Face to Face with Fiji’s Sharks

17 August 2016
Read Time: 3.0 mins

If you’ve ever wanted to get up close and personal with the ocean's apex predators, Fiji is a great place to try it. Sharks can hardly be called friendly fish – even in friendly Fiji – but they are at least ‘well-behaved’. So whether you choose to snorkel with the little reef sharks or dive with the big boys, you’ll be assured of a safe and exhilarating experience.

At Barefoot Kuata Resort’s Shark Snorkel, you can watch reef sharks swim below you in a natural reef basin. After a 30-minute ride from Kuata in the Yasawa Islands, the boats are moored and everyone jumps in for the short snorkel to a large natural basin.

A free diver comes fac to face with a white-tipped reef shark in Fiji. A free diver comes face to face with a white-tipped reef shark. Picture: Diveplanit

A few fish heads are placed under rocks in the centre of the basin and most guests float in a circle to watch, with some more confident swimmers duck diving down for a closer look. The guides are good free divers and make for great photo opportunities as they hang at the bottom of the basin, weighed with rocks, as the curious sharks swim around them. It’s one of those experiences that guarantees a big smile – even from the kids who were scared to enter the water at first.

The shark snorkel has been around for about 10 years, but has only recently been made accessible via day trip from the mainland. Guests catch the Yasawa Island Flyer to Barefoot Kuata Island Resort for the day, go for a snorkel at 11am, come back to the resort for lunch and catch the afternoon Flyer back to the mainland.

A white-tipped reef shark in Fiji. A white-tipped reef shark comes to say hello. Picture: Diveplanit

Beqa Lagoon’s Shark Feeding Dive is another kettle of anchovies altogether. The boat trip is just 20 minutes out of Pacific Harbour to a mooring at the appropriately named Bistro. It’s operated by Aqua-Trek, which departs from Pacific Harbour with guests from the nearby resorts. Guests staying on Beqa Lagoon Resort, located on one of the islands dotted around the lagoon, are taken to the site by their resort’s own boat.

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Arriving at the mooring, there’s a sense of anticipation, mixed with a little bit of anxiety as everyone starts methodically to gear up. More attention than usual is paid to equipment, as everyone is trying hard not to think about the sharks assembling in the blue waters below.

A big shark eyeballs divers in Fiji. An apex predator comes within reach. Picture: Diveplanit

Zipping up a three-millimetre wetsuit, I wonder whether we shouldn’t be stepping into chain-mail suits instead. We wait as the shark dive operator readies the bins of chum and fish scraps, and then, by some hidden signal, we’re told; it’s time, we’re going in!

Normally when divers are informed “Pool’s open, guys!” there are lots of whoops and clapping of hands as everyone dives in. Not today. There is a quiet reverence as we slip into the water and ease down the mooring line.

As we approach the ‘arena’, it’s a bit like the scene outside a football game: everyone heading in one direction to grab the best ringside seat. Suspended above the Bistro is bin full of fish scraps that has slowly been spilling its contents. It is surrounded by what can only be described as a swarm of fish – a ball about eight metres in diameter envelopes it.

A diver watches as a big shark grabs a few fish nearby. It's feeding time in Fiji. Picture: Diveplanit

A rope runs along the edge of the arena, which we have been told (several times), to stay behind. Hopefully someone has told the sharks the rope’s purpose, too.

Looking carefully into the swarm, the unmistakable outlines of apex predators begin to appear, and then we can clearly see that there are at least six three-metre bull sharks and a couple of lemon sharks.

During the next 20 minutes, the bull sharks come down out of the swarm and neatly take a piece of fish about the size of a tuna head from the feeder. The feeding is arranged so that as the sharks take the bait they are positioned to swim directly at the spectators.

 A wall of bubbles forms as divers watch the sharks arrive. Picture: Diveplanit

They turn neatly before us left or right and head back into the swarming ball of fish. In fact, it’s not just the rope that they respect as a boundary, but rather the wall of spectators’ bubbles that has thickened markedly as pulses quicken and breathing rates climb. The thick, powerful bodies of the bull sharks are unmistakable, and just occasionally you’ll see them face on, heading straight in your direction.

When the show is over, the feeder places a few leftover fish heads at strategic points between the arena and the bowlines, so that the bull sharks swim among the crowd as they return to their boats, drained of adrenaline (and air), but emotionally elated at having spent almost an hour up close and personal with the oceans’ apex predators.

For environmental reasons, the shark feeding is not run every day – so check with your resort and book in advance.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Fiji.

Deborah Dickson-Smith

Deborah plays the mother role in a blended family of seven. She's a travel blogger, diver and passionate eco warrior. She has lived in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Edinburgh, London and now resides in Sydney’s northern beaches with her Brady Bunch-style family - all seasoned travellers. Follow Deborah on Twitter @where2nextblog or visit her blog, Where to Next?, all about travelling with teens and mid-life style.