Jurassic Park Meets The Beach

A Tale of Dive and Tropic Adventure at Taveuni Island, Fiji
By Matt Krumins


Jurassic Park Meets The Beach

A Tale of Dive and Tropic Adventure at Taveuni Island, Fiji

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins




It’s midnight and we are boarding the plane in Melbourne Australia. We are exhausted after having only been married the night before, and already I’m becoming nervous that we have made a grave decision for our ’tranquil’ diving honeymoon. The seats in front of us, behind us and next to us are filled with a type of Australian normally reserved for fake watches and braided hair on Kuta beach in Bali. You see, depending on where you finally set up camp on your holiday, Fiji can be a completely different place. For us Australians, it can be a quick, cheap holiday catered for by ‘all-you-can-eat/drink/do’ resorts filled with kids clubs and wacky-tacky cocktails or as we were soon to discover, if you are happy to brave the extra leg of the flight in what is essentially a 19 seater flying tin-can, Fiji is a true example of paradise. 














Being the other type of Australian, our second flight was destined for Taveuni, the third largest of 300 islands. The twin otter plane sat 19 people with an open cockpit but on our flight we were blessed with only 4 other traveling companions. Ironically it was on this tiny plane that they barely took notice of my over-sized camera bag and excessive dive luggage, whereas just 12 hours earlier in Melbourne I had been practically assaulted by the lovely check in lady at counter 23 for having 2kg too much in my hand-luggage. (You try and fit an underwater camera rig into those ridiculously small ‘carry on luggage check’ boxes!).

The flight over to Taveuni was truly spectacular, coral reefs popping green and blue like tie-dye patterns in the turquoise water, with what look liked perfectly manicured golf green islands poking their head above the 30 degree water to catch a glimpse of the morning sun. Our pilots lay back in their seats and read the morning paper as we coasted above the scattered clouds; already this seemed like worlds away from the bustling Nadi we had left just minutes earlier. After an hour in the sky there it was. To the left of the plane and a mere 14,000 feet below lay Rainbow Reef, sprawling the length of the peninsula of Vanualevu and glowing the most spectacular colours just meters below the calm ocean surface. The plane slowly banked right and through the salty windows of our tin-can flying machine stood a huge island, soaring tall out of the water, clouds masking the peaks of its jungle entangled mountains. Taveuni.



Matei airport in Taveuni is no more than a 3 room building with a scattering of locals es- caping the morning heat in the shade of the terminal area. It is located to the north of the island, which is serviced by a single road hugging the waterline and running just three- quarters of the perimeter. There are a handful of resorts and accommodation options, mostly advertising tranquil bungalow living and varying in cost from 'quite reasonable' all the way to ‘if you have to ask you can’t afford it’. Naturally, having spent most of our money on our wedding and upgrading some much-wanted underwater photography toys we opted for something in the more reasonable bracket, expecting to get ‘clean and comfortable’ with easy-access dive facilitates. Our driver was full of information on the hour-long trip from the airport to our accommodation; we learned about the history of how Taveuni villages came to be and the politics between the two chiefs on the island as well as some very useful information about the local culture. One thing in particular that caught our eye was a village proclaiming on a number of billboards that it is ‘Entirely Smoke Free’ a concept that I wish were more common. As we left the coast to navigate around a coconut plantation our driver pointed up towards the towering mountains. Mist crept amongst the tropical canopy where a battle for sunlight was won and lost daily between the thousands of different plants all vying for some vitamin D. This is where Taveuni island was summed up beautifully by our driver: “We like to call this Jurassic Park”. That was it.



We pulled into the aptly named Paradise Taveuni Resort and the volcanic rock driveway set the scene for a resort that was hand built to blend in to its natural environment and not simply provide luxury accommodation to its detriment. Our bags were unloaded and we were led down a winding path between beautiful traditionally built bungalows with woven roofs, each with an isolation and privacy that was fit for a honeymoon. “BULA!” a line-up of the resort staff and owners greeted us, with flower leis, cold towels and six genuine smiles that that took me straight back to the feeling of our wedding only 48 hours earlier. We were shown around, greeted by name from all of the staff and indulged in a glass (read bottle) of champagne over a foot massage in front of ‘Papaya’; our bungalow home for the next two weeks. 




The Diving

Being located towards the south of Taveuni island would be seen by many divers as a dis- advantage as Rainbow Reef is around a one hour boat ride north, however throughout the two weeks of our stay it became very apparent that we were in the prime position. The boat ride up to the reef was quite a pleasant trip across the channel, with sightings of pilot whales and manta rays feeding at the surface and the odd turtle dodging the thousands of flying fish darting like rocket ships across the waters surface. The boats are modern and well maintained by a highly dedicated team of dive staff who provided thorough briefs on the sites and who also had eagle eyes underwater to point out all the things you would be likely to miss. 




Unlike many dive destinations we have visited, Rainbow Reef offered a long list of different dive sites but with a unique difference: the majority of the sites were actually different! Mini-cabbage patch was filled with huge cabbage-shaped plate corals extending from 18m almost to the surface. The famous White Wall provided a spectacular high-speed drift dive filled with endless white soft corals forming an ice-covered reef with a blizzard-like snow storm of particulate matter whipping through the water. ‘The Zoo’ was filled with fantastic zebra patterned sergeant-major fish along with hundreds of other species speckled with different colours and textures. This reef system is really a wide-angle photography haven with lots of coral formations, fish covered bommies and endless reef. Whilst there are macro opportunities, the current on the reef generally means you are drifting, making it hard to hang around too long with a single critter. 



Rainbow Reef is the well regarded highlight of the diving here and as beautiful as it was, I think the reason it is advertised as the pinnacle of diving is because none of the other resorts have access to what lies at the font door of Paradise Resort. Paradise we are told, is the only resort on the island to have a house reef and easy access to Vuna which is on the south west side of Taveuni.



Towards the second week we had a few days of high winds as Cyclone Pam skirted to the west of Fiji, meandering down the Pacific landing in Vanuatu like a child throwing a tantrum in a sandpit (having had friends bare witness to this catastrophic event, I urge everyone to spare some change and donate to the reconstruction efforts in Villa and surrounding islands).

As the wind kicked up on our island, trips across the channel became an impossibility and as you could hear the moans of disappointment echo down the coast from the other dive resorts trapped land-side, we at Paradise Taveuni played on. With a brilliant house-reef filled with large schools of fish, endless options for macro photography and scattered with beautiful coral encrusted bommies we soon forgot about Rainbow Reef entirely and concentrated our efforts on this stretch of coast immediately adjacent to the resort's rolling lawns. This also made for a spectacular and incredibly convenient night dive where the entire reefscape transformed into a bustling city of life with millions of tiny red shrimp eyes gawking out of their hidey-holes as we admired moray and blue ribbon eels, porcelain crabs, all kinds of fish and giant crabs out hunting in the dark. 




Just around the corner from the resort is Dolphin Bay, accessible from the resort by car on bad-weather days and home to a black-sand muck dive. To be honest, bad weather or not, this is a must for the underwater photographer. The photo opportunities here are amazing and I would highly recommend bringing your macro lens and a diopter for this one, with many of the critters squaring up at around 1-5cm long. Amongst the small rocky outcrops hide mantis shrimp, nudibranchs and all the weird and wonderful macro critters you expect from an underwater landscape as diverse as the South Pacific’s. We also had a turtle visitor on this dive as well as the resident leafy scorpion fish.

Lastly the resort is only a 10 minute ride to Vuna reef, which juts out around two and a half kilometres or so from the coastline to the south of Paradise Resort. This reef system is dived almost daily at the resort, balancing the longer morning trips to Rainbow with shorter boat rides for the afternoon diving. This site provides protected dive sites no matter where the wind is blowing, and has a very similar landscape to that of Rainbow. In fact, on one day we had the privilege of diving the reef from the local Vuna Village. As a group of 4, we were the first people in history to dive this reef on scuba and aside from the amazing reef system, the fanfare from the locals was an experience we won’t soon forget. Vuna reef put on her best for us with a number of spotted eagle ray sitings as well as crystal clear water with thirty meter plus visibility. 







After diving for the first three or four days we reminded ourselves that we were not on a dive trip but our honeymoon so we should get out and explore a little. We thumbed through the welcome book in our room, frequently stopping at spa treatments we would book later during our stay and found two daytrips that sounded right up our alley: the Cannibal Cave Tour and the Lavena Coastal Walk. The Cannibal Cave Tour saw us set off in a torrential downpour accompanied by our guide Suli. We traversed towards the mountains along a winding dirt road dotted with local houses and small villages. Upon arriving at a fairly innocuous patch of neck-height grass, Suli looks to us and declared "I think this is it." Turning into the grass, we started to create the trail to the caves, brushing aside all of the plants Suli had described to us along the path. 



Normally when I book a tour with a resort I sadly expect there to be handrails, lights and a range of OH&S posters telling me to watch my step even though the site is lit up like christmas. This tour was a refreshing surprise, as Suli reached into his pack and handed us each a head torch and a set of industrial knee pads and said, “you will need these." The cave entrance was down a slippery overgrown drop-off and completely pitch black. “What a real experi- ence,” we both said to each other. Inside the caves we were on our bellies, on all fours and contorting in all sorts of shapes to squeeze through the tiny openings into the cavernous old lava tubes. Suli talked us through the history as we quickly realised that there was in fact no connection to Cannibals. These caves were spectacular and a real adventure I would recommend for those who are comfortable with small spaces and seemingly untouched history.

Throughout the stay we had heard from a lot of people that the Lavena Coastal Walk was a must-do. This is a 3 hour walk on the opposite side of the island that (as the name suggests) follows the coast down to an incredible waterfall. Whilst it is probably a little bit more expensive to get there than we planned (due to the long car ride), it was definitely worth it. The walk took us through tropical rainforest canopies, along beautiful palm tree lined beaches where we came across the Mushroom Rock structures standing solid over the shallow reef. Towards the end of the one and a half hour journey we turned up-stream and inland from the coast. The river here is truly spectacular, filled with smooth pebbles and beautiful fresh water from the isolated waterfall just a few kilometres upstream. The waterfall here is apparently famous from a few reality TV shows that have been filmed, but being the only two people enjoying this amazing water-filled gorge you wouldn’t have guessed it. The photos unfortunately don’t speak the true beauty of the area as the sun was setting behind the falls by the time we had arrived, but this walk is a must for anyone lucky enough to be visiting Taveuni. We were also told that you can take a boat down to the river walk the last bit, however the prices charged were reserved for the rich and famous, and besides, life is about the journey! 





The Resort

At the end of each day, whether you have been enjoying the land sites or dive sites, you are greeted with the enthusiastic sound of the Lali drum-roll (Fijian drum), building pace and climaxing with voices all over the resort echoing in chorus "Happy Hour!”. Whilst the happy hour offerings aren’t really all that different to the regular offerings, it is a great time where the staff bring out the guitars, the guests sit around and everyone enjoys a nice
refreshing beverage while listening to Fijian acoustic renditions of old american rock bands. This community spirit in the resort can sound off-putting to some but from the moment you arrive you are made to feel like a part of the family while also not having your space or holiday time 
encroaching upon. If you choose not to participate it is not at all frowned upon. After happy hour we often arranged to have communal meals with a big long table but we also opted out some nights to have quiet honeymoon’esque dinners by the water's edge, accompanied only by the most amazing star filled skies. This is just one of the beauties of Paradise Taveuni; if you want to eat alone with your partner by the waters edge, a table will be set for you there, and if you want to join in a communal dinner you will be most welcome, Whatever your preference, the staff will endeavour to give you the best dining (and overall) experience possible.



The food at Paradise Taveuni was a brilliant mix of local and international cuisine, often with a hint of the Chef’s own indian heritage showing through. The menu works on a rotating system giving you plenty of variety and choice for meals each day. Couple this with a nicely stocked bar and the restaurant at Taveuni really catered to everyone, with plenty of local seafood options for those truly getting into the island spirit.

Each night, we were greeted in our rooms with flower petals scatted from the door to the incredibly large and comfortable four-poster bed where the abstract petal art transformed into a patterns of words, shapes or simply ornate geometrical arrangements. The service of our rooms was truly worth a mention as each morning we would wake up to our personalised chalk board on the front of our bungalow wishing us a happy day in whatever activity we had planned. A particularly attractive aspect of the resorts design is that the resort only caters to a maximum of around 35 people, with the family rooms located away from the private bungalows in an equally beautiful setting, separating any potential noise. This made it particularly friendly for couples or families alike whilst not compromising on the beauty of the island setting. 



Fiji has many faces and each island tells a different story. Taveuni for us was a beautiful balance between diving, site-seeing, relaxing and tranquility. We avoided phones, computers and internet, soaking up the island life and settling into island time. The diving, whilst not knocking Sipidan off the number one spot, was diverse and beautiful, and the people of Taveuni really made the trip a warm experience that is perhaps lacking in many resorts across the world. Alan and Teri have built this resort in the feel of the island taking into account personal space, open communal areas and traditional building techniques to create a genuine feeling of isolation from the outside world. Here, you will not find a party, nor will you be able to get Fiji shaved into the side of your head or have your hair braided with 'traditional' fluoro beads. Here you will find quiet and it is truly one of the only places I’ve ever been where every aspect of the resort not only lived up to but out-shone the website photos.



Book Your Trip to Paradise Island, Fiji

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Paradise Island, Fiji dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.


Further Reading


About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. Visit www.deeperthandiving.com orwww.facebook.com/deeperthandiving for information on Matt's courses and photography.


Author's Gear Profile

Camera:  Olympus OM-D E-M1

Housing:  Olympus PT-EP11 Housing for OM-D E-M1

Lenses Used:  Panasonic 7-14mm and Olympus 60mm Macro lens

Strobes:  Dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes



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The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips


Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.