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Fiji is famous among divers as being the "Soft Coral Capital of the World" because of its enormous number and variety of colorful corals, which attract a host of fish: More than 35 species of angelfish and butterfly fish swim in these waters.

All but a few resorts in Fiji have dive operations on-site, as I point out in the following chapters. Most of them have equipment for rent, but ask before coming out here what they have available. Preferably bring your own, including a spare mask.

Even the heavily visited Mamanuca Islands off Nadi have their share of good sites, including the Pinnacle, a coral head rising 18m (60 ft.) from the lagoon floor, and a W-shaped protrusion from the outer reef. A drawback for some divers is that they don't have the Mamanuca sites all to themselves.

In Beqa Lagoon, the soft corals of Frigate Passage seem like cascades falling over one another, and Side Streets has unusual orange coral. The nearby southern coast of Viti Levu has mostly hard corals, but you can go shark diving off Pacific Harbour; that is, the dive masters attract sharks by feeding them.

South of Viti Levu, Kadavu island is skirted by the Great Astrolabe Reef, known for its steep outside walls dotted with both soft and hard corals. The Astrolabe attracts Fiji's largest concentration of manta rays.

The reefs off Rakiraki and northern Viti Levu offer many tunnels and canyons plus golden soft corals growing on the sides of coral pinnacles ("bommies" in this part of the world).

Ovalau Island and the historic town of Levuka aren't beach destinations, but good dive sites are nearby, including at the shipwrecks in and near Levuka harbor, and soft coral spots off nearby Wakaya Island, home of the fabulous but very expensive Wakaya Club.

Off Savusavu, the barrier reef around Namenalala Island, home to Moody's Namena resort, is officially the Namena Marine Protected Reserve. Both hard and soft corals attract an enormous number of small fish and their predators.

Fiji's best and most famous site for soft corals is Somosomo Strait between Vanua Levu and Taveuni in northern Fiji, home of the Great White Wall and its Rainbow Reef. The Great White Wall is covered from between 23 and 60m (75-200 ft.) deep with pale lavender corals, which appear almost snow-white underwater. Near Qamea and Matagi, off Taveuni, are the appropriately named Purple Wall, a straight drop from 9 to 24m (30-80 ft.), and Mariah's Cove, a small wall as colorful as the Rainbow Reef.

Just in case, the Fiji Recompression Chamber Facility (tel. 336 2172) is in Suva near Colonial War Memorial Hospital.

And remember, you will need at least 12 hours -- longer after multiple dives -- between your last dive and flying, so plan accordingly.

Live-Aboard Diving

The best way to dive a lot of reefs in Fiji, especially in Bligh Water between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu -- its famous E6 and Mount Mutiny rise some 1,000m (3,000 ft.) from the bottom -- is on a live-aboard dive boat. Most luxurious is the NAI'A (tel. 888/510-1593 in North America or 345 0382 in Fiji; www.naia.com.fj), a 36m (120-ft.) motor-sailing yacht which can carry 18 persons in nine staterooms. It's the favorite of every diver I know who lives in Fiji. Rates start at F$4,528 (US$2,940/£1,494) per person double occupancy for a 7-day cruise. Others are the two catamarans Fiji Aggressor I and Fiji Aggressor II, both operated by the U.S.-based Aggressor Fleet (tel. 800/348-2628 or 985/385-2628; www.aggressor.com). Rates begin at F$3,850 (US$2,500/£1,270) per person double occupancy.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.