By Anne and Eric Simmons.
T he sandy beaches and jungle-clad hills of Pacific Harbour receded into the distance as our dive boat scoots across Beqa Lagoon towards our destination. Looking around the boat there are a variety of expressions on the divers’ faces, the level of excitement and anticipation far higher than your usual dive trip. Some are anxiously checking their gear for a fifth time, others fiddling with their camera setups – the number of GoPro cameras on board is impressive to say the least. Some divers sit quietly, contemplating what lies ahead, others chatting proudly about their previous dive experiences, our Fijian Dive Masters remain relaxed and confident.
Today the team from AquaTrek are taking us to their Ultimate Shark Encounter at ‘The Bistro’, where we are going to be up close and personal with a variety of sharks. Brandon Paige, a.k.a. ‘the Shark Whisperer’, pioneered shark diving in Fiji back in the 1980s. Today he laughs when he retells stories of how the locals thought him crazy to want to bring in these huge predators – why would divers want to see sharks when diving?
It’s only a short distance to our dive site and Brandon gives us a dive briefing, ensuring everyone knows what is about to happen. From the surface we can see the crowds of fish, complete with sharks circling around below us. We head down to take our places around the arena to watch the action unfold. Our trusty dive masters also take their positions so that they are aware of what’s happening from every angle. The action can be so full on at times, it is reassuring to know they have your back! And it’s not just the sharks you have to watch, the massive Queensland groupers know their best chance for a meal is at the start of the queue and they aren’t shy about coming forward.
Today we are blessed with seven different species of sharks spiralling around under the burley bin. They don’t just barge in and take the food, they pass by to investigate several times before gathering the confidence to take the food proffered. The hand-feeding policy is strict, the sharks have to approach from the correct direction to be allowed the fish. Both dive team and sharks have been doing this for so long that they know the drill – while the dive team remains vigilant for any signs of unacceptable behaviour, and that goes for divers as well as sharks!
A large lemon shark has slunk in to rest only inches away from me, observing the feeding carefully before ascending over my head to casually move and receive her titbit. The larger bulls are now moving in and taking their turns with the feeders. These guys are slightly more boisterous and pushy, this is their patch! Still, they remain cautious, ever watchful and easily put off, totally focused on the feeder, so be prepared to give way. There is so much happening everywhere and so fast! At times it is difficult to make out the feeder due to the multitude of small, colourful opportunist fish mobbing him. At the same time the ever-growing spiral of sharks and other fish below the bin now resembles a slow moving tornado of fish. This is really addictive stuff and the time goes so fast, all too soon we are getting shepherded back towards the wreck behind us before we head back up to the boat. Huge morays, giant trevally, anemone fish and schools of golden snapper, rainbow runners, fusiliers and hungry red bass are entertaining distractions and before you know it you are stepping back on board for your surface interval.
So many stories and tales of action from down below, this is a great opportunity to ask the myriad of questions that have arisen from our dive – what shark was that? How big do they grow? Do the same sharks come in each dive? Which ones were females? The questions go on, and this is what it’s all about – educating divers about sharks and dispelling the myths that sharks are mindless, dangerous killers. Several of the divers here today are here because they felt they had to, maybe because their partner wanted to or they just felt they had to cross it off their bucket list. Many were openly nervous about getting in the water – but all of them couldn’t wait to get back in for the second dive.
We have observed sharks up close and personal – so much that at times I had to hang onto my camera or risk having it knocked out of my grasp. Did the adrenaline flow? Yes. Did we ever feel unsafe? No. Did we have an awesome experience and come away with a different view about sharks? YES! Honestly this has to rank up there with one of the best dives of my life, and I would recommend it to anyone – it’s such an eye opener and an amazing way to learn the truth about sharks.
Shark dives, are only a few times a week, the rest of the time there is some beautiful soft coral dive sites, stunning swim-throughs and tunnels encrusted with so much colour and life that you don’t know where to look first. Beqa Lagoon has a huge variety of marine life, resident and visiting – you never know what you are going to see. Eels, octopus, over 400 species of fish, rays of all descriptions. The macro life is fantastic, seahorses, nudibranchs inhabit these amazing healthy hard coral reefs and colourful soft corals – and don’t forget the sharks!
You can enjoy the many exciting adventures awaiting you at Pacific Harbour, the Adventure Capital of Fiji. And that’s what makes Pacific Harbour such a great holiday destination for anyone, whether they dive or not – there are so many choices of activities.
We stayed at the Uprising, nestled within a tropical garden along a sandy beach, with luxury villas and beachfront bures. There also is a range of dormitory style options. Here you can choose to relax on the beach or beside the pool, have a massage and enjoy being pampered, take advantage of one of the many activities that can be booked at the resort. A great place for a family, with diving so close by, you can do your dives and be back in time for lunch! As well as world-class diving there is also white water rafting, game fishing, jet ski safaris, zip lining, adventure eco parks, 4WD adventures, spearfishing, paintball or village tours, island picnics, golf, day spas or shopping for those looking for something more relaxed. So if you are not diving, or your partner or family members doesn’t, there are a number of activities in Pacific Harbour that will suit. The Uprising has a different activity schedule daily and is a perfect base where you can choose to live adventurously or relax effortlessly. The staff at Uprising have that Fiji friendly attitude, always ready to help. When the situation required a little more they went that extra mile and were more than happy to do so.
You can enjoy the many exciting adventures at Pacific Harbour, the Adventure Capital of Fiji and one of the greatest shark dives. We will be back!
Thanks to Uprising for providing Anne and Eric with friendly accommodation during their time in Fiji.