Whilst in Fiji I had the best snorkelling experience(s) of my life on the coral reefs of the Yasawa Islands. Although we only stayed at one island the variety of colourful coral and fish present in the waters just off the beach on a day-to-day basis was extraordinary and, although I’m a comfortable open water swimmer, the best part is that the reef was so close to the island that you didn’t have to even swim out very far to see the exciting stuff! In fact the only frustrating factor was that the coral was so close to the land that you could only snorkel in the morning and afternoon because when the tide got low at midday it left a lot of the coral exposed and you were unable to get in the water at all.
Knowing barely anything about fish I can’t even tell you what most of what I saw was but one thing’s for sure – I’ve never seen such a variety in such large numbers before. Whilst the larger fish I only spotted alone some of the smaller ones would come out of nowhere in HUGE schools and just swim around you, sometimes splitting into two smaller groups and sometimes reforming one large group once you’d passed.
Of course it’s not just fish that you can find in these waters around the Yasawa Islands. I was very excited to see my first blue starfish (until I realised they really are everywhere!) and also spotted a very well camouflaged octopus as well as some other less exciting critters like tons of jellyfish. After being stung a couple of times by tiny ones that I hadn’t spotted I took to keeping an eager eye for the jellies and at one point swam into what seemed to be their weekly gathering – it was that scene from Finding Nemo – so from then on gave myself a neck ache by watching the surface of the water very carefully (which is where they all hang out so at least you can avoid them fairly easily). There were also some suspicious looking long thin swimmers that I was misinformed were eels so I stayed well away from, although looking them up now they turn out to be some kind of needle fish. If you’ve never seen a needle fish before you will definitely mistake it for an eel when you first encounter one.
Then there’s the even more exciting inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean – sharks, turtles and (what I came for) the manta rays. Most of the resorts in the Yasawas take you out to swim with the manta rays that frequent the surrounding waters (provided they turn up) and I was lucky enough that they made several appearances during our stay and go to swim alongside these amazingly majestic and indescribably graceful creatures on my first morning spent on the aptly named Mantaray Island. It was an experience I’ll never forget… which is lucky because my gopro battery died and I ended up with this one photo to prove it happened.
On our trip out in the boat we got to swim with four manta rays. Three were with the markings as you can see in the photo above and the fourth was white. Unlike my previous experience swimming with whalesharks, mantas are pretty fast and there’s no way you’d keep up with them. Instead it’s very much a drop, look, climb back in the boat and try and catch them again experience, which can be exhausting but is so worth it. Thanks to our amazing guide and driver and his love and enthusiasm for seeing the mantas we stayed out long beyond when we were supposed to and saw them about five different times.
So that’s another wildlife encounter ticked off my bucket list! I’m still on the hunt for a swim with an elusive sea turtle… anyone got any tips for me?
Let me know what animal you’d love to encounter in the wild in the comments!