Published by Dive Log NZ Pete Atkinson
First New Zealand Serial Rights
1998 Pete Atkinson
Nigali – Passage to Nirvana.
Let’s get the pronounciation out of the way; Nigali is said something like Ningali when you really need to blow your nose. But however you say it, some giant Fijian guy will correct your pronounciation with a word that sounds not unlike Naigani, which is another island miles away and leads to all kinds of confusion. Nigali is on Gau, said in the hollow nasal Ngau fashion. Add, “In Lomaiviti, in Fiji” if that will help. Fifty miles east of Suva.
Quite simply, it’s the best dive I have ever done, anywhere. Bliss, from my point of view would to be let loose with a rebreather at 7 a.m., three hours after high water on a clear day, at the outside of Nigali Passage. Alone, of course.
The clear ocean water is entering the lagoon at this time, and since the pass is only 50m wide you can see the coral rubble bottom 25m below and both steep sides with their fans, soft corals, and in deeper water thin red sea whips. The shoal of barracuda are often hanging in the knot of current somewhere out here, and if this is your first dive, the huge school of big-eye jacks will cascade out the pass to escape your intrusion. But they will be back.
Loitering in the current will be a few very large groupers who associate divers with food, some grey reef sharks and a large number of red snappers. If feeding fish is on your agenda, take more care with the snappers and groupers than the sharks.
About two-thirds of the way towards the lagoon the pass divides, a shallower sandy chute to your right, a deeper cut to your left. The bottom is 30m here and in the cleft of the divide rises coral reef covered with soft corals and fans. Near the bottom is a big red fan which by now will have a big grouper posed in front of it. In the early morning you can get a sunburst with a shark swimming through it with the grouper and fan in the foreground. You can shoot several of these in the time it takes to say, “Adobe Photoshop eat your heart out.” By the time your dive computer is swearing at you in morse, the big-eye jacks will have returned and joined a big shoal of black snappers. You can hardly see the other side of the pass for fish. Finning against the current you can side-slip into the shoal of jacks so they are all around you, or get below them so they can swirl into a vortex with the sun at its apex. When greys pass through the shoal they are mobbed by the jacks, the way surgeonfish mob morays, or passerines mob raptors. (The bird, not the dinosaur.)
Indecision about which fork of the pass to take is usually over by now, your computer and contents guage saying the shallower, right fork is the way to go. Over a sandy bottom with very approachable garden eels (but I defy you to dive with a 105 micro at Nigali) past small coral heads wiliting under the weight of soft corals, with white tip reef sharks hiding underneath. Cut to the left a bit to end up between where the two forks enter the lagoon and you’ll find a large area of cabbage coral, which in late afternoon light is stunning.
There is a steep drop-off into the lagoon on the inside of the barrier reef and the visibility drops from 30m to 20m. Here, whoever dropped you off at the begining of the dive, will, with luck, pick you up. And make you a milo when you get back to the boat.
Sometimes the lagoon is clear too. When a storm in southern latitudes drives big swells up into the tropics, clear ocean water is driven over the barrier reef, flushing out a lotof the more turbid lagoon water. At these times Nigali can be dived on the outgoing current. Shoals of snapper and sometimes barracuda hang around at the inside end of the pass. More occasionally there are mantas and spotted eagle rays.
Not so good photographically, but probably superior to any mind altering substance, is a late afternoon dive. Pretty much the same animals in the same places. Hundreds of big fish, accepting your presence, bathed in orange light, the sunburst just over the north side of the pass dancing spears into the deep blue depths. Walu, a kind of spanish mackerel cruise by,and on a few occasions divers saw a sailfish here.
If I could make any place on earth a marine reserve, this would be it. There are several villages on the island of Gau, but Sawaieke in effect owns the lot. It is here you must go when you arrive at the island to offer a sevu sevu of kava which looks like half a kilo or so of twigs wrapped in newspaper. I would like to think that the chief of Gau will see the long-term benefits of creating a reserve just around Nigali. At present it is fished occasionally. Therecan be solid economic benefits to the island for sustaining a world-class dive site which far outweigh the transient benefits of an elderly humphead wrasse or grouper for dinner. Nigali without the animals would be like the Masai Mara without animals.
At present, in the absence of your own boat, the only way to dive Nigali is with Nai’a
or one of the other live-aboard dive boats in Fiji. I would hire the whole boat myself, and pass by all the other great sites and just dive Nigali on my own, twice a day until I got bored. Or ran out on money.