FIJI, TONGA & FRENCH POLYNESIA
FIJI: BEQA & VITI LEVU
The world’s best shark encounters and soft coral glory
Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 25-27°C/77-81°F
Diving: Sharks, wrecks, walls, coral gardens
Rebreather support Nai'a
Willing to share option on liveaboards
Can be combined with: Guadalupe Island, Sea of Cortez
Non-diving activities available include rafting trips (from Beqa Lagoon)
Coral sands, clear blue seas, islands covered with a lush canopy of thick green vegetation – a land where trees vastly outnumber people – this is Fiji. A rare and treasured find whose intangible magic separates it even from the most beautiful and exciting dive destinations in the world. Here, far from the stresses and strains of everyday life, you will find some of the world’s best diving in a wildly romantic setting. Dazzling white coral sands, magnificent waterfalls and high peaks combined with an impressive collection of extraordinary dive sites makes Fiji a perfect destination for a diving adventure. It may seem that the above-water delights of the islands would be hard to beat, but the underwater world of fish and coral is a diver’s dream come true. Much of the diving in Fiji remains unexplored, so the rewards for those who are prepared to venture further afield are great!
The seas surrounding the islands of Fiji are known world-over for their glorious and colourful soft corals and rich diversity of fish and invertebrates. Dozens of superb reefs rank amongst the finest dive sites in the world. Coral outcrops known as ‘bommies’ rise from the ocean floor or the walls of the reef, mushrooming into fantastic shapes. These in their turn provide yet another substratum on which the soft corals ‘bloom’ – draped over every ledge, filling each crevice with a profusion of vibrant living colour. Bulging brain corals, the fantastic lacy filigrees of fan corals and the flower-like blossoms of soft corals adorn this underwater landscape. Fabulous as the soft corals are, there is much more to diving in Fiji. Most notably, Pacific Harbour at the island of Beqa now offers some really world-class shark diving and also some great wreck diving.
Beqa, a small island off the south coast of Viti Levu (the largest island in the Fiji archipelago), is famous for its world class shark diving, described by shark expert Valerie Taylor as “The best, the very best of shark diving”. On the fringes of Beqa Lagooon, Shark Reef Marine Reserve was created to protect the resident shark population for studies that in turn might aid the long-term conservation of sharks elsewhere. For divers who love big fish, imagine a swirling throng of jacks, snappers and groupers, then throw in to the mix up to 8 species of sharks including Bulls, Tigers, Sicklefin Lemons, Silvertips, Grey Reefs, White-tipped Reefs, Black-tipped Reefs and Tawny Nurses! Little wonder that it has also been described as “Unquestionably one of the best shark dives in the world”. A shark dive day at Beqa consists of two shark dives. The first dive takes place on a reef ledge next to the drop off into the abyss of the Beqa Passage. At 30 metres, the main attraction is the presence of enormous and bulky Bull Sharks. The Bull Sharks live off the wall of Shark Reef Marine Reserve, in the deep waters of the passage. It is believed that they may have territories down in the depths, with individuals whose territories are closest to the reserve being the most frequent visitors to The Arena. After around 17 minutes here it is time to head to the shallows for the second part of the shark dive at The Den, where some of the smaller shark species are to be found. An hour-long surface interval allows divers to relax and enjoy refreshing tropical fruits, tea or coffee before heading out to the second shark dive, which takes place on a reef slope at about 16 metres, known as The Take Out. Tawny Nurse Sharks come in to feed first, but give way to the Bulls when they arrive (well, wouldn’t you?!). Silvertip Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks feed when the Bulls allow, but if a Tiger Shark turns up then even the Bulls give way! A bottom time of around 35 minutes signals the end of the dive before a safety stop and the return to the boat. And all this before lunch!
The Bull Sharks in the area total around 50 individuals and have been observed feeding in mixed sex groups of between 10-50 animals. The on-going database tracks all the individuals (which have names) and tries to identify if there is a pattern to their movements. Meet the large female, Stumpy, or her even bigger ‘friend’ ‘Big Mamma’, who is a whopping 3 metres in length, or some of the lads; ‘Blackbeard’, a large male with a fishhook caught in the right corner of his mouth, and ‘Chopper’, who has probably escaped a shark-finning vessel as his tail fin has been chopped clean off! Of all shark species the Silvertip is surely the most elegant. The graceful lines and exquisite markings make them unmistakable. There are around seven individuals who are regular visitors. Their favourite trick is coming straight toward you, then turning at the last second! The biggest animals in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve are the Tiger Sharks, who put in an appearance around once a month. It is known that they have incredibly large territories, sometimes trans-oceanic. But with luck you will meet ‘Scarface’. At 4 metres she is a massive fish with a scar on the left-hand side of her face and is the most regular Tiger Shark to visit. All the other sharks give way to ‘Scarface’! Sicklefin Lemon Sharks are not regular visitors and usually disappear from December to January but the two individuals who make appearances are the 3 metre ‘Whitetail’ and the smaller ‘Minnie’. All the Tawny Nurse Sharks who visit are males. They have become so bold that they have even been observed keeping the Bulls away from the bait. They disappear during the months of December and January. White-tipped Reef Sharks are too numerous to count. On any given day there will be 10-15 individuals in the reserve. Black-tipped Reef Sharks inhabit the reef flats on top of Shark Reef Marine Reserve. Between 15-20 animals race around the area. Grey Reef Sharks are found on every dive. The population numbers over 50, but they are not seen all at one time, but more often in groups of 15-20. They are in the Reserve year-round and found at all depths.
But there are more big fish around at Beqa apart from the sharks. A ‘young’ Napoleon Wrasse weighs in at 100 kgs. He enjoys hovering in diver’s bubbles. A Giant Grouper, ‘Ratu Rua’, enjoys feeding here, as does a Java Moray. Javas are the largest of the moray species and this photogenic female can be found on the shallow slopes of the reserve.
Beqa Lagoon has been called ‘The Coral Capital of the World’ (there can be few places that can compete with it for soft coral beauty), but it also a great place for wrecks. Carpet Cove features not only soft coral, but also the wreck of a fishing vessel sunk in 30 metres of water in 1996. The wreck is now clothed in soft corals, with a swirl of Chevron Barracudas and trevallies curling above or round the wreck. Caesar’s Rock, named after a local village chief, is a cluster of 5 current-swept pinnacles rising from 30 metres to 5 metres below the surface. When the current runs the soft corals burst into bloom and giant sea fans comb the water with their tentacles for food. Lionfish lurk in the shadows of the sea fans. Tasu II is a decommissioned longline fishing vessel sunk on the sandy bottom at Seven Sisters. At 30 metres long from bow to stern, she lies upright on her keel next to the coral pinnacles that make up the seven sisters. Rarely anything other than fairly calm, the conditions allow for some good bottom time to take photographs. Search around and you will find wriggly little pipefish making their way across the deck or up the sides of the ship. Resting at 32 metres, Rusi’s Pinnacle has the largest wreck in Beqa Lagoon. Here, a double-decked fishing vessel was scuttled in 2000 and is now smothered in soft coral. Divers can search for Giant Frogfish well camouflaged amongst the encrusting sponges. Just a short fin away is the solitary pinnacle that gives its name to the dive site and which rises to 5 metres from the surface. What better way to spend your safety stop than enjoying the five different species of anemonefish each with their different host anemone?
NORTHERN & EASTERN VITI LEVU
Nai’a and Island Dancer explore the fabulous dive sites off northern and eastern Viti Levu, many of which those pioneers of Fiji diving on Nai’a discovered themselves! There can be little doubt that by travelling that little bit further on a liveaboard boat you will be well rewarded with visits to dive sites that very few divers have been privileged to explore.
Discovered by the crew of Nai’a during a private charter flight to search out undiscovered dive sites, E-6 is a seamount rising from 1,000 metres in the centre of the narrowest part of Bligh Water, where it intercepts a flow of nutrients funnelled between the two large islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Pelagics are usually found on the two sides of the pinnacle that are flushed with current , while delicate soft corals and seafans decorate the protected lee side where Nai’a moors. Day dives here feature schooling barracudas, trevallys, surgeonfish, eagle rays and occasional hammerheads. Smaller fish include anthias, fusiliers and Leaf Scorpionfish. At night giant cuttlefish, the amazing flashlightfish, arrowhead crabs and cowries can be found here.
A seamount similar to E-6, though smaller, is located four miles away at Mount Mutiny. Named in honour of Captain Bligh who passed nearby shortly after the mutiny on the Bounty, and also in honour of the Nai’a passengers who threatened mutiny if they were not allowed to dive here again and again and again, Mount Mutiny has a spectacular Rainbow Wall of unusual thin-stalked Siphonogorgia soft coral in a spectrum of colours which blankets the south flank of Mount Mutiny for a distance of 200 metres between 20-40 metres deep. This has to be one of the most beautiful soft coral dives in the world!
At Nigali Passage, near the island of Gau, a narrow cut in the surrounding barrier reef concentrates pelagics from miles around. Nigali is home to a population of between 8 and 25 female Grey Reef Sharks, depending on the season. Huge schools of trevally and three age-segregated schools of barracudas are found here. Unusually at this site, because of the unique configuration of the channel, the incoming current does not coincide with the rising tide. With over many years of experience of diving Nigali and with a computer database, the captain of Nai’a has become expert at identifying the four hour window of opportunity to dive here. Nai’a’s skiff is able to drop divers well up-current and pick them up again half a mile away after having drifted through the channel. Nai’a initiated a small-scale shark feed in Nigali Passage as a means of drawing the residents closer to photographers. The crew are extremely careful to organize the shark feed so as to minimize the impact on the resident population of female Grey Reef Sharks, but it does draw curious sharks near enough to the circle of divers for the photographers to capture full-frame photographs and also for everyone to get a close-up view of these elegant and sleek predators.
It was the diving at Grand Central Station that first drew Cousteau to Fiji! On an incoming current divers drop into the clear blue water and swim along a sheer wall . On the plateau above the wall giant schools of Bigeye Trevally, scad and barracudas are watched over by several Grey Reef Sharks. White-tip Reef Sharks lie napping in preparation for their night-time feeding jaunts. From here divers let the current carry them deeper into the channel where a line of bommies rise nearly to the surface. Two of these bommies are connected by a huge arch. The sides and tops of the bommies are covered in colour: gorgonians, black coral, soft corals in wonderful colours and, of course, a host of reef fish. Further on, divers can drift into Kansas, a small bommie covered in soft coral that looks just like wheat fields swaying in the wind. Two days diving are recommended to fully explore the underwater marvels here!
COMBINATIONS: Combining a liveaboard trip in Fiji with some time at Beqa for its fantastic shark diving makes a lot of sense, as does a relaxing stay in a fine resort on Taveuni island with the enjoyable diving of the Somosomo Strait on the doorstep. It is also straightforward to combine a dive trip to Fiji with a visit to Vanuatu (for the extraordinary President Coolidge wreck), the Solomons or Papua New Guinea. Talk to us about the possibilities.