Landing on sea snakes

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Island Prism

Flag of Fiji  , Viti Levu,
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We sailed to the island of Ono, and moored in the shelter of a reef, by the Astrolabe Reef Resort. The resort was in the final stages of construction. Half Fijian Jason, his wife Danielle and young family had moved from Sydney to join father Joe in creating accommodation and a dive company. Jason was running the diving, and that was why we were there. I had heard many good things about beautiful and untouched dive sites around the Great Astrolabe Reef, and was eager to explore. Jim had certified years before with the British Sub-Aqua Club (who have very high standards) and had popped out to Ono to meet Jason and recertify the week before. He proved to be a very good diver (diving seems to be a bit like riding a bike); he did spend a lot of time upside down, but that was wholly intentional!

We were welcomed warmly by Jason and Danielle, and invited to dinner; delicious kokoda created from freshly caught local fish, followed by home-made ice cream. Jason's mum was visiting from Australia, and we were invited to a kava ceremony in her honour. We sat on the floor on a large mat, with the big stone kava bowl in the middle. The young Fijian women filled a small wooden bowl and passed it round, senior men first, then the rest of us.  "Bula," drink it down and clap three times, then pass the bowl to be refilled for the next participant. Even two year old Georgie, Jason and Danielle's daughter, joined in. The kava tasted like spicy dishwater, not too unpleasant. We stayed for two rounds, but had to leave when it started raining and we needed to close the hatches on the boat.

We spent a few days within the shelter of the reef, diving with Jason and his local divemaster Abel. The diving was adventurous and amazing. Ancient and pristine corals, myriads of jewel-coloured reef fish, hordes of pelagics, and enough sharks to keep my camera busy! We saw sharks on every dive we did, and some came really close. The closest was apparently the one that glided a couple of metres away from me whilst I was fully absorbed photographing clownfish. Fortunately reef sharks are generally placid and I have all limbs intact, and got some decent clownfish snaps, though I'd rather have got the shark! Clownfish are a lot of fun to take pictures of as they peer out of their anemones; many have the personality of a small yappy-type dog and will try to scare off the big diver who is 100 times bigger than they are.

We dived a variety of sites on the inner and outer reef, with the passages to the outer reef supplying the richest life and best colours. The Nagoro passage quickly became our favourite site, rich with life transitting between inner and outer reef. Our first dive there was an drenaline rush; a roaring current swept us along as though we were flying. I felt like Superman as we ripped along! No chance of staying still long enough for any pictures! Our second dive on the passage, at a site called Fish Market, tumbled us into 3 metre swells. Under the water it was calm, and the big pelagics were on the move; eight reef sharks, Spanish mackerel, enormous groupers and Maori wrasse, with beautiful green moko patterns on their blue faces. Some of the sharks were in hunting mode, cruising by and through the huge schools of fish on the reef edge. Others were resting on the bottom; two (one which we think was pregnant), let Jim and I get very close. We tried to alert the rest of the group, but nobody noticed, so we had an amazing encounter all to ourselves.

Archway was another awesome site that rivaled Nagoro; a dramatic swimthrough, sea snakes, schools of barracuda and more sharks. Again, we had big swells and so were told to descend straigh away so we would not risk injury from the bucking boat. On the count of three we all rolled back, a couple of us descended but the divers on the other side of the boat bizarrely stayed at the surface. After a couple of minutes they joined us; it was not until after the dive that we discovered what the technical hitch had been. One of the divers had landed on a sea snake, which proceeded to investigate his mask and hoses in great detail. Sea snakes are highly venomous but generally friendly; their fangs are at the back of their jaws and apparently the only parts of the human anatomy narrow enough for them to bite are the webbing between our fingers, and our earlobes. The diver was glad that the creature hadn't grown interested in his ear. I was disappointed not to get a photo. But we found a large snake later on in the dive, which let us get close, so it was ok. The final Nagoro dive, on an area known as the Japanese Gardens, revealed beautiful coral, a turtle gliding by us, just a few metres away, enormous pufferfish and more sharks and maori wrasse. The fish life, coral formations and general colours were fantastic. Add to that the aged reefs of Besi Bay, teeming with life, and we had some very impressive diving.
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