well he didn't say that's what he was looking for, but I know that's what he was doing. We made some good finds on the dive. I made one *really* good find, which was a super exotic looking frog fish of some kind. He was scurrying across the reef and there is absolutely no way I would have been able to pick him out on the reef if he weren't moving. It was red and orange and really warty/frilly looking, and I wasn't even sure it was a frog fish until I saw it reach its spindly little frog leg out to step across the reef. But it was so cool!  I looked at an ID book and my best guess is a freckled frogfish (Antennarius coccineus).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I made the find of the day (maybe the trip), we did see some other nice critters. First, we saw a few of these weird lionfish variants that have these long nostril poker thingies sticking out in from of them. I think it is a twinspot lionfish (Dendrochirus biocellatus). We saw one on our other night dive (but it was in a hole, so I didn't get an unobstructed view) and I could tell it was super awesome but didn't know what it was. Rob said he thought it was some kind of lionfish (or maybe a baby lionfish, I can't remember). On this dive, we saw at least three and at least two of them were out in full view; one was the first thing that Oscar found after we descended. I asked Oscar after the dive what they were and he said some kind of lion fish, maybe people call them "butterfly lionfish" but googling didn't really turn anything up by that name.  But perusing an ID book, it looks very much like, and only like, the twinspot lionfish.

Other than that, I made one other nice find, which was an itty bitty slug. It was so small that while I was pretty sure it was a slug, I wasn't sure if it was a nudibranch or not, I could basically just discern what I thought were black rhinophores on a mostly white body. Rob got a picture of it and thinks it is some kind of sap sucking slug. So probably a non-nudibranch slug. It looks a bit disheveled in the picture, possibly due to my double-ender inspection to determine if it was really a slug. Whoops. Aside from that, we saw one of the blue ribbon eels, a couple of nudis of varying coolness, and lots of shrimps.

After the dive we headed to dinner. It was "roast night" which entailed a plate of various meats (pork, beef, chicken), a baked potato and a big pile of veggies. Yum. I was least excited about the chicken but I think it was actually the tastiest of the meats. But they were all tasty. For dessert, we had chocolate mousse, which was more like a dense chocolate pudding than a mousse, but in any case it was delicious!

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 5

I was too lazy to write about this day on the same day (but I did take notes), so you get a somewhat abbreviated post for today.  I had muesli for breakfast, which was actually a bit sweet for my tastes.

In the morning, we did two dives at Rainbow Reef.  The first dive was awesome, one of my favorite dives of the trip.  It was at Jerry's Jelly, which is named because if a bommie that looks like a jellyfish.  It is dome shaped with a horizontal cutoff going through it, and white soft corals hanging down over the opening.  The site had crazy current, but of course that also meant amazing soft corals and tons of little fish darting around on top of the soft corals.  At the beginning of the dive, in addition to the jellyfish bommie, there were a couple of other reasonably-sized structures that were just downcurrent of the jellyfish bommie.  We spent probably like 30 minutes in that area, hiding behind the structures to get a break from the current, then swimming upcurrent to enjoy the soft corals and anthias again, and then drifting back behind them.

While we were in that area, Soni was hanging around on some smaller outlying rocks, and he found two leaf scorpionfish and a blue ribbon eel.  Nice finds in general, but especially in crazy current!  When we finished up in that area, we drifted down the reef a bit and then not too far from the bommies, we crossed over the top of the reef, which was a wild ride, with tons of little fish everywhere.  We got spit out on the other side of the reef, in the relative calm.  A whitetip reef shark swam by right on the other side of the reef.  By this point, it was about time to go, so we didn't really explore the other side of the reef.

The other group on the boat was a bit traumatized by the current on the dive, and so they wanted to do a lower current dive for the second dive.  (Boo!). We went to The Zoo, which we'd been to earlier in the week.  For the first half of the dive, I was a bit annoyed that we were wasting a dive on Rainbow Reef at this site because people don't like current.  Why would you go to Rainbow Reef if you don't want to dive in current?  Anyway, the site does have good variety overall.  There were some nice soft corals along the top of the wall near the beginning, and we saw a lot of barracuda, including some really big ones.  We also saw a big tuna swim by along the wall.

After lunch (chicken and veggie chow mein), we did an afternoon dive at Vuna Reef.  It was actually a really awesome dive, at a site called "The Stairs".  This site has a swimthrough from about 40 feet to 70 feet, and right after you pop out of the swimthrough, there's a little ledge that is covered (above and below) by white soft corals.  It's like a mini great white wall.  We hung out there for quite some time getting pictures of it.

We were going to do a night dive, but apparently we aren't supposed to go unguided (even though we had earlier in the week), so we had to postpone that to tomorrow, because it was too late to find a guide.

It rained like crazy starting around 6.  We tried to wait it out for the walk over to dinner, but eventually made a run for it during a lull.  I had beef satay skewers for dinner and banana fritters with ice cream for dessert, which were both super yummy!  It rained really hard off and on all night.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 4

Today I had eggs Benedict for breakfast, which was very tasty. I'm always skeptical, because it's easy to overcook poached eggs, and seems to sometimes happen even at good breakfast places, but that was not the case here. The resort had some sort of New Year's Eve festivities planned, so we had to order lunch and dinner (a festive 5 course affair) in the morning.

For the morning dive trip, we went back to Vuna Reef. The first dive was at the same site that we went to on our first day (Orgasm). I spent a lot of the dive with my head in the reef, looking for nudibranchs and other small things, and I can't say that I was very rewarded for my efforts :P. Apparently I missed some bigger swimming things go by, like barracuda, as a result of having my head stuck in the reef. Anyway, since we were just at this dive site earlier in the week, I don't have a ton to say about it -- nice hard corals, nice steep wall in parts, etc.

After that, we headed to a site whose name I didn't catch. It was a spot that they used to dive before Cyclone Winston, but had not dived since then, so they didn't know what state it was in. It was in pretty good shape! The top had tons of healthy looking hard corals of all different kinds, though a lot of them were small. So I'm guessing it got pretty wiped out by the cyclone, and this was what had grown back. Aside from the hard corals, there were areas that had a bunch of anthias skittering around, so overall it was a nice site. There was a slope, but I thought that the top of the reef was the nicest part of the dive.

For lunch, I had an Indian roti wrap with chicken and veggies. It was good, and again seemed like the sort of thing that's not ideal to eat before diving :)

For the afternoon dive, we did a macro dive at a site just north of the resort whose name I did not catch. The site is really close to land; there's a little cliff there that the boat pulls right up to to drop you in (and at the end, we had to swim away from the site so the boat could get us). On one hand, I was a bit disappointed with this macro dive, as we didn't find any super awesome nudibranchs (e.g. aeolids) or Pygmy seahorses. But overall, it was a pretty productive macro dive. We saw several different kinds of bumpy dorids. I don't know if there is a technical term for those kinds of dorids, or a class or an order or a family that they all belong to, but they are... bumpy. I think we saw 3 or 4 different kinds. We saw gazillions of the white with blue striped dorids (Chromodoris lochi). And a couple of other dorids that were more interesting. We also saw several scorpionfish (I found two, Soni found one), though for some reason, Rob wasn't interested in photographing them. I'm sure we saw a few other things, but those were the best things in my mind.

We did not do a night dive, because of the festive New Year's Eve plans. The plan was a cocktail hour with drinks and snacks from 6:30 to 7:30, then a 5-course meal at 8pm, with entertainment, and partying until midnight (in theory). We were planning to go over to the bar and get a drink around 5:30 when Terri showed up at our door. Apparently another guest had tested positive for covid, so they were re-testing everyone at the resort (and isolating anyone that was positive). So we got our noses swabbed for the second time in two days, and waited around for 15 or so minutes to see that we did not have covid. Then we meandered over to the bar and got some drinks. The festivities were obviously a bit dampened as a result of the news that someone had covid. I think the plan was originally to have a communal table for dinner, but they split it up into separate tables, and only the resort guests attended.

Anyhoo, I went to the bar to order cocktails for us (a pina colada for me and a pineapple mojito for Rob) and was offered some free beer and wine (from the cocktail hour) while we waited. So I ended up double fisting a pina colada and white wine. The cocktail hour snacks were meatballs and fish balls, which we ate way too many of while we were drinking our drinks. Eventually dinner was served, after we were already getting sleepy. I was still very jet-lagged and though I managed to stay up all the way until 10:30 the previous night, I woke up around 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep.

Dinner was very good, or what we managed to make it through. There was a coconut lime fish soup (so good, I need to morph my coconut fish chowder recipe into something more like that), then lobster cakes, and then surf and turf -- sirloin and lobster. There was a whole lobster tail and a giant piece of steak, plus mashed potatoes, some delicious sauce, and veggies. The lobster was super tasty, and I barely touched the steak. It was just way too much food. But oh man was everything that I ate tasty! It pains me to say that I didn't even finish my lobster tail! At this point, we were both stuffed and exhausted, so we called it a night. How sad that we missed 2 of the 5 courses for dinner (but mostly I'm sad that we missed the espresso cheesecake). During dinner, there was a performance by a dancer who did some fire dancing and some other Fijian dance.

So we headed back to our room and fell asleep almost immediately while watching something on Rob's iPad. Then a bit later (a little after 10, I think), we woke to the sound of fireworks. There was a fireworks display! That was pretty cool, but a bit scary because the fireworks were so close, hehe.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 3

I started with an interesting breakfast wrap that consisted of scrambled eggs wrapped in a roti with tomato chutney and cheese on top, with a side of sautéed veggies. It was quite tasty, though the chutney was a little heavily spiced for a pre-dive meal :P

The big boat was back in commission and so we did a 3-dive trip to Rainbow Reef. The conditions were much better today, but we were cruising over there pretty slowly, so I'm not sure the trip was any faster. But it was a very nice day to be on the boat, and the bigger boat is really stable. For the first dive, we went to a site whose name I don't recall, which featured *huge* sea fans. That's not how the dive site was advertised, necessarily, but that was the highlight of it for me. There was a wall, which was quite vertical in some parts, and at some point, big sea fans started to appear, going all the way down to 150 feet or so. There were also some big spindly-looking gorgonian-type creatures at the bottom in a slightly shallower area. The site had nice hard corals as well, and the occasional soft coral. I also saw a white tip reef shark cruising the wall at some point.

Another highlight of the dive were the (other) purple aeolids that I love. At some point, Soni showed us 3 in a patch of hydroids. This was super useful because I had been looking at every hydroid I came across for this slug, but they live on a particular hydroid, so now I know where to find them. After Soni showed those to us, I found a few more not too far away, and then later in the dive, Rob found a big patch of those hydroids and 3 very big slugs on them.

After a surface interval (and cinnamon rolls), we got back in at Purple Wall. The name of this site seemed familiar, so it's possible that we've been there before, though I didn't really remember it once I did the dive. Anyway, as you might guess from the name, this site has a wall with lots of purple soft corals. But there are also tons and tons of purple sea fans and gorgonians. The soft corals were not really open, because there wasn't that much current, but the wall was still quite purple in the early sections. The purple fans and gorgonians are a really pretty shade of purple! Later in the dive, when we were beyond the purple zone, Rob made a really good find of a slug on a small black sea fan. It was some kind of aeolid that I don't think I've ever seen before, and there were two egg masses on the fan. The egg masses were light purple

After that dive, we had lunch (sandwiches) on the boat, anchored in a cove near a beach. We got back in the water and snorkeled a bit and Rob worked on getting some over/under shots. We swam over to really close to the beach, and I was really impressed by the hard corals that you could see from snorkeling. There were a bunch of different kinds of coral, and they were in good shape.

For the third dive, we went to Rainbow's End, which is a site I am sure I have been to at least once, and that I really liked in the past. It was a drift dive, and I guess we didn't drop in exactly the right place, so in the beginning there was a bit of fighting the current. I don't think we were exactly swimming up-current, but sort of at an angle to the current, which still made it quite a pain. But eventually we got to a point where we were riding the current for nearly all of the rest of the dive. It was a pretty wild ride. There were *so many* fish all throughout this dive. Zillions of little colorful tropical fish all over the place as we zoomed along the reef, passing little outcroppings with lush soft corals of a variety of colors. It was a great dive.

Eventually we came up and over the reef to the other side, and when we got to the top, the current kind of shot us across this wide swath of staghorn(-ish) coral with tons of anthias on top. I wish I had known this is what the current was going to do, so I could have video'd the ride :). We somehow got separated from the group on the ascent (in the 1 minute it took to go from 30 feet to 20 feet... still a mystery how that happened), and so Rob shot a bag. That may have been the highlight of the dive for him ;)

The ride back was very slow, not because of weather or anything, the boat was just going slowly. Rob and I laid on the bow for a while, which is a very nice place to ride on that boat, but eventually I decided it was too sunny and I would probably get sunburned if we stayed out there, so we retreated to the shade on the back of the boat.

We got back around 4, and after a bit of loafing around, and taking our 2 day post-arrival covid test, and a bit more loafing, we then did a dusk/night dive on the house reef. We got in around 6:15 (sunset was at 6:30). We didn't see too many particularly notable things, but it was a solidly entertaining night dive. We saw a couple of scorpion fish, a ton of lion fish, a couple of boring slugs (bumpy dorids), a tiny octopus, and the biggest starfish we have ever seen, by a huge huge margin. It was probably 2 to 3 feet tip to tip, and it was one of those "pencil" type starfish and each arm was huge around! I saw a lobster but it scurried back into its hole before Rob could see it. Rob had a similar eel encounter (I didn't see the eel). Anyway, a fun night dive overall.

It was actually kind of cold when we got out! I wore the one long sleeve shirt that I brought over my t-shirt when we went to dinner. For dinner, I had coconut crusted plantains to start (Rob had coconut fish soup), and we both had the coconut (I think?) crusted fish entree, which was really tasty. Dessert was sorbet, which was kind of strange, but came with fruit, which I liked.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Taveuni Fiji: Day 2

On our first full day of diving, we got an early start. The boat was leaving at 6am, which was not too bad since I was still on California time. We got up at 5, went to breakfast around 5:15, and started getting ready to go around 5:45. The sun came up around 5:30, so it was nice and sunny by the time we left. It was crazy windy though, big, mean whitecaps, and there was talk of whether we'd be able to make it to Rainbow Reef in these conditions. We kind of got our butts kicked on the first half of the trip. Well not really, but it was quite wet in the front of the boat (where we were) and quite a few bumps. But there was no swell at all under the wind waves, so it was alright. After about halfway there (when I guess we got across the channel/strait), it smoothed out.

The first dive was at the Great White Wall. We've dived here at least once before (Rob thinks more than once, I think once). The time I remember diving, there were a ton of divers on the boat, and at the start of the dive, there wasn't enough current for the soft corals to be that open, and at the end of the dive, the current was howling so it was a pain to get back onto the (anchored) boat. Today's dive was way way better. There was a little current, enough for the soft corals to be open more, but not so much that it made diving difficult. We hung back from the group around the top of the wall when we first got to it, and as a result, we missed the first swim through. All of a sudden everyone was gone and then a minute later, there were bubbles coming up from below us. Oh well, it was nice to have time to photograph/video without a lot of people around.

We hung back from the group in general, so by the time we got to the really white part of the wall, we were really by ourselves, which was great. I actually went ahead of Rob to get some video, and then swam back against the current to pose for some pictures. The white part of the wall was really neat, much fluffier with open soft corals than the previous dive. The viz was really good, you could look down the wall and the white soft corals just went on and on and on.

Eventually we made our way up the wall and went through a small swim through from about 55 feet up to about 40 feet, where you are on top of the wall, and there is some nice, more colorful soft coral on a structure right near where you pop out, in 30-ish feet of water. I remembered this area from last time, and remember thinking it was the nicest part of that dive. On this dive, both the wall and that area were very nice.

Around 35 minutes, the DMs led the rest of the group off to an area that I couldn't really see but didn't look as good, so we stayed where we were and I bobbed around in the current while Rob was taking pictures. You could kind of swim halfway around the structure and then ride the current around the back of it, which was pretty fun :P.

At some point earlier than expected (40-ish minutes), the DM called everyone to head to their safety stop. Of course Rob talked back, because we were supposed to have until 45 minutes. I guess the others were low on gas. So Soni (the DM) told us we could go back off to the wall just the two of us since we had a bunch of gas left. So we went back down to about 80 feet, where we saw a white tip shark cruising below us. After a few more minutes there, we headed up to do our safety stop and met back up with Soni there and then headed up together

It was an awesome dive, which definitely changed my tune on the Great White Wall. Later in the day, Soni asked Rob if he would share pictures with him, because he said this was probably the best dive conditions he's ever seen there, in terms of how far down/along the wall you could see the white corals.

We had some papaya and cinnamon rolls on the boat during the surface interval. Yum. We tried to go to a spot that has a lot of yellow soft corals, but the conditions didn't allow us to go there. So instead we went to "The Zoo" which was a spot that sloped down to a little wall, with mostly hard coral. It was not the most amazing site, but we found some cool critters. I found a tiny white Aeolid which of course I lost while trying to get Rob's attention. We searched around for a bit, but no luck. Next, I found what is one of my favorite Fiji slugs (so far), which is a bigger purple aeolid with orange rhinophores and cream-tipped cerata. There is a different purple aeolid around here, and I'd been looking all over for it yesterday, on hydroids (where I saw it once before), and now I finally this one just hauling ass across a section of the wall. So now I know there are at least two cool purple aeolids to look for.  Rob also found an octopus which was in a hole for almost the entire time I saw it, but it was quite big. Just from its eye you could tell it was big! It was squirming around in this hole and stuck a tentacle out briefl

Near the end of the dive, after we came up shallower, there were a few white tip sharks hanging around. I heard that there were three, but I only saw two. They were swimming around in the area for a while.

After that dive, we headed back in much calmer waters, and it took only about 30 minutes to get back to the resort.

For lunch, I had the veggie chow mein, which was delish. Rob was a bit jealous of what I got, I think, which was somewhat predictable.  After lunch, I had my welcome massage, which was excellent. The "spa" is a 3-sided hut along the water with the water-facing side open.

Due to weather, the boat wasn't able to go out in the afternoon. We were going to go for a shore dive, but I called it because it was too rough. Rob went without me, though, and managed to get back out of the water without getting trashed at the ladder.

We had drinks and then dinner with our new next door neighbors, who were also from the Bay Area. Rob got a really good chili pork appetizer (which we shared), I had so-so meatballs, and we shared a very tasty dessert of cheesecake with coffee ice cream.