What a dive
O towards the light,” a voice says. Suppressing my fear, I float through the darkness in the direction of a bright white patch in the distance. Soon I’m at the source, pausing, waiting to see what happens next. The light was recently installed at the end of the jetty at Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji, in a bid to attract plankton as an added bonus for guests on a night snorkelling safari with the resort’s marine biologist Johnny Singh.
It is my first time snorkelling at night, and a completely different experience than in the daytime. In the evening, certain types of coral come out to feed; we see a parrotfish sleeping under a rock after secreting a mucus cocoon around itself for protection against parasites. Singh points out a rare brown starfish, a lionfish and a sea snake, which we are encouraged to touch. Along the way he asks us to turn off our torches and wave our arms in the water. It’s nearly a full moon, so he’s unsure if it will work, but sure enough I soon see green sparks of plankton flying from my fingertips. I feel a bit like a superhero.
In the distance, the lights of the resort are twinkling on the horizon. All too soon we return, shivering, to our bures for a quick warm shower before dinner under the stars.
On other snorkelling expeditions, Singh writes the names of the fish we see on a waterproof board underwater. During a reef walk on a nearby private island at low tide, he points out blue sea stars, crabs, sea cucumbers, urchins and tiny wrasse fish in small pools in the rock, stopping to show us a reticulated moray eel poking its face out of cave, eyeing us warily. “He can’t elicit a fatal bite – his mouth is too small,” Singh says reassuringly. “Ooh, look at that,” he cries moments later. “There’s a very special algae right here. It’s the only algae that fossilises when it dies.” Singh’s passion is infectious, and I feel a childlike sense of discovery.
The opportunity to take part in marine activities with Singh is one of the key drawcards of the resort. Previously a dive resort, it was a favoured destination for French explorer and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. He convinced Californian investor Mike Freed, who also had a luxury eco property in Big Sur, to take it over in 1995. The property was named Cousteau Resort, but was renamed after a legal dispute. While it is now owned by Canyon Resorts, Cousteau remains a partner in the resort’s dive shop and comes to stay a couple of times a year, celebrating his 75th birthday there last year.
The resort is near Savusavu on Fiji’s second-largest island of Vanua Levu. The 24 bures are made from natural materials, with thatched roofs and timber louvre walls. The only room with airconditioning is the luxury villa, which also has its own pool, day bed and outdoor shower. Dotted with frangipanis and palm trees, the 6ha resort is designed like a traditional Fijian village. In a typical village, the chief’s bure would have the highest roof. At the resort, the bar and dining area – the hub of the resort – has an 18m tall temple roof. An organic garden supplies about a third of the vegetables and herbs served in the resort’s restaurant. Tropical fruit trees including guava, mango, coconut, papaya, avocado and pineapple grow on the grounds, attracting birds such as redcollared lorikeets and blue kingfishers. Waste water is recycled and used on the gardens. Bottled water is used by guests but the empties are shipped to Suva.
Most of the employees live in a nearby village, which guests can visit during their stay. One staff member, Pete Yaya, was instrumental in establishing a marine reserve in front of the resort. Before this, the locals used to fish with explosives but they were convinced to restrict fishing to particular areas for the good of the marine life and
Angela Saurine waits until after dark to slip out of her island eco-resort and into the ocean.