I’m sitting on the reef floor, watching my expelled bubbles gently drift above me. 25m below the surface, a vast turquoise lagoon shimmers around me as I sit in the arena, patiently awaiting the arrival of our famous visitors. As I adjust my buoyancy and monitor my air levels, a large garbage bin ascends from above, catching my eye and my curiosity. Suddenly, a bulky figure looms out of the aqua abyss. I feel my heart rate gently accelerate, hear my breath hiss a little louder through my regulator, and my eyes widen in wonder at the magnificent creature heading my way. It’s feeding time.
Fiji is a small Pacific island, located about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. This stunning part of the world is actually made up of 332 islands, but only 110 are populated with an eclectic and uber friendly mix of indigenous Fijians and Indians.
Fiji is also home to some of the best diving in the Pacific region. In particular, Beqa Lagoon (pronounced Benga) is a dive junkie’s paradise located off the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, and a short boat ride from Pacific Harbour. Beqa Lagoon is renowned for its breathtaking blue waters, excellent visibility, and awesome marine life, the most famous of which are the resident sharks.
Now, most people hear the word ‘shark’ and they immediately think of mindless eating machines hell bent on devouring any human whom dares to venture into the ocean, but this is a common misunderstanding.
Sharks are simply creatures with a serious PR problem thanks to a combination of cases of mistaken identity and Hollywood movies. In all of my experiences with diving with sharks, I’ve found them to be more like characters from Finding Nemo rather than Jaws. Fish are friends, not food.
So, when I heard that the world’s number one shark diving experience was in Fiji, I just had to sign up for it.
And I’m so damn glad I did.
Aqua-Trek’s Ultimate Shark Encounter™, is the brainchild of owner/operator Brandon Paige and was conceptualised with the intention of educating divers on the care and conservation of sharks.
Since 1999, this incredible experience has been enticing divers from all around the world to get up close and personal with the eight species of shark that call Beqa their home, including bull sharks (some of largest in the world), whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and over 300 species of fish.
And the best part? I get to watch them eat breakfast!
Although I’m am sitting at a safe distance on a reef ledge, only a line of rope and several feet of water separates me and the giant wall of marine life that is converging on the pounds of (already dead) fishy goodness that is being dumped from the giant bins suspended above. Demonstrating a graceful, yet calculated, stealth befitting of the ocean’s most feared predator, the sharks dive and weave through the offered muck of fish heads and entrails, snapping up their morning feast in the quickest of flashes.
A bull shark that resembles an oil barrel with teeth swishes past at a frightening speed, intent on securing some grub. I feel my grip on my partner’s hand tighten reflexively, but I giggle and expel rush of bubbles out of my regulator in excitement. Damn, what a rush.
As breathtaking as this spectacle is to watch, I’m also praying that they don’t start looking at me like I’d make a good dessert option. But I needn’t worry, as the expert Divemasters from Aqua-Trek are poised above and around us, keeping the more curious sharks who glide over for a closer look at a safe distance. I can relax.
After 20 minutes bottom time, the feeding frenzy seems to be easing off, so we take this opportunity to follow our guide out of the arena and off into other parts of the lagoon.
As we slowly frog-kick our way through the exquisite blue water, we glimpse a shipwreck in the distance and make a beeline for it. Swimming along her top deck, my partner and I are mesmerized by the 50m visibility, stunning reef formations, and the varied species of marine life that call this piece of diving paradise ‘home’.
Our wonderful guide surprises us by writing a welcoming message with our names in the sand on the side of another shipwreck we pass, and as we hang suspended above the reef on our safety stop, all I keep thinking is, I can’t believe this is my freaking life.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the world below the ocean’s surface and gain a better understanding of sharks, then this is the place for you.
The staff at Aqua-Trek are some of the friendliest, safest and most professional divers I’ve had the pleasure of splashing in with. They immediately make you feel at home, like you’re part of the crew, while giving you a five-star dive experience. I didn’t have to so much as lift an air tank during my trip, and the lads were all accommodating and generous (as well as damn hilarious). I seriously cannot wait to get back there and dive with these amazing dudes again.
To all the crew at Aqua-Trek, above and below the surface, I say vinaka vakalevu!
Need to Know:
The Ultimate Shark Encounter 2-tank dive runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and includes two dives, tanks and weights, boat transfers out to the site, the services of a professional dive guide, and light refreshments for the surface interval. Prices start at US$160 per diver. A FJD$20 Marine Park Admission Fee is payable by every diver and these funds go directly to the village that owns the reef for conservation and preservation. Additional charges apply for gear hire.
Transfers to Pacific Harbour are available from most resorts in Nadi and Suva. Prices start from US$80 one-way. Contact the team at Aqua-Trek for more information.
Featured image by Elias Levy