Trip Repot Fiji November 29th to December 13th 2008:
I was packed and ready to go, the Turkey eaten, and the luggage loaded for its 7000 mile journey to Fiji. With plans to cover two wonderful resorts, in my favorite dive destination in the world, I would be meeting old friends and a couple new ones from SCUBA Board.
The trip went pretty smoothly and even though our LAX part went smoothly, go figure! We boarded our 747-300 Air Pacific flight 811 on time and rolled to a smooth take-off. On our ten and a half hour flight into Nandi Fiji. We arrived at about 5:30am Saturday the 29th and meet the bus to Beqa Lagoon Resort via PacificHarbor and forty minute boat ride to the Island.
I meet my long time friends at the air port in Fiji and they loaded all their baggage on the bus and we chatted about the beauty of the Fiji and caught up on old times. The ride, including a shopping stop takes about four hours, through beautiful scenery and Pine covered hills breaking out along the CoralCoast along the Queen’s Highway.
Once at PacificHarbor we step off the bus that becomes the ride for the returning group and the Dive Boys move all of our luggage to one of the dive boats for transport to our Bures on BeqaIsland. In this case Five Star accommodations, on beautiful grounds, on a peaceful lagoon, on the west side of the Island of Beqa. We climb aboard one of the other boats named the Blue Surveyor and head out of the harbor with the 29 square mile island lying before us 9 miles from the opening of the Jetty.
This time the rain had been falling hard the last three weeks and the river we were leaving was brown with mud, making our prospects of clear blue waters dim a bit. We faced some wind and small chop that didn’t bode well for a week of wide-angle photography. The way it turned out was this was a transition day as the weather was improving and would continue to do over the next couple weeks. Even with this in our collective faces the water in front of the resort is always tranquil and inspiring. As the boat moored the new guests had no idea of what was to come as they boarded the little aluminum skiff that has been taking a beating over the last decade. So auspicious a way to arrive in paradise, one has think this is the same way so many explorers over the years have landed in new islands all over the Pacific.
The staff was waiting as usual on the sand strumming ukuleles and guitars singing a welcoming song, while Bulo claps as you climb out of the boat bare footed and smiling. With a Lay in hand she greets you with a warm smile and a big “Bula, welcome to Beqa Lagoon Resort” then pointing you toward the Main Bure she instructs you to “Make yourself comfortable and get a drink” while she proceeds to the next guest in a great precession of smiling faces and hails of “Bula Bula” Cameras flash as we travelers make our way a few steps the Main Bure where cold drinks are handed to you along with a short briefing and some of the obligatory paper work. Bures are assigned and numbers given out as behind the scenes the Dive Boys are delivering your luggage to your Bure.
My friends had not been in the water for a while; so once they caught their breath and listened to the briefing, they approached me with a request for a shore dive to get their weights right for the next day. The dive gear is unpacked and sent to the dive locker close to the beach where it’s just a few steps to the water. The water was pretty brown from all the runoff, but I knew where it would be clear enough to get them wet and comfortable with their weights and the tropical water.
The little reef in front of the resort has given me a lot of hours of great macro photography in past years. We geared up and walked into the 10-foot visibility that would improve quickly over the next week. One of the group is a dive friend of mine named Biff Denny and is a very competent diver and RSO diver with me for 6 and ½ years. He volunteered to accompany Cynthia while I dived with Doug Bower my long time friends.
We got the weight and mask problems solved and cruised out along the reef as the visibility improved the further out we got. I brought my Camera not wanting to miss an opportunity for a few pictures. To my dismay I spotted a Crown of Thorns starfish and then another! I counted over two dozen on the dive and was very concerned at my finding so many of the destructive animals. I would inform Markus, the Manager, of our finds as soon as possible upon my return to shore. He was quite concerned and I was the first to say something to him. He would put a plan of action together as soon as he could. He told me that some Reef Organization people were coming a week or so and would seek their help while mounting a campaign to strongly diminish their numbers with the help of the Dive Boys and Volunteer guests.
We dressed and headed for Ruakua village to see Ratue Ocala and his wife Verde and stopped with one of our new friends Carey that was trained at the SCUBA Locker and had a total of five dives before she decided to “See the world” with us. So we had a 5’10” 25 year old blond with a big smile to introduce to the cultural aspect of our adventure. So Laurie, Tony, Biff, Carey, Doug, Cynthia, and myself headed down Beqa Hwy 1 (Foot Path) to Ruakua and walked with one of the younger villagers, who we asked permission of to enter the village, and joined a group of Fijians for so music and Kava, We were told the Ratu had not returned from the “Garden” yet so we should sit and enjoy some Kava. We had bought the traditional Savu Savu gift for the Ratu and wanted to deliver it as soon as we were to hear he was in the village. We all had some Kava and bid are farewell to go see the Ratu as we explained to Carey that it might be better if they “Guys” thought she was married to Biff! So Ratu Papakinni preformed a quick ceremony on the trail and problem solved.
Cynthia is a Doctor of Oriental medicines, so when we stopped at the former Ratu’s bure and we noticed Loisa his wife had a swollen foot from a spider bite and Cynthia went to work and had it healed in a couple of days time. The kids went with her back to the resort to escort her back with what she needed and then brought her back at dark, mission accomplished. We presented the Savu Savu to the Ratu and handed out some pocketknives and flash lights and headed back for one of BLR famous gourmet meals and deserts.
When we got back the boat was bring in three new guests two of witch were friends from SCUBABoard.com (Snowdiver) from B.C. Canada. Lynn and Stan with a friend from Alaska, and Lynn told me later “She recognized me as soon as she walked up”!
All this and it was only the first day November 29th 2008…….
November 30th 2008:
Sunday saw a bright and early Sun rise over Beqa as I readied my Video camera, the Beast, and my still camera as I was taking both out on the boat so I could be as flexible as possible considering the possible conditions. The Coffee is ready at 6:00 am and Breakfast orders go in at 6:30 am and I was there so mine was first in. The dive boat call goes out to climb in the tender at 7:45 am sharp. The only thing you have to carry is your skin, suit, or your exposure choice, camera, and any personal items you want to bring. The rest of the gear is already on the boats put together and ready. A quick check of your gear and a fast inventory and the boats pull out for dive sites dependent on conditions and tides. Beqa is a Huge Atoll and Lagoon subject to draining and filling based on the tidal flow. We headed out for an easy sight to get everyone settled in and the runoff was so bad the water was brown. So we peeled off and headed to a little more advanced site called Soft Coral Plateau, even though it had a stiff current it was clear and we were able to get behind the Boomies where the current was stopped by the peaks that come from the bottom as is so common in the Fijian Islands. The lagoon is around 130ft deep in most areas and the Boomies become Oasis to the fish life in the Lagoon. We got in one and three quarters of a dive before the current brought in the runoff and was turning the top ten feet below the boat brown. Lucky for us this was the only day we had to deal with this problem.
Back by 1:00 pm for lunch that tasted so good after a morning of diving in the current and pushing the Beast. I got both video and stills in the can and sat down on our Bure porch in the lounge chair and dosed off for a short nap after cleaning my cameras and setting my batteries to charge. I could have done Raviravi, but my body said sleep and I had to listen. The weather cooperated with a light breeze and some fluffy clouds contrasted by a very blue sky and even greener multi-layered Viti Levu in the background. As the tied was coming in I was going out for the count. I woke to the sound of one of my Fijian friends greeting me as he was told that I was on the island and wanted to catch up with me. After 8 years of visiting and making friends on this island, so go the obligations that make time fly and this trip so unique. I feel so fortunate to be here and so connected to the sport I love and to me it gives meaning to the pictures that I labor to produce that help me convey what I have been witness to. After a nice meeting with my friend it was time to collect my camera and head to Happy Hour and the Choir that was to sing before dinner for a great group of smiling guests. Entertainment and a great meal and it is time for the crowd started to thin out as 9:00 pm becomes a late night out.
The main Bure is our living room where we socialize and make new friends, as dinner becomes a social experience as well as a culinary delight. I ask myself does it get any better than this?
December 1st 2008:
A little rain during the night leaves everything freshly washed to meet the new day and a better day of diving and pictures. Breakfast, load the skiff, check the gear, and we head for a new dive site and another adventure under a clearing Beqa Lagoon. It’s only Monday and I have sold out of Reed’s Rods that I have brought, I had a given a few to the Dive Masters, shortly after arriving on Sunday. The DMs and the other divers find them very helpful as a tool. The water is getting clear as the days go along and we are getting up to 40ft to 60ft with a little debris from the runoff. Last year I had one of the worst ear infections in my life and this year I tried Doc’s earplugs that worked well, but made my out ear a little sore not being used to them. The best thing was following my dive buddies (Doc Sharon Laughlin) advice not to put anything in my ear sharper than my elbow! So no swabs for two months before the trip and non-after diving, it seems the micro abrasions are a source for infection in the ear and swab can cause them with little effort. In two weeks and 29 dives it seems to have paid off to let nature protect my ears and had no problems what’s so ever. I ended the two weeks with 29 dives and a lot of storage used on both tape and chip.
We covered some of the great sites of Beqa Lagoon like: John’s Tunnel and the Fishing Freighter, Fantasy, Three Sisters, Seven Sisters, Glory Hole, Pearl Rock, Side Streets, Carpet Cove and the Wreck, and My Favorite Dive. About half of them we hit at slack tide witch made them very easy and relaxing. More time to set up and get the shot. I tried to use the still camera at slack and push the video with the currents. This system seemed to workout pretty well, even though it mad my work harder pushing the Beast into the current like a Submarine.
We only located one Blue Ribbon Eel this year and the currents kept a number of divers from getting to the site to see it. This is the price for diving in a Lagoon that fills and drains with the tides. But it also brings in White Tip sharks and other ocean critters and we saw a number of White Tips on almost every dive. For some it was their first encounter with sharks in general while diving and they found it to be very cool and educational. The DM’s at this resort are among the best in the world. They will do whatever it takes to help find what you want to see or help you with gear or any reasonable request. It seems it is also always done with a big Fijian smile and a Bula.
We have cookies and juice after or first dive served by our DM’s and the surface intervals are done on some great beaches, a village, and sometimes on site or traveling to the next site. The boats are a little slow, but comfortable and roomy. The ladders are sturdy, but not the best in the industry for bare feet or traction. Stainless Steel Bar type and can be tough in a swell. The DM’s make them work by being attentive while you are on them.
By 12:30 or 1:00 pm we were headed back for another great lunch and more activities at the Resort. If you never left the Resort, and some don’t, there is always something to do or be entertained by, but I strongly suggest getting involved with the local culture and visit the villages. Ruakua has a couple of folks who sell crafts and will invite you in for Kava or a chat. They even have a little store where you can support the village and buy a number of items you might like or want. So to me half the trip is about the Fijian people and their culture.
The week goes by pretty fast and you find hump day approaching must faster than in your regular week, so plan your time and activities accordingly.
Tuesday December 2nd 2008:
More night rain and another warm pretty morning with birds chirping and the Geckoes doing some chirping as well finds me up at the crack of dawn. This country does not have Daylight Savings Time, so the sun is up at 5:30 am and so am I. Cameras serviced and ready I hit the main Bure at about 6:00 am each morning for some juice and relaxation. The rest of the resort starts to stir and come alive. The Dive Boys are loading tanks and getting the boats ready for the day. The Resort doesn’t have a pier, so all movement to and from the boats is by Skiff including a sturdy aluminum boat the have had since I have been going. The sound of the thanks being loaded can’t be missed; although I enjoy it as to me it is a call to diving. The little outboards come to life and at 7:45 am the Lala drums sound the last call to dive. Grab your Skin, Camera, and Dry Bag wade into 8 inches of water step over the gunnels and take a seat.
This trip I took a set of Morfins to test and Photograph. The DM’s were curios about the look of these fins and how they worked. They ended up with Joelli one of the founders of the Big Fish Feed at PacificHarbor, who seemed to really enjoy them and used them at the fish feed the next Friday. I will be writing an evaluation on these fins in the near future. Not sure but these might be the first Morfins in Fiji?
More diving and dive conversation between dives becomes a routine that we look forward to each day. The dives last an hour our more in the 80* water with reasonable depths makes it easy to stretch these dives to the max
We hope to be your source of underwater adventure, Videos, Photos, Training, and a place of resources for both the entertainment industry and the public. We hope to attract the diving public to a site that will be interesting and educational as well as fun and informative.
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