Are we crazy? Maybe. Certifiably crazy? Possibly. Why else would we willingly and knowingly jump in the water with dozens of bull sharks renowned for their voracious appetites and ‘bite first, ask questions later’ attitude? Because it’s the world famous Shark Dive run by Beqa Adventure Divers. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, we’re not averse to a little adventure here and there.
However, we didn’t realize the adventure was going to start long before we got in the water. For starters, Pacific Harbour is the worst misnomer ever. It’s a bay, a big bay open to the prevailing wind and swell from the south. There’s a creek running through the mangroves that leads to a lagoon, but the road bridges and thin water make it a no-go zone for yachts. Happily we’d picked a calm weather window so we opted to anchor in the bay just to the east of the creek entrance, in front of the Pearl Resort. (We’ve since discovered the Pearl Resort has a new marina just inside the creek which could be available if the bay was untenable for anchoring).
We arrived the day before our dive, and once the anchor was down we decided to go for a reccy to find the dive shop. We knew they were somewhere up the creek so armed with our ipad for navigation and phones, we took to the dinghy. The first dive shop we came to was just past the bridge on the right (Aquatrek). They also do shark dives, but we’d heard so many good things about Beqa Adventure Divers that we went the extra mile (or two as it turned out).
So on we went, into the mangroves, past some rather nice homes on the banks. Every so often we’d come to a junction in the creek and took a guess which way to go (because asking for directions is the Great Australian Crime, right?) We persevered in the hot sun until the tempers began fraying. We admitted defeat. I rang the dive shop and had a lovely conversation with the receptionist but by the end of it I was not much wiser about where the dive shop was. Finally we asked a local in his longboat who pointed further up the creek, and at last after 45 minutes of searching we were there! By road it’s probably much easier to find as the dive shop is located within the grounds of the sadly run-down and neglected Lagoon Resort.
Now that we had our bearings it was easy to get there the next morning at 8am, and we tied our dinghy up to their dock. We’d brought our own dive gear but used their tanks, and for a two dive package it cost us FJ$350 each. Not cheap, but as we can attest, well worth it. They run a very professional operation with good safety operations, and have never had any accidents or incidents. Well, that should help the confidence a little! When we arrived one of the boats had already gone out to the reef to ‘chum’ the water. I wasn’t sure whether this was a very good or a very bad thing – will the sharks be satiated by the time we get there, or just wound up enough for a feeding frenzy??
On the way out to Shark Reef we got a comprehensive dive and safety briefing – we’d be descending first to ‘the arena’ at 30m where we’d kneel behind a low coral wall and watch the bull sharks feeding off tuna scraps from a wheelie bin towed by a diver, then ascend to 18m where the grey reef sharks and other species come in, and finally up to 5m to the feeding station for the white and black tip reef sharks. Then after an hour break we’d go to the second site where we’d get even closer to the bull sharks while they were hand-fed. For this we’d need to lie flat on our stomachs. No sticking your head up or holding your arm out on this one!
All I can say is WOW – what an experience. It’s not every day you get up this close and personal to 20 or so bull sharks the size of combi vans zooming over your head! Of course, there are myriads of fish everywhere too. It was really very beautiful and I can honestly say I never felt at risk. The staff (there were a lot of them) obviously knew what they were doing and were ready with long metal prodders to deter any shark that came too close. Here’s a link to our video on YouTube so you can check it out for yourselves:
The conservation and research components of the operation are also very impressive. They’ve worked hard with the locals and the government to make the dive sites into marine reserves, so no fishing is allowed. In return, the local villages who ‘own’ the reefs receive compensation by way of a FJ$25 levy per head for the use of the reef. This way the sharks are hopefully protected. It’s also a perfect opportunity for research – the sharks are named and listed on their website, and many are tagged to establish their range and habits, and which rivers they go to when breeding. During our dive we watched them take a tissue sample from one shark via a dart gun, to establish what percentage of their diet is made up of the tuna they’re fed during the dives – they don’t want them to become reliant on the hand-feeding and it seems they’re not as their diet is full of many other species too (hopefully no humans in there!).
It was truly one of the highlights of our trip so far.