Dec 282012
 

A few weeks ago I shared some lessons learned from my first trip to Fiji.  I may have stopped just short of proclaiming it the most beautiful place on earth.

After a 10.5 hour journey from LAX, we arrived at Fiji’s international gateway, Nadi International Airport, at 5:30 am local time.  This is not exactly my shining hour, but the scents of frangipani wafting through the air quickly reminded me of the excitement that would await.

air pacific plane wm

Our destination was Matangi Island Resort, a 240 acre private island located just off the North coast of Fiji’s third largest island – Taveuni.  The volcanic island has a unique horseshoe shape, and the bay which is formed by the arc of the horseshoe (not coincidentally named Horseshoe Bay) famously appeared as one of the “1000 Places to See Before You Die” by author Patricia Schultz.  I can’t deny that this book was the original catalyst for my longstanding desire to visit Matangi (well, that and the fact that its underwater offerings are consistently praised by divers and snorkelers).

After a 20 minute boat ride from Taveuni, I caught my first glimpse of Matangi as we neared its shore.

matangi beach from water wm

I stepped off the boat, and a chorus of Fijian voices filled the air.  As a traditional garland was placed around my neck, I almost teared up when a smiling staff member whispered “Welcome Home” into my ear.

matangi staff singing

Welcome drink - a green coconut

Welcome drink – a green coconut

Our home for the week would be the Tini Bure (Bure 10).  Tini is perched just steps from the sandy beach with easy access to shore snorkeling.

Tini Bure at Matangi

Tini Bure at Matangi

Tini Bure Interior

Tini Bure Interior

Ourdoor shower floor

Ourdoor shower floor

Pure Fiji products are tropical goodness

Pure Fiji products are tropical goodness

Minibar  in Tini Bure

Minibar in Tini Bure

Matangi’s grounds are green and lush and filled with tropical flowers and fruits (I’m still dreaming about the papayas, which were of a quality I will never find at home).  The landscaping is impressive, thanks in no small part to the dedicated staff who manicure every square meter of land around the resort.

matangi pathway wm

Treehouse bure wm

The Lali drum is used to signal that dinner is served

The Lali drum is used to signal that dinner is served

In addition to the diving and snorkeling, which were our main priorities, we found many ways to pass the time on Matangi.  It was here that I had my first taste of kava – a traditional drink in many South Pacific islands. Kava is made by grounding and pulverizing the root of a type of pepper plant.  Kava has a long tradition as an important part of the Fijian culture.  It is typically consumed in a social setting, with all parties sitting on a mat forming a circle around the kava bowl.  After a few shells of kava (it is served in coconut shells), I felt quite mellow and happy.  It is also known to numb the face and mouth, and yes, I can confirm that this is the case.

The kava bowl

The kava bowl

My first shell - a high tide

My first shell – a high tide

We also observed a Meke – a traditional song and dance performed by members of a Fijian village.  The Meke tells the story of a village’s history.

matangi meke

I made sure to allow ample time for relaxation and sunset watching on Matangi’s main sandy beach.

matangi mere beach wm

Hammocks were strung along the beach, under the coco palms

Hammocks were strung along the beach, under the coco palms

ms beach matangi wm

Matangi’s sunsets were mezmerizing.  We watched the sun set over Qamea island each night.

looking at qamea island wm

matangi at sunset wm

So, our main “excuse” (like we really needed one) for visiting Matangi was threefold.  My birthday, Mr. Reeftraveler’s birthday and our five-year wedding anniversary were all celebrated there.  The staff surprised us with a gigantic cake and a birthday song for each of our three occasions.

matangi mere bday cake wm

Being serenaded by Matangi's house band - incredible

Being serenaded by Matangi’s house band

Matangi is a paradise for animal lovers.  In addition to the owners’ cats, dogs and pet pig (Ms. Piggy), you will encounter frogs, large crabs, fruit bats, goats and exotic birds.

The owners have rescued and raised several fruit bats.  They are sweet and lovable.

The owners have rescued and raised several fruit bats. They are sweet and lovable.

matangi crab wm

matangi frog wm

One of the owners' pet birds

One of the owners’ pet birds

It was hard to leave this little island.  We had become friends with the staff.  It had felt like “home”.  Everything from the warm greetings to the warm water, to the colorful reefs, to the friendly animals, to the great food and drink combined to make our stay at Matangi one of the best experiences in my life.

matangi boat bough wm

I have much more to share about Matangi, including dive and snorkel photos and photos from a trip to Togo Village, Qamea.

Dec 132012
 

On my recent trip to Fiji, I had the opportunity to test the Olympus TG-1 camera.  This camera is waterproof to 40 feet/12 m without a housing.  A housing is also available, so the TG-1 can be used for diving as well as snorkeling and other aquatic activities.

I used the camera without a housing for ambient-light snorkeling photography.  Here are my initial thoughts.

 

Pros

-Very little shutter lag for a compact camera

-Central lens placement

-GPS

-Fast lens for a compact camera in this category – f2.0

-Multiple underwater modes (most cameras in this class have only one underwater mode)

-Sharp macro photos using “underwater macro” mode

-Menu is user-friendly and intuitive

 

Cons

-No RAW shooting capability

-The dial is tricky to adjust underwater

-Flash automatically turned on each time the underwater modes were adjusted underwater

-Experienced internal lens fogging which took many minutes to clear

 

Final Thoughts

This is an impressive camera for snorkeling photography.  It consistently produced sharp images, is packed with useful features and has a fast lens.  However, due to the fact that it has no RAW photo format, I can’t recommend it for serious underwater photography.  I consider it more of a “fun” camera, and will happily use it while snorkeling and boating.

Below are some images I took at Savusavu Bay and Matangi Island, Fiji using the TG-1.

Olympus TG-1Images - Fiji

Sample of Images from Olympus TG-1 camera taken in Savusavu Bay and Matangi Island, Fiji

[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_matangi-damsel-from-olympus-wm.jpg]Curious Damsel
Damselfish in Coral - Matangi Island, Fiji
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_matangi-worm-with-olympus-wm.jpg]Christmas Tree Worm
Christmas Tree Worm - Matangi Island, Fiji
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_black-brittle-star-wm.jpg]Black Feather Star
Split Rock, Savusavu Bay, Fiji
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_matangi-clownfish-with-anemone-wm.jpg]Clownfish in Anemone
Clownfish in Anemone - Matangi Island, Fiji
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_matangi-reefscape-from-olympus-wm.jpg]Reefscape - Matangi Island
Matangi Island Reefscape
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_split-rock-damsels-wm.jpg]Sergeant Majors
Sergeant Majors - Split Rock, Savusavu Bay
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_matangi-bird-wrasse-in-coral-wm.jpg]Bird Wrasse Pair
Pair of Bird Wrasse in Coral - Matangi Island, Fiji
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_banded-sea-krait-wm.jpg]Banded Sea Krait
Banded Sea Krait - Savusavu Bay, Fiji
[img src=http://www.reeftraveler.com/wp-content/flagallery/olympus-tg-1-sample-underwater-images-fiji/thumbs/thumbs_split-rock-damsel-fish-wm.jpg]Sergeant Majors at Split Rock
Savusavu Bay, Fiji

The Olympus TG-1 is available at:

Backscatter

B&H Photo

Amazon

Edited on 4/22/2013- I took the Olympus TG-1 with its wide angle conversion lens to Hawaii to shoot manta rays.  The camera flooded as I was shooting a manta doing barrel rolls.  Needless to say, I was more than a little upset.  I called Olympus upon returning home, and they replaced the seals.  I no longer have trust in this camera.

Dec 032012
 

I’ve just spent two incredible weeks in Fiji with Mr. Reeftraveler celebrating his birthday, my birthday and our 5 year anniversary.  My mind is brimming with fresh memories.  Memories of a place with stunningly beautiful scenery (the quintessential South Pacific  – very Michener-esque) – and equally beautiful people. Memories of a place I hope to revisit one day.

We tried to immerse ourselves in the Fijian way of life.  As the pace slowed, we happily followed suit and mellowed out (kava helps with that too).  “Hello” and “Good Morning” were replaced with an enthusiastic “Bula!”.  My flip-flops stayed in the suitcase for the entire trip – making an appearance only for boarding an island hopper flight.

Here are some important lessons I learned about Fiji.

-The coral is as amazing as its reputed to be.  It’s reputation as the “soft coral capital of the world” is well-deserved.

Matangi Island Reefscape

-The native Fijians really are among the kindest and friendliest people on Earth.

Women of Togo Village, Qamea Island

-Kava wasn’t an acquired taste for me…  I liked my first bowl (a high tide).

-In Fiji, it’s a sulu.  In Bali, it’s a sarong.  In Tahiti, it’s a pareu.

-The school system, even in the remotest of villages, is very impressive.  The children are gifted with grace, talent and endearing smiles.

-One visit is definitely not enough.

Have you visited Fiji?  If so, what lessons did you learn?