“There’s a crab in the bathtub,” I calmly mentioned to Christian. It seemed perfectly normal, given our proximity to the sea. I gently re-directed him to his own little bathtub in the tide pools. Perhaps it was the same crab that kissed my toe under the table during last night’s dinner. Our stay on Taveuni had plenty of other magical moments besides the flirtatious crab.
This resort specializes in scuba diving and snorkeling. The rooms are lovely, yet my favorite part is the open-air shower room, enclosed by rock walls and tropical plants with a mostly crustacean-free bathtub.
Paradise. That word is often over-used, but here at Paradise Taveuni Resort, the name aptly describes this tropical slice of land sitting on the rugged edge of volcanic cliffs.
Life here revolves around the tides and currents. Being seafaring folks, this is the next best thing to being on a sailboat.
Taveuni lies among the 333 islands that make up the archipelago of Fiji. Described as the “Garden Island,” every shade of green on the hills complements the revolving tones of blue in the sea.
Our time at Paradise Taveuni was spent primarily in the blue. The sea called, we answered.
We have been flitting around Fiji, butterfly style. Some places we booked in advance, and some we saved for sweet spontaneity. Over the phone, Terri gracefully organized our last-minute booking. As is the norm in Fiji, we were welcomed “home” to Paradise Taveuni. Upon arrival we were both asked to sit in comfy chairs facing the sea, and suddenly our feet were placed in tubs of warm water and the effervescent Sony gave us each a glorious, relaxing foot massage. That usually doesn’t happen at home!
Each day started by softly waking up to the sounds of sweet bird songs. Looking outside, we usually saw Betty sprawled on our outdoor deck lounger, looking like she had a rough night of chasing cars. The resort’s adopted island dog gives us a big yawn and a smooch.
The morning sounds are also filled with air being released and scuba tanks clinking together in the wheelbarrow as the hardworking dive team sets up gear for the day. These background sounds are always accompanied by laughter from every quadrant of the resort.
After a delicious breakfast, the lalo (a hollowed-out tree trunk carved perfectly to carry throughout the resort) beats, and the drummer shouts, “Boarding time!”
We head to the dock and board the “Taveuni Explorer” with Captain Kim at the helm.
No wetsuit is necessary as the delightful warmth of the sea allows more time in the deep than we have air in our tanks.
I mistakenly left my scuba diving card at home, so I happily stuck to snorkeling the surface while Christian explored the coral depths with fellow divers.
Our excellent dive crew became wildlife safari guides as they pointed out myriads of colorful creatures and coral that make up the appropriately named “Rainbow Reef.”
We are delighted to find a strong female presence on the dive team: Papa, Helen, and Dee. Their laughter is contagious, and their passion and teaching skills in the scuba world are appreciated.
The divers entered first and descended to explore the Great White Wall, named for an abundance of white-blooming soft corals. When I jumped in, I caught my breath at the sheer mesmerizing beauty of the bubble trails of seven divers amid extraordinarily clear visibility.
I wound my way above the shallow parts of the reef as my scuba companions continued to sink. One by one, they entered a large tunnel, and all that was left were a few errant bubbles.
I was truly in my element, with no bulky gear, gadgets, or gauges to concern me. I stealthily swam along and watched the underwater world undisturbed, except by me when I squealed with delight at the antics of one of my aquatic fish friends.
Christian and I compared wildlife viewing when we met on the boat between each dive. I joked that his bubbles chased all the big stuff up to me and my snorkel guide Uli.
I excitedly reported, “We saw two white tip reef sharks, three turtles, and a spotted eagle ray flew past, showing off his ample wingspread and graceful maneuvers.”
Christian replied, “I took videos of the most massive moray eel I’ve ever encountered, and a white tip was cruising below, so I sent him up to you, knowing how much you love sharks!”
One of my favorite snorkel spots is named “Sam’s Point.” This spectacular stretch of pristine corals is named in honor of Dee’s father, who was the first Dive Master on Taveuni.
We are in the Somosomo Strait, between Taveuni and the neighboring island of Vanua Levu. Nutrient-rich waters funnel through the narrow channel providing a thriving ecosystem and ideal conditions for soft-coral growth.
We visited the Cabbage Patch, a unique coral formation close to the surface that looks like we are floating over a field of cabbage greens. The “crop” is vibrant and mesmerizing, with patterns and dimensions I could gaze at and inspect for hours.
Back on land, we have chosen our favorite table, the one perched on the edge with a sea view, of course.
Our stay included three button-popping meals a day. I keep this in mind as I endeavor to burn calories in the water chasing sharks.
There are plenty of shore-based activities to choose from, such as an island tour with a waterfall hike; however, the sea kept calling, and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to engage with sea life.
We met a couple from Berkeley, California, who had come specifically to view birds. Their travels took them deep into the tropical mountains, and they joyfully described their avian sightings.
Our last full day on the dive boat brought magical treasures as well. In between dives, Captain Kim slowly cruised to the next dive site. Suddenly, Uli started to rhythmically whistle. He pointed to the distant waters as we watched the calm sea erupt with splashes from a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins heading directly for us. They cavorted, jumped, slapped their tails, and swam back and forth between our twin bows as they seemed to dance in tune with Uli.
The dolphins jetted off to find their lunch. We continued our journey and saw large fins breaking the surface, reflecting in the mirror-flat sea. Seven pilot whales were resting peacefully. Captain Kim drifted the vessel in neutral, and a silent awe settled among our group.
Highly dedicated underwater enthusiasts on this boat have traveled from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Germany to document treasures with camera equipment. Yet, no one is in a rush at this moment.
We quietly departed the whale’s sanctuary and sauntered off to our third and final dive of the day.
While the divers poked around the deep, Uli and I laughed at the shenanigans of a porcupine puffer fish playing hide and seek. Uli effortlessly free-dives as if he was born an aquatic creature, often swimming below the scuba divers for a quick fist bump.
Tropical weather changes frequently. An approaching system blasted wind and fat drops of rain. Uli and I continued to laugh through our snorkel tubes as we high-fived to Mother Nature. We thanked her for her blessings as we watched the raindrops dance from below the surface.
Our divers popped up one by one, and Captain Kim maneuvered the boat to fetch his charges as they bobbed around in bouncy, squally seas, being expertly held together by Helen.
She is a hero to Christian, who had accidentally lost grip on his GoPro camera gear at the beginning of a previous dive. Helen saw it start to sink and immediately dove to retrieve it. Laughing it off as nothing, she is rewarded with sincere Christian hugs for the rest of the trip!
I write down the memorable names of many of the dive/snorkel sites we have visited in my “water-log.” In addition to Sam’s Point, we explored Great White Wall, Cabbage Patch, Rainbow City, Finger, Purple Wall, Fish Alley, Jerry’s Jetty, the Zoo, Dolphin Bay, Stairs, South Cave, Yellow Fin Wall, and Rainbow’s End. Paradise Taveuni’s dive team had some secrets; they are the only resort that offers diving on nearby Vuna Reef, their own backyard reef. Watching a southerly swell wash over the impossibly blue waters from the boat’s upper deck was almost as lovely as the underwater portion on the protected side of the reef.
Back in our room, after checking our bathtub for interlopers, I decadently took a soak while Christian chose a massage in a thatched hut with an ocean view.
The lalo also beats for happy hour and daily activities. Our favorite is Fijian night, with a traditional kava session after a lovo (all-day sunken pit cooking food over coals). Many of the divers are too tuckered out after dinner, but we enjoyed the ritual of a kava ceremony. The calm euphoria induced by this centuries-old tradition of imbibing in this mixture of the ground roots of a pepper plant and water is not lost on us.
We enjoyed our last dinner of this trip at our waterfront table. Our thatch roof is no match for the impending sideways squall that whooshes through our beautifully laid table. Solo, an engaging young man, has a smile and funny stories for us at each meal. He had meticulously set up freshly picked hibiscus, bougainvillea, tiny fairy lights, and small candles for our ultra-romantic setting. We are laughing as we try to anchor down everything while Solo apologizes. We insist that we are happy and choose not to move to a more protected area where the rest of the resort guests are sheltered. We loved watching the tumultuous sea below washing up over the concrete pier. Within minutes all is calm, the stars blink, and we will never forget this magical evening.
Fiji proudly implements and supports coral planting projects, shark conservation and studies of migration patterns, manta ray protection and behavioral studies, rehabilitation centers for endangered sea turtles, and so much more!
Upon departing most resorts or homestays in Fiji, it is customary to be serenaded with a beautiful goodbye song named “Isa Lei.”
We love this tradition and have been blessed with the performance many times, yet this time it is different. We have been here only a few days but have felt a kinship, like we’ve been here a month. Flo wisely places a box of tissues at our place of honor while we are serenaded by the crew we now call friends.
I use the Fijian term: “Soto tale,” which translates to “See you again” instead of goodbye. Once again, Fiji leaves her love embedded in my very being.
Exactly one week after we departed Paradise Taveuni Resort, I find myself back again. I arrive just in time to hear the drums beat and cheerful shouts of “Boarding time!”
I rush down to the dock with my snorkel gear in hand. Uli doesn’t seem surprised to see me back.
Captain Mike is at the helm this trip and drives to the first snorkel spot of the day; Uli grins at me and says, “Let’s go!” As we dove in, I was thrilled to be back among my favorite fish friends and warm seas. The colors seemed even more spectacular, and I was in a state of pure bliss.
Then I woke up! I’m in my warm bed in chilly Northern California. I smile, knowing I will always have dreams of the delightful waters and people of Fiji.