Fiji's Rainbow Reef

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Tim Laman / National Geographic Creative / Getty Images

Chasing rainbows Anthias, like this squarespot, are found in huge numbers at the reef

In the translucent blue waters separating vanua levu and taveuni — the second and third largest islands of Fiji — lies the Rainbow Reef. Among its many wonders is the Great White Wall, a sunken escarpment blanketed in luminescent white corals.

Consistently rated as one of the world's best dive sites, the wall is reached via a tubular swim-through and starts at a depth of 20 m. Between a tangle of flexible, treelike soft coral are explosions of the harder stuff, home to millions of beautifully colored anthias and other pelagic fish. Larger species of marine life lurk there too, including manta rays, barracuda and harmless reef sharks.

This striking environment is the product of a rare phenomenon that sees a large volume of seawater forced through the narrow, shallow passage that is the Somosomo Strait. The pressure creates strong currents brimming with nutrients eagerly anticipated by the marine life, in particular the soft corals, which expand to their most enchanting at feeding time. "The best time to dive it is at low slack tide, when there is no current and the wall has been fed with nutrients for seven hours," says Jon Piepkorn, an instructor at Taveuni Dive. "It's the reason they call this place the soft-coral capital of the world."

Taveuni Dive runs its operations from the Paradise resort in Taveuni's south — a 20-minute boat ride from Rainbow Reef. With dramatic jungle and volcanic backdrops, the property features 11 luxurious bure, or bungalows, built from natural materials using traditional techniques and decorated in indigenous style. They leak a little during flash downpours, but, like the overattentive staff (there are 58 in total), that's part of the charm.

"Before opening Paradise, my wife and I worked at some of the larger resorts on the main island of Viti Levu," says Australian owner Allan Gortan. "The most common thing we heard was that it was all very beautiful but not very Fijian. So we decided to make our resort part of the land. When people say they love what we've done with this place, we tell them all we did is let the locals do what they do best."

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