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June 1997 Vol. 12, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving with the Cousteau Team

Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort

from the June, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Jean-Michel,

You don't know me, but I've seen you in so many magazines and TV shows that I know you. Between friends, I thought you might want a firsthand report about your resort, the Jean- Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort. Oh, I know it's not really "your place" alone, though you have a some stock, but since your name's on it, everyone thinks it's yours. They told me, though, it is your dive shop (and somebody else's too) and you keep a pretty close eye on it. Good for you.

I wanted to go dive with what you call the "Cousteau Team." That's been my lifelong fantasy, ever since watching your dad on TV, and now they're at your resort! (How is your dad, by the way? It was pretty crummy when he sued to keep the Cousteau name off your resort -- I mean, like it's your name too. I read you guys settled by putting "Jean-Michel" in the title. Are you friends again? I hope so. No one likes to have his dad mad at him, especially a famous dad. My dad didn't even swim!)

I visited your resort in 1990, when it was Nakoro. A pretty place. Great staff, good diving -- well, good if you haven't been to world-class places like Papua New Guinea -- but it was expensive and the food was lousy. Maybe that's why they went bankrupt. But the folks from Post Ranch (that's sure a tony Big Sur Resort) rescued it and were smart enough to get your name on it to get divers there. I wish I'd thought about that.

 

Fiji

Fiji

It's smart money management that you didn't have to make many changes, though the grounds are more lush (every night I heard coconuts fall; do they ever bonk anyone?) and I love that long dock out to the dive boat. (Ever snorkel out there? Lots of dead coral, but quite a few fish.) Those large thatched-roof bures are much the same (sure is a comfy king-sized bed), that tile in bathroom and shower is an improvement, and, wow, coffee makers, hair dryer, robes, an honor bar (hey, what about those French roots, JM? They never restocked the wine!). The overhead fan blew out a few mosquitoes at night, but they weren't bad. I read about how you want to have wind and solar power, but you may never need them now that public electricity is coming; bet you'll be glad to scrap those old generators.

You can see the sunset from the ocean-front bures, but you know what they call the second row? Ocean View! Now, you know oceans, and tell me -- wouldn't you have to climb on the roof to see the ocean, what with the foliage and bures in your way? My partner was disappointed, so I asked about moving, but it took a day for someone to okay it, then they wanted $115 more! Wow, almost every one of those beachfronts was vacant and we were already renting our bure for $325 a night.

I like the open-air dining area and serving people meals by the pool (that old pool tile ought to go, have you noticed?). And I like the great house with its bar and reception area, and the little store had some fine crafts. But next time you visit, bring some Tampax; the store sells none (doesn't sell much, actually), the staff promised get some from town, which never happened, so a day later she took a cab to town to shop.

. . . I got a
little margin
with my
computer, but
hey, with most
dives around 60-
70 feet, who
wants to stay
past 50 minutes
anyway, and I
felt safe coming
back with more
than 1,000 psi
every time.

I dived just about every day. Nice boat. Thirty-seven-footer, a head. Glad to hear another is coming. We never had more than six divers, but twelve would be a crowd. A guide said you had twenty for a week; half waited on the bow while the others dressed (the Calypso was never ever crowded, was it?). The dive shop is small, but you've got a great, friendly staff; they checked my C-card, briefed me, and even sent someone to pick up our dive bags at the bure. But, hey, check out those postcards for sale -- you're in the Caribbean on all of them! Let Gary, your super Aussie dive manager, take some snaps of you and make some local postcards. And bring more dive T-shirts; the large fit like a medium and you were out of anything bigger, so I had to buy a $30 Cousteau Resort T-shirt in the lodge.

You've got a slick dive operation, right up there with the kind you find on Cayman or Bonaire, and a good crew. Your operation is just what divers have come to expect from guys like you and Ron Kipp -- fixed moorings, good briefings with site maps, gear set up for you, camera cared for, set time and depth. I got a little margin with my computer, but hey, with most dives around 60-70 feet, who wants to stay past 50 minutes anyway, and I felt safe coming back with more than 1,000 psi every time. Water 81 F, vis 40-80 feet. Great place for careful divers, that's for sure.

You know, in 1990 I dived these reefs; they're nice and close -- leave home at 9:30, have a couple of tanks, and be back for lunch by 1:00. First day, Gary led us five minutes across rubble, but wow, fine pinnacles awaited -- stacks of hard corals, beautiful soft corals, plenty of tropicals, anemones, clownfish -- and one single black lionfish (strange, the only one in five days!). The guides weren't in a rush, they gave a full hour surface interval, then off we went to more lush pinnacles, with extraordinary corals, alive with fuschias, magentas, and yellows, big lobster, crinoids, schools of fusiliers, and sailfin anthias. Best part: millions of schooling juveniles; you know, I saw two-inch barracuda, triggers, and other critters that I even pointed out to the guides. With the action at 15-45 feet, I wanted to burn up my air, but everybody got out at the prescribed 45 minutes, so I was a good sport and exited 10 minutes later and still had 1,100 psi (hey, that slow breathing should qualify me for your team).

Now, I know you want to protect your 20-some sites, but the locals spear and fish for food (you might caution people to carry a knife in case a fish line gets caught in a buckle) and that's a hell of a dilemma. How do you balance that? I mean, they were here first, which is probably why there aren't many big fish. And then you've got that crown-of-thorns guy. Man, at a couple of sites where the rubble was amazing, your guide (and others too) told me those starfish (I saw a few big guys) ripped through there a few years ago. What's the solution for a Cousteau? Let 'em be? Or kill 'em? I sure don't want to be in your shoes, no sir, with the spotlight on.

One thing you have over that other dive operation is that your boat can make the hour trip to Namena Island, where Tom Moody has a resort. Too bad old Tom won't let your divers go ashore between dives (he can get cantankerous, that Tom). But during lunch hour we had a great swim in a beautiful bay and even saw a sea snake. Now I know from stuff your pop wrote that they're benign critters, but I bet if you stuck your finger in its mouth you'd be on the Hale- Bopp spaceship. No thanks.

Both dives here were good drifts, kind of Cousteau team stuff, along the wall then into tidal channels through the reef. Dropped in, cruised gently down to about 80 feet. Beautiful schools of wrasse, fusilier, and bogia billowed up and down the hard and soft corals. Your boat moved into the channel and moored, waiting for us to arrive. But you know what, Mr. Cousteau? I swam over and looked at the chain and hook and there it was, on live coral! Now, what about that? And while I was down there contemplating the damage -- it was minor, but there was some -- I watched your guide and a couple of divers almost climb onto Moody's boat. Pretty funny, huh.

. . . Your boat
moved into the
channel and
moored, waiting
for us to
arrive. But you
know what, Mr.
Cousteau? I swam
over and looked
at the chain and
hook and there
it was, on live
coral!

I wonder how you rate the diving here, given where you and your dad went. I found it pretty enjoyable, especially when I found unique critters like flatworms, nudibranchs, and nervous little dragon wrasses. But you must see more than I; in fact, I sure could have used some help from that crew, but they kept their eye on divers and didn't point out much. Your nice marine biologist -- turns out she just graduated -- joined us on one dive and brought up a brittle star, a barnacle, and other critters, and let us play with them while she described them. I guess this pretty much is the full membership of the Cousteau team. They're pretty professional, just like the teams in Cayman and Bonaire. I'd read in ads about exploring new sites with the Cousteau team, but there was none of that. Maybe the ads were referring to the Cousteau marketing team. Now, those guys are good.

Since you stay at this place for free, you might not know how expensive it is: rooms begin at $374 per night for a double ($510 for ocean view) and two tanks range from $80 to $99, depending upon how many you take. And meals are extra, so a week for two is FOUR GRAND! And more, 'cause you have to get there.

. . . And that
Mongolian stir
fry! Greatlooking
fresh
veggies,
noodles, pork,
fish, beef, and
several sauces
and oils. Now,
you French guys
could make a
five-star meal
out of this, but
what do I do?

Since you come from France (do you ever get back or do you consider yourself an American now?), you know about Michelin ratings, where restaurants get stars. Now Mich might not give your cuisine any, but I will: three for most meals, one or two for a couple. The folks at Post Ranch had a chef there (a cook?), so we had a good breakfast -- fruit, baked pastries, and standard cooked fare (one piece of French toast for $6!). But I think he napped after breakfast (maybe that's why, when you were here in January, you drove an hour over to Nukubati for lunch.) One lunch was a terrible salad, somewhat rancid croutons, a crepe packed with tasteless shrimp and fish (frozen, no doubt), then covered with melted Swiss cheese. (A Frenchman would gag.) One dinner: a decent salad, but the featured lobster was mealy (again, frozen far too long), and the mashed potatoes, our gracious server told us, came from a box in New Zealand; just add liquid. (Hey, I had real potatoes everywhere else.) Heavily salted carrots and broccoli accompanied most meals. (Is al dente a French word? Naw, must be Italian?) One night they offered a special crab dish, but ran out because the staff in from the states ordered it (another guest said we were lucky not to get it). And that Mongolian stir fry! Great-looking fresh veggies, noodles, pork, fish, beef, and several sauces and oils. Now, you French guys could make a five-star meal out of this, but what do I do? The guy with the tongs didn't know, so my partner and I each made an ugly mess, something my niece would call "moosh goosh." Feeling sorry for us, our waiter brought us his constructed Fijian moosh goosh. Have you eaten at other Fijian resorts? I've eaten at twelve. Nine had great food, one couldn't get supplies; the other two, Nakoro and the place with your name . . . oh dear. (P.S.: your bartenders made great drinks, but the bar snacks, if you even got them, were things like popcorn and deep-fried stuff, served cold and clammy.)

Diving with the Cousteau Team

Can you guess who's Curly Carswell?

Now, I don't mean to be negative -- I get accused of that -- but you see with that great press you guys get and that high price, I guess I just expected more. In fact, after a couple of days, I decided to strike out and see what expat New Zealanders Curly and Liz Carswell, at Eco Divers in town, offered. (You know Curly. He helped you with Project Ocean Search.) Years ago he arranged a trip for me though his Sea Fiji travel agency, so I gave him a call and arranged a dive. Turns out he has two hotels that can house and feed people -- pretty well, I might add -- and dives your reefs for about a third of what those Post Ranch people charge -- $1,300 for two!

I took a bone-crushing ride on their high-speed Zodiac -- now this is what I imagined the Cousteau team would be like -- to Big Blue. Diving with the Cousteau TeamYour boat would moor here, but they drifted. Tiai, who worked at Nakoro in the old days, took me on the most splendid dive of my trip, past virgin heaps of table, plate, and other hard corals, across a large field of antler coral, through occasional clouds of reef fish, and never went below 50 feet. I requested Alice in Wonderland for my second dive, since I had enjoyed it years ago, and damn if those crowns hadn't grazed through, leaving large patches of coral bones. Yet I came across a forest of antler coral, big heads of mushroom coral, and a dozen flute mouths, a six-foot gray shark, and a three-foot mackerel. A fine 65-minute dive. Both Tiai and Dave took pains to point out critters; maybe they could point some out to your fellas.

I know why you don't have these kinds of Zodiacs; they're rough and cramped and people who go to upscale resorts wouldn't like them. But the guides helped me in and out and dropped over a rigid ladder at the end. A full boat would be white-knuckle adventure, but at that price who can complain?

. . . Talk to
the folks who
run the hotel.
A Frenchman just
can't be proud
of that food
(but they do
serve good
wine). They
ought to pay
attention to
you, even if
you're just an
investor.

Curly showed me two hotels in his package, but they aren't as nice as yours. The Hot Springs, five minutes from Eco Divers, is a Travel Lodge sort of place, but clean and well managed, with a pool, a large, pleasant dining area overlooking the harbor (good food!), and small rooms with harbor views. About a mile toward your place, Daku Resort has several homey apartment-like bures, more Fijian-like (and so are the meals) than the Hot Springs. Curly picks up and drops off people here, and they take a $3 cab ride to funky Indian or Chinese restaurants in town or grab a pizza.

I dived years ago with Liz (she's an instructor), so she knows my trade. When I left, she said I didn't have to pay because dive writers don't. I thanked her, but paid full fare anyway. That's my policy. I've never wavered. I don't take favors, I don't give favors. So I'm sure you would agree that for people who can't afford your place, for an inexpensive trip with good introductory South Pacific diving, Eco Divers can't be beat.

Anyway, nice talkin' to you. I love Fiji and Fijians and you picked a great place to invest and visit. You have a good dive operation, but get the hook off the coral! And talk to the folks who run the hotel. A Frenchman just can't be proud of that food (but they do serve good wine). They ought to pay attention to you, even if you're just an investor. Tell them to take a look at Matagi or Qamea or Marlin Bay or Nukubati, have a meal or two, check out the price. Good luck. Say hello to your dad.

Your friend and admirer,

Ben Davison

Ditty Bag

Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort can be booked through its North American
sales office at 800-246-3454 or 415-788-0150, or direct at 011-679-850188
(fax 011-679-850340). Rooms begin at $374/night for a double
($510 for ocean view), and two tanks range from $80 to $99; seven-night dive
package, $1,499-$1,799 per person double occupancy, lunch and dinner extra. . . .
June through October is the dry season, when water clarity is at its best and
coolest, sometimes dropping into the low 70s. In November the waters begin to
warm, winds die down, and plankton reduces the visibility. By January or February
the water has usually warmed back up into the low 80s. February and March
bring the windiest months. In April and May the wind abates and plankton blooms
again, lowering visibility. . . . Curly and Liz Carswell, Eco Divers, can be booked
through Sea Fiji at 800-854-3454 or direct at 011-679-850122. I've always found
Sea Fiji an excellent source for air connections to Fiji.

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