We turned up at the hot and humid arrival hall of Fiji’s Nadi International Airport with at least 2 hours to spare but we were both so excited about the arrival of James that we were far too keyed up to sit around Port Denerau where the boat was moored. This would be the first time I had seen my son in 3 years and though Sue had seen him just last year on a brief visit home this was the first time he had been on the boat since well before we left. We also knew that he needed the well-earned 6 week break he was taking from his busy life. We took a pause to purge the jet lag and reacquaint ourselves with each other. Both of us being engineers, work on the diesel’s cooling system for which James had brought some much needed new parts with him from the UK and then we were off.
We started with an overnight stop in Vuda point to take James to the First Landing resort and our favourite place to eat. Our waiter friend Norman (name) found us a good table and served us with the usual delicious fare we had enjoyed before. James agreed the food was wonderful.
We had visited this western side of Fiji and the Yasawa group of islands twice before and were dying to take James to see all the best bits. Having rendezvoused with Norman and Sara on their Malo 36, just before sunrise we gently motored out of a quiet bay near to Lautoka and made the day passage northwards skirting Bligh Water. This stretch of water was named after the infamous captain who, in his open boat, was chased through here by war canoes, into the Tamasua Passage.
After a long day sail we arrived at our first village anchorage at Nabukaru sheltering from the trade winds behind Sawa I Lau island. Anchoring up over night we went ashore the following morning with the traditional offering of Kava root (a pepper with a mild euphoric effect when ground and mixed with water) for the village chief. This gesture is always well received as it marks a sign of respect by the visitor for their culture and, though the days are long gone where protection is needed, grants you their blessing to freely visit their homes and territory.
The lifestyle here is basic and though the houses are often block work with corrugated iron roofing some traditional huts, made with local materials from the surrounding jungle can still be found among the overcrowded living conditions of the newer buildings. Fijians have the readiest smiles of all the peoples we have met yet on our travels. They are fun and love you to join in. James had a blast playing football with kids on the beach and touch rugby with the men, who were keen followers of the World Cup via radio, on their improvised pitch at the school.
A visit to swim one of the nearby limestone caves ducking under a flooded passage to emerge in a creepy chamber with a vertical shaft letting in just a dim vestige of sunlight to penetrate the gloom was a first for Sue. Underwater caves and spiders, well done her!
Sailing south now and starting mid morning ensured that the sun was high and behind us so that we could navigate the reefs by eyeball. The charting for the outlying islands is crude, inaccurate and incomplete so this is the only reliable method to use although I have found that Google Earth with its detailed photographic images, which clearly show the reefs, is incredibly precise if you can arrange to download the area you are in.
After the 11 mile hop we anchored up in Blue Lagoon named after the original movie of the same name that was filmed here. We had come to pay a visit to Sani and her lovely family who had been so kind to us on our last visit almost 2 years ago. We all received a warm welcome though sadly Ratu Saleem, the old chief who had so impressed us before with his worldly wisdom and intellect, had passed away.
We stayed for Sunday and went to church which is an uplifting experience by the sublime and enthusiastic harmony of the congregation’s singing. Sunday lunch was prepared and eaten in the open air together with the whole of Sani’s extended family and James, who had been scuba diving off nearby reefs, turned up to regale us with tales of his latest adventure instantly disappearing under a host of small black bodies wanting to swing from his arms as he spun them in circles.
There was a sad goodbye to this kind and generous family, as this was likely the last time we would see them but time pressed on and we sailed another short hop south to anchor in Narewa Bay surrounded by miles of curving white sand beach against a backdrop of jungle and swooping mountainous ridges.
The jungle and hills were too much for James and pack readied he made off with a machete to plough through the jungle and on up the steep slopes beyond while his old man looked on from the deck of the boat and wondered how many times he would run out of puff if he tried to do that. Across the narrow isthmus, in a lagoon, a WW2 plane wreck can be found in around 3-4 metres of water on a sandy bottom.
After we had inspected this we sailed south again to the nearby Manta Ray pass. As the name suggests the huge rays, often more than 4 meters across, are sometimes seen here. They are gentle, graceful creatures that come to feed on the small organisms carried by the currents sluicing through the pass and can be safely shadowed at a respectful distance with just a snorkel and mask. We were in luck and James was treated to the rare and exciting experience of swimming and free-diving with these amazing fish.
Our next stop was south of the Yasawas in the Mamanutha group, by the island of Navandra, uninhabited except for a goat. Some of Fiji’s best coral lies beneath the stunningly clear sea in the bay and exploring the deserted beach here and on the island next door was a lovely adventure. James decided to build a big fire in honour of my birthday, which we celebrated while there, but decided not to light it. It was to be our last taste of the rustic outlying islands with our next stop being the Musket Cove resort on Malolo Leilei. With Camomile med moored stern to a modern pontoon which forms a bridge to a tiny palm covered sandy island with a bar and a range of driftwood fired BBQs we put our feet up for a few days after our recent adventures. Civilisation is welcome when it comes in this form.
We returned to Vuda point where Sue and James decided to go into town on a local bus, windows aren’t necessary.
We had a final meal at First Landing followed by a dance show performed by some locals with a wonderful photo opportunity afterwards for James.
Time was moving on and so should we. Sadly it was time to bid a fond farewell for probably the last time to Fiji’s shores, one of the most beautiful countries on our travels so far.
I haven’t had a chance to write anything on the website for ages so here is a summary of June. (This has taken 2 days on a wifi hotspot to just post!)
We left Vanua Balavu on 1st June and headed for Taveuni which is an island on the eastern side of Fiji. There were some nice restaurants where you could take the dinghy to. Unfortunately on this day it was low tide and we struggled to get it ashore.
The next day Sara and I went ashore to try and get some much needed fresh veggies. We got a few bits but also met a really nice lady who organised for someone to take us to visit the Bouma national park and waterfall, which was where the last Blue lagoon film was shot.
The next morning we went ashore to meet the car and after a 2 hour drive we arrived at the national park. We had a lovely walk to the waterfall, which took another 2 hours.
The path took us through a village and these ladies were using the water from one of the streams to do their washing. I wished I’d brought mine so I could have joined them.
We reached the waterfall only to discover we had to wade and swim to the inner pool to see it, lucky we had brought our swimmers. We got in and discovered the water was really cold, although we were grateful for the cool down.
We had the pool to ourselves and Bill climbed the rocks several times to jump into this smaller waterfall. We tried to swim under the main fall but the force was too strong, it was like being hit by a hammer. We dried off and ate our picnic and walked back to the park entrance where our driver was waiting patiently in the car.
On 6th June we motored south. The island of Taveuni is the only place in the world that the 180 degree meridian line crosses. It’s possible to stand with one foot either side of the ‘line’. We really wanted to go ashore and do that but the wind picked up and we couldn’t anchor.
Instead we watched the GPS change from west to east. We’ve been crossing the Meridian line back and forth over the last year or two but this is the last time. As the Red sea is now a no go area the next time we see the GPS change back from east to west will probably be off the coast of South Africa.
We continued down to Viani bay on the south east corner of the Northern island of Fiji. We met up with Aurora B an English boat we met in NZ at the end of 2010. Camomile and Norsa were invited on board for drinks. The next day we snorkeled the Rainbow reef and can honestly say we have never seen such a beautiful reef with so many fish swimming around it. We drifted over the reef with the current and the scenery below us was spectacular.
The 8th June saw us motoring without a breathe of wind to Savu Savu. I took this unusual photo on the way. It’s me looking into the calm water over our bow. The water was like a millpond.
We arrived in Savu Savu on the 8th June (Happy Birthday Thomas) and caught up with lots of boats we had met in NZ. We feel we have come full circle in the South Pacific because Savu Savu is where we checked into Fiji with the Blue water rally 2 years ago and having crossed the meridian line for the last time we are now on our way home.
We stayed in Savu Savu over a week with Norsa enjoying a few nice meals together and restocking the boat after our stay in the outer islands.
We left on Saturday 16th on the inner passage between the reefs south of the North island, across Bligh water, then north of the South island, with Norsa following us.
Tuesday 19th we arrived at Vuda point marina ready to lift Camomile. Bill wanted to repair some patches on the Cuprotect and also we wanted to check the keel after hitting the reef in Kadavu. We lifted Camomile at Vuda point two years ago and found them very reliable but we were still a bit apprehensive.
The damage to the keel wasn’t that bad, just a bit of the antifoul scrapped off.
We were put next to some beautiful palm trees for a few days while Bill and Norma worked on the boat. Sara and I went into town to sort out the Australian visas and more shopping in Lautoka. Vuda Point is next to First Landing resort which has a fantastic restaurant. We had some nice meals while we were there. It was too hot to cook on board while we were on the side – that’s my excuse any way.
We went back into the water on 22nd and on Saturday 23rd we motored across to Port Denerau where we motored among the superyachts. Port Denerau is only a short drive to the airport where we eagarly waited for our son James to arrive on Sunday 24th.
If I can get the wifi to stay online I can post James in Figi blog.
Camomile, Norsa and Forteleza left Suva at 06.00 on Sunday 13th May for a fairly racy sail into a south easterly down to Kadavu through rough seas. After a gruelling 7 hour beat we arrived at the Herald passage, entry into the Astrolabe reef.
Our position 13th May
18º 47.9 south
178º 31.4 east
Anchored off Yaukuvelevu Island in the Astrolabe reef.
The water’s a beautiful turquoise blue and so clear we can see the anchor and it’s chain on the bottom. The snorkelling here is fantastic with lots of different coloured coral with striking coloured tropical fish.
The island has a half built resort on it and the workman were a bit noisy so the next day we left to sail south around the island of Ono. We got to the anchorage and could see a lovely sandy patch close in and started to motor towards it. I was on the bow on coral spotting watch. I could see the coral on the bottom and called back to Bill that we were over coral who was watching the depth gauge. I told him to go right because there was a patch in front of us that looked shallow but there wasn’t time to turn and we felt the keel glance along the coral as we slid over it. Fortunately it was just a small coral head and we came off it quickly but it was quite scary so we turned around and anchored further out.
Our position on 14th May
18º 55.8 south
178º 28.6 east
Anchored off Ono Island, Kadavu
While walking on the beach the next day we met some locals from the village in the next bay who invited us all to come over and see their village that afternoon. Six of us arrived in three dinghies on the beach later that day. In Fiji when you visit a village it’s customary to perform ‘sevu sevu’ which means a bunch of kava is presented to the chief. Kava is the dried root of the pepper plant that can be bought in presentation bundles from the local markets. Once ground into a powder and mixed with water it forms a non-alcoholic, mildly narcotic drink which looks and tastes like dishwater! Once we landed on the beach we asked to be taken to the chief to perform our sevu sevu. We were shown to an old hut with a wizened but friendly old man sitting on the floor inside. The only furniture in the room was a bed and an old dining chair but he preferred to sit on the floor. Bill presented some cava on behalf of us all and it was received with a little Fijian prayer and some chanting, each bit followed by three claps which we all copied. Norman decided to try the cava with some of the villagers.
After sevu sevu we were invited to look around the village and take photos if we wanted. The villagers encouraged us to chat to everyone. We all wandered up to the little school on the hill to take a look at the children.
The schools here look very sparse compared to the bright classrooms our children are used to. Although all the children had a uniform on some of them were third or fourth hand and were looking very worn, also note none of them have shoes on. When our boys were young they were often encouraged to fill a shoebox for less fortunate children than themselves. We’ve done it many times, as I’m sure some of you will have done.
So imagine our delight when we arrived at the school to see some of these boxes being handed out. The boxes had come from NZ and had obviously been intended for Christmas because there were hand drawn pictures and letters and Christmas cards from the children who had assembled them. It was wonderful to see real children receive them, even though they were 6 months late. When asked why they had taken so long the teacher said they had been held up in customs for a long time. Why does bureaucracy have to affect the children?
The boxes were categorised for either a boy or girl (there are girls in this group but it’s difficult to tell because they have such short hair and the boys wear a sula instead of trousers) and there were also 3 different age groups so as each child opened their box it was full of things relevant to them and the smiles on their faces brought tears to our eyes. Some of them contained woolly socks or hats which probably won’t get worn but most of them had some sort of reading material, coloured pens and pencils and, more importantly, little toys which many of the island children simply don’t have.
What amazed us was that the children received them very gratefully and politely, there wasn’t any pushing and shoving, they just waited until they were given a box. Once handed out the children took their boxes into little groups and investigated what they had. We saw no arguments, no swapping and no ‘his is better than mine’ comments they were just so pleased for each other; it was truly heart warming.
Norman started reading one of them a story and was soon surrounded. When we get home these boxes are going to be my charity but they need some form of tracking until they reach their destination.
Our position on 17th May
18º 52.4 south
178º 29.6 east
Anchored off Naqara village, Ono, Kadavu
The wind shifted again and so we sailed back up to the north of Ono and anchored in front of a village called Naqara. We went ashore to do sevu sevu and the six of us were invited to a meal the following evening. Joe, one of the elders of the village, met Norman and Sara, and Kerre and Tony, and Bill and I on the beach. First he showed us the school. This part of the island is more isolated without any tracks across the land so the school is a boarding school.
Children as young as 7 were living in fairly poor conditions Monday to Thursday and then they go home by boat on Friday afternoon. They all seemed to be coping ok and the older ones helped to look after the younger ones because there wasn’t any kind of housemother scheme. There were 4 showers shared between about 50 children; outside of course. It was all very basic. Lollipops were distributed to a small group that followed us around and in return they sang to us in their dining room.
We went back to Joe’s house where we were all given beautiful leis to wear that had been made by the ladies of the village who had also specially prepared a lovely meal for us. It was served on plates on a tablecloth spread out on a coconut mat on the floor. We all sat on the floor around the mat, my knees are not good for sitting cross-legged but we made ourselves comfortable. We didn’t recognise any thing but Joe explained what it all was. First we had the most beautiful coconut crabmeat served in their own shells in coconut milk, there was also aubergines cooked in garlic and tomatoes, fish wrapped in taro leaves, cassava, which is a root vegetable similar to sweet potato that had been prepared in a variety of ways, to name just some of what was on offer. Although it was a bit bland because they don’t use herbs or salt it was interesting to try some traditional Fijian food and mostly very nice. Although they offered us water to drink we politely declined and chose to drink our own. I’m sure it would have been ok but we thought we ought not to risk drinking it.
They wouldn’t allow us to pay them for what we had eaten but asked for a donation to their new generator for their church instead, which we were happy to do. After the meal we were joined outside by the chief, he thanked us for coming and for our donations. Bill thanked him and the villagers for their hospitality. Joe and some of the others walked us down to the beach and helped us launch the dinghies. They waved us off with happy smiling faces. We just love this country.