What followed on our return to Nadi was 3 nights of precious little more than sorting laundry, hanging out with Flo and Nadine (who returned from the Yasawas around the same time) and deciding what to do in Fiji. The weather was overcast throughout and on one of the days the single highlight was a man climbing exceptionally tall palm trees to knock the coconuts down for no other reason than to have a fraction of control over where they fell – this didn’t stop him damanging a villa roof but I’m sure he was duly reprimanded for that. Eventually we settled on heading across the main island to Uprising Beach Resort from which we could do a Shark Dive which sounded like possibly the most interesting thing you could do with a diving qualification so I was up for that.
After saying our goodbyes we taxied to the bus station which was flooded quite dramatically as a result of the recent poor weather. This thankfully didn’t prevent us from getting on a bus going in the direction of the capital Suva and jumping off 3 hours into the bus’s 4 and half hour journey in Pacific Harbour. After a few questions we took a short taxi ride to the place which was a lovely if somewhat isolated mid-range resort that had bolted on a somewhat spectacular dorm to break into the backpacker market. This was without doubt the single best dorm I’d ever seen and arguably in terms of size and comfort level I’m not sure if it’s been topped. Rob & Gilly visited it after us and had a pretty awful experience thanks to having had to share it with a group of idiots but as we had a quiet group we were fine.
Now the Internet in Fiji borders on comical so when we found that the restaurant had free Wi-Fi and a relatively nippy connection we decided to take up residence within for the vast majority of the duration of our stay there – the weather was poor so little else was on the cards and a few draft Vonu’s (the only decent beer I drank in Fiji) along with good lunch and dinner menus had us sorted for the day.
The next morning was an early start for our shark dive pickup. It’s also when we discovered that the free breakfast at the resort included UNLIMITED BEANS ON TOAST which made me far happier than it probably should have. We made our way there and got kitted out with nothing more than the usual dive gear and after a briefing which I can only assume was to ensure than none of us had coated ourselves in steak that morning we were out and down for the first of our two dives.
This first dive covered three separate depths and three different groups of sharks. Before long we were making our way down to lie on our stomachs at the lowest depth and behold the second most amazing thing I’ve seen when diving. Massive 2-metre Bull Sharks with mouths big enough to take your head in and snap it off clean were swimming amongst and over us so close that if you felt the need you could reach out and touch (though you would probably have been hit by a stick by one of the safety personnel). The feeders slowly extracted massive fish-head after massive fish-head from both their highly professional looking steel food crate and their completely opposite looking wheelie-bin no different from the one in your UK back yard. They’d hold the fish heads out at arm’s length as the sharks circled before one would eventually make its way in to take the whole thing in its mouth in one bite. Of course given the amount of free food on offer the entire sea bed was swarming with all manner of other would-be diners from small fish to other shark species all looking to grab a tiny morsel of the fare.
I guess it’s probably worth highlighting that there wasn’t a cage involved – had any of the sharks taken a particular dislike to any of the divers there would have been precious little anyone could do about it. We were all just creatures in the open ocean – we acquired a DVD of the event but it got nicked later in the journey.
The first feed was all over too quickly but 2 more followed at 15 metres and 5 metres involving smaller but just as hungry sharks all enjoying their daily feast. By the last feed the sharks were essentially just brushing past you completely unbothered by your presence. The whole experience was breathtaking yet I’ve never been so relaxed underwater or used so little air.
Suitably awestruck we sat through our surface interval with all our other fellow divers exchanging superlatives with a healthy dash of expletives before we were back in for more of the same. More of the same I thought? Well fair enough. Only it wasn’t more of the same. You see, the second sitting see’s the reserves more significant and distinguished diners wander in for their meal. The second sitting see’s the 2-3 metre Bull Sharks that would have no problem taking you in up to your shoulders at least (I’m reckon they’d squeeze a petite person up to the waist) come along for the party. While the first part of the first dive was the second most amazing thing I’ve seen whilst diving this was the first. These were huge. So graceful, so quick, so nimble and so obviously deadly though here in this shark reserve they’ve been doing this for years and as far as I know (!) there have been no fatalities. We spent a good half hour here and while we saw nothing of the legendary Tiger Shark who used to frequent the waters but hadn’t been seen for 3+ months it was still a pretty amazing experience.
There’s a definite argument that such activities are ethically questionable; that feeding wild animals essentially takes the wild part out and encourages them to become dependent upon humans. I’m sure they would make a strong case that here in the reserve they’re undertaking a huge conservation effort and I would add that the whole activity was very professionally managed and in no way a cowboy operation.
What I will say is this: It was awesome. Spending time up close with such incredibly powerful and beautiful creatures was nothing short of magical and my entire diving qualification was worth it just for that dive.
Afterwards it was back to Uprising resort for the usual nitrogen-fuelled post-dive exhaustion, taking it easy and using the internet while enjoying the food and drink. We hatched a plan to move on to Suva the following day and secure passage on the Ferry out to the other side of the Fijian islands and make our way to Maqai Beach Resort.