Crystal Divers. Our Track Record.
Fiji's underwater gardens are just delicious. Lau's "Magic Kingdom," on the protected back side of Vanua Balavu, delivered what Dan promised as some of the best diving he's found in the area. We made three consecutive dives near Nggillangila Passage at Neptune Gardens with barely more surface interval than the time necessary to change film. One shallow outcropping in particular seemed the center of activity. Seductively wriggling cleaner fish picked the parasites from the angels and anthias. Clouds of swarming fairy basslets pulsed left, then right, with each blast of our cameras' strobe lights. An amorous boxfish couple rubbed noses and bellies, spinning seemingly out of control up to the surface, the insistent male blushing yellow and blue. Bulging-eyed blennies, lizards of the underwater world, scooted and scampered about. Sea whips and velcro-armed crinoids sheltered tiny symbiotic roommates -- shrimp, crabs, gobies, and clingfish.
Each day in Lau was full of adventure both above and below the surface. We crawled our way into Dead Man's Cave with its flowstone stalagmites and a macabre death's hook formation looming above. Women and children from nearby villages were once stashed in here during brutal tribal wars. In Turtle Lake we slogged through sucking orange mud, home to millions of tiny shrimp which scuttled between our toes. Two landlocked sea turtles also live in the small lake, placed here years ago by villagers. Following local customs, the turtles will be sacrificed to honor the local chieftain (the Tui Lau) and his son when death claims them. And on tiny Bird Island, we walked right up to photograph nesting red footed boobies. It was only later that we found out that the fluffy white chicks often regurgitate half-digested fish chunks in your direction if you come too close! We stumbled across new dive sites everywhere we ventured, such as Moonlit Sonata, Lion's Cage and Cori's Place. This last dive, named after Dan's infant son, was a colorful playground swathed in pastel hard coral blankets. A large rock covered in swaying purple anemones housed its own nursery of clownfish and their iridescent green eggs. One distressed damsel was intent on protecting her brood, trying to get at our eyes and then fiercely attacking our bubbles when we burst forth in laughter.
A profusion of strange and wondrous marine life has taken up residence in this little corner of the South Pacific. The very reefs themselves are alive, the backbone of this thriving marine ecosystem. Recognizing this, the Fijian government has declared the waters of Lau officially protected. Commercial fishing is prohibited, and exclusive diving privileges for Lau have been granted to Crystal Divers. Through such measures and strict policies of "take only pictures, leave only bubbles" diving and live boating rather than anchoring, man's destructive impact on the fragile reefs and their residents should be minimized.
In this day and age, when frozen chumsicles and Cheezwhiz desserts are commonly used to attract critters, it is such a simple, complete joy to slip beneath the ocean's ceiling and not find domesticated marine life with mouths open wide, frantically jockeying for position in the lunch line. Dan does not bait creatures or manipulate encounters in any way. If animals want to come close, they do so naturally, curiously. Divers encounter "wildlife" on the animals' terms, in their world.
Nowhere was this subtlety so obvious than at the Neverending Story. A world class spot for reliable sightings of a wide variety of pelagics, it's a marvelous menagerie of the sea's creatures where a meeting with nearly any critter is possible, from minke whales to mantas. Dan says that this dive has proven totally different every time.
Without warning, they begin to appear, materializing through unseen tears in the blue fabric all around us. Like a volley of arrows shot from beyond, scores of barracuda rush towards us. Throngs of big-eye jacks and tiera batfish hustle on their way down the pelagic highway. A venerable green turtle, having no reason to fear us (the "no-riding" policy should keep it this way), drifts over to investigate us before pulling for the surface.
Then the first shark appears, a big meaty silvertip. The nine-foot bruiser rockets up to our level, circles warily, then descends into silence and shadow. Two gray reefs close in on us from both sides. Three hammerheads patrol underneath, their business ends swinging side to side like metal detectors sounding the deep for a snack. Another hammerhead (how did it sneak above us?) is silhouetted against the sun, a twelve-foot malignant tattoo, blackness against the brightness. We are in the middle of the Dakuwaqa's playpen, and for a moment, it seems uncertain as to what mood the Shark God is in. The next instant, our elasmobranch playmates are gone.
With images of sharks still burned into our eyes and prowling the shadows of our minds, we're carried alongside a sheer cliff ablaze with first yellow, then purple, soft corals
-- Lau's very own Yellow and Purple Walls. A huge manta ray glides by us, scooping up a planktonic breakfast with its gigantic dustpan mouth. The mammoth sea butterfly then flaps its wings in farewell and banks sharply downward to continue upon its way. Still in shock from all we've seen, we attempt to nonchalantly to continue on ours. The dive isn't over yet.
This site wonderfully hints at the undiscovered potential of the exploring isles of Lau. The diving there is in its embryonic stages, and its character is still developing and improving. We are only in the first chapter of the Neverending Story. Who can say what treasures remain to be found? The only certainty is that Lau, with all the traditional "best of Fiji," plus its own unique flavor and no crowds above or below the water, holds tremendous promise as one of the newest premier dive destinations.
Brandon D. Cole and Melissa Singh