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Humpback whales, dolphins off the bow, bull sharks, sea snakes, chocolate soufflés and men who walk on fire. Who knew we would find all that and more in the soft coral capital of the world!


Sept 1 we set off from LAX for the 10.5 night flight to Fiji, known as the Soft Coral Capital of the World.

An early morning arrival as the sun was just rising over the mountains, our sleepy but excited group loaded into a bus for the 2.5 hour drive along the coast line of Viti Levu – the big island of Fiji.  A brief stop half way at a tourist gift shop hosted a morning pick me up with coffees, tea and cookies and of course a bathroom break to hold us until we reached Pacific Harbor – another hour away.  Once there we were met by the staff of Beqa Lagoon Resort and boarded the dive boat “Fire Walker” for the 50 minute ride to Beqa Lagoon.  We were offered all types of refreshments and Fiji beers and were asked to order lunch from the menu.  Food upon arrival – my kind of place! The boat moored offshore and we boarded a launch to the shore where were met by the staff and greeted with big smiles, a beautiful floral lei and a heartfelt BULA!  We have arrived in Beqa Lagoon.


After a short briefing we went to our rooms, some near the Kio ponds and some amongst the beautiful gardens and others with ocean views but we did not linger as lunch was waiting.  No hauling dive gear on this trip, just unpack it and leave it on the front porch for one of the dive guys to collect and bring to the dive shop for us.  All we needed to do was to sort out weights and change to our pre assigned blue mesh dive bag so it could all be loaded for us daily onto the dive boats.


Soon after lunch was finished it appeared to be nap time.  A short cat nap was sorely needed to be ready to join the group for happy hour at the Bula Bar and followed by a 3 course dinner expertly prepared.  The chef was trained by the original Austrian chef, Christian and his recipes are still followed today.  And as Christian was a chocolate-aholic, amazing deserts were offered nightly.  Some guests groaned because they we so rich they could not be finished, others groaned because it was all finished!


Mornings came with a soft knock on the door as there are no clocks or phones in the rooms to wake you up.  After a cooked to order breakfast which amazingly came out of the kitchen with plenty to time to make the dive boats departing from the beach at 7:45 am.  Checking our gear and away we went for our two tank morning dive to such famous Beqa sites as Seven Sisters,   Carpet Cove,  Jon’s Tunnel & Pearl Rock.  Our dive boat, Firewalker captained by Seta left promptly at 8am to the anticipated dive site for the day.  Checking for currents and best  conditions at the site, a determination was made to stay or to switch to Plan B for the best diving conditions possible.  We were not disappointed as sites were loaded with beautifully colored fish, an occasional blue ribbon eel peeking out of its hole in the reef bottom or a passing white tip foraging around the pinnacles – called bommies here.   The soft corals came to life with the pickup of the slightest amount of current and in every color imaginable.  There were shades of purple, gold, red and pink even pure white ones that looked as if they had just received a covering of an early snow fall.  As we went around the pinnacles looking into the crevices and under the overhangs we found nudibranchs of all sizes, shapes and colors.  Some were quite visible and others were a real find to spot.  You did not have to go far or fast to see what the sites  had to offer.


Each afternoon after lunch a cultural activity was offered – for free.  Most resorts charge for a village tour or waterfall hike, but not at Beqa Lagoon Resort.  Of course you could just plop yourself at the pool overlooking the ocean or book a massage at the open air spa at the water’s edge to pass the time in the afternoon.  Since Beqa is not a mainland resort and is on an island with 6 villages and 3 schools, you are always in contact with the local Fijian’s and are always welcome to visit the villages.  A certain protocol is encouraged in keeping with the local customs and to be respectful of their ways.  Ladies are asked to have their knees covered with a sulu (a wrap) and also their shoulders.  Men are not to wear a hat in the village as only the chief is allowed.  If you decide to walk off alone as one of our group members did, someone had asked  if they could walk with her.  You do not want to go into a village unannounced – would you want someone just to show up in your front yard?  But if you did just show up, a small gift, or offering, some kava or certain plant was appropriate.  Sort of like a house warming gift.


Our first outing was to the main school in the village of Raviravi, a short 15 minute walk behind the resort and along with water.  Here the entire school gathered outside and each grade performed a song and some a local dance in our honor.  After the performance, they said “now it is your turn”.  A fun group of divers from Australia proudly sang their national anthem, a bit out of tune, but loud and boldly.  We then decided to all join hands, one VERY LARGE circle which encompassed almost the entire school yard to a silly game of “Hokey Pokey”, again led by the Aussies.  Afterwards it was photo time with the biggest smiles in tattered school uniforms around each group of guests.  We took a brief tour of the school, asked questions of the head teacher and even donated, book, pencils, paper and other school supplies we each brought with us a gift to the school.  Some crayons and books on ABC’s went to the other smaller school in another village for the preschool children.  But no matter how large the pile was, it was clear it only made a very slight dent in what was really needed.  We later came to find out that there is another small school only accessible by boat on the other side of the island in dire need of ANYTHING for the school.  Even chairs were lacking, so next time I will save my supplies for the other smaller school.  And mention it to others planning a visit to Beqa.


We had travelled during the Rugby World Cup and all the kids were playing rugby, most with no shoes on a field with potholes that would certainly damage a tire on a good size truck.  But the kids that play on this field daily know the lay of the land and simply avoid the holes.  The guests of Beqa were invited to a game later in the week and enjoyed it immensely.  Sadly, there was a bit of rain during our stay (in the middle of the dry season!) so the field was wet and the trails were soggy.  The next day’s outing to a beautiful waterfall was very lightly attended but none the less enjoyable.


There were also cultural events, such as everything you wanted to know about coconuts and also what they do with the large palm fronds from the trees.  One evening was a lesson about  the kava ceremony, which most guests participated in listening to, learning about the “clans” and the role of the chief and spokesman during the ceremony.  Fijians take their kava ceremonies very seriously but most times kava is a social activity.  We all sat on the floor, watched the ceremonial mixing, and learned the proper way to clap before and after drinking from the universal kava cup – which looks like a half of a dried coconut.  Kava is a dried powder pounded from the kava plant and of course the older the vintage the better.  Once mixed in the large kava bowl with a rag, rung out like a muddy shirt, one clap before drinking, then three very hollow claps after, it leaves a peppery almost numbing feeling on your lips.  We each took turns for round one, some politely declined round two, others braved a large cup full by asking for a “high tide” versus a “low tide” – or just a small amount.  The Fijians are very open and proud of their culture and most willing to teach you about it if you ask.

One afternoon the Fire Walkers prepared a bon fire and tended the hot coals and amazed us with their ability to walk, bare foot on the fire pit.  If your father was a fire walker, you too became a fire walker.  There is a legend about an ell that was going to be killed to be given to the chief for dinner and it pleaded for its life by stating” if you let me live I will give you the power to walk on fire”.  Beqa is the only place in Fiji where you will see them and people come from all over to see this amazing ritual.



Wednesday was our day for  the highly anticipated “Shark Dive” with Aqua Trek at Shark Reef.  We met the Aqua Trek dive boat that came out from Pacific Harbor with the usual plastic trash bin filled with large fish heads and other delicacies that “chum” is comprised of.  We all made our way down to aprox 70 ft where we kneeled in a line behind a roped off area and settled in to watch the show.  Immediately the waters were filled with all sorts of fish and in every size frantically circling around hoping to get a mid morning snack.  I noticed a huge nurse shark just resting it’s head on the trash bin and it was almost as big as the can itself.  Black tips, white tips, reef sharks and yes, the big bull sharks.  There were also sand sharks and probably a lemon or two I could not see due to the murky waters of chum and fish.  Off in the distance we could see a goliath grouper – I think it was a goliath – but it was bigger than I had ever seen and certainly bigger than the brave dive guide in the middle of the chaos.  We had heard stories of a large 14 foot tiger shark that has been known to join in the feeding but as of late she has not been seen.  There are fears she may have been caught in fishing net.  In the middle of the feeding area is a small coral head housing a freakishly large green moray eel.  Normally it would be the show stopper but it only appeared to be a nuisance to the feeder as it kept getting in the way of the feeder handing out the fish heads to the bull sharks.  At one point I looked down at where I was kneeling to notice another green moray parading up and down the line in front of us hoping to find a stray piece of fish for himself.

I decided at that point I did not really need to hold the line in front on me and promptly stuffed my hands under my armpits for safe keeping.

Not wanting to risk DCS we reluctantly headed back to the boat for our own mid morning snack of cookies, freshly baked bread – like a spice bread, “breaky” juice, pinnacle juice and water.  A second shark dive was planned in a similar but shallower depth and another frenzy ensued with remoras looking for a host to attach itself to and still sharks looking for another fish head.   There was a videographer getting it all on tape, a wave from each diver and amazing footage from a closer vantage point – all packaged for sale should we want a DVD from our dive.

On a previous trip to Beqa I was fortunate to visit a far off less frequented dive site called Frigate Passage or “Frigates”.  It is known as the Fiji pipeline as a world class surfing zone.  Our boat left a bit early as it is a long way offshore and we were accompanied by dolphins and in the distance we could see the humpback whales ahead of us. Diving Frigates was so worth the ride, clear waters, beautiful walls covered with more soft corals, and an abundance of fish life and white tip sharks.  With air permitting and dive computers not companioning too much, many of us managed 70 + minute dives – we just didn’t want to leave.

But when it was time to leave, our last night at Beqa Lagoon Resort was a festive one with a feast called a lovo prepared for us and set out as a buffet.  Another Fijian tradition where the food is wrapped in leaves in cooked all day long underground in hot rocks.  Then singing, dancing, photo taking, email exchanges and kava drinking was a wonderful way to end our week at Beqa Lagoon.  In the morning after breakfast we boarded Firewalker to head back to the main land and the entire resort staff came out to sing the traditional farewell song Isa Lea to us as we motored away. We could hear the sweet singing long after we waved goodbye and watched as we got farther and farther away.  The beautiful  hibiscus flowers we were given up departure was cast into the sea and if it made its way back to the shore, then it was deemed  that we too would someday may our way back to the shores of Beqa.

Some of the group continued on for the second portion of the trip for five additional days to a resort on the northern portion of the mainland in the village of RakiRaki called Wananavu.  This part of the island is quite dry and mountainous but beautiful with sweeping views of the glass calm seas.  The sun was warm and welcoming after  a few rainy days down in Beqa.

We had lovely  rooms facing the ocean and most days the dive boat was all to ourselves.  The dive guides were a fun group and again didn’t mind our long lingering bottom times. Diving was in bright blue waters not far from shore or way out in the Bligh Passage where the soft corals and giant sea fans were spectacular.  Even a banded sea snake and octopus were out and about one morning as we entered the water.  If we ran into a strong current  we just changed direction and drifted into a lee where  we were rewarded with the soft corals in full bloom.

We were spoiled with 3 lavish meals daily, sinful desserts and enjoyed  beautiful sunsets with crimsons and yellows. Afternoons were spent either at the spa, lazily lounging around the pool and listening to the water fall.  Some of the group decided to explore the island by  scooter and they even managed to stop a rugby game in progress as they zoomed by .They were handing out candies to the children as they ran over to see the motorbikes and the men who rode them all the while yelling out Bula and waving.  These are the sights and sounds of a vacation that will remain in your mind and hearts for a long time to come. That is just the way Fiji is.


Jody Brown

September 26, 2011