Large red gorgonians at the entrance to an underwater arch (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
Large red gorgonians at the entrance to an underwater arch (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).

Immersion in Fiji

#Fidji #VitiLevu #Rakiraki #BlighWaters

  Fiji - Aug-Sept 2023

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


August 13, 2023. Two guitars, a ukulele. Three men in flowery short-sleeved shirts and traditional Fijian skirts greet passengers disembarking at Nadi airport with music. "Bula!" one of the musicians calls out enthusiastically. Meaning: "Hello", "Welcome"...

Musical arrival in Fiji

After a ten-hour flight from Singapore, I'm delighted to discover this welcoming committee! It reminds me of the Tahiti airport, where tourists disembarking from the plane are similarly greeted with music (memory of a 2012 trip and of a scene I would relive a few weeks later on my arrival in Polynesia). Enough to keep people waiting in the long passport control queue. Below: a short montage of the videos I shot on my smartphone as I arrived...

Fiji, here I am at last! Almost everywhere in the archipelago, I'll be greeted with music at every stage of my itinerary. And it's also with music that Fijians traditionally say goodbye... But I don't know that yet when I arrive.

So here I am, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, between New Caledonia and French Polynesia! It's dizzying, exhilarating. I plan to spend six weeks in Fiji to go from one island to another without hurrying and dive, dive, dive...

After more than three years without traveling, three years of underwater photography mainly in Brittany near my home, this is my first big trip outside France. Back to the warm seas of the Indo-Pacific and the discovery of new horizons!

By plane, of course. At the cost of an insane carbon footprint... This thought never leaves me. Throughout this trip, I won't be able to shake off this strange mixture of euphoria and guilt.

Fiji is the first stage of the my four-month trip from mid-August to mid-December 2023. Fiji will be followed by Polynesia, Australia and Indonesia.

Flying. A reflex to adopt these days, now that we are well aware of the impact of air travel on global warming: calculate the carbon footprint of your trip... 😱 Yes, it's quiet. Every ton of CO2 sent (or not) into the atmosphere counts. It's important to realize that flying to the ends of the earth is no picnic... If you can't give up flying altogether, you can try to reduce your impact a little by leaving less often but for longer.

Family diving in Rakiraki

I decided to start my Fijian trip with Rakiraki, a village in the north of the main island of Viti Levu, where I've just landed. Why Rakiraki? The coastline provides access to a marine area renowned for the beauty of its coral reefs, known as Bligh Waters.

The name refers to the British William Bligh (1754-1817), commander of the famous ship the Bounty which suffered a mutiny in 1789. The story remains famous to this day, not least thanks to the film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando. I'll be following in the footsteps of those famous mutineers of the 18th century.e century: at the end of September 2023, I'll be joining them in Tahiti, for the second leg of my great Pacific voyage... But let's get back to Fiji.

When diving from Rakiraki, you stay fairly close to the coast. The vast expanse of the Bligh Waters, a vast sea passage between the islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, is really only accessible by liveaboard diving. The area is also known as Vatu-i-Ra Passage, named after a small island to the east of Rakiraki. It is surrounded by a coral reef that has become a protected marine park, the Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park.

During my preparations, I dreamed for some time of boarding the Nai'a. It was the only boat offering dive cruises in Fijian waters. I was almost ready to break my piggy bank to reserve my place, but there was no availability for my dates, between mid-August and the end of September.

I then considered staying at the one and only dive resort still open and operational in the area, after Cyclone Winston (2016) and Covid (2020-2022). But the rates for the few rooms still available at Volivoli Beach Resort were really out of my budget...

So, after much searching, I finally found the ideal option: a homestay WITH diving, at Jioji and Alisi. On Airbnb, this Fijian couple rents out three rooms in their family home in the countryside, not far from the market town of Rakiraki, near the coastal mangroves. In the garden shed, Jioji opened his own small diving center in 2016: Ring Gold Divers.

Alisi and Jioji, my hosts in Rakiraki (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023)

Jioji is an instructor, his son Tom a divemaster. Tom lives with his family in the house next door. Both know the surrounding sites inside out, and have long been instructors at other Fijian dive centers. Now they work together in their small local structure. Away from the crowds and the "bubble factories".

A family affair, then. Simple and unpretentious. But it offers "luxury" diving, according to my criteria: several times, I found myself with a boat all to myself and Tom as my private guide, during the week I spent with them... The family owns several boats, which means that when there are more people, divers can be divided up according to level, training, baptism of the day...

In short, the perfect configuration for me, allowing me to photograph underwater in total peace and quiet - in small groups or in a duo with Tom - without ever being hindered by too many or mismatched groups of divers!

Tom gathers the air packs that will be used for the day's dives. (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024)
Tom gathers the air packs that will be used for the day's dives. (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024)
The coast seen from the open sea. (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024)
The coast seen from the open sea. (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024)

First images underwater

Just as well, at this point (at the very beginning of my trip) I'm still in the learning phase for my new photographic equipment : before leaving, I invested in a Canon Eos R7 and its Nauticam housing, to replace my old 7D.

The first few days were very frustrating underwater... I had to get rid of the reflexes I'd acquired with my old camera. There's no shortage of subjects beneath the surface: there are some splendid alcyonaires (soft corals) orange-yellow everywhere, immense gorgonians (sea fans) in red and pink, a few whitetip sharks shy... And I didn't even take the time to get interested in the "little one", mainly looking for atmospheric fisheye shots.

Amazed at each of our outings, I don't know where to turn. I have to test, check and try again, until I find the settings that work best with my new configuration. I struggle to position and dose the light from my flashes correctly. Adjusting the parameters (speed, aperture, ISO) according to the visibility and luminosity coming from the surface. Little by little, I'm getting the hang of it...

Atop the reefs, coral gardens teem with life (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
Atop the reefs, coral gardens wriggle with life (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
Everywhere, soft corals of a beautiful orange-yellow (Rakiraki, Fiji, August 2024).
Everywhere, soft corals of a beautiful orange-yellow (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024).
Between the faults and arches formed by the reef, an anemone and its charming tenants, clownfish, with whom it lives in symbiosis (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
Between the faults and arches formed by the reef, an anemone and its charming tenants, clownfish, with whom it lives in symbiosis (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
From the soft corals springs a cloud of anthias (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024).
From the soft corals springs a cloud of anthias (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024).
Above reefs colonized by orange-yellow soft corals, swarms of anthias (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
Above reefs colonized by orange-yellow soft corals, swarms of anthias (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).
Imposing gorgonians spread their branches against the current at the entrance to the canyons in the reef (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024).
Imposing gorgonians spread their branches against the current at the entrance to the canyons in the reef (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024).
Coral, fish, life! (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024)
Coral, fish, life! (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024)
Large red gorgonians at the entrance to an underwater arch (Rakiraki, Fiji, August 2023).
Large red gorgonians at the entrance to an underwater arch (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023).

In the caves and cavities, gorgonians reveal their brilliant colors in the light of the flashbulbs (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2024).

Unfortunately, I won't have the chance to go as far as the Vatu-i-Ra marine protected area during my stay. It's quite a long sail from Rakiraki, so you need both enough divers to make the trip worthwhile and perfect weather conditions.

But the closer sites I discover are enough to satisfy me. And above all, each excursion offshore offers its share of surprises. A perfect rainbow on the horizon. A school of spinner dolphins playing in front of the bow... It's splendid, and we're always alone at sea. No mass tourism here.

Below is a short video montage from the stories I posted at the time on my social networks (Instagram, Facebook) to give you an idea of the atmosphere... 😎😍🏝️🐬

At the end of my stay, I spend an enchanted day with my hosts, who organize lunch for me on a deserted beach on the island of Nananu-i-Ra, after the morning's dives. Under the coconut palms, a few ruined huts and buildings, the remains of an abandoned resort.

I feast on grilled fish, caught and prepared by Alisi and a young niece who's doing an "internship" on the dive boat (she's great at taking selfies), a refreshing coconut cut by Jioji and Tom... On this day, I'm the only diver on board and they go out of their way for me.

Above the coral shoals, the water takes on a spectacular turquoise color. (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
Above the coral shoals, the water takes on a spectacular turquoise color. (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
It's just us on this magnificent beach, opposite the Volivoli peninsula on the island of Nananu-i-Ra... (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023)
It's just us on this magnificent beach, opposite the Volivoli peninsula on the island of Nananu-i-Ra... (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023)

Fijian simple pleasures

At the end of the week, I regretfully leave my host family and my large room overlooking the terrace of the house. A warm home, full of life and gaiety, charming little attentions and simple pleasures, amidst the laughter and games of the children in the extended family - brothers and sisters, cousins, little neighbors...

Alisi, sometimes helped by her sister, prepares tasty dishes for me every evening, generally based on vegetables and rice, with chicken or fish, often in curry form. The Indians who arrived at the end of the 19the century and early XXe to Fiji to work in the sugar cane fields during British colonial times, have left their mark on the archipelago's culinary habits.

In the evenings, at this time of year, it's a bit chilly. So my charming hostesses also take care of my little comfort as a big chiller and not a fan of cold showers: they boil me some water, which they then pour into a large bucket. I top it up with tap water until I reach the perfect temperature... I'm a little ashamed, but what a pleasure to be able to wash in hot water after a day's diving!

I also wandered around the dirt roads between the sugarcane fields and farms in the area. I went shopping with Alisi at the Rakiraki market. Admired the surrounding mountain scenery. Discovered with Tom the tomb of Udre Udre, a Fijian chief who died around 1849 and was described as "the worst cannibal" in Fiji. Legend has it that he ate between 872 and 999 people. His extraordinary anthropophagy earned him a place in Guinness records.

In Rakiraki, the tomb of Fijian cannibal chief Udre Udre, who died in 1847, has become a tourist attraction. The surrounding stones are supposed to represent his victims. (Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023)
In Rakiraki, the tomb of Fijian cannibal chief Udre Udre, who died around 1849, has become a tourist attraction. The surrounding stones are supposed to represent his victims. And in several tourist spots, I've seen this portrait displayed with his name, but I don't know if it's really him... (Viti Levu, Fiji, August 2023)
Sunset walk in the fields behind Jioji and Alisi's house (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023).
Sunset walk in the fields behind Jioji and Alisi's house (Rakiraki, Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023).
I've never seen as many rainbows as during this week in Rakiraki! (Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
I've never seen as many rainbows as during this week in Rakiraki! (Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
At Rakiraki market. One Fijian dollar is worth around €0.40. (Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
At Rakiraki market. One Fijian dollar is worth around €0.40. (Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
Rakiraki is a small town, but the market is huge. (Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)
Rakiraki is a small town, but the market is huge. (Viti Levu, Fdiji, August 2023)

I even got used to the strange, earthy and spicy taste of the kava. A traditional drink, concocted from the powdered root of a plant close to the pepper plant. I discover it in the company of other tourists staying with Jioji and Alisi, or from a small hotel a little further down the road.

Each new arrival is followed by a welcome ceremony, where kava is drunk in the presence of the village chief. You have to say "Bula!" and clap your hands as you drink each bowl. Supposed to relax guests and strengthen friendship - and "help you sleep", says Jioji - kava also accompanies most family or friendly gatherings, well into the night.

On the last evening, the flock of children launch into an adorable farewell choreography, in front of the row of chairs where the adults are chatting. With a young British girl, who is staying with Jioji and Alisi as I am, I have to dance with the kids, which makes everyone howl with laughter and triggers enthusiastic applause.

A diver familiar with the archipelago had warned me before departure: "You'll see, Fijians are the nicest people in the world...".

  Fiji - Aug-Sept 2023

  Fiji + Polynesia + Australia + Indonesia - 2023

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