Raging Bulls and Delicate Blues of Fiji

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By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

The bull sharks were big, three metres long and solid muscle, but they looked tiny compared to Scarface. This huge four and a half metre long long tiger shark looked like a miniature submarine as she slowly cruised in to be hand fed. While the bull sharks lined up like perfect gentlemen to receive food, Scarface queue jumped, pushing in line and opening her cavernous mouth for food to be shovelled in. She then slowly paraded past the wide-eyed divers, her fat belly passing only inches above people’s heads. This encounter with Scarface was quite a spectacle and the highlight of our dive trip.We had travelled to Beqa Lagoon, which is located on the southern side of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu, to see big sharks and explore the colourful reefs here.The most famous dive site in Beqa Lagoon is Shark Reef, where the dive operator Beqa Adventures Divers has been feeding sharks and some rather large fish for the last decade.The shark feed is done over two dives at three different depths on the reef. The first dive is to 30m, where a wheelie bin full of fish scraps is fed to the

big fish. Divers are lined up behind a rock wall and watch as schools of massive giant trevally, red bass, rainbow runners and surgeonfish are fed, with bull sharks patrolling the outskirts. Tawny nurse sharks, lemon sharks and silver tip sharks regularly turn up to this feed, but not during our stay, we instead had a monster Queensland groper taking some of the handouts. After 17 minutes we moved up to 10m to watch the reef sharks being fed. This is a fast paced feed, with dozens of grey reef sharks, black tip reef sharks and white tip reef sharks charging in for food. Papa, who conducts this feed, has quite a handful, as he not only has the white tips squirming between his legs and grey reefies zipping around his head, but also has to watch his fingers don’t get munched by the giant trevally. This is great fun to watch, as you are only a metre from the action with the sharks constantly gliding past your head.The second dive is to 15m where the big bull sharks are fed. Though potentially the most dangerous shark in the sea, these sharks have learnt some manners and follow the rules laid down by the feeders. The bulls must come in from the left to get food, and that is exactly what they do. Up to 40 bull sharks can appear at times, we had around a dozen, which were hard to see at times with all the fish swarming about. The bulls are an impressive sight, all muscle, and it was amazing to watch them feed from Rusi’s hand. At times the giant trevally and red bass would grab the baits and the bulls would give chase, snapping at these cheeky thieves.

Once or twice a week a special quest makes an appearance at this feed, Scarface the tiger shark. She made a memorable appearance on our final shark dive and is a sight we will never forget. She hung around for almost 30 minutes, taking food at her leisure, checking out the over awed divers and leaving us all spellbound.

Shark Reef is rated as the best shark dive in the world, and we would have to agree, it was amazing. The reef is protected as a marine reserve and $F20 from each diver goes to the traditional owners of the reef, ensuring its protection. A dive at Shark Reef is unforgettable and at no stage do you feel unsafe. The team are extremely professional; with safety divers posted everywhere to look after you. It is puzzling how many divers travel to Pacific Harbour only to dive Shark Reef, missing out on the brilliant reefs and

wrecks in the area. There are hundreds of dive sites in Beqa Lagoon, which has been called ‘the soft coral capital of the world’. During our stay we sampled a selection of brilliant dive sites.

Combe Reef has pretty gardens of hard corals and many ledges to explore. We found a multitude of reef fish and invertebrate species, plus two large moray eels.

At Pearl Rock we found lovely soft corals and gorgonians lining the many coral heads rising from the bottom. Nudibranchs, sea stars, flatworms, fire gobies, shrimps, white tip reef sharks, lionfish, rock cods, leopard blennies, hawkfish and scorpionfish were just some of the marine life we encountered. But the highlight was two wonderful blue ribbon eels. These delicate eels, with their wrinkly skin and trumpet like nostrils, are common in Beqa Lagoon. They are also tiny, and can be easily over looked.

The Tasu II was sunk in the 1990s and is one of four ships scuttled in Beqa Lagoon for divers. The 33m long Taiwanese longline-fishing vessel sits in 26m and is covered in soft corals and gorgonians. Exploring the wreck is fun, but it is the corals and marine life that make the dive. On the wreck are batfish, trevally and barracuda at times, and a close look at the coral will reveal elusive long-nosed hawkfish. Also check out the rubble bottom around the ship, as there are garden eels, nudibranchs, shrimps and other critters. We also found a tiny octopus crawling over the bottom. After exploring the wreck you can head into the shallows at Seven Sisters to marvel at the fish and corals at this colourful site.

ET was one of our favourite dives, with towers of coral rising from 20-two metres. There are two amazing swim through caves here, which are lined with wonderful gorgonians, sea whips and soft corals, which also decorate the sides of each bommie. As we dived around the site we encountered white tip reef sharks, trevally, lionfish, clown and titan triggerfish, several species of hawkfish, moray eels and a shy octopus. A juvenile, black coloured, blue ribbon eel was a feature of the site, only to be out done by a flashing file shell.

The Achi Maru was another fascinating wreck resting in 30m. While the wreck was interesting, the site where it rests, Carpet Cove, was more memorable for its fish and critters. The reef here is a critter hunters delight – blue ribbon eels, leaf scorpionfish, pipefish, crinoid clingfish, shrimps, nudibranchs, gobies, blennies and many more. But there were also trevally, fusiliers, Spanish mackerel, rainbow runners and a turtle to be seen.Our week of exploring Beqa Lagoon ended all too quickly, but with sharks, colourful reefs, fascinating wrecks and cute critter it was the complete Fiji diving experience.

 

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