Floating in a Coral Garden
Vanua Levu, Fiji
Life is sweet at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, the multi-award wining resort where your (albeit hefty) tariff includes lodging, meals, and snorkeling, along with daily adventures, which range from hiking in a tropical rainforest to visiting a local market. (Scuba diving, deep sea fishing, and spa treatments are extra.) You could spend one morning sailing the resort’s Hobie Cat or kayaking to nearby Split Rock or an uninhabited island. In the afternoon, you could relax on a beach, take a ride in the glass-bottom boat to snorkel on an outer reef, or play tennis. Whatever you choose, it’ll be sure to satisfy the adventure traveler in you. But the real treat here is getting out on and in the water.
A typical diving trip could look like this: You’re floating between two coral pinnacles and schools of orange and purple anthias, blue-fin trevallys. Butterfly fish are swirling around you. As you look at the yellow and purple soft coral, lion fish and stone fish swim by. Surfacing after the dive, you get into the boat for the 5-minute ride from the Golden Nuggets dive site back to the resort.
The resident marine biologist organizes daily snorkeling trips. The water is very clear here, and in many places spectacular coral formations rise close to the surface. In addition to the boat expeditions, the resort has self-guided snorkel trails minutes from the shoreline, not to mention excellent snorkeling at the end of its pier.
The fun continues out of the water, too. Every day a different cultural or ecological tour or seminar is offered. One day, you might learn basic Fijian and test your language skills during a guided village tour and a ceremony with the Village Chief. Another, you might explore the reef with a marine biologist or learn how to weave Fijian fishing baskets and fans from coconut palm leaves.
Guests stay in luxurious Fijian-style bures, villas with air-conditioning and Internet access. The meals incorporate local fare: fresh fish and herbs and spices from the resort’s garden. The eco-sensitive resort has created a clam farm, where some 40 giant clams thrive and data is collected to educate both guests and locals about sustainable resources. The goal is to help re-establish a food source for local villagers in future years.
Fiji has been called the “Soft Coral Capital of the World” for good reason. Some of the best diving is found in the Northern Group, where the resort is located. Boats take resort guests to spectacular dive spots, such as Namena Island, where barracuda, dog-tooth tuna, manta rays, and large sharks parade among the multi-colored soft corals and coral gardens. At Dreamhouse in the Koro Sea, a sea mount is a wonderful feeding ground for small fish and the larger pelagic fish, such as barracuda and shark.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort ( 800/246-3454 in the U.S. or Canada, or 415/788-5794; www.fijiresort.com).
When to Go: The water is warmest during Fiji’s summer, Jan–Mar. A full wetsuit is recommended in winter, July–Aug.
$$$$ Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort ( 800/246-3454 in the U.S. or Canada, or 415/788-5794; www.fijiresort.com).