Taveuni sits below the tourist radar and long may that last, writes Andrew Stone
The outboard drifted slowly over Rainbow Reef, a kaleidoscopic coral mass in the tropical Fijian waters of Somosomo Strait.
The ocean was clear enough to make out blooms deep below the surface. It was warm too, so we didn’t need wetsuits, just a T-shirt to protect our backs as we floated like turtles under the midday sun. We left Barry O’Neill’s runabout and slid into the sea. Seen through a mask, the edge of the reef slipped into the deep blue depths. Fish moved lazily among coral outcrops, stopping to nip at soft floral stalks waving gently in the current.
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Then a thrill: way below us an actual turtle glided along the reef. We watched as the solitary creature slowly waved its flippers and was carried away. The current took us through paths in the reef, and over what the locals call the cabbage patch. The coral is brown rather than green, but uncannily resembles cabbage leaves. It starts at a depth of 3m and runs down to 18m, so it suits both snorkelling and scuba diving.
We weren’t matchfit for a dive, so didn’t get to see Rainbow’s famed white wall, a sheet of pale soft corals that draws divers from around the world. But with a mask and snorkel we saw plenty in just half an hour, including a 1.5m reef shark that came by for a look but thankfully had other things on its mind.
Rainbow Reef is one of the must-dos on Taveuni, a large but sparsely populated island east of Vanua Levu. Taveuni sits below the radar of Fiji’s big drawcards which, as we discovered in a jam-packed few days, is not a bad place to be. It means you can enjoy its gems with barely a tourist in sight, take in the knowledge of proud local guides and shrug off all the 9-to-5 baggage.
Barry O’Neill, who took us out to the reef in his smart white launch, is a Kiwi expat who, with wife Colleen, runs the upscale Taveuni Palms Resort. He didn’t hesitate when l asked if he missed New Zealand.
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