Like New York, this is a city that never sleeps.
And like any city on a Monday, this vibrant metropolis is teeming with life and industry.
As daytripping tourists, we try to make the most of our limited time – moving along at a fairly fast pace, heads straining this way and that to take in the magnitude of hectares of majestic scenery in our path.
Here and there, we witness pockets of frenzied activity, stare unapologetically as we glide past particularly interesting citizens and stop momentarily to marvel at the work of architect Mother Nature.
We soon realise millions of colourful personalities call this place home.
Look carefully and you can spot the office bully chastising a subordinate, the lovebirds playing chasey, the predator waiting for a chance to pounce, the power hierarchy from the cleaners to the bosses, as well as the jittery loners and the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours cliques.
Most neighbours seem to get along. Many ignore each other altogether.
Some keep to themselves but the agrophobic types rarely venture out from beyond their swaying curtains.
A great many natives wear basic black, while others accessorise with white or silver stripes.
The look-at-me types add a splash of yellow, blue or green, while others in their gold lame outfits or funky Seventies colour explosions don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks of their one-outfit wardrobes.
They all make up this silent but dazzling underwater world.
Captain Cook Cruises’ MV Reef Endeavour has introduced us to this awesome reef – with “skyscrapers” soaring 20m from the ocean floor, a complex network of canals, caves, cavities, overhangs and sprawling coral gardens – on the final full day of the seven-night Discovery Cultural Cruise that circumnavigates Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu.
The reef is a short boat ride from the quintessential desert island, Manava Cay, also known as Barbecue and Sali Sali Island, on the northern coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
Port-side passengers wake up to the view of idyllic Manava Cay as the rapidly rising sun’s rays cast shadows of the single hut and its two coconut palms on to the sandy beach.
As the tender boats drop us at low tide off this relatively young coral cay, our reef shoes squelch through the shallows hiding small fish and almost fossil-like starfish impressions in thin, smooth pebbles.
Crabs brush our feet as they sidestep the throng heading for the limited shade on the island.
A baby stingray, which has been momentarily disturbed, follows us a few metres before remaining perfectly still for photograph opportunities until an unsuspecting passenger’s footsteps sees the creature bury itself under the sand.
But as intriguing as this is, Manava Cay’s nearby reefs are what snorkellers and divers come to experience.
We are eye-balled by surgeonfish before being dismissed as harmless, and given only a cursory glance by the industrious parrotfish which carry on their strong work ethic unperturbed.
The yellow-black and white butterfly fish of computer-screensaver fame totally ignore our presence, as do the oceanfloor-dwelling blue starfish and sea cucumbers.
The clown fish and pretty blue and orange Clark’s Anemone Fish stay close to home, and shy types such as the huge striped sweetlips play hide and seek from us – only venturing into the light when they think the coast is clear.
I gladly hover motionless over a shoal of tiny electric blue fish protected by mustard-coloured staghorn coral (their “camouflage” was fooling no one!) but then find myself frozen still as a 1.5m black-tip reef shark swims past, only metres away.
A huge bluish-purple moon jellyfish pulsates by, magnificent fan coral specimens jut out from cavity walls, and small brown starfish seemingly defy gravity while lying vertically on a bommie.
One of our Fijian guides dives metres down to point out clams, a big coral cod, and to reassure us the “sea snake” is simply a rope-like coral recoiling in the current.
To cap off my two snorkelling sessions in this stunningly beautiful city, I am rewarded with a celebrity-spotting: what I believe to be a Moorish idol that is so large, it almost looks like it has two “legs” as it floats almost motionless above the coral.
Yes, this day tour to downtown Manava Cay has been a real eye-opener and a city I recommend you put on any Fijian itinerary.
FACTBOX: 7-NIGHT CULTURAL DISCOVERY CRUISE
Fiji has more than 330 islands but few tour groups or cruises take in the remote far north. Captain Cook Cruises’ seven-night Discovery Cultural Cruise circumnavigates Vanua Levu – Fiji’s second-largest island – and explores the islands, rivers and rainforests of the remote north, while opportunities also abound to experience the underwater world, including snorkelling on the world’s third-longest barrier reef.
Captain Cook’s MV Reef Endeavour is an intimate small-ship vessel catering for only 140 passengers in 65 suites, staterooms and cabins including connecting family staterooms. All are serviced daily.
Inclusions: all meals; daily island stopovers and water activities; guided island, village and school tours; snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours; use of snorkeling equipment and mini-gym; tropical island lovo feasts and kava ceremonies; live on-board entertainment; transfers from Nadi and Denarau hotels.
Ship facilities include: swimming pool, spa and sauna; glass-bottom boat, snorkelling and dive vessels; two bars; two lounges and a single-sitting dining saloon; day spa; gift shop; chart house; library; guest laundry; 24-hour coffee and tea facilities; a limited-access lift from D Deck to the sun deck.
Captain Cook Cruises seven nights Discovery Cultural Cruise has three more scheduled departures for 2011 in December and six scheduled departures for 2012. For further information, visit captaincook.com.fj
In Nadi, stay at Novotel Nadi – a newly transformed four-star resort-style hotel. The hotel is conveniently located 3km and only a few minutes from Nadi International Airport, Nadi Town, and Denarau Island/Port for transfers. It is set among 17ha (42 acres) of stunning tropical gardens in the Namaka Hills. As well as having 127 spacious rooms, the hotel offers an indoor/outdoor dining experience, Talei Bar, boutique shops and day spa, a nine-hole golf course, pool and tennis court. Visit novotel.com
Article by Shirley Sinclair