Fiji: Diving out of my comfort zone

By Joanne Carroll

Joanne Carroll's confidence grows in safe Fijian waters

Sunbathing and windsurfing at Volivoli Beach Resort, Fiji. Photo / Supplied
Sunbathing and windsurfing at Volivoli Beach Resort, Fiji. Photo / Supplied

I'm not a strong swimmer. I tried snorkelling in the Whitsunday Islands a few years ago and found it challenging. An internet search suggests I have thalassophobia, a fear of being in the ocean, or a touch of claustrophobia. I don't like putting my face in the water, having my breathing restricted and wearing a wetsuit with all that water around me.

I am afraid of what lurks beneath and can't relax my breathing when snorkelling, fearing a wave will splash over into my tube. I do enjoy watching the fish and coral, as long as I am close to the boat.

So thoughts of diving make me uncomfortable but I manage to conquer my fears with Ra Divers at Fiji's Volivoli Beach Resort.

Volivoli Beach is tucked away on the northernmost tip of the island of Viti Levu.

The resort is owned by Kiwis, the Darling family from Christchurch.

The Darling Family came to Fiji from New Zealand in 1993. They fell in love with the friendly, laid-back atmosphere and the great climate, and decided to purchase Ra Divers, a popular dive business at Volivoli Beach, in 2003.

Construction started on the accommodation two years later.

I stay in a vale with ocean views. The fully equipped unit has a kitchen, a queen bed and bathroom. It is set in a beautiful tropical environment. I even find little pineapples sprouting along the pathways.

Nick Darling is our host and, along with dive instructor Pola, he takes us on a beginner course. Aware of my anxiety, Pola becomes my one-to-one tutor. He has a calm, reassuring presence but I still feel a bit nervous even though we are starting out in
a swimming pool.

However, I follow his easy step-by-step instructions and I soon get the hang of the mouthpiece and buoyancy control. And then it's time to get into the boat and tackle the open sea. Nick takes us to a reef close to a beautiful beach. I can walk out to see how it feels to go down to a shallow depth.

It is surprisingly calming below the water and my confidence grows under Pola's guidance. He soon gives me a high five as I venture further onto the reef.

As we watch colourful fish swimming amongst the unspoiled coral, I relax and start to enjoy the exerience as Pola encourages me to go further. But I am careful to push myself only so far; I'm already way out of my comfort zone.

Strangely, I find diving easier than snorkelling. Once you get the hang of the slow, measured breaths it is surprisingly easy to stay calm and relaxed.

The introductory scuba dive is $160; it is $850 for an open-water course but there are plenty of other packages to choose from, accommodating beginners through to experienced divers.

Divers of all levels can explore the reefs in the surrounding Bligh Waters. These are some of the healthiest in the world, with little pollution and few boats, so you see lots of marine life including anemone fish, turtles, colourful soft coral and reef sharks.

Nick can take guests to more than 50 dive sites with most of the best sites no more than 20 minutes by boat from Volivoli Beach.

A popular site for advanced divers is at Ovalau, where you plunge 55 metres down to the wreck of a car ferry which sunk in 2003.

It might take a while before I get to that level, but I'm happy with my progress and, back on land, celebrate my dive with a drink of Malibu rum mixed with fresh coconut milk and served in a whole coconut at the resort bar.

For those who want to put their feet up, this family-friendly beach resort is surrounded by white sandy beaches and has a large swimming pool overlooked by the restaurant and bar.

For me, the crowning glory of the area is the sand spit which stretches 80 metres out to sea, providing a wonderful sunbathing spot and marking the most northerly point of Viti Levu.

More adventurous holiday makers can kayak, game fish, play beach volleyball and, of course, go diving and snorkelling. The resort also has dance performances and kava ceremonies for those wanting to experience Fijian culture.

To get to the heart of the area, we visit the nearby village of Rakiraki. The small town has a market with fresh produce. Among the piles of fruit and vegetables is the largest selection of chillies I've seen - they seem to come in every colour and size. I only wish I could take some home.

The village has a well-stocked supermarket for those in self-contained bure accommodation. It also has a hospital, pharmacy, clothing and gift outlets.

I enjoy looking at the beautiful saris in the Fiji Indian stores and sampling some amazing samosas at the takeaway shop.

If you don't feel like cooking, the Volivoli Beach restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The simple menu offers tasty staples such as hamburgers, steaks and freshly caught fish.

And, if you take advantage of the resort's fishing charter, the chef will cook your catch when you arrive back.


INFO

• Studio vales cost about $460 per night twin share; other options include twin rooms in the lodge for $160 per night, and a dormitory.

• Volivoli Beach is about a two-hour drive from Nadi International Airport. You pass through a number of villages on the way, and it's nice to be a little off the beaten track.
volivoli.com


Joanne Carroll stayed courtesy of the Volivoli Beach Resort.

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