BULA! Welcome to Fiji, where everybody is on Fiji time :D.
When I gained my SSI Open Water Diver (equivalent to the PADI of the same name) it was in Fiji, with the crew from Mantaray Island Resort (Nanuya Balavu Island). I had spent a year in Australia and upon looking at the prices to gain my PADI somewhere along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) decided I would not pay the asking price. I knew I would head to Fiji after my year ended and after doing a little research you find that it is indeed around a third of the price. For more dives in a more relaxed setting. It would be half again if you do it somewhere like Thailand’s Koh Tao, but that was not on my itinerary.
Here are the top reasons why you should learn to dive in Fiji (you might not need to look past #1):
1. Look at it
2. More ocean dives
With most PADI and SSI Open Water Courses (not advanced) you must spend a certain amount of time in a pool to get used to the equipment and the change in pressure and breathing techniques. Comparing it to the GBR again and most other dive schools: you spend 2 days in the pool/classroom, and 4 dives over the next 2 days. Here, there are no pools, or as my instructor told me with a gesture to the crystal clear blue ocean “this is our pool”. You do 6 dives in 3 days, with a book to read in your own time and a small test at the end. So you get straight into the deep-end, literally. More for your money!
As one of my instructors told me: “We can tell a good diver not by his qualifications but by his buoyancy”. You don’t improve your buoyancy by sitting in a classroom.
3. Much cheaper than the GBR
Let’s break it down (conversions are approximate):
The SSI Open Water Course from Mantaray Island Resort:
$700 FJD = £215 GBP = $315 USD = $340 CAD = $455 AUD = $500 NZD
The PADI Open Water Course from Divers Den in Cairns, Australia:
$655 AUD = £300 GBP = $465 USD = $620 CAD = $720 NZD
The above in Cairns includes 2 days of 9 to 5 in the pool and in the classroom. That could be enough to make your head hurt. On Mantaray, you have 2 dives before lunch and study in your own time. And did I mention 6 dives in the ocean?!
4. Patient, laid back, extremely experienced instructors
Everyone learns differently and if you are a little nervous, like me, in the ocean it’s important that your instructors are patient with you and let you progress at your own pace. You are constantly encouraged to descend at your own pace, learning to equalise the pressure. The worst thing you can do under water is panic (or ascend too fast) because it leads to erratic breathing and loss of control. Here, the guys are fantastic and have completed thousands of dives between them.
5. No wetsuit required
The water (at least in January/February) is so warm that no wetsuit is required. The body loses heat under water 25 times faster than above it. This is huge, so not to have to wear a wetsuit lets you know you’re in a sunny paradise, far from all your worries :). You can get to the bar quicker after your dives as there isn’t 10 minutes of taking off a wetsuit to deal with!
6. Colourful coral, fish, octopus, sharks, and caves
The likelihood is that if you are a beginner it’ll take you a couple of dives to really get your head up and look around the ocean, but in Fiji, at least off the coast of Mantaray there is an abundance of life of all shapes and sizes. On my 4th or 5th dive we were taken to a cleaning station to just sit and watch sharks have their teeth cleaned by little fish whose purpose is to eat the bacteria lodged in the sharks’ jaw. Not a job I’d want! If you’re luckier than me, you’ll also see some turtles. If you go in Manta Ray season (I did not) you will see tons of these graceful creatures too!
7. Try before you buy (maybe just this resort)
Instead of paying $195 FJD for an introductory dive to see if you like it, I chose the full course because a) It was $500 FJD more for 5 more dives and if you don’t feel like it’s for you within the first 20 mins of any dive that they offer, you can get your money back. I’m very happy with my choice because I loved it, I conquered a fear, and I have a qualification to show for it :).
8. Have one last look
Where did you learn to dive? Have any questions? Please let me know in the comments 🙂