I AMBLED DOWN to the restaurant deck overlooking a smooth Roviana Lagoon. It was still too early for everyone, including the water-taxis that are the optimum transportation among islanders and tourists alike.
The sun was high enough for me to peer into the shallow water below the deck, and I considered finding a giant carpet anemone hosting a family of clownfish a good omen.
After breakfast, and an entertaining session throwing bread scraps to the fat archerfish under the deck (incredibly, they are able to follow the arc of a well-thrown scrap and meet it on impact),
I met Jos at the dive shop. With a large group of divers just departed it would be only me, Jos and another diver from Australia for the next several days.
SIDE has established more than 40 dive-sites within 5-40 minutes’ boat-ride, and the evening before I had given Jos my critter and wreck wish-list. To start he had selected Shark Point, a spur of barrier reef extending into deep ocean on the seaward side of the expansive Roviana Lagoon.
We began the dive at 30m along a vertical wall festooned with jumbo seafans in a variety of colours, and followed the sweep of the current to the point. Almost immediately we were visited by a grey reef shark, perhaps the largest I’d ever seen, but it kept a typical arm’s length away, preventing a good image with my wide-angle kit.
As we approached the end of the spur, the wall began to slope gently and the seafans gave way to colourful tabling corals, competing for limited space. I noticed a large magnificent anemone hosting a pair of pink skunk anemonefish, more suited to my camera set-up.
As we dived on through the day, I racked up a satisfying collection of images that would keep me busy later at the computer – assuming that I could keep my eyes open.
The following day Jos had a plan for us to complete four dives, beginning on the edge of SIDE’s diving range. “I want to start at Mbigo Mbigo, because we should have good morning light to capture the sun’s rays in images,” he explained. “The reef is on the outer edge of the lagoon, adjacent to blue water, so we should have exceptional visibility. And the spur-and-groove reef system should provide for some dramatic photography.”
Our panga pilot navigated expertly around shallow brown and green bommies and over pearly-white sandbars between the islands of my dreams. Walt Disney could not have designed a better boat-ride in a tropical paradise.
By 8.30am we rolled into a smooth clear ocean. I rode the light current down the deep canyon in the reef, paused to absorb the spectacular vista, then gently glided down over the lip of the outer wall into 300m of water.
The dive was all Jos had promised, perfect for shooting sun-rays against a canyon backdrop of reef structure. If only my strobes could achieve the impossible energy required to illuminate the distant pastel vista that I knew existed at 20m.
Jos suggested that it might be time to switch to macro for our last dive of the day at Secret Spot. “This is one of SIDE’s favourite sites,” he said. “It’s a vertical wall with a strong current pushing in one or the other direction, depending on the tide. And the wall has the most varieties of nudibranchs of any reef we dive.”