N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
FIJI’S BEQA LAGOON – MUCH MORE THAN SHARKS
By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Most divers travel to Fiji’s wonderful Beqa Lagoon to see sharks, and with three world-class shark dives it is easy to see why. However, there was a time when Beqa Lagoon was more famous for its fabulous corals, with Jacques Cousteau calling the area ‘the soft coral capital of the world’. Those incredible corals can still be seen in Beqa Lagoon, but are sadly missed by most divers that only come to see sharks.
Fringed by a barrier reef, Beqa Lagoon is a large sheltered body of water off the southern coast of Viti Levu. We have dived this brilliant lagoon many times, to see both the sharks and the corals, with the most recent trip arranged by Tourism Fiji to promote the island nation to travel agents and travel writers. The week-long trip saw our group exploring the colourful reefs of Bligh Water off Rakiraki for several days and then heading south to dive Beqa Lagoon.
Arriving in Pacific Harbour, three hours drive south of Nadi, our first night was at the wonderful Uprising Beach Resort. Located on a pretty beach and set between the palm trees, this fantastic resort has very comfortable villas and bures. Many diving friends have stayed at Uprising before, and we could see why they enjoyed it and keep going back year after year. But we barely had time to enjoy the facilities as early the next morning we were diving with Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD).
After sorting out gear we boarded one of BAD’s dive boats for the trip out to Shark Reef. Dive guide Ben then gave us a briefing on the site and the dos and don’ts around the sharks. For the first dive we headed down to 30m and positioned ourselves behind a rock wall. The guides then started to feed the assembled fish and sharks. The two main shark species were several small grey reef sharks and several larger bull sharks, with the bull sharks claiming most of the food.
The action was intense and after 15 minutes our guides led us up to 10m where the reef sharks get fed. This feed appeared to be complete chaos, but was well controlled by the guides with dozens of grey reef and whitetip reef sharks zooming in for food. The final part of the dive was spent at 5m, where the blacktip and whitetip reef sharks got fed as we did our safety stop. After a brief surface interval we did another great dive with just the bull sharks.
Moving accommodation, our group checked into The Pearl, the most luxurious resort in Pacific Harbour. Our wonderful room was in the new complex overlooking the pool and garden. With a spa, golf course and other facilities, this luxurious resort is hard to beat.
The next day was more shark diving, this time with Aqua Trek. Aqua Trek started the shark diving business in Beqa Lagoon in 1999 and visit their shark feeding site at Lake Reef four times a week. With everyone keen for more shark action, we soon found ourselves at The Bistro, perched behind a rock wall at 22m and being buzzed by silvertip sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, bull sharks and tawny nurse sharks. There must have been over sixty sharks and the action was extreme but well controlled. At one stage a small tiger shark made a brief appearance, but it was too wary to come in close. After forty fun filled minutes we waved goodbye to the sharks and explored one of the two ships scuttled at the site.
The second dive at The Bistro was just as good, but as the hyperactive silvertip sharks had departed, the rest of the sharks were more settled. We managed to capture many incredible images, but it is amazing how many times a tiny damselfish can get between the shark and camera to ruin a photo!
With the shark diving completed it was time to explore some of Beqa Lagoon’s incredible coral reefs. To do this we travelled an hour north to the Waidroka Bay Resort. This wonderful secluded resort has a wide range of accommodation in its lovely tropical garden setting. Popular with surfers, the resort also has a fully equipped dive shop and offer both reef and shark dives.
Arriving at the resort in the afternoon we checked into our rooms and found we had time for a quick afternoon dive at one of the local dive sites. Only ten minutes from the resort is a fringing reef that has some great surf breaks and also some lovely dive sites. These local sites don’t have the soft corals of Beqa Lagoon, instead having a healthy coverage of hard corals.
We dived a site called Pipes, exploring a coral wall, caves and vast hard coral gardens. Only 18m deep and close to shore, we were surprised how rich this site was, seeing several whitetip reef sharks, a school of tuna and a great variety of reef fish.
The next day we headed out to Beqa Lagoon, which is around 40 minutes boat ride from the resort. The conditions couldn’t have been better - sunny skies, flat seas and very blue water. Arriving at our first dive site we looked over the side to see the bottom at Fantasy One.
This wonderful dive site is made up of three large bommies rising from 20m to 5m. But we spent most of our time on the middle bommie that was riddled with caves and ledges, and covered in exquisite corals. This site was jaw-droppingly beautiful, the gorgonians and soft corals simply spectacular. Over the hour long dive we encountered reef sharks, angelfish, schools of basslets and nudibranchs.
After our surface interval we dived a fabulous site called Seven Sisters. This site has numerous bommies, incredible corals, a good population of fish and a shipwreck. Resting near the main bommie is the Tasu II, a 33m long fishing vessel scuttled many years ago. The wreck rests in 25m and makes for an incredible dive, encrusted with soft corals, gorgonians, black coral trees and sea whips. On the wreck we found pipefish, longnose hawkfish, dragonets and a resident giant frogfish.
Moving on from the shipwreck, we then explored the main bommie, finding its walls and caves covered in incredible soft corals and gorgonians. We ended the dive investigating the coral gardens on top of this bommie, which were home to masses of small fish – damsels, basslets and fusiliers.
This short trip only reinforced what we already knew, that Beqa Lagoon not only has some of the best shark dives in the world, but also some of the most colourful coral reefs in Fiji.
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