While Fiji is well known for its beautiful white-sand beaches lined with palm trees, perhaps the most striking scenery in this island nation can be found under the water. It’s not that surprising when you think about it: after all, Fiji is made up of more than 330 islands and atolls, and is home to dazzling bright coral reefs, tropical fish and exciting marine creatures. Fiji is considered the soft coral capital of the world, and is a much-coveted travel destination for both first-time snorkellers and experienced scuba divers.
Here, you have the chance to observe not only countless species of fish and several hundred types of coral and sponges, but also turtles, eels, manta rays and sharks. The reefs themselves are utterly awe-inspiring, with many featuring lush coral gardens, deep canyons and extraordinary marine walls. And the best part is that you can experience all this at any time of the year. Seriously, even during the rainy season, Fiji’s turquoise waters are known for being warm and clear, with the water temperature averaging 27°C all year round. That said, the absolute best time to snorkel in Fiji is between July and September, when the visibility is at its finest.
However, before you throw on a mask and flippers and swim out to sea, a few safety tips for those wanting to avoid the tour group and snorkel solo:
- Take a flotation device with you. These are pretty much essential if you’re not a confident swimmer, but even if you are, you might be surprised at how tired you get swimming around the reefs, so it’s handy to have something to hang on to when you need a break.
- Make sure you head back into shore before you get too tired, as you’ll need to reserve some energy to swim back.
- Keep an eye on the wind. Strong winds can easily blow you out to sea without you even realising it.
- Watch the waves. Fiji might be known for its soft coral, but it won’t feel that soft when heavy waves push you into the reef.
Now all that’s left for you to do is decide where in Fiji to go. Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong, but here are just some of the sites with the best snorkelling in Fiji. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!
Namena Marine Reserve
In the waters between Fiji’s two biggest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, lies the Namena Marine Reserve, which is home to more than 1100 fish species and 400 corals. This diversity is due in part to the fact that the area is protected from any fishing practices, so the shoals are allowed to flourish. Expect to see blue ribbon eel, barracuda and grey reef sharks, and if you time your visit to coincide with the migratory seasons, you might even spy dolphins and humpback whales. A true underwater playground, Namena Marine Reserve is easily one of the best places to snorkel in Fiji.
If you’re a little apprehensive about heading far out to sea to find some coral, Natadola might just be the spot for you. Located about an hour south of Nadi on the mainland of Viti Levu, Natadola is one of the only public beaches in the area that offers incredible snorkelling opportunities right off the beach. As such, you don’t have to go far to find plenty of colourful fish playing around the spectacular reef. If you’re a fan of free-diving, be sure to look for the turquoise patches in the water: these indicate the presence of deep holes in the reef for those tempted to explore some caves.
Another great spot for beginner snorkellers is Navini Island. Nestled in the Mamanuca Islands archipelago of Fiji, tiny Navini Island boasts an exciting reef sanctuary just off its shores. Swimming slowly around the island, you can spy anemonefish, bluefins, grouper and if you’re lucky, turtles. In the deeper sections of the reef you can also observe some really stunning coral species, such as brain and fan coral.
Beqa Island Lagoon
Another reef that’s easy to get to is the Beqa Island Lagoon, which can be found just off Vita Levu near the international airport. However, don’t think that its accessibility means it’s not an exciting option: rather, Beqa Island Lagoon offers some of the best snorkelling in Fiji’s Coral Coast. This lively reef holds some truly fascinating underwater topography, such as pinnacles and bommies (columns of coral), and is home to thousands of exotic fish species, sharks, turtles and giant clams. It might be easy to get to, but Beqa Island Lagoon will make you feel like you’re miles from anywhere.
If you want to go snorkelling with manta rays in Fiji, it should come as no surprise that one of the best places to do this is Nanuya Balavau. Between the months of May and October, this member of the remote Yasawas Islands sees an influx of these giant rays, all of whom arrive to feed in the plankton-rich channel nearby. However, the island is no one-trick pony, and also offers the chance to encounter morays, sharks, octopus, seahorses and much more. Conveniently, you can snorkel right off the beach here, but for those feeling a little more adventurous, there are some incredibly fascinating dive spots just a short boat ride away.
Located just to the northeast of Kadavu, the fourth largest island in Fiji, Ono is a volcanic island reserved exclusively for snorkellers. That’s right: oxygen tanks and dive regulators are not welcome here, leaving snorkellers with the best seat in the house from which to observe manta rays, who frequent this area due to the presence of many cleaner wrasse. These small fish act like the janitors of the sea world, as they like to swim inside a manta’s mouth to eat parasites and dead skin, and have even been known to help manta rays heal after a shark attack by cleaning the bite marks. As such, Ono Island is a unique place to watch Mother Nature at work.
While you’re near Kadavu, you’d be remiss not to explore the vast Astrolabe Reef, which at 120 kilometres long is one of the world’s longest barrier reefs. There is understandably a range of different sites to visit, with some places reserved for experienced scuba divers only. However, snorkellers are hardly without options of their own, and by heading out on a boat destined for the best spots on the reef, snorkellers can float above rich and vibrant coral that is home to seahorses, exotic fish and so much more. If you come between July and August, you might even glimpse a hammerhead shark.
Perhaps one of the country’s most popular snorkelling sites, Rainbow Reef is Fiji must-see item. Located in the Somosomo Strait between Taveuni and Vanua Levu, the reef gets its name from its wall of soft coral that presents the colours of a rainbow. Here you can spy such marine life as clown triggerfish, anthiases and (occasionally) leopard shark. This is truly a sight to behold, and should make it onto every hardcore snorkeller’s Fiji to do list.
Grab your goggles and your flippers, and book flights to Fiji to start exploring these incredible underwater worlds. Want to know more about holidaying Fiji? Discover the best time to visit Fiji here, or read out up other island destinations around the South Pacific.