In the Yasawa Islands there is a place called Manta Ray Bay. It’s considered “THE” place to go in Fiji if you want to swim with the Manta rays. The bay is bordered on the north by Naviti Island and on the south by Nanuya Balavu Island. In the middle is a small island called Drawaqu. We anchored just to the west of Drawaqu in about 50 feet of crystal clear water. It’s a beautiful spot that enjoys a really nice tropical breeze. That said, it is also a place where you need to make absolutely certain you have a solid hold on your anchor. When the tide comes in or goes out there is a pretty good current that flows between Drawaqu & Nanuya Balavu islands. It’s pretty cool to watch as there will be some whirlpools caused by the upwellings and the anchored boats swing in various directions. There’s also some wrap around current that comes through Manta Ray Pass that adds to the confused sea here but we didn’t find it to be anything to really worry about. We just kept a good eye on our position and made sure our anchor alarm was set.
Our first day here we took the dink out on an exploratory mission to get a feel for where we would need to be to see the rays. We cruised all over in the two bays and even stopped on the south end of Drawaqu Island to explore the beach. I found a few cool shells there. One was my first ever cone shell that was animal free. The animals that live in these shells are highly poisonous so when you find one you have to be extra careful not to touch the ends in case the animal is still inside. They have a harpoon like stinger that comes out and while the sting may be only as bad as a bee sting, some of them are large enough and have enough venom to make the sting fatal to humans. For obvious reasons we are extremely careful when picking them up. Today, however, I found one that was animal free and in perfect condition! BONUS! Dan also found me a truly beautiful Cowry shell as well. Our walk on the beach was quite successful and, of course, beautiful!
After exploring the bays and beaches we decided to head to shore for happy hour. The Mantaray Resort has a cute little outdoor bar on the beach and does a pretty nice happy hour. The also serve up stone grilled pizzas during happy hour but you better get there early. They sell out rather quickly so we never did get to try one although they looked pretty tasty. We did meet a lovely Kiwi couple there and shared a few beers while we got to know each other. Andrew and Mich had lived in Belgium for many years (where she’s from) and recently moved to New Zealand. That’s where he’s from. They had their two adorable daughters, Hannah and Sarah along as well. During our stay here we had cocktails with them a couple of times and really enjoyed their company.
The day after we arrived we had arranged with one of the boats from Mantaray Resort to take us out to snorkel with the Mantas. We figured it would be easier that way as we wouldn’t have to tie off to the dinghy while drifting or have someone in the dink following along. We went to the beach that morning as instructed and waited. They always send a boat out to look for the Mantas and then radio back to the charter boat as to where to go. We waited at the bar for an hour or so and they told us we could go back to the boat. They told us to listen for the lali drum that indicated Mantas had been found and then they would pick us up on the boat. Unfortunately the call of the drums never came. They didn’t find any rays that morning. Bummer!
So, what do a couple of ragtag sailors do when there are no Manta rays to chase? Well, we decided to find a spot and do some “regular” snorkeling. The spot we picked was directly in front of the Manta Ray Resort and oh my…what a spectacular spot it was to explore. We saw so many incredible fish and corals there and the water was just pristine! We snorkeled so long we actually ran out of batter power on our Go Pro and had to run back to the boat to get another battery so we could keep snorkeling. It was one of the best snorkels we’ve had here in Fiji. Of course I paid for not wearing a rash suit with a bit of a sunburn but fortunately I only had one evening of feeling like I was on fire and by the next day it was gone. I guess one sunburn all season isn’t bad considering how much we are in the sun and how close we are to the equator. As they say, “Live and learn”.
The following morning we decided we’d go out to the pass on our own to see what we could find. There were lots of people wandering about the pass in their dinghies. We even saw a couple of charter boats drifting as well. There were tons of people in the water snorkeling, people in the boats standing up and looking around and everyone was just waiting for that one person to indicate they had seen a Manta.
The Mantas usually come into the pass between Naviti and Drawaqu Islands during the changing from high to low tide. This is a big thing for all of the tourists and cruisers to see. After all, who wouldn’t want to swim with some of the most majestic creatures on earth? Charter boats come out from the mainland as well as from all of the local resorts to see this awesome sight. When the high tide has reached its peak and begins to go out the rays come in to feed and be cleaned by the Wrasse. The Wrasse are tiny fish who feed on parasites and mucus as well as dead and damaged scales of the rays and other sea life such as turtle, sharks etc… The Wrasse congregate in certain areas called “cleaning stations” and if you find one you will surely find the Mantas. To look for Mantas you go to the east end of the pass and then drift back to the west. When the tide is changing the water moves pretty quickly through the pass and it’s so clear you can see well over 75’ down so spotting them should be relatively easy if they are there.
We drifted east to west multiple times and after an hour or so we decided we probably wouldn’t see any of these magnificent creatures. We were pretty bummed but that’s how it goes. Dan told me to get in the water where I could allow the current to pull me through the coral reef as I snorkeled. After all, if we couldn’t swim with the Mantas one of us might as well drop in to see what else lies beneath the surface. This was my first drift snorkel and it was really cool. I was moving at close to 3 knots without having to do a thing. Dan stayed about ten feet away in the dink following me. It was very interesting to watch what happens to all of the fish in a pass like this during the tide change. Many drift along with the current. Some of the larger ones are fighting it and others are scooping up all the krill and food that passes by. The soft corals sway back and forth in a whimsical underwater dance that is simply mesmerizing. It was stunning, just stunning! I could have done that over and over but alas…the tide was going out and it was getting pretty shallow so one pass was all I got.
Later that day we decided to move north to an anchorage on the north end of Naviti Island because some winds were expected that were going to make this anchorage a bit too nautical for our taste. The anchorage we chose was the northern most out of the three available. There’s a large, well protected bay that cuts into the northern coast there. It was a quiet anchorage with no village to visit so no sevusevu was required. Sometimes that’s a bonus. The water was clear and we planned to snorkel there but the weather turned ugly. It rained for two straight days so we stayed on the boat and never even put the motor on the dinghy. We did get to see a vonu (turtle) there. I named him Viti Vonu. He came by the boat several times a day and was a pretty big one too. Unfortunately it’s hard to get pics of them because they surface and dive so quickly but it’s still always fun to see them.
Yesterday we headed back to Manta Ray Bay. We were hoping the clouds would clear and we could get some snorkeling in but they didn’t. It rained on and off so we spent most of the day on Dazzler. We did go to shore to the resort there for happy hour. It’s sort of a cruiser tradition you know.
We met a lovely young Fijian lady named Luse at the bar. She and her husband, Moses, live in the village on the South end of Naviti Island. They were at the resort to pick up a couple from New Zealand who were going to stay in their village. We watched as the New Zealand couple and their young children sat at the bar chatting away with no real regard for the couple who had come to escort them to the village. They did have their son go over to Luse and Moses and give them each a soda but then they moved to the bar and all but ignored this couple. I was flabbergasted. Here you are in their world and you are going to be staying in their village, no doubt on some sort to kindness mission, and you ignore the very people you are here to visit. I watched as Luse sat on the ground and Moses stood nearby leaning up against a tree while the Kiwis sat at the bar laughing and chatting with a couple of other people or a good hour.
Finally I struck up a conversation with Moses as he came by to check out the score of the rugby match that was playing not the TV behind me. As we talked he reminded me that he had stopped by the boat when we were here earlier in the week. He was trying to sell some fish. We wanted lobster but he never found any that night. As I spoke with Moses Luse came over and we all began to chat. They are both truly lovely people and we enjoyed the hour or so we spent with them. All the while the Kiwi couple is looking at us all bewildered because we are actually having a conversation, laughing and enjoying the locals. Honestly I was so disgusted by the actions of these people it was everything I could do not to say something.
Anyway, when the Kiwis had finished their pizza and beer and were ready to leave they instructed Moses to grab their things and they all started to head toward the long boat to go back to the village. We could see that Luse really wanted to stay and chat and we felt deeply for her. She was hugging us and doing everything she could to drag out the goodbyes. Before she left she went over and talked to one of the guys sitting nearby and then stopped to tell us she had arranged for us to get some lobster. What? Really? We’ve been dying to have some of that wonderful shellfish for a few weeks now. It was so kind of her to do this for us but it was not why we befriended her. We just love interacting with the locals because they are such awesome people.
After Luse & Moses left a man stops by and asks Dan to come with him. Dan follows him out of the bar and down the path. About ten minutes later they come back and Dan says he needs to go get some change. He goes to the bar then walks around the corner again. The next thing I know he comes back with a large package wrapped in black plastic. He places it on the bar and tells me we are having lobster for dinner. OH YEAH! We finished our beers and left.
Back on Dazzler I open the bag to find three beautiful lobsters. One was really big and the others a bit small but it that was okay. For approximately $30 USD we had fresh lobster!!! Dan steamed them then cut them in half and grilled them for a couple of minutes. I made mashed potatoes and drawn butter. We enjoyed our tasty treat and spent the balance of the evening sitting in the cockpit delighting in the warmth and the sweet scent of the sea. While we didn’t get to see any Manta rays, we did have a wonderful time at Manta Ray Bay. Looking forward to coming back next year!
Until next time,
Jilly & Dan