Some claim the Lau Group to be one of the top cruising grounds on a circumnavigation, and we’re not inclined to disagree. Even though we are still only halfway on our own global spin, we believe this place to be very memorable. The Fijian friendliness stretches out to this far-eastern group and is only surpassed by the villager’s gratefulness for us coming to this remote part of the world. The day before we planned to sail south, we were approached by some fishermen hoping for fishing lures. We were gifted a branch of bananas and a box of pawpaw despite our decline of offering anything of value to them. Unbelievable generosity to people unknown to them. These fruits were treasured as we drifted deeper into isolated waters.
The turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands in Vanua Balavu enticed us into to take a swim after an all-day passage from Qearea, an island in the far north-east of Fiji. Immediately an inquisitive turtle surfaced for a breath near us and then calmly swam away. Surrounded by limestone pinnacles covered with bonsai type growth, Qi was provided with one of our most unique anchorages.
It was paddling and swimming heaven as we were tucked out of the wind in this picturesque harbour. After the first night, we joined ‘Georgia’, an American boat, along with the crew of two other boats, to deliver our sevusevu to the chief of a local village. The ceremony was brief as the village spokesperson – the Turaga ni Koro, let us know that the chief was away and he would accept our sevusevu on his behalf, (our bundle of Kava is gifted in exchange for use of their iQoliqoli – their fishing and farming areas- a custom that is entrenched in the Fijian culture and law). A friendly exchange of pleasantries, gifts and the purchase of freshly baked bread and some fruit finalised the village formalities and allowed us to return to our rocky paradise. With caves and bommies to explore and friendly cruisers to socialise with, we knew this magnetic place would be difficult to leave. Only the promise of more beautiful places drew us further afield.
We headed north along with some of the other boats where we tucked into a large bay. Thomas went on a long hike with the others while I stayed back on the boat due to my continued limp. My leg still tired easily and I wasn’t wanting to risk further injury. I spent the time getting some washing done. The swimming and exercises were still building up the strength in my leg and I was grateful for the peace.
We moved off on our own the next day and discovered a gem in a small harbour called ‘Small Bay’ which was tucked in between two cliffs and protected by a narrow pass surrounded by coral. A small beach curved around one side and mangroves lined the other. A canyon heading inland enticed us to explore. A swift current sent us dodging coral heads as we were sucked into a large lake on our kayak and paddle board. It was quite exciting, but daunting at the same time as we contemplated the return to the boat. The return passage ended up being quite enjoyable as we had time to look up at the scenery instead of curving around the obstacles in the water and the current wasn’t as strong to the side. The cliffs were rugged and evidence of Cyclone Winston showed with bare trees on the hilltops. The waters were filled with large fish and turtles. We felt well protected from the weather and swell in this little paradise.
The following day we headed towards the capital of the island to restock with some fruits and vegetables. The shop had nothing of interest for us as the monthly ferry was due the following week to restock their uninviting wares. When I requested some fruit the shopkeeper walked outside and brought back one pawpaw which was given to me for free. We headed across the bay to a small village called Susu’i. Here we needed to do sevusevu once again. Once again, the Turaga ni Koro, this time a man by name of Jakob, accepted our gift. He spoke with us about his village and took us for a walk to the other side of the island after taking a list of all the fresh produce we wished to purchase. The village was quite devastated by Cyclone Winston and they’re wanting to rebuild their church so they’re making money by selling fresh produce to the cruisers. For a reasonable amount of money, I became well stocked. I’d bought canned goods for this section of our journey, which rather disgusts me, and now we had plenty of fresh food including a beautiful watermelon. I guessed the cans would be returning to New Zealand with us. Only after I’d purchased my goods did the fishermen approach us with more produce. Later I shared our abundance with other cruisers who’d missed the village.
It was school holidays when we arrived and the principal and teachers only arrived back on the island with the ferry delivering the stock to the shops, the day before we left. Late in the afternoon, I headed over with some books that I’d purchased and my bubble blowing equipment. Regina, the principal invited me into her small cottage and was very pleased with the books. We went outside and set up the bubble blowing equipment. It wasn’t long before the squeals of delight were wafting over the village and harbour as the children blew and ran after bubbles. A few hours of laughter and joy came to an end when the detergent mixture ran out and Regina told the children to go home and bathe and get their uniforms ready for school the next day. Her air of authority exuded from her as the children obediently turned on their toes and ran off laughing towards their homes. Then Regina went about giving me more fresh produce from the family garden that her father tended.
The next leg of our journey took us on an overnight passage to an uninhabited group of islands inside a large reef. There we tucked out of the northerly winds in an area that wasn’t identified in any of our guides as an anchorage. We were drawn to this area by other cruiser’s accounts of unspoiled reefs and plentiful wide life. One of the main features of all the Lau Group is the bird song. The barking pigeon resembles the haunting sounds of the howler monkeys, small swallows twitter away and sea birds freckle the skies. These uninhabitable islands offer a sanctuary of breeding holes in their jiggered limestone cliffs. The snorkelling offers a variety of walls and bommies throughout the lagoon. Turtles pop up all around the boat and paddle board. Whales greeted our friends on ‘ Georgia’ with fin slaps as they entered the pass later in the day. For a short time, we were alone in this divine paradise.