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Exploring Fiji's underwater world.

Rapidly gaining fame as one of the South Pacific's top diving and snorkeling spots, Fiji offers many lures to its diverse underwater world of coral gardens and reef fish. People are drawn to these islands by the proximity of barrier reefs to resorts with dive facilities--as well as the friendly, English-speaking people; the landscape's lush tropical beauty; and frequent air service from the U.S. Their nearness to shore is just one of the reef's virtues. Great Sea Reef, off the north coast of Vanua Levu, is one of the world's largest, and Astrolabe Reef, north of Kandavu, one of the most colorful. The water is warm, and conditions are good year-round. Snorkeling or diving, you'll see hundreds of species of fish, including manta rays, batfish, moray eels, barracuda, whitetip shark--though you'll have a better chance of seeing larger fish if you dive. Abundant soft and hard corals explode in a riot of reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and glowing neon hues. Over the past few years, several dive operations have set up around Fiji; all offer top-quality rental equipment, and expert instruction and guiding.

Ferry or floatplane to the Mamanucas

From Nadi airport on the main island of Viti Levu, the easiest diving areas to reach are in the Mamanuca Islands, just a few miles to the west. The Mamanuca chain has a dozen beach resorts. Accommodations range from comfortable thatch-roofed bungalows to cheaper dormitories. The pristine beaches and clear-water reefs are just 1 to 3 hours by ferry from Nadi. Ferries (U.S. $32 round trip) leave for the islands at 9 A.M. and 3 P.M. from Nadi's Regent Hotel, with stops at four Mamanuca resorts. A daily ferry to Beachcomber and Treasure islands leaves from Lautoka Wharf at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. ($21 round trip). Or fly by floatplane from Nadi to all the Mamanucas for about $40 each way; reservations are required.

Undersea sightseeing along the Coral Coast and Beqa Lagoon

Viti Levu's Coral Coast (1 hour by rental car, taxi, or hotel shuttle from the airport) is another easily accessible spot. Here, you can snorkel off the beach or head out on a boat on a day-long scuba or snorkel trip to Beqa Lagoon. Its coral pinnacles rise 60 feet or more from the sea floor to within 10 to 15 feet of the surface. Lunch breaks between dive sessions are spent in calm waters off a nearby island. Other top reefs for experienced scuba divers are Taveuni, Savusavu, and Matagi--all reachable by air. Live-aboard dive boats visit remote spots such as Great Astrolabe and Wakaya reefs.

Setting up a dive, getting there

Dive operator typically offer a menu of activities, including snorkelers-only trips ($12 to $15), scuba half-day (one dive, $40) and day trips (two dive, $65), one-and two-day introductory scuba courses ($75 and $125), and five-day certification courses ($300). Snorkelers can join scuba trips to nearby coral pinnacles on a space-available basis ($15). Week-long package trips for certified divers start at $680 per person, based on double occupancy, and range upward based on accommodations and dive program. Air fare from the U.S. is extra. Flights to Fiji depart from Los Angeles and Honolulu. For a list of dive operators and U.S.-based tour operators, write or call Fiji Visitors Bureau, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 220, Los Angeles 90045; (213) 568-1616.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:564
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