Diving in Vanua Levu (Fiji)

Vanua Levu is the second largest island in Fiji. Yes, that big long island to the right of the mainland. (On another note, I always find it funny that they call Viti Levu the “mainland” as if it wasn’t a pretty small island as well).

Fiji map

In this little map the big arrow points at Savusavu, in Vanua Levu, at the edge of the peninsula. Other areas of dive-interest are also marked. In a black circle it is the mainland, Viti Levu. To the South there’s Kadavu, and to the North-West are the Yawawas. To the South-East of Vanua Levu there’s Taveuni. All of these are beautiful diving destinations you should look into.

Back to Vanua Levu though.

Living traditionally mainly off Copra and Sugar Cane, Vanua Levu has – or used to have – a large Indo-Fijian population. The last coup did put some stress between local populations and it is said to have reduced the numbers of Indo-Fijian farmers in Vanua Levu, some relocating to Viti Levu…

HOW TO GET THERE

Getting to Vanua Levu can be really easy, or it can be an adventure…

For the fast/smart travellers, just check out Fiji Airways Link – the domestic branch – for their short flights to Savusavu or Labasa.

  • If you can, fly to Savusavu. It is a ridiculously small airport – it is rather a hut – but their flights are fast and it is a short way from Savusavu’s city centre. I shouldn’t call it “city centre” 🙂 Let’s say “from the busy centre of Savusavu”. It’s about 5-10 FJ$ from Savusavu by taxi.
  • Otherwise, fly to Labasa and take a bus – or a taxi – from there. It should be an hour and a half away by taxi, and something between 2 and 4 hours by bus 🙂

But if, like me, you are obsessed with limiting the dry days while travelling, taking the ferry is your option. In addition to avoiding “the dry day”, the ferry is also much cheaper and you get a real Fijian experience – you will see all the locals way more prepared than you with mattresses and duvets and pillows, packed dinners and water. From Suva the ferry costs 40FJ$, and first class is 80FJ$. The difference won’t be amazing, but there will be much less people in first class and you won’t have to fight to lay down in front of your sit to have a snooze. Do try to sleep, but I recommend that you don’t bring too much cash onboard – despite Fijians being the best, there is a possibility for theft while everyone is asleep…

The ferry is generally a long trip, with boarding starting at 4pm and departure anywhere between 6 and 8pm, with arrival time in Savusavu anywhere between 6 and 8am.

If, like me, you are obsessed with not wasting any diving time, you will have finished your day of diving in Viti Levu, probably in Pacific Harbour, would have packed your gear (maybe still a little wet) and would have taken the bus to Suva. Ask the driver to drop you off before you enter town, so you can walk to the ferry. Then enter and leave your luggage at the bottom before climbing up the stairs. I found a nice guy that I left my gear with, with the promise to keep an eye on it and not to put any other bag over it. He really did as promised 🙂 (aren’t Fijians the nicest?)

Then schedule your dive centre in Savusavu to pick you up from the ferry in the morning as you arrive. And go straight diving!
(I do recommend that you sleep and rest between two diving days so don’t hesitate to ignore my no-diving-time-wasting philosophy, if you feel you need to recover. Always dive safely, never take risks).

WHAT DIVING TO EXPECT

Taveuni is highly well known as the soft-coral capital of the world. Taveuni is what gives Fiji it’s reputation among divers. But Savusavu is not as well-known. And it really is worth a visit!

Soft corals and sharks everywhere! The purple corals are beautiful, with really nice drift dives and amazing swim-throughs. Turtles and reef sharks are part of the usual scenery. But something else is remarkable in Savusavu: schools of scalloped hammerheads all year round. There is one dive centre that do the hammerheads dive, KoroSun. Colin, the owner, is the one who spotted them and he’s always good at finding the schools. The dive itself is nice, hanging out in the big blue. Then the magic starts… Some loner hammerheads start to show up behind the divers, swimming away when spotted: don’t let them fool you, they are decoys trying to get you away from the school. But if you do persist you will end up finding the entire school, a huge family of hundreds of hammerheads hanging out at just 35-40m deep. Baby sharks and adult sharks, all funnily wiggling their hammer-like heads and their cute little bodies.

I have to say that hammerheads have been a favourite of mine for a long time, especially the females. Female hammerhead sharks travel in all female packs and only join males for mating. Unlike all the other sharks, females have the control over sex and the entire mating process, including accepting a male in the group (if you have seen sharks mating or the bite marks that male sharks leave on females you will appreciate this #sharkfeminism). Also hammerhead sharks need to be constantly on the move, or they die. To be more precise, they need to constantly move forward, as they cannot physically swim backwards either. These guys are role-models to me! We should all be more like hammerheads.

WHY NOT TRY FREEDIVING?

Savusavu is also very good for freediving. How many scuba divers have tried quitting the bottle for a couple of days? 🙂 It is a completely different world and one that is really worth exploring if you are a keen diver. It is a different perspective of the ocean and its residents. You can go on trips to Namena reserve to go freediving as well as scuba diving, so why not explore both options? (Remember you are not supposed to scuba and free dive on the same day… surface intervals apply).

If you are interested, there are AIDA instructors in Savusavu – actually the only AIDA instructors in the whole of Fiji. Recently established, Liquidstate Freediving can walk you through the theory and practice of freediving at your own pace, if you have never done it before, or they can take you out diving if you’re already certified.

Other than that, renting a car and going on an adventure is also a good option, as there are a few waterfalls to get to from Savusavu.

SAVUSAVU AS A TOWN

Savusavu is a quiet town of just 5000 people so do not expect heaps of stuff going on. But there are a few nice restaurants on the main road, small ones. There are ATMs around and bakeries and supermarkets. Then there’s the Copra Shed, where you find restaurants and bars, and the Planters’ club – that I never visited but that looks like a place out of colonial times where white expats, still today, complain about living in Fiji and how “the help is not what it used to be…”.

In terms of accommodation, there are a lot of fancy resorts (does the name “Jean-Michel Cousteau resort” ring a bell?). But it is not necessary to stay at a resort. There are a few budget options, lodges and backpackers. There’s something in between, the Gecko Lodge and similar ones. And there is also Airbnb as well, where you can find humble places and stay with locals.

After your taste of Savusavu and what the sea has to offer here, you can continue onto Taveuni, or head back to Viti Levu, or take the ferry for new adventures 🙂

What do you think?

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