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Opposite, clockwise from

Opposite, clockwise from top left: Many of the bommies in Fiji are decorated with pristine hard corals along the shallow plateau. Soft corals are abundant throughout the island chain. This coral window near Kansas is an iconic photo-op. The villagers in Fiji are gracious and welcoming, often inviting guests to a kava party or local dance.The Great White Wall off Taveuni is one of Fiji’s most famous dive sites. Kansas received its name for the leather corals that must have reminded someone of wheat fields in the Midwest. of Fiji: Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Established in 1997, it encompasses approximately 30 square miles and bans commercial fishing within its boundaries. Like so many marine protected areas, the Namena MPA pays massive dividends in terms of quality dives. One of my consistently favorite dives in all of Fiji is found in North Save-A-Tack Passage at a dive site that encompasses both The Arch and a shallow plateau called Kansas. The latter site’s tan leather corals must have reminded someone of Great Plains wheat fields. We dropped in at The Arch, a lovely wide-angle background worthy of a visit on its own, knowing there was a resident school of chevron barracuda (see the front cover) and jacks that cruise the edge of the drop-off. For whatever reason, whether current flow or propinquity, the barracuda were swimming in a tightly polarized formation that day. With a slow and measured approach, I was able to fill the frame with dozens of fish when zoomed tight and scores as I zoomed wide. Jacks and barracuda are subtle variations of blue and silver; but swimming back to the reef I found color: An emperor angelfish, blissfully ignorant of my proximity, foraged amid the soft corals that decorated the base of The Arch. From there, a short swim along Yellow Brick Road culminated in the dense concentration of leather corals at Kansas. Adjacent to Kansas is the oftphotographed Window of Dreams, notable for the profusion of soft corals that surround a portal in the reef, just the right size for framing diver portraits. Although so much is so good in the depths of the Namena Marine Reserve, you should save a little time at the end of the dive to explore the tops of the bommies. HOW TO DIVE IT GETTING THERE Fiji lies in the southwestern Pacific, 1,750 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia. The 333 islands of the archipelago are spread over 80,000 square miles of ocean. The islands of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and Taveuni make up 90 percent of the nation’s landmass and are home to 85 percent of its 880,000 people. Several airlines offer flights from Los Angeles to Nadi, including American, Fiji Airways, Qantas and Air New Zealand. LAND-BASED OR LIVEABOARD? Our 2015 itinerary included some sites accessible only via liveaboard dive boat because of their distance from shore, but Fiji has dozens of extraordinary landbased dive resorts that offer high-quality diving with daily dive excursions and sophisticated scuba infrastructure. WATER TEMPERATURE Divers are sometimes surprised by how cold the water is in Fiji at certain times of year. It’s certainly not frigid, but in September through November it might drop into the low- to mid-70s°F. Dress for it, and you’ll have a wonderful time. In September 2015 the temperature was typically right around 75°F throughout our cruising range. I’ve been there in February and had 86°F water. In some months a 3mm wetsuit is plenty, but in others a 5mm to 7mm wetsuit might be advisable. With four dives per day the norm on liveaboards, be sure to pack sufficient thermal protection. CURRENT Many dive profiles bottom out around 80 feet and involve gradual ascents along consistently scenic walls or pinnacles. Though currents are not always present, ability to manage them is important. Depending on where you went and how your dive operator timed your drops, you could dive here for a week and never feel current, but you wouldn’t see the best of Fiji that way. A bit of flow is necessary to get the soft corals in their optimal feeding finery, and much of the pelagic action from sharks and mantas is directly dependent on current. Familiarity with drift-diving protocols and the ability to deploy a safety sausage are essential. VISIBILITY Water clarity can be highly variable, depending on where in Fiji you dive. Proximity to rivers or other sources of freshwater runoff means reduced visibility. For the most part, assume good to great water clarity; 50 feet would be average for a near-shore reef, and this can climb to 150 feet on offshore reefs and pinnacles. HYPERBARIC CHAMBER There is a chamber in Fiji’s capital city, Suva, on the main island, Viti Levu. 72 | WINTER 2016

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