After a week of action-packed shark diving at Fiji’s Beqa Lagoon Resort, I was on the main highway of the east coast of Viti Levu. Driving north, the cloudy sky of the south faded and was replaced by sunshine. While the south region of Fiji is well known for its rainy weather and spectacular shark feeds, the sunny, dry north brings unique underwater sights of its own.
At Volivoli Resort, Viti Levu’s northernmost point of land, sloping sandy dunes dip into aquamarine waters. It’s here that begins the famed Bligh Waters, filled with some of the best soft coral reefs and pelagic marine life in the Indo-Pacific waters. The sight of sun boded well for the diving ahead: Natural light is an essential component in scenic reef images that have put the Bligh Waters into the logbooks of so many underwater photographers.
If you travel as far as you can along the main highway on the east coast of Fiji’s Viti Levu island, you will eventually reach Volivoli Resort. Built around a stunning peninsula, the resort directly overlooks the ocean from all angles.
Upon arrival, I met Nick Darling, a member of the family-run team that laid the foundation for Volivoli Resort decades ago and continues to move it into the future even today. Most of the Darling family lives on site, managing the resort while overseeing continuous improvements and construction work. During my stay the finishing touches were being made to Ra Divers’ new shop located directly on the beach. It seems clear that the Darling family is constantly improving what the resort has to offer to underwater photographers and divers of all levels.
An aerial view of Volivoli Resort reveals its perfect positioning along the coast, whether for diving, kayaking or just enjoying the view
Diving the Bligh Waters
Perhaps Volivoli’s greatest asset is its location. There are some great sites close to the resort, but the best diving is a little bit further out within the Vatu I Ra Passage, or Bligh Waters. Here, you can find a mixture of walls, bommies and drift dives all teeming with life and color. Ra Divers run three-tank dive trips to the passage every day. The experienced dive staff have been diving these waters for years and will determine the best sites to dive on the day depending on tides and currents, and the desires of the guests.
Luckily for me, the weather remained calm for my entire stay, and I was able to get to some of the most famous sites in the area such as “E-6” and “Mount Mutiny.” Here lie some of the healthiest reefs I have ever dived and the soft coral for which Fiji is so famous. During my entire stay, I did not see one other boat while out at sea and my fellow dive buddies were the only other divers in the water with me for the entire trip.
Fiji’s soft coral is world famous, with images like this showcasing the rainbow of colors available to be photographed in a single frame
This is practically unheard of in any other popular dive destination in the world and another reason why the sites here are so healthy. It was refreshing to not be surrounded by lots of people and also made capturing images without other divers and bubbles in the frame much easier.
My favorite site, “Mellow Yellow,” was far from mellow: The current picked up a little during the dive, to say the least. But, true to its name, every single coral here is indeed a different shade of yellow. Other nearby sites are dominated by purple and pink soft corals and a profusion of reef fish and smaller critters. Diving here really does provide the opportunity for photographers to put together a portfolio of outstanding wide-angle images in a very short period of time.
Up close and personal with a turtle: The region offers other sights than coral including turtles, rare reef fish, and even macro critters for those brave enough to take off their wide-angle setup
Photographing Fiji’s Reef Scenes
Although there are some interesting macro critters tucked away within the vast coral gardens, it is the wide-angle scenes that beg to be photographed. Stick with a fisheye or fisheye wet lens, and you will not be disappointed. You’ll only need to open your housing to swap out batteries and memory cards when they run out of space from your colorful coral images.
For still photography, strobes are essential to highlight and bring out the many colors and details of the reef. Combining a splash of strobe light with natural sunlight is the best way to expose any wide-angle image, especially in shallow, crystal-clear water.
Adding a model increases the compositional complexity of the image. In this case, the dive model is using a GoPro with dual Sola video lights to capture stunning video of her own
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of reef to shoot, but try to be selective and find the most densely packed areas of soft coral, framed with with nice blue-water backgrounds. Lots of the best bits are concentrated in small areas, so focus on these parts and go slow. It isn’t always easy: Sometimes the most concentrated areas of coral and fish activity is located in the heart of the current.
Also don't forget to keep one eye out into the blue. The area is visited regularly by a variety of pelagic species and you never know what may swim by while you have your eye stuck to the viewfinder. Sharks, rays, and turtles are fairly common, and there were even sightings of humpback whales by Volivoli visitors this year.
Fiji’s Bligh Waters boast colorful reefs that are perfect for wide-angle scenic images. The use of strobes brings out color and contrast
Many of the coral gardens extend to within a few feet of the surface, making safety stops productive. Don’t shut off your camera: Spend plenty of time in the shallows taking full advantage of that available light and prolific coral growth
If you are lucky enough to have a dive buddy willing to model for you, this will add depth and interest to your shots. You’ll have to bring your own though as it’s highly unlikely you’ll bump into anyone else out there in the Bligh
To the Bligh and Back
My time in Fiji will be remembered by one word: colorful. I have never dived so many healthy sites in one week and the resulting images certainly add something new to my portfolio. I urge every underwater photographer looking to escape the crowds to plan a trip to Fiji, the home of underwater happiness.
Plan Your Adventure >