Submerge Yourself in the Soft Coral Capital: Scuba Diving in Northern Fiji

Note to any amusement park architect with ill-advised ambitions to create the latest aquatic theme park: visit Fiji. After a few days swimming in the crystal-blue waters, it'll be clear—quite literally—that the only similarity between Fiji's Namenalala and Disney's Fantesea is purely lexical.
For scuba and diving enthusiasts, the splendor of Fiji's natural world is a given. But its geographical girth (200,000 square miles across the azure South Pacific) begs the following question: Where's the best of the best? Well, Fiji is divided into three diving regions, each immense in beauty and scope. But the northern region is the archipelago's underwater pinnacle, long heralded as the "Soft Coral Capital of the World."
The Somosomo Strait lies between Vanua Levu and Taveuni (the second- and third-largest islands, respectively) and is home to the Great White Wall and Rainbow Reef, Fiji's most renowned dive spots. The Strait's strong currents provide a steady flow of nutrients for soft coral—a deceptive name since the coral is not actually soft, but has a flexible skeleton; the polyp tentacles, called "pinnules," give the coral a feathery look.
Due to these strong currents, boats drop divers off at one end of the Strait and pick them up at the other. Divers usually choose the Yellow Tunnel, a favorite spot for photographers, as their entry point, diving to 26 feet before dropping another 60 feet past vivid yellow coral. Then head for the White Wall through a different tunnel in the reef, past sea fans and blue ribbon eels, before reaching a 200-foot drop-off. The soft coral covering the enormous Great White Wall is, in fact, a light lavender shade. But the depth gives the wall a surreal white glow, as if illuminated by some indiscernible electronic light source. This is a must-dive, but be sure to time your dive along the Great White Wall with the end of the falling tide; between high and low tide polyps open to feed and reveal their brilliant colors.
Other dives within the Somosomo Strait that should be hit by any dedicated reef-heads include the Ledge (a coral pinnacle that drops from 15 feet to 300 feet) and the Fish Factory, which teems with fish, from blue and gold fusiliers to golden damselfish and titan triggerfish. Rainbows End is famous for its expansive array of colorful corals. The reef drops from 21 feet to a sandy bottom 60 feet below—an ideal dive for beginners and for relaxing night plunges.
Diving conditions in Fiji are unrivalled; at its worst, the water's visibility still far exceeds the best conditions of Florida. Scuba and snorkeling is possible year-round, although the marine life swells from July to November. Spectacular dives are a mere ten- to 15-minute boat ride from major resorts on Taveuni and Vanua Levu. Or, extend your trip by arranging a live-aboard outing that will take you the far reaches of Fiji. Facilities support all skill levels, whether it's your first time donning a tank or you've practically grown gills.

Published: 21 Jan 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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