Days: 7-8 (31st May – 1st June 2018)
Total distance travelled: 4,050.46 kilometres (2,516.83 miles)
Leaving Barefoot Manta brought with it a small amount of disappointment.
Not devastatingly so as we’d been realistic, aware of the fact we were arriving at the very start of the Manta Ray season… still, it certainly would have been nice to have heard the beat of the ‘Manta Drum’ at least once.
Nevertheless, Manta Rays or not, our time was done and as already noted, it was on a pretty choppy last day we said our farewells.
There wasn’t a ton of sadness if I’m honest.
Aside from Liz and Zach, the American couple we’d befriended, we’d definitely not warmed to our first Barefoot experience as much as we had the Blue Lagoon.
Our clamping style bure was nice, however, aside from that, the place itself was less comfortable.
Fewer places to sit by the beach (other than on the sand), the food was inferior and the communal area too far removed from either of it’s three beaches to either have a view or really enjoy the sea breeze so was quite often very stuffy (again, as already touch upon).
This is doing Barefoot Manta a slight disservice, as in one very important area, they were far superior. Even outside of ‘Happy Hour’, their beer prices were cheaper than those at our first island.
Very important on an often hot tropical island.
Anyway, with choppy seas, we were forced to use boats off the small beach that faced the channel between Drawaqa Island and Naviti Island, from there bouncing our way out to the waiting island hopper ferry.
It was only a short ride onto our next step, somewhere around an hour and a bit, but I have no idea if the bigger waves slowed us down or not.
Somewhere along the way, we finally lost the German Au Pairs, we’d bounced across a couple of islands with (purely coincidence), but we were soon transferred to more waiting vessels for what was a slightly rough ride into Barefoot Kuata (yes, another resort of the Barefoot chain).
We’d opted for this one on the off chance that we may want to indulge in a shark dive, a service this resort offered, but as we navigated our way into a narrow channel (the beach was wide open, but there was only a narrow window through the coral) to arrive at its shores, it seemed unlikely we’d be doing any diving in these conditions!
As it was, simply getting off the boat and onto the sand was a challenge, such was the surge from the waves on shore, but eventually get there we did.
Our room here, again another private one, felt a little more dated than our digs at both Blue Lagoon & Barefoot Manta, but they were most definitely clean and comfortable, and again had an attached private, open air bathroom.
The dining area and bar were all close to the pool (yes, this place had a pool!) which sat near the North-West tip of the island and had a nice open grassy area and plenty of seating for relaxing and sunbaking or reading (or both if such was your fancy).
Roofed, yet with all of its walls open to the elements, the dining area also had a sandy floor which was initially a surprise, but certainly works well with the visions of island life.
Expecting a storm which never seemed to come, by evening things had calmed somewhat, and at dinner we realised that there were a lot more people staying here than we’d realised!
Attached to one of the supporting pillars near the bar was a game of Hook & Ring (a game where a ring is tied to a long piece of string, and the goal is to swing it so that it catches on the hook), and the staff began to arrange a game between guests, separated by nationality.
We as the only Australians, formed a team of two (teams from the US, Switzerland, Israel and Ireland were also pairs), pitted against a team of seven from England, and a five from Germany.
I proved quite poor, but Sarah was a master, and not only did we win the contest, but we (okay, she) smashed it out of the park, landing six rings (the next best team managing it twice)!
With a few drinks and a few laughs, it was a good way to round out the night, although we also spent a good amount of time quizzing the resident dive team about the shark dives. The weather hadn’t been great, and we ourselves hadn’t been underwater in that manner, in well over a year (normally you should do a refresher dive after such a break, but we didn’t really have enough time here).
Come morning, we were still on the fence in regards the dive, but the weather, although still windy, had a lot more sun and there was certainly some larger patches of blue sky about as well.
We visited the guys at the dive shop who advised they were, if weather conditions held, definitely heading out today should we wish to join them.
Raising our concerns (about not having had a dive in so long), they explained how, as far as dives go, this was as un-technical as it could get.
Simply a descent, sit at the bottom and watch the sharks, before an ascent with a safety stop, and that’s seriously it.
Thinking that’d we’d regret not participating in the not too distant future, we agreed to commit to the dive (we already had a voucher for shark snorkelling at the resort which they credited towards our booking, leaving us less to pay).
There were a couple of people from the resort who’d be joining us, along with some day trippers coming in from Denarau, who would also participate.
They were something else which hadn’t been a factor on any other island to this point, day trippers.
Barefoot Kuata sat at about the limit that people on day excursions would visit from Port Denarau, arriving just early enough, and departing just late enough on the Flyers return to make the trip worthwhile.
Obviously, this had little impact during our arrival (as all of them were departed as we arrived), but we certainly noticed it around the place and at lunch during our one full day on the island.
As we waited for our shark dive, there was also a bit more urgency in trying to find a nice spot by the pool to chill and read (it was still windy, but not too cold to lounge about).
Slightly choppy waters, and pale streak of sun.
Those were the conditions we faced when we were finally aboard and making ready to dive.
There were a few pangs of nervousness.
Sarah swore that she couldn’t remember a thing about what to do, although what bits went where and how to fasten it all together seemed to come back a little quicker to myself.
We were wearing full wetsuits, and a lot more pounds of weight than we would normally, a reflection on what this dive was.
Descend, and largely, just sit on the sea floor.
A brief sit on the side, then we rolled over and were back in the water.
Our initial descent probably took us down around 15-20 metres and according to the divemasters, our deepest point, where we ultimately sat, was at 22 metres.
A short distance from where we made the descent, the part of guest divers were all lead to a roughly built, low wall constructed of dead coral.
Slightly forward of us, a crude metal grill would serve as protection (not for us), as behind it would sit a pair of feeders, releasing fish carcasses into the waters to lure the Bullsharks into the vicinity.
Normally on a dive, we’d be responsible for monitoring our own air consumption, but here, all gauges were slung behind our necks, and were monitored from behind, where stood another set of local divers who’d keep an eye on each of our oxygen supplies, as well as served as sentries, armed with large poles with which to redirect the sharks should they get a little too close.
We knelt behind the wall, and it wasn’t until then that I became aware that the knees in my suit were in poor shape… in fact, I had exposed skin!
I was finding myself a bit too buoyant, despite having fully deflated my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), so it meant I wasn’t as firmly planted as I’d have liked.
It also meant I was occasionally scraping my bare knees on the rough coral underfoot.
What if I bled? Would the sharks come for me?!
We were certainly not forced to wait for them, with the Bullsharks seemingly there, ready and waiting (although I’m not entirely sure how long before us the feeders were there to cajole them to our spot) for us.
Sure, we’d seen the pictures in advance, but in person, they felt bigger than I’d expected, most 2 metres or longer in length, and they were present in volume.
Given the rapidity with which they moved, and how easy it was for our sight to be distracted, it was hard to get a complete count, but the general consensus seemed to be that there were over 20 of them (I’d counted 22 myself)!
At no point did they seem to show any interest in us, dressed as we were in our seal costumes, and I can only recall one instance with certainty where our spotter had to prod a shark away in a different direction.
There was one moment of surprise, more thrilling than fear filled.
Does anybody remember watching the original Star Wars movie (A New Hope) for the first time?
That opening scene, where the spaceships appear and just keep going, and going and going?
There was one instance where a shark appeared from behind and sailed over our heads, surprising all of us who knelt below, as well as our spotter, slightly above.
An incredible moment!
The scene before us was at times chaotic.
A swarm of sharks, and an even larger number of scavenger fish, poaching the smaller morsels that fell from those sharp toothed mouths.
I couldn’t be certain, but it looked as though a number of Remora were attached to a fair number of the sharks as well.
Watching them swim around together, was like viewing the most perfect precision driving team!
Over time, especially as the initial adrenaline began to wane, we started to notice that it was cold.
A combination of our depth and the fact that we weren’t actual warming our bodies through action, meant that it was cold and getting colder.
Sarah started to noticeably shiver beside me, and as a result started to go through her air a bit faster.
Eventually one of the observer divers gave her a bit of a tap and they began their ascent.
I stayed a little longer, but not a whole lot longer.
As amazing as it was to watch, as it became more and more repetitious, I think all of us still crouched beside that coral wall, including the guy who continually bumped me and leaned in front of me blocking my view so he could get a better GoPro shot, yeah, even that guy, began to have enough.
On the plus side, no shark appeared to get a sniff of my slightly scraped knees!
We all began our ascent, had our safety stop where the fact I haven’t had any recent practice became apparent (I seem to have a recollection of one of the other divers pulling me back down when I started to shoot up being too buoyant), then covered the final distance back to the surface.
Cold aside, it was a pretty thrilling experience, and something we thankfully didn’t have to now hear about in regret as others told us of their experiences!
The winds continued to whip as the afternoon wore on, and when it came time for the day trippers and for us to get ready to depart, we all filed down to the beach, ready to get ferried out to the Flyer as it passed.
But the waves and the tides, they just wouldn’t allow the boats to get in, so whilst we wondered it how it may play out, a plan B was formulated.
Back up through the resort we were all lead, past the main dining area and the pool, then away via a narrow path that scrambled up some black, volcanic rock out to the islands point.
There we all huddled, bags and all, on the rocks as waves pounded away.
Apparently this, with no sandy beach or jutting pier, was to be our point of embarkation!
The staff gathered up bags and showing that sure footedness that seems almost endemic, proved very adept at transferring the luggage to the waiting, bobbing boat.
I had less confidence in all of the waiting guests, but somehow, two long boats with single outboard motors were filled, and not a single foot slipped from rock into water, no flip flop or sandal was lost.
It was an impressive feat.
We had one more island ahead of us before our return to mainland Fiji, and it lay ahead.
Chris, once again, left the toiletries behind…
* QANTAS return airfares to Nadi cost us $689.44AUD each, which I purchased through work at STA Travel
* Our Barefoot Manta stay was part of Awesome Adventures Fiji package which all up cost us about $1,500.00AUD at a charity auction
* The Awakening Shark dive experience was priced at $299.00FJD per person, however we were able to put our included shark snorkelling vouchers towards the total cost saving us $65.00FJD per person