Sometimes you come across a sight in life that’s totally unexpected and unique. Although the name should have prepared us, the reef called the cabbage patch is astonishing, the coral here really does grow in formations that look like giant cabbages, none of us had ever seen anything like it. With no camera to take diving deeper than 15m we took no photos, but this was a sight that needs to be seen to be believed, the picture below comes cutesy of the http://www.diveacademyfiji.com
With what appears to be a sparsely inhabited shore, Viani Bay surprisingly, is home to over 150 people. Fifty of these are children so the bay has its very own school. Each morning a couple of the narrow longboats they use here for everything from ferries to fishing, turn into the school bus and go around picking the youngsters up and dropping them on the beach in front of the school ready for assembly, the sound of fifty young voices joined in song drift across to the bay. Next to the school, hidden between the trees, is the Dive Academy of Fiji, run by the very friendly and experienced couple Marina and Jonnie. They invited us in for tea and biscuits as we discussed the options for diving the world famous Rainbow Reef. Having been sorely tempted to join the morning Manta Ray dive, we instead opted for two coral and reef fish dives in the afternoon. The coral here although bashed by Cyclone Winston just over a year ago is recovering well. Marina came out to Raya to pick us up and our first dive, at Nuku reef, was on a gentle drop off. With a perfusion of varied hard and soft corals it was surrounded by countless reef fish. Shoals of small blue damsel fish, colourful inch wide angel fish and myriad other tiny species crowd the coral heads. Parrot fish, squirrel fish and picture perfect butterfly fish dart in and out of the crevices, a metre long trumpet fish hangs vertically above us, a grumpy titan trigger fish guards his patch and a couple of sharks linger lazily in the blue.
After an hour of surface time, spent again drinking tea in the dive shack, we went for our dive on the cabbage patch. We descended on to a similar scene to our first dive, highlighted by the appearance of a turtle, then Marina led us around a bend to the amazing sight of the cabbage patch itself. Each coral head is about a metre wide and the patch stretched out of sight in each direction. Again smothered in fish, larger species patrolled the top while the smaller ones live within the folds of the cabbages. Despite the lack of light from a dismal cloudy sky and the pressures on our aging ears, it had been a great afternoon.
The next morning we upped anchor and wound our way inside the reef system to Buca Bay. Described in the cruising guides as having two wharfs and a road, we are informed it makes a perfect place to pick up or put down crew. It also added that there was little or no chance for reprovisioning but oddly there was an opportunity to buy an ice cream. Sailing back to Savusavu would waste a precious day of Penny and Stephens time, so we sailed into the bay to investigate. With little signs of life, a small group of houses stood at the head of the bay and a few bigger buildings sat on the southern edge of the deep inlet, the expected wharfs from the boat appeared to have crumbled to piles of sticks and rubble. The water was a dark green and full of flotsam, we slowly entered the bay dodging large branches and coconuts, are hopes weren’t high.
We dropped the anchor and Rick and Stephen took the dingy to investigate further, as is often the case, hidden behind the trees was a whole community. Besides the road connections to the rest of the island, there was an Adventist school, a small hospital and a tiny shop. There was one serviceable dock and an easy beach landing, the shopkeeper could organise taxis to the airport and although the shop had no fresh food it did sell delicious ice creams.Happy we could drop our guests here for their departure on Sunday we motored across to the northern coast of Kioa Island. A beautiful deserted spot and with the sun finally out, the beaches shone, the trees were a brilliant green and the sea was a vivid royal blue. We put on our snorkelling gear and went off to explore the encircling reef. Again the coral was healthy and the fish plentiful and diverse, unfortunately we also spotted half a dozen Crown of Thornes a distructive and invasive species of star fish. With no real means of removing them to be destroyed on land we sadly had to leave them where they were.
It was a fine evening, we drank a gin and tonic and watched the sun dip below the hills of the mainland, a few minutes later the sky was washed in the palest pink, a soft breeze brushed the decks. Life felt good.