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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hammocks in the Yasawa Islands

After 110 dives in two months it was time to take a step back and relax for a bit and Fiji is the perfect place to do that. The Yasawas, a group of islands located Northwest of the mainland, can be experienced with a backpacker friendly island hopping pass. There is one ferry each day which connects the islands on the way north and later on its way back again. The ferry had a booking desk, where the accommodation for the next stop could be arranged. Since it was rainy and thus low season that was no problem at all and I could visit 8 islands, staying from one to three nights each.

Relaxing was supported by a plethora of hammocks with breath-taking views of paradisaical beaches. However, I didn't just idle away my time. Several times I went snorkeling, either right in front of the resort or after a short boat ride. The best snorkeling was the Shark Feeding trip which I did both from Waya Lailai and from Kuata. After a 25 minute boat ride we arrived at a reef which was home to about six Whitetip Reef Sharks, all of which came out to grab some of the fish on offer.

Near the White Sandy Beach Resort I was able to find a Geocache which was unfortunately in a terrible condition, so I took it back to the resort for a round of maintenance before returning it the next day. This good deed was awarded with a stunning sunset ;)

I can highly recommend this trip, which was offered through Awesome Adventures.
Here are a couple of tips if you consider doing an Island Hopping excursion:
  • Start in the North and make your way South. Firstly, this means you get the long distance travel out of the way early, secondly, the return ferry South leaves in the afternoon which gives you enough time to participate in activities in the morning.
  • Do bring water, if you can carry it, or buy the big Aqua Pacific water bottles on the ferry, which are cheaper than the water on the islands. Except for Waya Lailai and Kuata, the tap water was not suitable for drinking and some resorts did not offer complementary water during lunches.
  • Bring enough cash. Credit Cards are not accepted on all islands (and if they are you pay a surcharge) and ATMs are nonexistent.
  • Do visit Barefoot Island. It is hands-down the most beautiful "basic" resort, offers excellent snorkeling right off the beach year round and sometimes even Manta Rays! In addition it was the only "basic" resort with it's own dive center (Waya Lailai also has a dive center, but it was closed when I visited).

As an inspiration, I'll list all resorts I stayed at with a couple of comments.
  1. Nabua Lodge on Nacula Island, 2 nights. One of my favorites, good food, wide choice of activities with a village in walking distance (the cheapest village visit I found anywhere). If you have time, then do walk around the island to the Blue Lagoon Resort, where you'll find a nice small shallow reef, ideal for snorkeling.
  2. Gold Coast Resort on Nanuya Laili Island, 1 night. Probably the most authentic Fijian resort, but extremely basic and with almost no people, this could probably be skipped. One redeeming factor is that you can walk to the Blue Lagoon (i.e. a part of the beach where Blue Lagoon was filmed) for snorkeling. There is also a Geocache close to the Blue Lagoon, unfortunately I only discovered that after my return to Nadi.
  3. Long Beach Resort on Matacawalevu Island, 1 night. Very nice beach and good beach volleyball court. The range of activities was limited or more expensive than elsewhere because a longer boat ride was required. 
  4. White Sandy Beach Resort on Naviti Island, 2 nights. Good entertainment at night with dances performed by the staff and amusing activities for the guests, which was followed by a bonfire on the beach. Snorkeling Honeymoon Bay (a 5 minute walk from the resort) has a high reputation, but did not overwhelm me. White Sandy Beach Resort does have the dorm with the best view, a patio right on top of the beach. There is a Geocache close to the resort which should now hopefully stay dry ;). Even though there used to be a dive center here, it was closed a couple of years ago, so do not believe it if they call it White Sandy Beach Dive Resort.
  5. Barefoot Island Lodge on Drawaqa Island, 3 nights. Hands-down my favorite. Three nice beaches with nice and easily accessible reefs for snorkeling, a beautiful sunset deck, entertainment which does not enforce participation, exceptional food (the best I had in the Yasawas) and a competent dive center with lots of dive sites close-by and "serious" volleyball games with the staff in the afternoon.
  6. Wayalailai Ecohaven Resort on Waya Lailai Island, 2 nights. Shark Snorkeling and Sunrise hike where my favorite activities on the Yasawas. Drinkable tap water and thus also a fresh water shower were greatly appreciated.
  7. Kuata Natural Resort on Kuata Island, 2 nights. Shark Snorkeling, which for a second time here, is a must do if you visit the Yasawas. The food was not as good as Wayalailai, but ok. Volleyball was offered as well as mixed entertainment in the evening. If I had to choose between WayaLailai and Kuata, I would probably pick Wayalaiali.
  8. South Sea Island, part of the Mamanucas, 1 night. Even though I had to pay an upgrade and it is known as THE daytripper island in Fiji, it was a nice end to my trip around these islands. The tiny size of the island does have its special appeal (you can stand in the middle and see the ocean on every side) and free snorkeling, kayaking and glass bottom submarine as well as a pool are all reasons why you should stay here too. As an added bonus you have the choice of 3 ferries to get back to Nadi, giving you more flexibility, or if you take the last ferry as I did, leaves you with an almost full day of relaxing / fun, before heading back.

More pictures can be found in my web album.

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Fiji: The Soft Coral Capital of the World

To best way to experience the best dive sites in Fiji, which are located in Bligh Water between Fiji's two biggest islands, is to join a liveaboard cruise, and so I found myself on board the Island Dancer II for a one-week scuba-diving trip.

In addition to a large amount of Reef fish we were also lucky enough to spot a Manta Ray and a couple of Whitetip and Grey Reef Sharks. In addition to fish we also saw a lot of beautiful Coral in all forms and colors and the dive site Mellow Yellow, a pinnacle covered in yellow Soft Coral, made the verdict of Fiji as the Soft Coral Capital of the World believable.

A highlight of the trip were the two Shark Dives we did in Nagali Passage, the first was a drift dive and the second a Shark Feeding dive. In addition to adult Whitetip and Grey Reef Sharks we also spotted a couple juvenile Grey Reef Sharks, which was really cool!

In addition to Sharks we also met Leroy, a huge Blacksaddle Grouper, which stayed around us and wasn't even afraid of the Sharks, some of which were smaller than him!

Even though the diving conditions were not ideal, it was the beginning of the rainy season and thus sometimes quite rough seas, limited visibility and strong currents, I greatly enjoyed this trip.

My only regret is that I only learned about the famous Shark Dive in Pacific Harbor when I arrived in Fiji. On that Shark dive Bull Sharks and sometimes even Tiger Sharks can be encountered. On the other hand I now have a second reason, next to visiting the Humpback Whales in Tonga, to come back to Fiji in 2014!

More pictures in my web album.

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Stopover in Aukland

I didn't plan to go to New Zealand, but because there was no direct connection from Tahiti to Fiji, I had to make a connection in Aukland. At first I wanted to leave on the same day, but after realizing, that I only had 55 minutes to change planes, I got cold feet and asked my travel agent to rebook the flight to Fiji for the next day. And that is how I ended up spending 25 hours in Aukland.

What might seem like an inconvenience turned out to be a good thing, because this gave me the opportunity to do some last minute scuba dive equipment shopping, especially a new wristband for my dive computer which threatened to fall off.

And between shopping, sight-seeing, geocaching and meeting up with a friend I made in Galapagos, the time passed very quickly. I enjoyed my short stop in Aukland and am looking forward to visiting New Zealand in greater detail in the future :).

A few pictures can be found in my web album.

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Bottlenose Dolphins in Rangiroa

After the cold water conditions in Galapagos and Easter Island it was a real pleasure to dive in Rangiroa, where water temperatures were around 28° C. But I wasn't there for the water temperature, but rather for its reputation as one of the best dive spots to see Sharks. During my first dive I discovered that Rangiroa had much more to offer: A very nice reef with lots of fish in all shapes and sizes and a large group of Bottlenose Dolphins which were very friendly and even playful. Taking pictures underwater was a challenge due to the amount of fish swimming around ;)

I had the great luck to meet the Dolphins several times, the first two times they seemed preoccupied and were just swimming past us. But the next two times a couple of Dolphins got very close to us, performing tricks and posing for pictures ;)

Even though there were only two dive sites on this atoll, I never got bored. Every time there was something else to see. In addition I got the opportunity to do two deep dives to 42 m and 46 m, where we saw sleeping Grey Reef Sharks.

Another highlight of my stay at Rangiroa was a snorkeling trip to the Blue Lagoon. The Lagoon itself was not that special, but it was the place of a Blacktip Reef Shark Nursery and we spotted several baby Blacktip Reef Sharks swimming in very shallow water close to the shore and they looked just adorable! :)

At the end of the trip we could snorkel with bigger Blacktip Reef Sharks and while free-diving spot a Lemon Shark on the bottom.

Traveling to Rangiroa was definitely worth it, but I do have one regret, when I was there I learned that there was also very cool diving in another place in French Polynesia, the Fakarava atoll. So if you go to Rangiroa, make sure you also stop by Fakarava!

More pictures in my web album.

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Thursday, November 01, 2012


Tahiti marks the midpoint of my travels. It probably is the farthest away from Switzerland, I'll ever be on this trip (the time difference is 12 hours).

I spent one day exploring Papeete and its environs looking for Geocaches (finding 2 out of 3) and then I stumbled upon the James Norman Hall Home.

James Norman Hall, who has lived on Tahiti for the later part of his life, is famous as coauthor of the Mutiny of the Bounty trilogy and the museum illustrates his career with memorabilia and texts. The best thing about the museum visit though was the present I received at the end: "My Island Home", Hall's autobiography, a book I can highly recommend as it paints a vivid picture of growing up in the US around the beginning of the 20th century and how his life was changed by the first world war, during which he fought first for the English, then the French and finally for the American Army.

A few pictures from Tahiti can be found in my web album.

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Rapa Nui

Easter Island claims to be the most remote inhabited place on Earth, its closest inhabited piece of land is 2'075 km away, and on that island there only live 100 people!

Easter Island is most famous for its Moai statues which were erected by the locals and for which all trees of the island were used. What followed was a clan war during which all the statues were toppled over and some partly destroyed. That the statues are standing again is due to a large restoration project, which was started in the later half of the 20th century.

What is not so well known, is that Easter Island is also an interesting diving destination, which I discovered after arranging my stay there. (Originally I didn't want to go to Easter Island, but the only flight connection from South America to French Polynesia stops in Easter Island and so my travel agent rightly suggested I should stop there a couple of days.) The visibility was breathtaking, in some places at least 50 meters and the water was crystal clear. The corals were also in very good shape, the only thing that was lacking were the fish. We did see some fish, but not in the numbers that the reef could have supported. This is mostly due to overfishing.

A special highlight was the dive near the harbor, where a fake Moai statue was placed after Hollywood shot a movie on the island. It is a very cool sight if you swim around a block of corals and suddenly see a Moai in front of you :).

Because almost everything closed up on Sunday, I used the last two days for sightseeing. First I went to Rano Kau, the former volcano crater in the South-West of the island for Geocaching and Culture. The view of the volcano was breathtaking, it wasn't just a crater lake, but it was filled with small islands and looked almost like a MOOR. Orongo, the former cultural center is located on the crater rim as well and it was partially restored as part of the National Park and made accessible for tourists.

On my last day, I did the truly touristy thing and took part in a full-day tour, which brought us to the quarry, where the Moai were constructed and there we could still see dozens of partially finished or even finished Moai, including the biggest Moai never completed, which was planned to be 21 meters high!

Overall, I stayed 6 "full" days on Easter Island (counting arrival and departure days, because I arrived at 7am and left at 10pm), which was ideal for the combination of diving and sightseeing I did. Just for sightseeing it would have been way too long, it is a small island after all ;). I enjoyed my stay on the island, but it didn't make my list of places I have to go back to, seeing it once was just right.

All the pictures can be found in my web album.

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