It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Taveuni, Fiji: Day 1

We got to the resort just a little after 11. After getting checked in and to our room, Rob was of course very eager to go diving, but the dive crew was all out on the boat at the moment. When the boat got back, Rob talked to someone there and they said we could go out diving at 3. Rob had to sweet-talk our way into diving that day, because they generally want to see a checkout dive. But they asked when our last dive was and we said Thursday, so they allowed us to skip the checkout dive :P

So we headed to lunch (Rob had fried chicken and I had chicken and pineapple pizza) and figured we'd kill some time afterward and then go diving. I guess there was some kind of misunderstanding, though, because just as we were finishing lunch, Flo came by and told us that the boat was leaving in 15 minutes. I think the 3pm dive suggestion had been for a shore dive. I'm not really sure, but we basically rushed back to the room, got all of our gear over to the shop, got into our wetsuits, and were on the boat in like 15 minutes. Phew.

We were diving a spot that was around the point on the southern end of Taveuni, about 20 minutes away, in an area called Vuna Reef. It was a little sporty for some of the ride, but nice and calm near the actual site. I wasn't necessarily expecting a lot out of this dive, since it was a "local" site, but I was pleasantly surprised. The site consisted mostly of hard coral, but it was very dense, healthy-looking hard coral. I'm not a huge fan of hard coral, but it was a nice looking site. It sloped down to a wall starting around 50 or 60 feet, and at some points, the wall was very vertical.

There was barely any current, but there were some spots where there were soft corals that were pretty open. There was this one spot on the wall right around 100 feet that had some big soft corals that were open. So of course we went down there to hang out, and Rob went a little deeper than I thought was prudent ;). (We were diving air because they couldn't get us nitrox in the last minute scramble to get us on the boat.). Before the dive, the DM had said that the max depth was 70 feet, but for us, we could go to 100 feet since this was our first dive of the day :)

Eventually we came up a bit shallower and I was searching and searching for nudibranchs, without finding much (other than those boring white with blue stripe dorids). Eventually I was rewarded though, because I found a yellow and black slug with a frilly border (I think it was Doriprismatica sibogae). This was probably the highlight of the dive for me, but Rob really liked the soft coral.

After we got back to the resort, Rob enquired about the house reef and got some details on where to find some critters. We were given directions for a spot with two blue ribbon eels and possibly as many as three Pygmy seahorses. I was not super optimistic about our ability to find any of these things :). The directions were something along the lines of... swim to that mooring ball, descend there, look in that direction and you will see a bommie with lots of tiny fish on it. The eels are just below that bommie. So we swam to the mooring ball and started our descent. I somehow had it in my mind based on how far we swam out, that the bottom would be like 30 feet deep, but in fact it was like 60 feet deep, and my ears were *not* cooperating. Rob got down to the mooring block and for like the next 5 minutes, I was slowly working my way down. Okay maybe it didn't take me quite that long.

When we got to the bottom, we were looking all around the mooring block for a bit, then I decided to look in "that" direction and see if there was some obvious other bommie to look at. And I noticed all these tiny fish on one, and swam over and right at the bottom, there were two blue ribbon eels. Woot! So we got some photo and video (attempts) of them, and then we scoured that bommie looking for Pygmy seahorses. We never did find any. After the dive, we were told that the seahorses are on the bommie below the eels, not above it, but that they also may no longer be there. So we will have to try again later.

We didn't find a ton of other macro critters. A few of those yellow and black nudibranchs that look like flat worms, an actual small white flatworm, and a brown with blue tips Dorid. But those last two things we found on the way up after we'd decided to head in, so overall it didn't feel like a super productive dive. But it's definitely a legitimate "house reef" that they have here, which is good.

It was a little after 5 when we got back from the dive, so after a bit of loafing around, we headed to the bar to get pina coladas before dinner. We sat overlooking the water by the pool and drank them, then eventually headed to dinner. We both had the Osso bucca which seemed like way too much food when they brought it, but I ended up being glad, because I was hungry! For dessert we got some sort of chocolate cake and ice cream. I was exhausted at this point, and insisted that we head back to our room so we could go to bed early. I think I fell asleep before 9 :)

Monday, December 27, 2021

Taveuni, Fiji: Paradise Taveuni

View from our patio
We stayed at Paradise Taveuni, based mostly on what we read about the diving at Paradise.  Our primary goal was to find a place that would maximize diving at Rainbow Reef, and then the next goal was to stay at the nicest place possible.  There were some places that were more luxurious, but the diving options did not seem as good.  There were also some places that were further north on the island, making them closer to both the airport and Rainbow Reef.  But Paradise has a house reef so you can shore dive in the afternoons/evenings, and there are also local sites for afternoon boat dives.  So these were the main reasons that we picked Paradise.

Tasty fruit bowl

Overall I was very happy with Paradise.  We made it to Rainbow Reef every day but one, plus there were several nice "local" dive sites, and we did several dives on the house reef.  The room was nice, though a little cramped (there were no ocean view suites available, so we went with an ocean view room).  The view from our patio and around the resort was very nice.  The food and drinks were fine, some days the food was really good, some days it was just okay.

When I was researching places to stay, I found some differing information about how long the boat ride was to Rainbow Reef, ranging from 20 minutes to an hour.  The reality was anywhere in-between, depending on the weather and which boat we were on (and probably the specific site we were going to).  In any case, it was "close enough" that the rides over there were not too far, and we made it over there even on some days when it was pretty rough crossing the channel.

The dive operations were pretty standard and convenient.  If we were diving nitrox, we had to analyze tanks before they loaded them onto the boat.  Otherwise, we each had a gear bin that we kept all of our gear in, and it was moved between the boat and the dive shop as necessary.  We just carried our cameras and sometimes our lights on and off of the boat.  The dive guides did a good job of guiding us without being hovery :). I would have liked to do more high current (soft coral) dives, though this was more related to the other people on the boat than the dive guides' choice.  But we generally got at least one really good high current soft coral dive per day.  There were also some nice macro critter finds by several of the dive guides, though generally not when Rob was shooting macro :P

So overall, I'd recommend Paradise, and considering going there again in the future.

Toad on our patio

Oh one last thing... there are these adorable toads all over the place around dusk.  They are so cute!  You have to be careful to avoid stepping on them in the lawn.  Other notable (cute) fauna includes crabs and lizards.  We found a crab in our (indoor) shower one day.

Taveuni, Fiji: Getting There and Back

I was glad to see that when Fiji reopened, there was still a direct flight from SFO to Nadi.  This greatly simplifies going to Fiji.  We still had to get to Taveuni, though it seemed relatively straightforward as flights to other islands in Fiji go.  There were two or three flights a day that lined up reasonably nicely with the flights from/to SFO.  The flight to Taveuni took about an hour and a half, and then we were picked up in a pickup truck for the hour-long drive to the resort.  The second half of the drive is over a bumpy road, but it was not too bad.

On the way there, the hop over to Taveuni was a bit delayed, and the communication of what was going on was pretty terrible.  But everyone on any of the small flights leaving Nadi was sitting in one room, and they kept claiming they were going to get us all out of there shortly, and every now and then they'd call a flight number, and eventually they did get us all out of there.  It was a little stormy on the flight over, which was a tiny bit terrifying, but Rob slept through the whole thing.

Aside from that, the travel itself was pretty uneventful in both directions.  On the way back, we moved our flight to Nadi earlier in the morning, because we had to get COVID tests at the airport in Nadi, and we could not get a straight answer on when the test facility was open.  So we flew back to Nadi in the morning, got our tests (which were miraculously negative), and then had to hang out at the airport all day.  But it was not too bad of a place to hang around all day.  Unfortunately we could not checkin more than 4 hours before the flight, so we couldn't go to the lounge.

The one other hitch in our travel was that when we got back to SFO, it took 3 hours for the bags from our plane to make it out to the carousel.  This is not an exaggeration, it was literally 3 hours.  Apparently the shitty little contractor that Fiji Airways uses to unload luggage had covid-related staffing problems.

Anyhoo, the travel was not too painful overall.  The long haul flight on the way there had excellent service (and the one on the way back was just fine).