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Fabulous Fiji

Scott Bennett writes: I’d like to introduce you to some of our friends, enthused our guide Manasa, a.k.a Papa, as he held aloft a well-worn loose-leaf binder. The photographs within produced nervous laughter and a couple of anxious glances amongst a few of the divers. Then again, with names like Scarface, Hook and Big Mama, these were no ordinary friends. They were sharks, and we would soon be making their acquaintance.
Fabulous Fiji
Published in X-Ray Issue: 19 - Oct 2007
Authored by: Scott Bennett | Photography: Scott Bennett | Translation:
Lying at the crossroads of the South Pacific, the Fiji Islands have long been famous as an idyllic tropical paradise. While famous for its vibrant coral reefs, Fiji’s Beqa Lagoon (pronounced Beng-a) on the main island of Viti Levu is rapidly gaining fame as a world-class shark diving destination.

Two flights and 15 hours after leaving my home in Toronto, I arrived at Nadi’s international airport on the island of Vitu Levu. Stumbling bleary-eyed into the arrival hall, I was greeted by an energetic group of local musicians performing traditional Fijian music. Their level of enthusiasm at 5:15AM was nothing short of astonishing! It was infectious too, and soon, everyone standing in the customs queue forgot his or her fatigue. Feeling somewhat energized, I collected my gear and stepped out into the cool morning air.

Waiting outside was my driver and after loading up the van, we set out for the journey to Pacific Harbour. Soon afterwards, the first rays of dawn bathed the landscape with golden light, revealing immense fields of sugar cane spreading to the horizon.

For many years, sugar cane was the mainstay of the Fijian economy, although nowadays tourism has replaced it as the primary source of income. Sadly, that industry is now hurting, as the December 2006 coup dealt tourism a severe blow.

As usual, the media exaggerated everything well out of proportion. In actuality, the entire incident was pretty low-key, without a trace of violence. Outside of Suva, you wouldn’t have known anything had happened at all. Life carried on as usual with one notable exception; nervous tourists cancelled trips. Not THIS tourist, as it takes more than a coup to keep me away from a good diving destination!

Along the way, we passed Hindu temples and mosques, a testament to the country’s large Indian population.

Descendents of workers that were brought over by the British in the 19th century to work the cane fields, they now comprise a large percentage of the country’s population. After an hour of driving, the never-ending fields of sugar cane were replaced with rolling hills cloaked in lush vegetation.

The southern coast of Viti Levu receives abundant rainfall, resulting in a landscape so green it would make Ireland envious. Two hours after departing the airport, we arrived in Pacific Harbour and headed straight for Beqa Adventure Divers, situated on the grounds of the Lagoon Resort aside the Qara-ni-Qio River that empties into Beqa Lagoon.

The Eagle has landed
On hand to greet me was Andrew Cumming, the shop’s easy-going manager. No stranger to sharks, Andrew arrived in Fiji by way of the Bahamas, where he worked in Walkers Cay for shark conservationists Gary and Brenda Adkison. Unfortunately, I’d arrived a tad late to partake in the day’s shark dives, so the day was spent recuperating and getting my camera gear ready. Early the next morning, ...

Download the article to read the full story Shark Diving & Vibrant Reefs in Beqa Lagoon