>Wide angle, however, was the order of the day at North Save-a-Tack, a Swiss-army-knife dive site with a deep wall, hordes of fish, surprise pelagic visitors, diverse reef structure, macro life and, of course, soft corals in as many shades as a Crayola 64-pack. With paratrooper precision we plunged to 90 ft (27 m), regrouping on the edge of a wall that drops to depths of half a mile. An epic school of big-eye jacks riding the current formed a second wall, and behind it we came face-to-face with another throng: hundreds of unicornfish in a tapestry as dark as the jacks were bright. When it was time to leave the blue, we swam over a sandy channel called the Yellow Brick Road and ascended the reef, finally arriving in Kansas — a swaying plain of golden Sinularia leather corals with a striking similarity to the state’s famous wheat fields.
>There was more wide-angle action waiting for us at Nigali Passage, the popular shark dive that takes place off the island of Gau. We took our positions at 60 ft (18 m) in the “bleachers,” a shelf on the passage’s southern wall, from which we had an excellent view of the pelagic highway. At first it was a few barracuda coming and going, then a pack of snapper, followed by a tiny 18-inch (46-cm) baby shark, which signaled the start of bait-driven rush hour. Within moments, nearly 25 gray reef sharks entered the arena, ranging in size from pint-sized juveniles to sturdy eight-footers. Some were “amped-up,” twitchy, darting about like rockets. But most were calmly circling, graceful, lording over their realm with extreme confidence and purpose.
>On our way back to port, we stopped at E6, a seamount in the middle of the Bligh Waters that may be the most famous dive in Fiji. The name is a reference to the countless rolls of E6 slide film (remember film?) that were exposed here over the years. It may be retro, but you get the idea. Had it been discovered today, we’d probably call it 16 Gigabyte.
>We began the dive at the Cathedral, a roomy swim-through lit with brilliant sunbeams and decorated with crimson fans. At 50 ft (15 m), the passage dropped us into the blue on a scenic overlook with a 3,000-ft (914-m) drop. Elaborately sculpted hard corals sprouted from the sheer wall, artfully shelving downward. We passed a giant clam and admired its psychedelic lips before stopping to search for camouflaged commensal shrimp on wire corals. I was happily shooting frame after frame when this golden damselfish suddenly started hovering right above my camera, perfectly posed for a unique close-up. I adjusted settings, hit the shutter and … nothing. I checked the display. “Card full,” it read.
>Normally, this would induce a fist-clenching, teeth-gnashing fit of despair, the kind of behavior you find in a world gone mad. But not today. Not here. I’d waited 10 years to return to Fiji and found it in better shape than I dared hope for. That was reason enough to celebrate, to linger and just enjoy.
>Water conditions: Water temperatures range from 75°-82°F (24°-28°C), and visibility can range from 40-120 ft (12-37 m), depending on the site. Currents, moderate to very strong, are common at most sites. Most dives are conducted as group drifts, and the boat follows divers to facilitate pickup when they surface. A safety sausage, air horn and loud whistle are important safety accessories. Bring them on every dive.
>How to dive it: Most of the Lomaiviti itinerary is accessible only via liveaboard boat. Nai’a, http://www.naia.com.fj; the Fiji Aggressor II, http://www.aggressor.com; and the Island Dancer II, http://www.peterhughes.com, all offer cruises to the region.
>For more destination information, see the Fiji Islands Visitor Guide at http://www.bulafiji.com.
>© Alert Diver — Fall 2009