Lost In Lau

By Melissa Rimac

There is a lot to love, underwater and above, about Fiji’s remote Lau islands.

Tell people you’re off to the Lau islands and, most likely, they’ll look at you quizzically. And that’s precisely what makes this rarely visited string of lushly forested, vividly volcanic islands special.

There are no resorts, no nightclubs, and no restaurants. In the few villages, there are no buildings taller than a mango tree. There’s no commercialization, just a patchwork of ruggedly beautiful islands rising dramatically from startlingly bright turquoise water.

The Lau Islands are midway between Fiji and Tonga. The only way to reach these untrampled, little-known islands is by sea. We did it in homely style aboard the Reef Endeavour. This is a small ship cruise that ventures to this far-flung frontier a few times each year.

Underwater, the pristine reefs entrance with hallucinogenic scenes. There are endless forests of electric blue, violet and buttercup yellow staghorn corals. Meadows of soft coral wave about like thousands of eager hands.

Divers are in for a rare treat. In the Lau group, it’s all about “expedition diving.” This means delving into barrier reefs that, by virtue of location and restrictions on tourism, are unlikely to have been previously dived.

Diving is sometimes an afterthought on cruise vessels. In contrast, the dive team on the Reef Endevour is professional and well organized. The vibe is relaxed and approachable.

Most days, we ogle pristine reefs twice a day. Before entering, the onboard marine biologist and divemaster determine the best diving spots. They brief us on upcoming reefs and what to look out for in the way of species. Sometimes, though, it’s a surprise. The diving is remarkable because each site varies greatly from the last in terms of topography and species.

Back on board, tasty snacks and pleasant areas to lounge about await. Intimate in scale but imbued with a sense of spaciousness, the Reef Endeavour features an abundance of lounging zones, a seemingly endless supply of tempting food and a warm, helpful crew.

On the eleven-night voyage, we visit a succession of empty islands. Each is uniquely sigh-inducing.

  • At the marine sanctuary known as the Bay of Islands, we swim out from a slither of coral beach tucked between sheer limestone walls.
  • We stop often to swoon at fissures in the fringing reef that explode with incandescent fish. Tiny, mushroom-shaped islands imbue this region with an element of fantasy.
  • This is amplified underwater, thanks to the profusion and diversity of both corals and marine life.

Other times, we pull up at coral cays or stretch out on sandy beaches fringed with lush, loud rainforest. Here the resident bird life provides a hypnotic soundtrack.

A warm welcome

At islands that would otherwise only see a monthly supply vessel, we’re welcomed warmly

  • At Oneata, where the Tongan influence is palpable in the semi-rounded cottages and uncanny harmonics of the church choir. Here the locals are resplendent in impossibly starched Sunday best.
  • On Kabara Island, excited children lead us through a pretty village of pastel-hued cottages enveloped by towering breadfruit trees.

The currents are usually gentle. Every so often, it feels for a long time as though I’m flying. When this happens, I’m dreamily oblivious to everything but the underwater kaleidoscope. Plate corals in every shade of purple imaginable are stacked as high as a house. We encounter fish so audaciously colorful they startle on sight.

Aboard the Reef Endevour, there’s no chance that non-diving companions will get bored. A highlight is adventure snorkeling. This is an adrenaline rush involving treats such as jumping off a boat to follow a cliff face or venturing beyond the breakers.

An ancient volcano that looks like the sides have been blown out, Totoya Island took my breath away. On the reef, the visual drama is amplified as we’re treated to high caliber shark action. Here numerous patrolling Silvertips and big mature black-tip reef sharks lurk intently around the spectacular drop off.

We drift past gargantuan olive-green gorgonian fans. They are way taller than I am and about 2 m/5 ft wide. They secrete black feather-stars and dense swirls of reef fish.

The southern island of Kadavu presents as a mountain range jutting out of the royal blue sea.  The underwater topography is likewise riveting. There is a maze of bommies and swim-throughs.

We see precipitous overhangs festooned with intricate soft and hard corals. These include species I’d not seen before. They include a soft coral shaped like a rose with pink petals that move with the current. I watched, bemused as hundreds of eels rose up and retreat in synchronicity, back-dropped by reef sharks galore.

Each time I put my head underwater on this trip, I’d spot a new species of fish or coral. These included a clownfish with blue and white stripes peeking out from an electric pink anemone. There are more variants of oddly shaped incandescent fish than I imagined possible.

Thriving coral reefs are becoming a rarity, as are scenescapes spared of a human overlay. In the Lau islands, it’s a privilege to lose yourself in these wonders.

Escape Routes

To round off the outer island immersion, further spectacular underwater vistas await at:

  • Matamanoa: Located in the Mamanuca Islands, Matamanoa is a 40-minute boat ride from the hub of Port Denarau. This atmospheric island features sensational diving and snorkeling and a far-flung vibe. Learn more…
  • Mantaray Island: This is a little further but efficiently reached in a few hours aboard the comfortable Yasawa Flier. Mantaray Island Resort is another rewarding encore to the Lau Islands cruise. The setting is dramatic, the resort is welcoming and the diving is exceptional. Learn more…

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