As summer ended, my fiancée and I decided to book a trip to Fiji.
The flight from Auckland to Nadi was just under 3 hours. The queue at immigration was painfully long and while it was nice that a live band welcomed us to Fiji, I would have preferred that the band members picked up some stamps and got on with processing us! Our pre-arranged transfer to our hotel, The Pearl, took 2 hours.The Pearl
First impressions were very good. It has large, spacious communal areas which are nicely decorated. The hotel is on the beach and has a pleasant pool with various chill out areas. Our room didn't quite live up to expectations. It was clean, but basic. Not what you would expect from a 4* hotel.
A buffet breakfast was included in the package and there was a good variety of Fijian and Western food. For lunch and dinner, there were a few options off site which were a lot cheaper than eating in the hotel. I had my shoes stolen from a communal area on our first day which was a bit unexpected, and annoying as I only took one pair with me!
April is the last month of the wet season. We didn't get much rain, but most days were cloudy. Air temperature was around 28 degrees C.Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) and Reef Dives
The major players in town. I booked a couple of reef dives to get in to the swing of things before the famous shark dives. A complimentary taxi picked us up from our hotel. When we arrived, things seemed quite hurried and disorganised. At the jetty, the dive guide insisted on re-packing my neatly packed dive bag in to crate, dropping my computer on to concrete. Fortunately, it was in a plastic box and no harm was done. They also insisted on setting up our kit which they didn't do very well. I'm sure all of this works for the average backpacker with hire gear, but it really doesn't work for me.
To cut a long story short, the dives were at an inshore site with largely broken, dead coral and poor visibility. Fijians don't do anything fast, but it was clear that the guide wanted to get this over and done with as soon as possible. He raced around the site and barely gave us a 20 minute surface interval between dives. Water temperature was 29 degrees C.
I had three spare days to do more reef diving. Apparently, the offshore sites are much nicer, but I didn't want to do any more reef dives with BAD. This was a shame because I got a very good impression of BAD through the communication I had with their office. They could not have been more helpful.Shark Dives
I'm on the fence when it comes to shark feed dives. I've never done one before and can see both sides of the argument. The dive briefing was detailed this time. The feeds would take place on a reef wall at 30 metres, 10 metres and 5 metres on the first dive. This was not the time to practice neutral buoyancy or perfect trim. The instructions were to get down to the viewing station and stay down, either kneeling or lying.
Visibility was good at around 30 metres. At 20 metres, I could see a dozen adult bull sharks already circling the feeding station. These are huge, bulky animals and it was mind blowing to see so many of them. As the chain-mail clad guide prepared the feed, even more turned up. Dozens of bull sharks formed an orderly queue to be hand fed, but it got somewhat frenzied and stick-wielding guides kept things in order.
The customers cowered behind the feeding station taking photos. Occasionally, a large bull would pass overhead, so close that you could touch it. After a while, we retreated to the 10 metre station which was the preserve of the grey reef sharks and then the 5 metre station which attracted blacktip and whitetip reef sharks.
The second dive was held at the 15 metre station only. The bulls showed up and the action was even closer. You could hear jaws crunching tuna heads!
My second and third days shark diving followed an identical format.
BAD are good at shark dives. It's what they do and they run a tight ship. Feeds staged according to depth is a really good idea from a safety perspective. I would have liked more time in the water as neither gas or NDL were a limiting factor, but everyone goes in together and comes out together. It's not a personalised service and you do what you're told. It is something of a conveyor belt, more of a tourist show than a dive.
As for the ethics, if you are squeamish about divers making contact with hard coral, then this isn't a dive for you. Seeing divers crunching coral was uncomfortable. However, the damage is limited to quite a small area.
I don't know what the impact of feeding the sharks is in terms of fish stocks, but it was mainly tuna heads. It was contrived and felt like an underwater circus with the bull sharks taking on the role of big cats. Having said that, the locals can see the value in keeping these animals alive and the long liners are never far away. About a quarter of the animals had hooks in their mouths.
As a diver, it was an amazing experience, so my feelings remain mixed, but I will never forget shark diving in Fiji.Video belowhttp://vimeo.com/65621335