Diving in Waisalima and the Astrolabe Reef, Kadavu, Fiji

I have spent about a month in Fiji. I'm certainly not an expert, but I know what I want and this time I was looking for something off the beaten track with outstanding diving, nature, snorkelling and genuine Fijians. I also wanted it to be traveller orientated, well priced and a bit of an adventure. I have been through the Yasawas before and been to several of the resorts. My favourite is easily Octopus Resort, but having been there and having had some amazing memories I wanted to try somewhere else.

I ended up choosing Waisalima Beach Resort in Kadavu. Kadavu is the fourth largest island in Fiji but is almost entirely covered in bush (forest) and is about as natural as you can get. I also chose Waisalima because it is opposite the Astrolabe Reef, the 3rd largest reef system in the world and offered great rates for diving.


Getting to Kadavu is an adventure and fun. I caught the Air New Zealand 07:20 flight out of Auckland and arrived in Nadi 3 hours later. I then caught the Twin Otter run by Air Pacific from Nadi to Kadavu at midday. It was an awesome flight. Partially because I love small aircraft and partially because the scenery is stunning. You fly at around 2,000 metres above Viti Levu (the main island of Fiji - on the way back we flew at about 1,000m which was even better), down the coast and then over small atolls and reefs. After 45 minutes we landed in Vunisea, the capital of Kadavu. The runway is tar sealed and stretches from coast to coast of a narrow isthmus. The airport and waiting room is a shed. I was met by Salimoni who would take me by boat to Waisalima. We walked off the end of the runway, onto the beach and I chucked my bags in the boat and we headed off.

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On the way we stopped at the general store. It is on the same bay as the airport and has one of the few roads of the island running in front of it. Locals brought their boats up and wondered into the store. It didn't stock much. Just the basics including the obligatory tins of corned beef.

Salimoni, who had popped off the get some fuel for the boat came back and we were off again. The trip took over an hour, but it was a series of golden sandy bays with bush down to the sand, steep hill rising behind them, that water colour that you only get in the tropics over white sand and a clear blue sky. To think that about 5 hours earlier I was in Auckland, and had I not been going to Fiji would have spent at least 40 minutes sitting in traffic so far.

We got to Waisalima Beach Resort and I was greated by Mo, the very friendly and knowledgeable owner. I had chosen to stay in the standard bure ( traditional Fijian hut built from thatch). Waisalima is a small resort with only 6 bures but they are all absolute beach front. My standard bure had a double and single bed and shared shower and toilet. All well maintained and clean for only F$50! (approx US$25 / AUD$35 / NZ$40). The prices on the website www.waisalimafiji.com are not current - they are doing coup specials that are a bargain! (They were fixing the internet connection at the resort when I was there so they may have updated them - email to check).


For dinner that night we had a huge crab with green papaya, some green vegetable that is like silverbeet or spinach and potato. The following night we have fish with a coconut cream sauce and vegetables. Lonely Planet give Waisalima a serve saying that the food is card-laden. In my experience this is inaccurate. In fact, the whole LP review is so wrong you would have to wonder if the reviewer visited the resort at all. The food was made with local produce and was Fijian in style for dinner, but was always fresh, filling and delicious. I want to have Fijian-style food when I'm in Fiji - and when it is this good why wouldn't you?!?!

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The following day I went for a snorkel off the beach. The resort is on about 1km of golden sand. Certainly not as idyllic as the Yasawas, but still nice. Parts of the bay have sea grass showing at low tide, but most of the area in front of the resort is fine for swimming at most tide conditions. The sea grass is a great nursery for young and small fish. Herons, kingfishers and gulls work this part of the beach. Often you will see whole schools of small silver fish leap from the water as they are chased.

Anyway, the snorkelling is great. I actually can't remember seeing more species of fish snorkelling in one place ever - and this is right off the beach! Even this close in reef is made up of lots of very healthy hard corals. If you have young kids or haven't snorkelled much before then this is an ideal place to get many hours of floating and watching done. You see new things all the time and the bay is sheltered enough that the waves don't push you around at all.


One of the main reasons I went to Waisalima was to dive. The Astrolade Reef is about 5 minutes by boat directly in front of the resort and you can see and hear the breakers over the reef clearly from the beach. The Astrolabe is the 3rd largest reef in the world and is backed by the 4th deepest trench. Add to this that it is virtually undived, in pristine condition and I was in diver's paradise! I'm a PADI Divemaster and have been lucky enough to work and dive in many countries in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean. The chance to dive an eco-system like this is amazing - and not to have another dive boat anywhere else on the reef that I could see makes it even more special.

The fish life was again superb. No dominant species, but hundreds of different species. Lots of schools, lots of different hard and soft corals and lots of small stuff. The first dive we did was a drift dive. The current raced along doing a good few knots. I think the last dive I did at that speed was on a site called Texas in Roatan, Honduras. Because of the proximity of the trench the reef is a great place to see pelagics.

The 2nd dive was out of the current on a site called Mo's Garden. Again, lots of colourful soft and hard corals and lots and lots of fish (the area is a marine reserve and Mo was one of the people who helped create it!). This time we didn't have to fight the current to stop and check out all the small stuff all over the reef!


Anyway, all the diving is excellent and would have been the healthiest reef eco system I have ever been on. The water was 27C, viz about 30m (Maika, the DM who I was diving with said that was about as bad as it gets) and it is so close to the resort that you can pop back for lunch! The other advantage with Waisalima is that if the weather is really coming in from one direction then they can just pop around the corner to other sites that are sheltered by Ono island, just across the channel from the resort.

There are also sites where there is a high probability of diving or snorkelling with manta rays. If you haven't done this, then it's not to be missed!

There are other dive operators on Kadavu but I believe that Waisalima has the best location. Dive Kadavu and Papageno about 40 minutes away from the Astrolabe and so dive their local reefs, which are, from all reports are inferior. Matava is about the only other option and they don't have a beach. My understanding is that Albert's Place and Jona's Paradise / Kenya are for all intents closed.

Back at the resort there are plenty of other things to do. Kayaking, walks to the local waterfalls, reading in the hammocks and so. If you are a keen bird-watcher then Waisalima is also excellent as Kadavu is the best island in Fiji for bird watching. There are parrots, doves, all sorts of sea birds and small finches all in the gardens around the resort. In fact, almost the only noises you can hear most of the time are the gentle sounds of the waves and birds.

In the evenings, after a full day and dinner it is lovely to chat with the locals or other travellers and divers, have a bowl of kava or Fiji Bitter. I would say about 10 days of this would be enough to de-stress anybody!

Anyway, I'm back to work today and I know I would much rather be diving in Kadavu!