Shark Diving Without the Cage

 Alexander Safonov / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Bequa Lagoon is the cage-free shark diving capital of the South Pacific, which is a very nice way to say that its infest with Bull Sharks Unfortunately, thanks to great advertising and bad planning, the spot is also thick with divers. The better bet for anyone looking to jump in the electric blue water and have a soak in their own adrenaline lies on the other side of Fiji’s main island on the northern fringe of the Yasawa archipelago.

Glowing soft corals surround the island of Nacula, which owes its marine health to its small fishery and distance from Fiji’s major ports. And the farther you travel from the island itself, the thicker the water becomes with Bull Sharks, Lemon Sharks, and Whitetip Reef Sharks. These man-sized, perpetually peckish cruisers wind their way through the coral forest, sending smaller, brighter fish fleeing into nooks and crannies.

The dive shop attached to the Blue Lagoon Resort on Nacula offers the shark dives twice a week. The morning of our dive, we were fitted for wetsuits, kitted out, and led down the soft white sand towards the boat. There were no release waivers or safety talks, just the tiny craft, which charged across the water, bouncing off choppy waves and whipping our faces with sea spray. The reason for the lack of precautions is that there is nothing to be done about the danger. The dive was easy – a 60-foot drop to a shelf where ropes helped us fight the current – but sharks are unpredictable. It didn’t help, manners-wise, that our dive master brought along fish carcasses in a giant plastic trash can.

Lumbering bulls fought over the scraps with tawny nurses, cautious grey reefs, and flighty blacktips as our dive bodyguard prodded away particularly curious sharks with the 8-foot metal pole he’d brought along the occasion. The pole was long enough that it kept the sharks at bay and short enough that we could see their power, enough to easily overwhelm a stick-wielding frogman. Outside the fray, brightly painted parrot fish darted back and forth, while an indifferent emerald-green sea turtle glided past. He didn’t look threatened.

Shark feedings are surprisingly safe – as far as encounters with apex predators go. No one has been hurt of Nacula, but you’d still be smart to check yourself for cuts before getting in the water. As beautifuls as these locals may be, you don’t want to give them an excuse to get personal.

More Information: Getting to Nacula is neither expensive nor difficult. You’ll have an easy sail from the mainland on a comfortable, wifi-enabled, beer-stocked ferry. Unless you’re an Aussie or Kiwi, flying to the South Pacific will entail a minimum 12-hour hike from LAX to the international airport at Nadi. Once in Nadi, you’ll have to overnight: Most travelers stick to the nearby resorts around Denerau for the short respite before rising early the following morning to catch the Yasawa Flyer Ferry out of Port Denerau, departure 8:30 a.m. The 4.5 hour trip north to the island doubles as a scenic cruise through verdant volcanic isles.