Monday, June 25, 2018

Beqa Island



So we had a bucket list of places to go/see before we left Fiji. Beqa Island (pronounced Benga) was near the top of that list for two reasons: fire walkers and shark diving! Planning it was a bit tricky, fire walking typically only occurs once a week (you'll have to watch the video to find out why). Beqa Lagoon Resort - where we opted to stay - fire walking occurs on Monday evenings (so we found a weekend with a Monday holiday...we opted to let the kids miss a day of school - real world experiences have a lot of educational value!). We also decided to wait until Mason was SCUBA certified so that he could participate in the shark dive as well (winning at parenting there!).


Beqa Island is actually really close to Suva! We have drove past it 100s of times. It is located right off Pacific Harbour (so only a 45 or so minute drive away) plus the boat ride over to the island. In fact I've posted photos of it many times on FB/instagram and a few times on the blog like...here with my cousins and here on Father's Day last year (though you can't see the island...we could...lol). The resort has worked out a deal with the Pearl Resort in Pac Harbour to use their Marina. So we left our car at the Pearl and waited for the boat to arrive. Once they arrived and we got our things loaded, then they had to go refuel....ahh Fiji Time....so we had some time to kill....so with beautiful scenery, why not have an impromptu photo shot?!?


We could totally be sunglasses models!!


Trying to be artsy, I was attempting to get a palm tree shadow and I was photo bombed!


Typically teens......I call this peacock teen....I perfectly line up the fanning palm behind his head....muwhahaha.....you don't play along, I still have fun!


Finally the boat was fueled up and we were on our way. We passed this small little island in the jetty mouth. You can see the edge of Beqa in the corner of the shot....it seems so close but it was breezy and a strong current so it takes surprisingly longer than you would expect to cross the channel.


We arrived at lunch time, so we dropped our stuff in our rooms (had to get 2 as there was a 3 person per room cap, but Clarissa would have been fine on the couch....but have to follow the rules [insert eye roll]), got signed up for the shark dive the next morning (priorities people), and then had lunch. Richard was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did they serve ice tea in big urns but they offered unsweetened as well as the southern staple of sweetened ice tea!!! We quickly discovered the resort was an American meca. We came across more American tourists here in one weekend than I think we had come across every other island combined!! We are guessing the shark dive is likely advertised in SCUBA magazines and people book a package and come out.


After lunch we hopped in the water to get some snorkeling done before we jumped in the pool (once in you will never get the kids out....even though we have one at home?!?!). The seagrass beds in back were "too slimy" for Clarissa and we ended up doing a little divide and conquer. Mason and Richard snorkeled the back side while Clarissa and I went to the sandier front side. Luckily we now have two GoPros.....so we both got some awesome footage! Richard got an eel in it's hole and I stalked a sea horse. Though the best footage has to be after Richard and Mason came back, I headed way out to reef in front (about half way through the video). I am playing with a blue sea star and then pointing to some Christmas tree worms....based on what I am doing and the fact I think if I would have seen this creature swim by I would have likely turned the camera and followed it a bit (at least panned the lens some)....but no.....totally clueless!!! I didn't know it swam this close until editing the video! Oops...situational awareness fail! I will leave you in suspense and not spoil the video.....(sorry for the shakey parts where we let the kids shoot some too!).


Here are some shots of the best creatures we also took in addition to the video! The coolest sea horse ever!!


A selfie with a six-armed blue sea star! We had only seen four- and five-armed sea stars until now!!


I think this is a threadfin butterflyfish (likely a younger one - since the 'thread' grows with age and I can't see it's 'thread' so it might not be very long). It also does not have the telltale spot. In researching, it seems common for the spot to not appear on the left side.


"Normal" five-armed blue sea star.


View of Beqa Island from the reef.


So after our fun in the sun and water, we got cleaned up. If you recall from over a year ago when my in-laws were in town we had some kalavata made (family colors - aka matching modern traditional Fijian dress). Well Clarissa has sprouted giraffe legs as we call them, Mason has flown past me in height, and Richard's shrunk length wise....so I was the only left with my sulu jaba (shirt/skirt) still fitting. So we decided to get another set made before leaving post and do some more family photos....so I apologize for to non-family....these next photos are primary for the grandparents! (I started with 64 shots....narrowed it down to only 12....it was tough....we had some kids with the goofy dial turned up to the max that afternoon!).


Switching up all the combo's of who was taking the photo.....


Clarissa was all about posing on sideways growing palm trees this trip!


Candid a kid caught of me fixing my flower. 


We found a nice stranger to snap a couple shots with all four of us!



Mommy and me shots (with attitude of course)!


I think Richard and Mason may have been done with this photo shoot! Goofballs!


The only nice solo photo of Mason....the rest were so silly! Clarissa decided to bring props into the mix.


We timed things perfectly! After we had finished and gotten some cold drinks (I got the special that day...we think it was called the "Blue Lagoon"), a local Beqa village had come to sing church hymns to us. They were all sung in Fijian, so I don't know the songs that were song, but when editting the video it made me sentimental thinking of how beautiful their songs are. Everyone starts singing as a child and I don't think there is a single Fijian who can't carry a tune. Watch the drone video later in this post to hear their songs. After the singing, Clarissa didn't let sulu jaba slow her down and headed to the playground.


As you can see by the sun-kissed glows on our faces. It was late afternoon/evening and the sun was starting to set. OMG.....I honestly have to say this was the most beautiful sunset we saw the entire time we live in Fiji....and as you have seen in all the photos I've posted on this blog...we have seen some beautiful sunsets! Since we had the camera with us from taking our kalavata photos it was perfect for taking the sunset progression photos. I also took a ton of photos of the sunset....and seriously every photo I took was even better than the last one. It was insane!! We have one user setting on the camera that increases the saturation a bit (but not too much or it messes with skin tones). I used that to take the photos. The only editing I did was a little crop or straighten if the horizon was wonky....I did nothing to the color or brightness/contrast - I tell you all that technical stuff because what you see in pictures is what the sunset looked like - I didn't edit them!! Again...photo overload because it was such an amazing sunset and each photo was a little better but different and all are beautiful. I whittled my 20 sunset photos down to these five...


Am I not right? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!


There was also about thirty other people watching this phenomenal sunset with us....and I managed to creatively frame the photos to not get a single one....it looks like we are alone on the island!!  


After dinner was over, we had back to our bures to get our dive bags & cameras all ready and then rest before our big day.....I wouldn't say a restful nights sleep. Nerves do you get a bit....I am purposefully getting ready to put myself (and my child) down into shark-infested waters....is this the best decision....what could possibly go wrong.....

The next morning after breakfast, we left Clarissa with the staff and headed to the dive shop on the island. There are two operations in Fiji that do shark dives. The other operation is out of Pacific Harbour and goes down across the channel to a depth of ~90 feet. We opted for the resort dive as they only go down to a depth of ~65 feet. There was long safety briefing, that made us all feel better. They went over how the whole morning would go, the different species we might encounter, what to expect, what not to do (ex. I had to borrow their fins as my primarily white fins might catch a shark's attention...not something you want to do, we all had to have full wetsuit coverage - no skin exposed...again trying to not catch any shark attention). We would do two - 30 minute dives (with a surface interval in between) during which one dive master would feed the sharks. We were to descend, find a spot on the wall, kneel and stay behind the wall (but watch out for eels - they like fingers). There were about 4-5 dive masters down in the water helping stand guard, aid slow descenders (like us), or anyone who needed to surface early (ie a dive computer said time's up).


Here is a photo of the feeding dive master. The food was brought down in a trashcan. He would open the lid, pull out some fish heads (or whatever), then shut the lid for a bit, when read to get more food out he would open the lid and pull some more out. The little yellow guy in front is a Klein's butterflyfish (Chaetodon kleinii).


That is my most awesome shark dive photo!! Thank you GoPro burst mode!! My boss at the embassy loved it so much he encouraged me to add it to embassy internal website page! Yeah me! I counted SEVEN sharks in that photo!


That is my favorite, ooh that is a big shark photo.....no cropping done there....so it was close as well! Now I'm going to try to show ID photos of the species we saw before the video (it was overcast when diving so it makes ID a bit trickier).


Possibly the Black Tip Reef Shark (IDed by black on the tips of its fins). Similar to the White Tip Reef Shark that has white tips on its fin tips...I did not get any stills but they were seen on the dive.


Possibly a Bull Shark entering from above. We were warned they would somewhat cleared out an area.


Possibly Nurse Sharks. We were told they would linger towards the ground and somewhat grab scraps that were dropped by the other sharks.


Just a shot of lots of sharks! I think the 'best' moment was when I looked up and saw about 5-6 sharks swimming right over our heads. I was looking up as they said Bull and Tiger sharks will come in from above so I was watching for those. I tapped Mason on the arm and pointed up. For a second he had a panic look of 'sharks in front and above I am surrounded'...just a natural human nature response. I tried to do a sign language reminder of the briefing about the sharks like to get bubble massages after feedings....Mason nodded, visibly relaxed, and then throughly enjoyed the close up sharks just above us in our bubbles and in front of us! At the point, I thought....core memory in the making right here and mentally patted myself on the back!


I think one of my favorite things was the shark that snagged one of the many fish that had also shown up for the fish head buffet! There is nothing in the rules that says the sharks only need to eat dead fish heads!

So without further ado....here is the video....I tried to edit it down to the best shark swim-bys with the least fish photo bombs.....tough!


So Richard and I had decided to not attend any of Mason certification classes. We felt he would learn better without either of us there to lean on for assistance (ie before the second shark dive - "Mom help me with my gloves" My thoughts "?!?" - but I said "you are a certified diver you should know how to put gloves on...after the first dive and everything is wet so stuff is trickier"....he managed to figure it out). What we did discover is he is more of flat seas/shore diver.....not too much of a fan of a little chop. Mean mom with a sea sick darling selfie!


Richard had ear problems and couldn't get down on the second dive....he was sad.


On a happy note, the sun had come out, seas had calmed and we had a beautiful ride back to the resort!


Mason and I rode in back to enjoy the warm sunshine!


That afternoon, we took advantage of the free foot treatment we received as part of our stay. Richard really can't stand people touching his feet but powered through for Clarissa....


Afterwards, Richard flew the the drone....he discovered as I did...the best way to make friends is to fly a drone...lol!


Here is the drone footage from the afternoon and a little before this sunset (had to recharge the batteries). I put the footage to the music of the church singers from the evening before. See if you can spot Clarissa in the pool and the huge fire you see in the background is the fire prepping for the firewalking ceremony!


While Richard was flying the drone, I partook in a lovely massage in the open air treatment room hidden in the lush gardens with views of the ocean. Sorry...no photos of that :) Mason had some homework to do and Clarissa hung out in the pool! Afterwards we all got cleaned up for the firewalking ceremony. I'll post the video first and then some still shots....


Just prior to the ceremony, the fire was burning hot!


Leveling the hot rocks to walk on...they are not fire jugglers...


The people I've seen walking barefoot along asphalt roads in Fiji in the summer must have been Beqa Island descendants!


I think the best part was after they finished walking, they placed some dry leaves between some of the hot rocks and they quickly caught fire again! So while they may not have been walking on flames those were some hot rocks!! Afterwards we could take our photo with the firewalkers (disregard shy Clarissa and goofy Mason).


Afterwards we enjoyed another breathtaking sunset (maybe second best during our time in Fiji...lol). I posted one shot here, but of course there are more to share!!


More golden this evening! The silhouette of the island reminded us a lot of a certain movie about a Pacific Island heroine that we have watched many times.


Got some people this time to make it more interesting.


The moon made an appearance even!! How will I ever choose which ones to print out to frame?!?!?


After dinner, we headed to bed. We had to catch the early boat back, get to the kids to school, and I had to get to work!! (Richard opted to take a day off work). Beqa Island did try to tempted us with a beautiful rainbow before our departure! Sigh, that little rock you see off in the distance is Viti Levu...where we live.


It was a great weekend....sadly, we had to return to the job of getting everything ready for the yard sale in a few days, the rest of pack out prep, work, and school....but it was great escape for a few days, bucket list items got checked off, and we visited another island. After getting home and washing up all our gear, as I was putting it up....I got this photo of Isa Lei....if I could read cat mind's she is thinking "I like fish, why didn't they take me???"


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