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  • The Nai'a

    A marvelous, magical tour
    of fabulous Fiji

    By Bonnie J. Cardone



    It was a glorious day when Nai'a unfurled her sails to run before the Fijian winds. One hundred twenty feet long, she's very solid and sure in the water and, with only the wind to power her, she slipped silently through the seas. After a morning of diving and an excellent lunch, we found it almost impossible to keep our eyes open. Warmed by the sun and rocked gently in the cradle of the deep, contented divers dozed everywhere;under the sails on the deck, in the spacious salon, even in their staterooms.

    I can't speak for the others but when I nodded off I dreamed of E-6. We had discovered incredible riches there, among them colorful gorgonian and Alcyonidae corals and exotic brown, green and blue Poison Bristleworms (an opisthobranch with curly gills). Most of us got at least a glimpse of the Scalloped Hammerhead that occasionally patrolled the wall; on almost every dive all of us saw one of the two Whitetip Reef Sharks that live in The Chapel. Other creatures commonly seen included Lionfish and the everpresent schools of flitting purple Anthias.

    A huge bommie, E-6's top is just a few feet below the water's surface; the outside edges drop into depths far beyond sport diving limits. Underwater the bommie is intersected by crevices, some of which form shallow caverns. One particularly wide crevice forms The Cathedral. Penetrated by dancing sunbeams, it is truly magical.

    The Cathedral is also a marvelous night dive. One of our divers, Maria, got to see a Flashlight Fish, rarely found so shallow in other parts of the world.

    Many of Nai'a's other sites are also the stuff of which divers' dreams are made. Mount Mutiny is a drift along a steep wall covered with soft corals and the unusual and beautiful Syphonogorgia hard corals. Barracuda school off the wall near the end of the dive and there's a large area that is home to clownfish and their anemones.

    At Wakaya I missed another school of Barracuda but looked up in time to see Cat Holloway pointing out a huge Manta Ray flying by. This area is home to numerous Leaffish, perfectly camouflaged to match their surroundings. Nigali Pass is quick drift down a channel filled with Gray Reef Sharks. Nai'a offers a shark feed dive here. The sharks weren't hungry the day we were there but we still saw plenty of them in the distance. Instead of sharks our viewfinders were filled with the incredible numbers of Red Bass that came in fast and furious to feast on the chumsickle.

    The Nuts and bolts of a Nai'a vacation

    Three things make a vacation aboard Nai'a very special: the boat, which is beautiful; the exceptional crew; and Fiji's excellent diving. Launched in 1979, Nai'a was gutted and completely rebuilt in 1993. Gleaming local woods panel her very large salon. The nine air-conditioned staterooms are nicely appointed and generously sized. All but one has its own head/shower. The staterooms open onto a common passageway; because of Nai'a's ample beam (30 feet) this is unusually wide.

    Nai'a's main deck contains the largest photo area I've seen on any live-aboard. An entire forward cabin is dedicated to photographers. A three tiered shelf lines this cabin, providing plenty of room for camera maintenance and strobe charging (there are numerous 120 and 220 volt outlets). Outside the cabin are two large freshwater rinse tanks. E-6 film processing is done daily, a lightbox and loupe are provided for slide viewing in the salon.

    Diving is done from two inflatables, loaded from Nai'a's stern. Multiple dives are scheduled each day and listed on a board outside the photography cabin. If no one wants to dive but you, the crew will take just you (and provide a crew member buddy). The runs to the dive sites take just minutes and one boat is always on site to pick up divers as they surface.

    Food on the Nai'a is varied, delicious and ample. Prepared by a Fijian chef, breakfasts are traditional fare (eggs prepared to order and pancakes, etc.) but lunch and dinner consist of unusual but delicious dishes attractively presented (I didn't lose an ounce). Snacks are provided between dives and wine is served with dinner.

    Conclusion

    A visit to a native village for a meke is a Nai'a tradition. We wore our boat provided sulus (a length of colorful native cloth that serves as a skirt) and visited Sawaieke Village, on Gau, one night. We were greeted warmly and taken on a tour of the village, then treated to a festival of song, dance and the sampling of kava. When it comes to photo ops and fun experiences, a meke is tops!

    My Nai'a trip was a standard seven day voyage, longer trips are also available. July and August feature ten day trips to Tonga to dive with Humpback Whales. Along the way there are dives at E-6 and Nigali Pass as well as Navatu Reef and Fulaga Island in the remote Lau Island Group. I've seen footage from the 1996 exploratory Tonga trip and the whale action was incredible.

    Nai'a also features an August trip with Emmy award winning cinematographer Stan Waterman. Here's a chance to see a diving legend at work and maybe even appear in his next film! (He's a charming man who's great fun, as well.)

    For more information on Nai'a trips, visit the Web site at http://www.naia. com.fj; e-mail naia@is.com.fj; telephone 011 (679) 450-382; fax 011 (679) 450-566 or write to P.O. Box 3179, Lami, Fiji Islands. You can also contact See & Sea Travel Service, Inc., 50 Francisco Street, Suite 205, San Francisco, CA 94133; (800) DIVXPRT, (415) 434-3400, fax (415) 434-3409.