Two Older Ladies Go Snorkeling in Fiji
by Nancy A.
(Raleigh, NC, USA)
Blue Lined Surgeonfish Over the Reef in Fiji
We are two older ladies who have just returned from a long snorkeling trip to Fiji in October 2015. I am 69 and I traveled with my long time friend and house mate who is 71. We are known as "the two Nancys".
We went to snorkel the reefs of the southern Pacific Ocean. We booked a seven day cruise on the Fiji Princess, a small cruise boat that goes through the Yasawa Island chain and then five nights at the Octopus Resort on Waya Island in the Yasawas, known for its house reef and excellent snorkeling from shore.
Our first two days on the Fiji Princess, Blue Lagoon's cruise boat, were incredibly rough and I got seasick along with several other passengers and crew. The crew of this boat were amazingly kind, considerate, helpful and friendly. They treat you like family. We attained almost instant fame due to being Nancy and Nancy. All the crew, even those members we didn't know (like the ship engineer), greeted us with happy smiles and called us by name. As a result all the passengers also knew our names. It was a weird feeling.
The passengers those first three days were limited to about 30 people almost all of whom were either New Zealanders or Australians. They were all extremely friendly and welcoming and easy to talk to. After about two days we all felt like we knew each other.
The first day out it was not only rough seas but overcast and raining hard. But we went snorkeling in spite of the weather. I don't recall a lot about that particular snorkel except that Nan was elated at seeing some fish she had never seen in the Caribbean. I was so happy to be back in the Pacific I didn't care that the sun wasn't shining.
But the next day I surely did care - the seas were so rough the Captain declared we could not do our scheduled snorkel with sharks and this would be delayed a few days until we came back through the area. The wind and rain were driving and the boat bucking like a bronco. I put on a seasick patch and was unable to eat anything due to nausea. Nan was fine - she doesn't get seasick ever. The crew, ever cheerful, scrambled to keep us entertained since our scheduled activities had been canceled.
By the third day the weather had improved and our snorkeling was glorious. Fiji's reefs are world class and can hold their own with the reefs of other top snorkel destinations like Palau, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and other well known sites. But the diversity and amount of marine life are not as great in Fiji as in the Coral Triangle areas of the Philippines and Indonesia, or Australia. But what is there are beautiful, healthy, vibrantly colored corals, lots of colorful butterfly and other tropical fishes, and the incredible color of the water - medium sapphire with a touch of purple. The water is so intensely blue that even the wake water looks blue.
Our captain quickly saw how enthusiastic Nan and I were about snorkeling. He honored us by taking us, along with a very few other passengers, on two special guided snorkels both of which were on extraordinarily beautiful reefs. The reef we saw had the lushest corals we were to see on the trip.
A couple of days later we had our promised swim with the sharks - White Tip Reef Sharks from 3-7 feet long. There were about 10-15 of them and they were not in the least threatening. Some even swam so close to the snorkelers that they could be stroked by the swimmers.
We visited both the island where Castaway was filmed and the island where Blue Lagoon was filmed. The Fiji Princess is a delightful small cruise ship. It can carry about 60 passengers and can get close to shore in places where larger ships could not go. It is an ideal cruise for those who do not particularly like cruising as it doesn't feel like the larger cruise ships. The food is good and plentiful.
We had a cabin on the Hibiscus deck which was also the deck on which the dining room and laundry is located. It is the cheapest type of cabin but there is minimal difference between the Hibiscus and Orchid cabins. Our cabin was perfect for us - we were near both the dining room and self service (and totally free) laundry facility.
In all I can heartily recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to experience the remoter areas of Fiji called the Yasawa Islands. But it is truly the crew which makes this cruise so memorable. They shine as much as the glorious reefs we visited. On the last day, as the crew sang us the goodbye song, I felt like crying - I was so sad to say goodbye to the crew.
After the cruise we spent another day in Nadi at Aquarius then were picked up by the van driver from the Octopus Resort and taken to our resort transfer boat in Lautoka, about a 30 minute drive north of Nadi. The resort transfer boat is small but comfortable. Fortunately for us the ocean was dead calm that day and the ride to the resort was speedy and smooth with glorious scenery of the Mamanuca Islands and other islands on the way to Waya Island where Octopus is located.
Once at Octopus Resort, we were transferred along with our luggage to an even smaller boat which was able to get over the shallow reef and onto the sand. It was a "wet landing" meaning our feet got wet getting out. I had worn my snorkel booties in anticipation of this and Nan had on her waterproof Crocs. We staggered up the soft and steep sand beach before us. This was to be our home for the next five days.
Octopus has an extraordinarily fine house reef right offshore. That is what made us decide to go there. But getting in and out of the water proved to be quite a challenge for us especially at low tide during which much of the reef is exposed.
The problem was that to get into water deep enough to swim, one must walk though a very rocky and difficult area in which it would be very easy to either fall or twist one's ankle if not very careful. At low tide it is difficult to see where to step. At high tide one can start swimming much closer to the beach entry. There is a rope to guide one's way out and back in but it is so low you can't really use it to get out only to swim in during high tide. We ended up going out mostly at high tide times although I did go out once alone during low tide.
The Octopus reef is healthy and well populated with fish. There are loads of butterflyfish of all kinds and also numerous Moorish Idols, a good variety of parrotfish as well as neon blue and turquoise damsels. There is a resident pair of Sweetlips. There are some colorful triggerfish and wrasses. We saw crinoids there as well and on a night snorkel saw a small octopus.
The night snorkel was great. Our guide was Cookie from the dive shop and he very obligingly took our camera and took loads of pictures for us. The flashlights they gave us were so huge and heavy I could not manage the camera along with the flashlight. But Cookie was an expert and took care to try and get really good shots of all the critters he showed us. He even pulled up a crinoid and let it swim - something I really wanted Nan to see.
On the whole I can recommend Octopus for those for whom snorkeling from shore is a priority.
But, I warn that the weather is so hot and the sun so intense in Fiji it is worth it to spend the money to get an air-conditioned room there.
The memories of Fiji and her marine environment will be priceless for me.