In February, 2016 Tropical Cyclone Winston hit Fiji. The largest cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. Incredibly the worst of the storm came during daylight hours which may have saved many lives.
As PADI Regional Manager for Fiji, I have been back to Fiji several times since Tropical Cyclone Winston came through and have now visited some of the worst hit areas for our PADI Members.
One thing that amazes me is how the Fijian people and the people who now call Fiji home have dealt with the aftermath of TC Winston. They really are an extremely resilient bunch of people, rebuilding homes and businesses with the most amazing attitude and a smile on their faces!
Fijian people are well known for their smile and friendly attitude – so much so that many people from all over the world who have witnessed the Fijian culture first hand on a holiday generously donated to the many fundraising efforts in Fiji which assisted providing much needed food, water and shelter in the days afterwards. Once basic needs were being met additional fundraising from many countries and its people provided building supplies in order to begin to rebuild resorts and dive centre’s.
Several Dive Resorts were forced to close while they assessed the damage and made plans to rebuild. While there were a few areas hit hard, a large part of the dive industry here in Fiji was not impacted and resorts were open for business as soon as the weather cleared up. Unfortunately with travel warnings and media coverage in the international news the tourist numbers declined, impacting those businesses reliant on the tourist dollar. This was frustrating to those in areas which were open for business as usual.
The good news is the diving in Fiji is still amazing! Local dive operators say the reef has had some damage in a small amount of dive sites, however the majority is still as healthy as ever – the ‘Soft Coral Capital of the World’ status still rings true underneath the amazing crystal blue water!
One example of sheer determination to be ‘Stronger than Winston’ was Paradise Taveuni Resort – seen here are the before and after pictures. Rebuilt in just 3 months and now looking amazing this is just one example of a community working together. Owner Allan Gorton now believes the staff here have a new pride in the resort due to the fact they helped to rebuild it. Returning guests have also made comment about the amazing staff here.
A total of 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and approximately 350,000 people—roughly 40 percent of Fiji’s population—were significantly impacted by the storm. Many PADI Members jumped into action straight away and began fundraising and helping those that needed it. Of particular note, Julie Kelly was recently awarded a recognition award by PADI Asia Pacific Territory Director Thomas Knedlik and Regional Manager Jen Clent. Julie, her family and friends personally helped raise nearly FJD$200,000 which has assisted in helping the villages on Taveuni – an amazing effort!
So, you may be thinking “how can I help?” Fiji is most certainly open for business, the diving is still amazing, whether you are interested in sharks, soft corals, manta rays, amazing coral reefs – it really is all here for the taking!
The best thing about Fiji – the people are still smiling! With so many island destinations to choose from the only real question you should be asking yourself is “When are we going?”
Talk to your PADI Dive Centre and organise your trip to the Soft Coral Capital of the world and say BULA to Fiji.
For more information about diving here, visit the PADI Fiji Vacation Spotlight.