My first trip to Fiji | September 2008 #BULA
Updated: Jan 26
Back in the late 90’s, a time without online booking- and travel platforms, only a handful of tour operators in the Netherlands offered trips to the Fiji-Islands. So in those days, if the South Pacific and especially Fiji was a destination you had been dreaming about for years, you had to order all the free catalogues you could get your hands on, to make dreams come true. And so I did. Thick leaflets and sturdy brochures popped on the doormat, the reading of which made me dream even more.
So I tried endlessly to find the cheapest way within all the tour operators offered, but in the end it was always too expensive for me. I had to wait for the era of Tripadvisor booking.com to finally find an affordable way of getting to Fiji. And so I did.
You need enthusiasm?
So how does a twenty-something banker, with just a couple of dives under his belt, end up dreaming about Fiji in a tiny apartment in Amsterdam? There are two people to blame for that. The first seed was planted by my brother. In the early aughts he was travelling around the world and met up with some of his friends in Fiji to spend some time travelling and scubadiving around the Fiji islands. In elaborate emails my brother told me about this place where you could dive with sharks. A place protected by local villagers as the sharks were sacred to the islanders. My brother wrote to me how he encountered bull sharks and even a tiger shark when engaging in a shark feeding. What more does a dive-novice need to spark the imagination?
I just needed one more push and that came in September 2006 while scubadiving the Mnemba Atoll of the coast of Zanzibar. Whilst there me and my girlfriend got acquainted with fellow dutchy Yong Mi and her French beau Fabien. Both PADI dive instructors working for the local dive center OneOcean. Fabien told us some seriously fascinating stories of all the fabulous places he had been diving in the South Pacific. He had been sailing and diving around the world with his father, so he knew a lot of places and divespots firsthand. For me his stories sealed the deal. I had to go to Fiji.
To be precise: I had to dive the famous E6 located in Bligh Water, a stretch of ocean between the northern part of Viti Levu and the island of Taveuni. And I had to experience the Fiji Beqa Shark dive on the shark reef at Beqa Island.
There we go!
In September 2008 I had finally figured out a way of getting to Fiji for a decent price. We would be able to dive the Bligh Water area and hopefully the E-6 site whilst staying on Taveuni, and to participate in the shark feeding at the Beqa lagoon we would return to Viti Levu for the second part of our stay in Fiji. In Taveuni we chose to dive with a little local dive shop named Jewel Bubble Divers.
First thing we learned from them was that the E6 divesite was not at all within reach of Taveuni. The dives from Taveuni were mainly concentrated around the Somo Somo Straight. A beginners mistake and disappointment for sure. But lesson number two followed right behind: don’t focus blindly on the famous and grand divespots. There is so much more to see and beauty to discover. The diving around Taveuni was absolutely fantastic. The island is located in front of the Somo Somo Straight and is within reach of another locally famous divesite named ‘The Great White Wall’. A wall lush with white soft corals. A feast for the eye. The diversity of the divespots is also a big plus for Taveuni. We did reef dives, drift dives and wall dives. Every single one of them more impressive than the other. So sure, I could not cross the E6 of my bucketlist, but we made some great dives. And the best hidden secret of all? The stunning, little deserted islands you go to for your surface interval. They are more than the icing on the cake.
The Shark Dive
After a week it was already time for us to leave Taveuni. A longer stay is no problem on this island, you will not be bored. But we were ready to go back to Viti Levu to dive the famous Fiji Shark dive with Beqa Adventure Divers a.k.a. BAD.
This dive is named The Best Shark Dive in the World by diving legends Ron and Valerie Taylor, and they might very well be right. The dive was all I imagined and hoped for. We were briefed on our way to the shark arena, so before I realized what I was about to do, it was already time to enter the water for the first of two dives.
Both of them were absolutely amazing. I had never experienced anything like this ever before in my life. And all I had to do was go down 30m. and kneel behind a wall with the other divers. From here we could watch the spectacle that was about to unfold from a safe distance. After us the crew came down with a huge garbage bin and started feeding the sharks. And here that meant mostly big bull sharks. It just blew my mind. It was so impressive to see and experience from so close. I have to confess that when entering for my first dive I still had no idea what my stand was regarding shark feeding. But afterwards I had no doubts anymore. The good outweighs the bad here for sure. The dive center is involved in ongoing cutting-edge research with an international team of scientists to better understand the Bull Shark population of Shark Reef Marine Reserve and has set up a comprehensive database about The Shark Dive which is unparalleled and continues to yield unique insights into the mysterious life of these free-roaming Sharks. And as of November 2014, Shark Reef Marine Reserve has been designated Fiji’s first National Marine Park, with BAD being entrusted with its day-to-day management. This is a major step in ensuring that the park will be monitored and enforced efficiently.
It's oh so special
I still regard my first ever trip to the South Pacific as one of the best. I know that a first is always gonna have a lasting impact, but there just really is a lot to be impressed by in Fiji. Like a first kiss, you will never forget your first time in Fiji. And so I did not.