Diving: Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Yasawa Islands diving: Deb above a variety of corals at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Introduction

The Yasawa Islands lie in a line running north from the Mamanuca Island group, up to the north-east of the main island Viti Levu. Yasawa Islands diving is suitable for all levels of experience and all budgets: backpacker, eco-lodge to 5 star luxury.

The islands are volcanic in origin and quite dramatic looking, with peaks on the islands ranging from 250 to 600 metres in height.

Yasawa Islands diving: Beach scene at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

This means, of course, that the subaquatic landscape is going to be equally dramatic with walls, gullies, and swim throughs. Add in the fact that most of the islands have fringing reefs – code for colourful coral reef dives in shallow’ish water and typically great snorkelling too; very low populations – code for very little pollution and high vis; and deep water close to shore – code for high chance of seeing pelagics!

White tipped shark swims with pilot diving Pinnacles Kuata at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Fortunately there are resorts from ultra-luxury (yes that is a word) to locally owned, spread throughout the islands, with a number of resorts across all price brackets having their own dive centre on site, which tends to be small and personal.

The different Yasawa Islands offer their own individual style and you can do anything from snorkelling with clownfish, manta rays and sharks, to diving through caverns and swim throughs to volunteering to remove Crown of Thorns sea stars.

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Location

There are around 20 islands in the group, starting with Kuata Island at the southern tip, a 2-hour boat trip from Denarau, stretching to Nacula, Tavewa and Nanuya at the northern most tip which are between 4.5 to 5 hours from the mainland. Almost all resorts are accessible via the Yasawa Flyer ferry which makes the trip from Denarau to the north and back every day. See the Getting There section below. For the top end resorts, seaplanes are available.

Yasawa Islands diving: Seaplane and Yasawa Flyer at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Operators

As all of the Dive Centres are resort based, they are included within the Where to Stay section. Our featured Dive Centres are shown below.

If you just want to snorkel around the Yasawas, Captain Cook Cruises Fiji offer a 4-Night Cruise, and Blue Lagoon Cruises offers both a 7-Night Cruise and a 4-Night Cruise.

Reef Endeavour in soft focus at Makogai Bay diving Makogai with Captain Cook Cruises in the Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Dive Resorts

Dive Sites

The diving is easy around the Yasawas, as those island resorts which have a dive centre also have a decent house reef, easily accessible for day and night diving. This offers the easy, colourful coral reef dives.

The volcanic terrain offers the added dimension of some steeply vertical underwater terrain, characterised by swim-throughs and canyons, and with deep water near the shore line – a population of sharks and rays.

Yasawa Islands diving: Deb in cave opening with camera at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

The Yasawas therefore offers are quite a few highlights for both snorkelers and divers, including the shark snorkel near Kuata and Waya islands, and the manta ray snorkel south of Naviti Island. The shark snorkel can now be done as a day trip from the mainland. The Yasawa Flyer will drop you at Kuata Island where you can base yourself for the day, and pick you up in the late afternoon as it returns to Denarau.

Thomas with shark diving Shark snorkel with Barefoot Kuata at Barefoot Kuata Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Mantaray Island and Barefoot Manta are both named after the larger ocean mantas (manta birostris) that visit the shallow bays around the islands to feed between May and October. When mantas are sighted, the beach drums are sounded and guests can catch a boat and snorkel above the mantas.

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View Dive Sites

Where to Stay

Throughout the group of islands there is a wide range of accommodation which offers scuba diving. At the top end are the private, exclusive, often adult only, resorts which are 5 Stars, and the chances are you’ll be flying to those. Then, there’s the eco and locally managed resorts, ranging from ‘1 Coconut’ (backpacker dorm) to ‘3 Coconut’ (flashpacker and resort style bures). These are shown on the route map of the Yasawa Flyer in the Getting There section below, and listed here south to north, i.e., the order in which the Flyer arrives at them.

Yasawa Islands diving: Path to beach at Kuata at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Barefoot Kuata

Barefoot Kuata Resort has dorms and are also introducing African safari-style luxury tented accommodation. The Dive Centre at this certified eco-resort, also offers the Shark Snorkel, which can also be done as a day trip from Denarau, Kuata being the closest of the Yasawa Islands to Denarau.

Wayalailai Ecohaven

Wayalailai Ecohaven, a traditional Fijian-run resort, with its own Dive Centre, is owned and operated by the local villagers, so you’ll get an authentic Fijian experience at both.

Yasawa Islands diving: Traditional bures at Wayalailai Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Octopus Resort on Waya Island has diving provided by Vertical Blue Divers, who are based out of Blue Lagoon Beach Resort.

Mantaray Island Resort

There is also a 1 to 3-Coconut range at Mantaray Island Resort. The beach-facing bures are raised, so that they are naturally cooled by the ocean breeze, but there are also ceiling fans if required. The toilets are of the composting type, and the water is desalinated and potable. It’s called Mantaray Island Resort, because, in season, this is one of the places where you can snorkel with Manta Rays.

Yasawa Islands diving: Jungle bure room at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Mantaray has a fully equipped SSI Dive Shop where you can get an Open Water dive certification pretty cheaply, or join a double dive to one of the many dive sites on the local reefs, just minutes away by boat.

Yasawa Islands diving: Bure on stilts nestled on the foliage at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Barefoot Manta

Barefoot Manta Resort has dorms and African safari-style luxury tented accommodation. Barefoot Manta also has a great Dive Centre run by two marine biologists Dan and Heather who offer training, certified diving on their local reefs, and a marine conservation volunteer programme.

Both Paradise Cove, on Naukacuvu Island, and Navutu Stars on Yanggeta Island, has diving provided by Vertical Blue Divers, who are based out of Blue Lagoon Beach Resort.

Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, Nacula, is the end of the line as far as the Yasawa Flyer is concerned.

Coralview Island Resort, on Tavewa Island, is home to Dive Yasawa Lagoon, a PADI International Resort Association member which caters for divers of all ages, experience levels and abilities. It is not on the Yasawa Flyer route, and is accessed via another ferry – the Tavewa Seabus – servicing the Northern Yasawas that operates from Lautoka.

Yasawa Islands diving: Fijian warrior on the big rock at Botaira Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Top End Resorts

Finally, those three top class resorts:

Turtle Island Resort – an ultra-luxury resort where everything from scuba diving to champagne-and-lobster picnics on reserved beaches is covered in the all-inclusive price.

Yasawa Island Resort – which offers excellent in-house diving and picnic excursions to one of 11 deserted beaches. The resort offers complimentary PADI Discover Scuba Diving pool sessions. And PADI Open Water Certification courses.

Viwa Island Resort, definitely an adults only resort, which suggests you “ask our friendly staff at our PADI accredited dive operation for details’ on arrival.

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Where to Eat

Each resort being on a small island, there is not a great range of dining options, however the food is surprisingly good as most of it is locally grown or caught, and traditional Fijian food is a fusion of Indian and Melanesian cuisine. Seafood is obviously a feature, and once a week there is usually a traditional Fijian feast or Lovu.

Yasawa Islands diving: Seafood platters at Botaira beach resort at Botaira Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Being rather larger than the other resorts, Mantaray Island’s restaurant has a fairly extensive menu. The restaurant is perched on the hillside, again air cooled, and with great views over the bay. A compulsory meal plan package must be purchased on arrival – but you will never go hungry.

Yasawa Islands diving: Curry and pappadom at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Breakfast is usually the standard hot and cold self-service buffet, and a 3-course meal is offered for lunch and dinner – some resorts are buffet style and some with table service.

Yasawa Islands diving: Breakfast room at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Other Activities

Snorkelling with Manta Rays

During manta season (May to September) you can go for a morning snorkel with manta rays from Barefoot Manta, Botaira and Mantaray Island Resorts. When mantas are sighted the drums are sounded and guests assemble rapidly with masks, snorkels and fins. The guides will enter the water and indicate when they have a manta nearby by a raised arm.

Yasawa Islands diving: Manta ray at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Either way, you will almost certainly experience a manta during the season, and as these are the larger ocean going mantas with wingspans of up to 7m, it’s an experience you’ll remember for a while.

Snorkelling with Sharks

The Shark Snorkel is a 30-minute boat ride from Barefoot Kuata, on a shallow reef. The water is crystal clear and calm even when the surrounding water is choppy. Less-confident guests are provided with life jackets and floatation devices – and really, it’s suitable even for young kids.

Yasawa Islands diving: Si tempting white tipped shark at Barefoot Kuata Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Floating in a circle around the top of a natural basin you can opt to stay on the surface or duck dive down to get a closer view of the white tip sharks as they start to appear. The guides are pretty good free divers so if you’re not great at holding your breath you can always ask them to take a photo for you.

Trekking and guided summit walks

Being volcanic, most of the islands have summits of varying heights that are well worth climbing to check out the view. There are usually guided walks available but some are pretty easy to navigate by yourself.

Yasawa Islands diving: Walking ridge of Naviti Island at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

At Waya Lailai there is a guided sunrise walk to its rather dramatic looking summit – well worth it for the view and not as hard as it looks!

Volunteering

Most of the island resorts are either owned/operated by a local village cooperative, or run with the cooperation from the local village, so village visits are usually available once or twice a week.

Yasawa Islands diving: Volunteer bagging Crown of Thorns at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

If you’re after a more immersive experience, the Vinaka Fiji program, run by Awesome Adventures, has a range of volunteer projects that you can take part in during your stay in Fiji over a period of one to four weeks. Projects range from helping in village schools, helping build infrastructure to supply villagers with fresh drinking water and marine research and conservation projects.

Water Sports

Most island resorts will also have a range of watercraft available for hire (usually free). Generally you’ll find a range of kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle boards and catamarans available.

Yasawa Islands diving: Stand up paddle at Mantaray Island Resort Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

Getting There

For the high end resorts, the best way in is simply to fly directly from Nadi. For everywhere else, the best option is the Yasawa Flyer run by Awesome Adventures. The Flyer departs Denarau at 8:30am (check in is 8am), arriving at Kuata/Waya Lailai 10:30am, Mantaray 11.30am and continues heading north until it eventually turns round at Nacula Island and starts heading back along the same route. Island hopping packages are available, as is the full trip as a one day cruise simply to admire the beautiful scenery of the Yasawa Islands.

Yasawa Islands diving: Timetable and route map at Yasawa Islands Fiji Islands by Diveplanit

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