Fiji — Part 2: Diving in Beqa and Ono — The Astrolabe Reef
As the OWR left the Bay of Islands in the Lau Group we were all scattering, going off to many different locations. Altair had to get to Nadi, Port Denarau, on Viti Levu to pick up our new tender. And to get Myron to the airport. We decided to head far south and stop in Beqa for some diving before Myron had to leave, specifically shark diving. It was about a three day sail, not a bad ride. We were trying to find out where to go specifically on the island for the dive resort with shark dives. We ended up anchored off the Beqa Lagoon Resort. Score!
Very low key, charming resort with a dive shop and exclusive rights to a shark dive site. We were able to anchor right off the resort and go ashore for meals, drinks and spa. We were the only yacht there, but the dive shop was very busy with resort guests. We were able to book 2 days of diving. The first day was a wreck dive and then a reef dive. Very pretty. We rented 5 mil wet suits from the shop as the water is cooler here.
The second day was the shark dive. They have constructed their own barrier reef out of coral in about 65 feet of water. Sharks (most) don’t like the barrier and stay on the other side where the dive guides chum the water and hand feed sharks fish heads. The dive master was very serious during the briefing about what and what not to do, specific and clear about signals and procedures, etc. The few people that were joking and goofing around about the sharks before became pretty quiet. You know that phrase “In the unlikely event . . .”?
So there were quite a few divers, about 20. We jumped off the boat and swam as a group to the waist high barrier reef and knelt behind it. Did I mention that moray eels like to hang out in the coral wall? So be careful where you kneel and where you put your hands. The scene was quite chaotic with thousands of fish all sizes and colors swirling around as if caught in a maelstrom. There is definitely a hierarchy and an order of appearance in this “show”. The little fish are catching scraps of the chum (dead fish) being released by the dive guides, then the smaller sharks make their appearance.
Finally, a guide swims up about 30 feet above us and cuts open a bag of bloody guts. This is where the big boys like to feed. So, the bull sharks and the tiger sharks arrive and swoop down toward us as another guide hand feeds them fish heads. It turns out that the barrier wall means nothing to the 15+ foot tiger sharks. They skim right over us because they like the bubbles from our regulators on their tummies. Cute, right? There are guides stationed behind us with metal shepherds’ crooks to wave off any sharks sneaking up on us. We saw a tiger just grabs a crook out of a guide’s hand and swim off with it.
Back to the dive boat for an hour interval, tea, cookies. Jump in and do it again. It is much easier once you know what to expect. We were very happy to have the heavy wet suits as we were kneeling on sharp coral and not swimming about to keep warm. I really didn’t feel threatened at all that day. Just astounded.
We leave Beqa Lagoon with dives and dinners booked for the following week.
Altair heads into Port Denarau Marina on the southern big island of Fiji, Viti Levu. Nice marina. Really good provisioning. We take delivery of our new tender. Woohoo. Sweet ride.
Once we’re all stocked up, including buying Kava for any sevusevu ceremonies that may be required at our anchorages, we head south to Beqa to meet up with Oyster yacht Safiya for more diving. This involved a long day beating into the wind under power. Ugh.
Beqa Lagoon Resort is much quieter this visit. All the staff remembers us by name and are their usual friendly, helpful selves. The next morning – Shark Dive. This time it is really just Oyster people from Altair, Safiya and Sun Su Sea, a pleasant surprise! So, while these 2 shark dives had much better visibility because there were less divers, the conditions were extremely rough and the current was very strong. It made getting in and out of the dive boat tough and swimming to and from the barrier reef very challenging.
I have to say that these dives had a different “vibe”. I was nervous because the conditions were rough, I felt more exposed because there were fewer of us. I also sensed the sharks being more aggressive, the guides seemed more concerned. The tiger sharks were double and triple teaming the lone guide passing out fish heads, and the other guides had to help beat them off. As we headed back to the boat some tiger sharks accompanied us. We had a hard time staying together because of the current and rough water. Enough of that.
Altair and Safiya head off to the Astrolabe Reef, one of the top dive sites in the world! Beautiful day sail. Took some nice shots of Safiya, an Oyster 575. Our original thought was to head to “little New Zealand”, or Kadavu, the most southern Fiji island. But research lead us to the island of Ono, right out on the Astrolabe Reef. The diving here was sublime. After diving with the big scary things, this was a garden tour of the most beautiful corals and small reef fish, with a few sharks thrown in.
So, Ono is very nice. We went ashore with the kava for the required sevu sevu. We met the chief and the notables on this island and shared some kava with them and presented our gift of kava to the chief. Nice guys. They asked us about Trump. Big fans. Seriously.
While out on the dive boat we passed by a 5 star island resort, Komo Komo. Beautiful. We booked a table for dinner as it was our 30th anniversary. Best meal we’ve had since I don’t when. Champagne. Tasting menu. Great evening with Harvey and Sue of Safiya. What a contrast to the Ono village and sevu sevu. That’s what makes the OWR an amazing experience.