ADVENTURE
A Diver's Guide to Fiji
From the best dive sites around Fiji's 333 islands to the best time of year to go, here's everything you need to know for your first dive trip to the Soft Coral Capital of the World.
I'm in Fiji for my second time. The islands being so magical the first time around I couldn't wait to find an excuse to come back.

I found that excuse when the opportunity to go diving from a private island, where I'd have the chance to learn about a new manta acoustic tagging research program and search for sharks while diving with the island's marine biologist for a few days came about.

So, before I knew it I found myself back on that 11-hour flight from Los Angeles to Nadi, equally as giddy to return to the South Pacific paradise that I fell in love with just a year before.

But it wasn't like my first diving experience was a shabby one either. During that trip I found myself staying at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, owned - you guessed it - by the legendary octogenarian and son of Jacques Cousteau himself, Jean-Michel. And a place where I would actually have the chance to dive, drink kava and get to know Jean-Michel over the course of my stay. (Yes, you read that right - I went diving with a motherfucking Cousteau! And yes, it was every bit as rad as you'd think it would be.)

So, my second trip had some diving to live up to. But, it being Fiji and the Soft Coral Capital of the World, it absolutely did not disappoint. Even if there weren't any Cousteau's involved this time around.
The islands being so magical the first time around I couldn't wait to find an excuse to come back.
First Things First, The Basics: Things to Know About Diving in Fiji

Winter season is July to September and you can expect a water temperature around 68 F (20 C) during those months.

Visibility is at its clearest between July and December, when the vis is between 70-130 feet (20-40 meters).

Summer season is November to March with water temperatures of 82 to 86 F (28 to 30 C).

Fiji is the place for shark lovers. You can do a variety of shark dives, including tiger and bull-shark dives, but you should have your Advanced Open Water Certification, these dives usually reach max depths of 100 feet.

Manta season is typically from May to October each year, and there's also a slim chance to encounter whale sharks this time of year as well. (The @mantaprojectfiji Instagram account isn't only one of my favorite accounts to follow on social media, it's one of my favorite projects to support, ever.)

With more than 390 coral species, around 1,200 fish species and five of the world's seven marine turtle species, Fiji's waters are teeming with marine life. You'll never have a dull dive. I promise.

Of the 333 islands that make up the country, only 110 are inhabited.

Fiji is a great place to get certified or dive for the first time. With calm water, great visibility, agreeable weather and water temperatures, a discovery shore dive is a great way to get acclimated to your kit and practice your skills. (Or even do a refresher course.)

Plus, the islands themselves are absolutely stunning. Basically, there are no shortage of things to explore both below - and above - water.
How to Get There

Getting there is easy from Los Angeles. Or San Francisco on Fiji Airways. And with the airline adding a brand new A350 aircraft to the LAX rotation, where nonstop flights take off nightly, as well as nonstop flights out of SFO 3x per week, it's fairly easy to get the hell out of dodge, as they say.

Flights from LAX are approximately 11 hours and 30 minutes and depart at 10:30 p.m. at night, arriving at 5:00 a.m. in Nadi.

Where to Stay

Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort
Savusavu, Vanua Levu

This is the resort for divers. Hands down. I mean, it's a resort from a Cousteau. And if Jean-Michel happens to be on the island while you're there, he just might end up on your dive boat. Which - trust me - makes for the dive of a lifetime.

Namena Marine Reserve is a short boat ride away, there's a dive shop on-site where divers of all skill levels are welcomed with open arms and the resort's General Manager (who I kid you not, is named Bart Simpson) is one of the nicest guys on earth.

The kava ceremonies are also pretty epic here. As is the food. And the bures (bungalows). There's even a deserted island right next door that the staff is more than happy to take you over to for some real "me time" and castaway vibes.
Credit: Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort
Kokomo Private Island
Yaukuve Levu, Kadavu Islands

Kokomo Private Island is hands down one of my favorite properties in the entire world.

First of all - you get there via the island's private seaplane or helicopter, and the ride is pretty damn epic. And, the seaplane pilots fly in their bare feet - if that doesn't scream island goals, I don't know what will.

The bures are some of the best I've ever encountered and the staff... well, they take Fijian hospitality to a whole other level, which I never thought would be possible.

The food is spectacular (and not to mention, all inclusive), there's an on-property Dock-to-Dish program and the guest privacy is unmatched.

But, starting at $2,250 a night, this property might just be #travelgoals more than anything else.
Credit: Kokomo Private Island

Big Blue Fiji Catamaran

This is a great way to experience Fiji the way it's meant to be experienced - on the water.

This is also the best way to cover the most ground during your trip.

The team on Big Blue can set up a 7-day itinerary for you that includes as much diving, or spearfishing or standup paddle boarding to sand bars or biscuit rides or wake skating (I just like the name of these last two activities), as you desire.

And staying on the boat doesn't mean sacrificing comfort or modern conveniences - it's equipped with it all. The catamaran can sleep six comfortably and has Wi-Fi, 220v power outlets, 12v USB outlets, air-conditioning, flush toilets and hot- and cold-water showers.

On board, Joe is an SSI certified dive instructor, so you can also use this as your chance to add another certification to your ever-growing list of diving achievements.
Credit: Big Blue Fiji
More great places to stay during your dive trip to Fiji…

These other properties come highly recommended by PADI, and each have 5-star dive shops on site:

Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Yasawa Islands
Wananavu Beach Resort, Viti Levu
Garden Island Resort, Taveuni Island
Paradise Cove Resort, Yasawa Islands

During my Fiji adventures I also had the opportunity to stay at the new Six Senses Fiji , but the resort was still under construction during my stay (this was December 2018)and left A LOT to be desired when it came to the service. Word on the other islands this trip (December 2019) is that not much has improved, so I can't endorse them - as much as I LOVE a Six Senses property - at this point in time.
Kokomo Private Island, Fiji
Where to Dive

The beauty of both Jean-Michel Cousteau and Kokomo Private Island resorts is that they both have dive shops, dive masters and boats right on-site. Jean-Michel Cousteau has JM himself to offer, as he's often on the island, and Kokomo has their resident marine biologist Cliona O'Flaherty, who is a blast not only to dive with, but to chat about all things ocean and beyond with.

For Macro: Namena Marine Reserve

A macro-critter haven, and also Fiji's largest no-take marine reserve, these relatively unexplored reefs are thriving with life. From exploring sites made up of bommies and pinnacles to keeping an eye out for pygmy sea horses - if your eyes are up to the challenge - Namena's rich and diverse fish, invertebrate and coral communities make it a place you can dive over and over again and always find something new to be excited about discovering. Plus, ask your dive master about the nearby resident school of scalloped hammerheads and you just might cross a few more sightings off your dive bucket list.

For A Little Bit of Everything: Great Astrolabe Reef

As the world's 3rd largest barrier reef and the largest living organism in the South Pacific, the Great Astrolabe Reef, on the south side of Kadavu Island and sitting at just over 60 miles (100 km) long, is one of the best places to experience everything that Fiji has to offer. With beautiful hard-coral, deep-water drop-offs, pinnacles, rocky seabeds and manta-ray cleaning stations, you never know what you'll encounter here, and that's what makes these dive sites so spectacular.

The three dive sites not to miss on the reef? Side Street, Kele Kele and Wonderland.

For the Remote Explorer: Yasawa Islands

With fewer tourists and less dive boat traffic this is truly where you have the ocean all to yourself. Well, almost all to yourself, these pristine reefs are teeming with a local population of mantas that make diving here something spectacular. Add in the unique underwater topography and you truly have one of the most adventurous areas to explore in the islands.

For Shark Sightings: Shark Reef Marine Reserve

You won't need to call on the Fijian shark god Dakuwanga for a shark sighting in this reserve - it's swimming (see what I did there) with bull sharks, whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, tawny nurse sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertips, and the rare tiger shark. There's a reason (or eight) why Shark Reef Marine Reserve is often regarded as one of the top shark dive spots in the world.
Credit: Kokomo Private Island
Dive Gear to Pack

ScubaPro Seawing Nova Fin

I love these fins. Period. They're easy to put on. They stand out underwater. They're easy to travel with. I can't see myself ever not loving these fins. End of story.

ScubaPro Spectra Mini Dive Mask

I chose this mask because it's small. I have a fairly small face and I found that my mask would leak underwater when I'd smile or laugh (it happens), or when I'd adjust my regulator in my mouth. This mask helped me solve that problem and I've been loving diving with it, for the most part (see below), ever since. I prefer a mask with a dual lens, but that's just a personal preference - if one side fogs, at least I still have one good eye. Arrrrrr.

I do travel with baby shampoo though, because this mask still fogs on me, no matter how many times I burn it. Or brush it with white toothpaste. (Other recommendations on how to solve this problem once and for all are welcomed!)
Body Glove 3mm Springsuit

At $79.99 this dive suit is perfect for a summer dive in Fiji when the waters are warm. It's easy to throw on and off, it's easy to pack in your suitcase with the rest of your gear and it's my favorite color - black. It's a solid staple piece of gear to have in your diving arsenal.

Body Glove 5mm Fullsuit

Fullsuits are not cheap, that's for sure. But thankfully, once you buy one, you're set for awhile. I've been really liking Body Glove's wetsuits and paddle suits lately - and this fullsuit is no different. You don't need a super thick suit for diving in Fiji, ever, but something with a little more coverage will be appreciated in the winter months. (Don't forget that Fiji is in the Southern Hemisphere - so their seasons are the opposite of ours in the U.S.)

Long Sleeve Paddle Suit

Cute and functional, what more could you want. You can zip the front all the way up when you're diving and then half-zip it in between dives. Either way, it's a sexy suit that you can dive in by itself, or throw a wetsuit over. The full sleeve coverage is nice to limit your sun exposure between dives or if you're out snorkeling, surfing, kayaking or just drying out in the sun.

Cap Sleeve Paddle Suit

White may not be the best choice for this suit, unless you really like when people can see your nipples (as everyone certainly did on my dive boat... whoops). Despite that, the cut on this paddle suit is super cute. It's modest on your behind and the front zipper can make it as risky or conservative as you desire. The full back coverage is nice for snorkeling or standup paddle boarding so that you don't get too much sun exposure on your shoulders and back, which happens before you know it here.

Suunto Zoop Novo

I love this dive watch. But only when I'm not diving Nitrox - this watch is a bitch to change the Nitrox settings on and I can't get the settings right on Nitrox dives to keep it from beeping at me underwater. Basically, this watch is a great choice for casual divers, but that's all. I've been diving with it for four years and have never had an issue until I boarded a liveaboard and started diving on Nitrox this year. For the recreational diver, or someone getting newly certified, this watch is easy to read, you never have to fuck with it and it's conservative. So, chances of you cutting your safety stop short are slim to none. It will beep at you until you listen. And you will. Trust me.
Other Ways to Enjoy the Water in Fiji

I mean, have you seen this water? You need to spend as much time in - or on it - as humanly possible.

Learn to Spearfish with a Record Holding Spearfisher

…and the most knowledgeable fisherman you'll ever meet. You can charter a day with Jaga during your stay at Kokomo Private Island, or through his company Freedive Fiji Charters.

I spent a morning with Jaga learning how to spearfish under his guidance and despite being seriously afraid I was going to shoot him (or myself) with that speargun - damn that thing is intense - we had an awesome morning freediving (Jaga) and bobbing around (me) in the water catching our lunch.

Watching Jaga freedive to shoot Spanish mackerel and coral trout was seriously inspiring. Our adventure was cut short when "the tax man," a nine-foot long silky shark, started becoming a little too curious, nearly giving me a heart attack - spearfishing naturally chums the water and Jaga's ability and guidance with handling these curious sharks was seriously impressive.
Spearfishing, Fiji
Reforest Coral with a Marine Biologist

Cliona O'Flaherty is a legend. She's Kokomo Private Island's in-house marine biologist and one of the most passionate human beings you'll ever meet. Learning about her coral reforestation project and her work with the Manta Trust Fiji (and the Adopt a Manta Program) will awe and inspire you.

And, if you didn't already find her impressive, just ask her about the Dock-to-Dish program and be prepared to be seriously blown away.

Also, if you spot her running through the resort, follow her. Chances are there's a manta sighting and she's running to go record them.
Credit: Kokomo Private Island
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