Fiji and the Solomon Islands - Tom Liles

Fiji and the Solomon Islands

We traveled to Fiji and the Solomon Islands in November/December of 2016.  It was a fabulous trip!  There were 19 of us from Albuquerque, a group put together by Wayne Bridge.  It included 6 nights in Fiji, 10 nights on the "legendary"  Bilikiki liveaboard dive boat cruising the Solomons Islands, and a final night in Honiara, Guadalcanal.


The Waidroka resort is on the south coast of Viti Levu Island, about a two hour drive from Nadi.  Gorgeous green grounds right on the beach.  Our rooms were up a looong flight of steps, but with a great view to the ocean.

Waidroka

We lucked out and the resort had a Kava Ceremony our first night!  The locals did a great job with the ceremony and much Kava was consumed!  It has a slight peppery taste, though the taste was much like dirty dish water!  Stef got in a little dancing too.

Kava Ceremony

We also had a local village visit, touring with the Chief's son (in the yellow shirt below).  The people are very friendly and happy.  Doesn't Stef look great with the pigs?!

Village Visit

A highlight of the Fiji diving was the organized shark feed.  Our first.  Some people do not agree with this kind of operation but we really enjoyed it and felt safe.  We saw Bull, Silvertip and Nurse sharks up close and personal!  Amazing to see the dive guides (ie Shark Wranglers) swimming through the swarms of fish and sharks.  Be sure to watch the short video.

Fiji Shark Dive

Fiji Shark Feed Video

The Solomon Islands

Next stop, the Solomon Islands and the famous Bilikiki liveaboard dive boat.  It was about a 3 hour flight from Nadi Fiji to Honiara Guadalcanal, Solomons Islands.  Representatives of the boat met us at the airport and transferred us directly to the harbor, where a skiff took us out to the Bilikiki.  It is an odd looking boat but very comfortable and serviceable as a dive platform.  Lots of space for camera setup, especially with a dedicated camera room on the top deck.  The food was buffet style, good and plentiful.

The Bilikiki

Most of the following underwater fish and invertebrate photos are arranged in species groupings.  The majority are from the Solomons, but some are from the Fiji diving.

Nudibranchs

Nudibranchs (shell-less sea slugs) are my favorite underwater photo subjects!  They are small and very colorful and move very slowly!  So getting close (macro) is important and the slow locomotion allows multiple exposures to get the exposure right.  Not that Stef likes hanging around during my camera time...

Crabs and Shrimp

Small crabs and shrimp are also great macro subjects.  They are usually very colorful and do not move very fast, but can back into cracks and crevices making them hard to capture on the camera!  Porcelain crabs live on various anemones and squat lobsters like crinoids.  Shrimp have many various "homes".  These creatures usually live out their entire lives at one place.

Island Villages and Craft Markets

The native Solomon Islanders are very friendly and photogenic!  They came out in dugout canoes to sell vegetables and fruit whenever the boat got close enough to their island.  We also got the opportunity to visit several villages and craft markets.  There is not much tourist traffic in the archipelago and the Bilikiki is the only liveaboard dive boat in the area.  Stef purchased a fabulous swirling Shark wood carving (and was nervous all the way back home toting that precious cargo!).

Island Entertainment

We got the royal treatment at one village:  dancing and music!  Separate men's and women's dances, plus a concert of drums and bamboo instruments.  Modernized a bit as most of the bamboo had been replaced by PVC pipes!  And the musicians were using flip flops to paddle the pipes!  A very nice sound.  Be sure to watch the video of the dancing and music.

Tiny Fish

Tiny fish are great!  They are usually colorful and sometimes allow a close approach.  Blennys in coral holes or sitting on top of coral heads, dartfish, juvenile trumpet fish.  Many juveniles look entirely different than their adult versions and usually are more colorful or patterned.  The Harlequin Filefish are pretty uncommon.

The first video is of the Shrimp Goby and their pals, the Blind Shrimp.  The shrimp maintains their burrow home while the Goby is the lookout.  The second video is of some schools of small fish that inhabit small coral heads.  If you get too close, they disappear down into the coral.

Shrimp Goby and Blind Shrimp

Coral heads with Schools of Fish

Clams and Scallops

Clams and Scallops are definitely easier photo targets!  They are very slow, hah!  The Giant Tricadna clams are two to three feet across and can live hundreds of years.  Their mantles have a wide variety of colors and patterns.

Wrecks and Caves

We had the opportunity to dive several World War Two wrecks, one being a Japanese seaplane with the engines still intact (see Stef below).  There were also several "caves", though in reality deep cuts from the sea that carve far into the islands.  Very eerie lighting and atmosphere.

Colorful Fish

Fish are usually the hardest photographic subjects to capture.  They do not understand the concept of slowing down and posing in the proper stance!  One can spend a lot of time trying to get close enough for the strobe to work and then waiting for the right composition.  At least with digital, you are not wasting a lot of "film"!

Big Fish and Fish Schools 

We had multiple close encounters with beautiful Silvertip Sharks.  They are not that shy and sometimes cruise by very close.  You can identify Silvertips by the white margins along the dorsal, pectoral and tail fins.

We also encounters several schools of "blacktip" sharks.  These sharks would normally swim very fast back and forth, but not get very close.

Big schools of fish are truly amazing.  The biggest and most dense are schools of Jacks.  Then there are Spadefish, Barracuda, tiny Catfish, and swarms of Pyramid Butterflys and other associated small fish hovering just over or off the reef.

Check out the two videos below!

Flatworms

Flatworms are always moving about, very fast for a "slug"!  Of course, they are slow enough to be fairly easy photo targets.

Anemone fish and their host anemones

Good images of Anemone fish are hard to get, since they flit around constantly.  Their host anemones can be of all varieties, from carpet anemones with short arms, to long armed specimens with bulbous tips.  The anemones are very beautiful when they close up, showing brightly colored undersides.  You feel sorry for the Anemonefish!

Anemone fish

Odds and Ends

Lots of miscellaneous creatures and invertebrates.  Moray eels, Christmas Tree worms, starfish, urchins, nudibranch egg ribbon, cowrie, crocodile fish, etc.

Be sure to check out the Cuttlefish video at the end of this section.  They are amazing animals!  Watch as they change color instantaneously, trying to match their surroundings for camouflage.  And a final video of miscellaneous wildlife!  Green Sea Turtle, Manta Ray, baby Octopus and a weird Sea Cucumber out and moving about.  Some of the scenes are during a night dive, with lots of tiny critters in the water column.

Cuttlefish doing their thing!

Sea Turtle, Manta, et al

A Great End to a Great Trip!

Last night passenger and crew party on the sun deck (we had hors d'oeuvres up there every evening).  Champagne was flowing freely.  Plus some of the GREAT sunsets we experienced!

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