Beqa Lagoon Resort

Bega Island (pronounced Ben-ga) is surrounded by one of the world's largest and most spectacular barrier reefs. The waters are a warm 80 degrees in the calm and protected lagoon. There are no roads and no cars; just beaches, hiking trails and friendly staff, many of whom come from the local village. There are over 100 different dive sites to choose from.

After flying into Nausori Airport near Suva, we commissioned a taxi to drive the 1 1/2 hours to Pacific Harbor. The road passed through green hills with a large dairy farm in the past. Fijians obtained ownership of the dairy operation and gave away all the cows to their relatives. Now a New England company has leased the land to make a better go of it.

Beqa is a short boat ride from Pacific Harbor on the island of Viti Levu. The crossing is quite easy in the morning but can be very wet In the afternoon. The resort has 25 luxury bures, some with sunrise and sunset views. The duplex bures are very private and some even have a solar-heated Jacuzzi. The plunge pool has a view of the ocean and at night, a field of stars overhead that are surrounded by palm trees.

The dive boat is quite large but somewhat slow, why be a hurry when surrounded by such beauty? Most of the dive sites are 35-45 minutes away and so we generally did only one two tank dive per day. The dive sites are a mixture of hard and soft corals.

Most of the sites are also excellent for tiny critters and I was able to photograph several different leaf scorpion fish, pipefish, hawk fish and a wide variety of nudibranchs. Just about every species of fish found in Fiji can be found in Beqa lagoon.

Our first dive was great! Fantasea may be the best dive of this resort, It is the closest thing to Namena, our favorite Fijian dive area. Soft corals, fans and many small fish including literally millions of anthias (fairy basslets). We loved it!

We did not notice any areas of coral bleaching. The hard coral appear to be in very good shape, especially the table corals. If you want a fast dive with big animals try Frigate Passage. It is a wall drift dive with hard corals and big fish.

Not far from the resort is a great night dive site called Nemo's Garden. It is a relaxing night dive with hardly any current. As soon as we descended Lynn spotted a huge puffer fish. The white puffer with with black spots was sleeping under an outcrop and Lynn managed to creep up and photograph it. Nearby, a pair of blue ribbon eels waited for lunch.

Meanwhile, I was captivated by a juvenile rock-mover wrasse also known as a Dragon wrasse. They are called "rock movers" as they like to rearrange shells and small rocks. The tiny fish flexes its body to resemble a leaf blowing in the wind. If you think photographing fish takes a lot of patience, try this one.

The soft corals were blooming and there were many Stylasters (basket stars), white delicate lace like corals that only open at night.

A small jumping squid, fluorescent green with spots became our new entertainment. We watched him burrow into the sand and jump out again and again. We captured him for a while and held him in our hands.

We followed a turtle around in the dark for a while and got some head shots. A crab was out and about. A large sea urchin had its red mouth wide open. Nearby, popcorn shrimp were also out, if you knew where to look.

Nusi's Pinnacle is also the location of the Tasu wreck. What we liked most about this dive site is that the 90-foot deep wreck dive is done first and then you quickly swam down to the wreck which is covered in soft corals and has some big fish swimming through. This is the wreck of a Tennessean fishing boat which is upright and intact. It was the prettiest wreck we had seen so far and were excited to photograph it.

Afterwards, we swam to a lone pinnacle which was covered with soft corals and millions of brightly colored anthias fairy basslets. The males are red and purple and the females a magnificent yellow color. One male presides over eight or more females. If the males dies, one of the females will change her sex to rule over the harem.

We swam around and around aecending slowly and on at the end of the dive, we saw a black tip shark swim past quickly and then a big, ugly stonefish that only a mother could love. It was almost perfectly campaigned in the coral.

The Golden Arches dive site is rightly named as golden yellow soft corals cover the underside of the large arch. It was too dark to get any good photographs but was still a beautiful swim-through. There were golden yellow soft corals overhead and a carpet of purple soft corals below. With the proper wide-angle lens and some big strobes, this would be a fantastic photograph.

Equipped with a macro lens, I was on the lookout for small critters. Hanging on to a rock was a white leaf scorpionfish. This trip to Fiji has helped me collect many new images of leaf scorpionfish with colors I had never seen before.

The central area of this beautiful resort is the open-air restaurant with spectacular views of the ocean. The restaurant and bar is decorated with fine wood sculptures under a thatched roof held up by large timber beams. Although lacking fans, its very high ceilings created a very pleasant temperature except during the middle of the day. Lunch could also be taken poolside under a palm tree.

We were there for Christmas and were treated to a special buffet by award-winning Chef Laniana. Her tropical feasts were French style, using local fish, vegetables and fruits. In addition to the local village choir singing a large selection of holiday songs in Fijian, young boys performed ancient warrior dances to the pounding of the drums.

Wonderful Fijian hospitality is the hallmark of Bega Lagoon Resort. The main receptionist, Bulou, has been with the resort for over a decade and will greet you upon your arrival. She was always a constantly smiling face and always rememberd your name.

The staff is always present to sing a welcome or a goodbye song.

Add to all of this, spectacular nightly sunsets and we wished our stay could have been longer, if not forever.