Fishing for Smiles

I can’t believe the cruising season for 2016 has nearly come to an end. We have enjoyed Tonga, Samoa, Wallis and now Fiji. Once again, we hope to return to Fiji. We’ve been here for two months and still have so much to see. The topography of the islands reminds me of Treasure Islands. There are tall, rocky mountains with green lower slopes. Two weeks ago, we sailed the same area and we were both reminded of Egypt because it was so dry. After a down pour ten days ago, the islands have sprung to life. It was a miraculous transformation. We are on the western side of Fiji in the Yasawa group, but heading to Lautoka to check out for NZ.

Trying to keep out of the hot tropical sun on our travels. We've had some magnificent day sails in calm waters.

Trying to keep out of the hot tropical sun on our travels. We’ve had some magnificent day sails in calm waters.

We first arrived in the small port town of Savusavu on the southern side of Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji, two months ago. It was great to catch up with some cruisers we’d met in New Zealand and Tonga, but we’d taken too much time and missed others. We enjoyed the superb Indian cuisine from the local restaurants before heading off to Viani Bay where we had the pleasure of meeting Jack Fisher – Dive Instructor, Ship’s Skipper, Tour Guide and all round great guy. For five days we snorkelled, dived, swam and enjoyed the company of other cruisers willing to share Jack. We saw some of the most spectacular soft coral and extraordinary reef fish that we’d ever encountered. We felt that we’d learned so much about Fiji from Jack and certainly were in awe of the places he showed us. ‘It was a real treat’. (Just one of many of Jack’s idiosyncrasies that endeared him to us).

Jack enjoying his lasagne that I made him.

Jack enjoying his lasagne that I made him.

Despite Jack’s continued supply of paw paw, we were running out of supplies and needed to return to town. On the way, we called in to Fawn Harbour where I went on the hunt for the rumoured hot springs. The Navionic charts showed the Pickering’s house and we made our way through the mangroves and visited Lema, the matriarch of the clan.

These Pickering kids know how to pose.

These Pickering kids know how to pose.

She invited us in and offered us a cup of tea. However, my longing for the hot springs spurred me forward and she told us to grab one of the young lads to show us the way. Abraham couldn’t escape my determined scouting. He was a shy young lad who after one year in New Zealand studying engineering had opted to return to the sanctuary of the family farm. As he led us along a winding path through a lush jungle, he opened up with my questioning.

The creek that we crossed several times on the way to the hot springs.

The creek that we crossed several times on the way to the hot springs.

We arrived at the hot spring after 30 minutes. I asked him for the cost. There was none. “You’ll know your own way next time,” he responded as he said a friendly goodbye and headed back the way we’d come. A Fijian couple was disturbed from their afternoon sleep on the ground near the clear pool. They told us they’d been there all day but would leave us in peace. We settled in for a relaxing afternoon, alternating between the cool crystal clear creek and the hot pool to the side of it. We couldn’t have asked for a more tranquil surrounding for relaxation after the ‘stressful’ pace of the week before.

Rocks with palm trees growing on them. This is from the bus on the way to the hot springs.

Rocks with palm trees growing on them. This is from the bus on the way to the hot springs.

Our return to Savusavu marked the beginning of an extremely social week. I hooked up with Tawn, an American lass staying alone on her boat while her husband returned to the States for work for a while, and we journeyed off on the bus to find the hot springs. It had been an excursion that we had planned before we’d left for Viani Bay, but thought we would need to hire a taxi driver as a guide. That would have been quite expensive, but I knew my way there now. So we caught a local bus, which was a social event in itself, with the locals taking turns to engage us in conversation. The bus wound its way along the coast road for an hour and a half. Tawn was impressed with the hot spring. It was a long day, but a lot of fun.

The full moon shone over Viani Bay

The full moon shone over Viani Bay

Martina and Lisa, whom we’d met in Tonga, had returned to their boat Havachat after having the school term back in Australia. After a lively, emotional reunion, we all headed out to Namena Reef for some diving together. We had a girl’s night on their boat on the second evening and all the men went on Qi. Once again the diving was spectacular. I saw my first giant Napoleon fish. I’d seen smaller specimen in French Poly but this one was as long as I am tall. I hope to catch up with Martina and Pete for New Year’s Eve in Whangarei.

A fun group exploring Namena Island. After us it is Phil off Silhouette, then Sally, Martina, Ruby, Pete, Lisa off Havachat

A fun group exploring Namena Island. After us it is Phil off Silhouette, then Sally, Martina, Ruby, Pete, Lisa off Havachat

From Namena, Thomas and I went west and Pete took his wife, daughter and crew member, Sally, east again to visit Jack in Viani Bay before they flew back for the final term of the year.

Thomas and I had several bays to ourselves until we met some new cruisers in the northern part of the Yasawa group. We delivered the sevusevu to the local chiefs along the way, but had not yet participated in the full welcoming ceremony involving the Kava.

Long white beaches met us along the way. We called into Sawa-li-Lau to see the underwater caves. Determined not to repeat the events of our Samoan cave diving we decided to give the caves a miss. The cost was ridiculous as they were busy stinging the tourists who caught a boat in from various resorts in the vicinity anyway. It didn’t stop us from enjoying the unique rock formations. Like miniatures off the set of Lord of the Rings, limestone pillars reached for the sky. Dragons slinked back into their lairs as they kept a watchful eye on us as we paddled past. Gargoyles overtly mocked us with their jeers as they guarded the overhangs. It was a delight for the overactive imagination of a happy cruiser.

A mini set off the Lord of the Rings. Amazing rock formations.

A mini set off the Lord of the Rings. Amazing rock formations.

Our passage south was speedy with brisk winds off the beam. After visiting the Blue Lagoon half way down the Yasawas, we called in to Octopus resort tucked in on Waya Island. This was our first snorkelling experience that equalled our experiences on the eastern side of Fiji. From there we headed to Vuda Point Marina to prepare for the arrival of our crew, my brother Alec.

Blustering gusts whipped through the marina on Alec’s day of arrival. We were happy that his appearance coincided with the worst weather we’d seen as we were safely moored up instead of being out on anchor. Others had unsuccessfully waited at the mouth of the marina grappling for a berth at the prediction of high winds and heavy rains. Horrid weather in Melbourne had caused a delay in his departure so he actually arrived after the worst of it.

Thomas delivering sevusevu to Abraham in Sawa-i-Lau.

Thomas delivering sevusevu to Abraham in Sawa-i-Lau.

Alec fits smoothly into life on Qi. His relaxed persona and love of the outdoors makes him a great candidate for crew. He brought along his fishing lures that he’d purchased in New Zealand at the beginning of the year. Wanting to feed the poor deprived Captain, who is usually on a vegetarian diet, some protein, he went into action.

From Vuda Point we headed out to Mana Island where a friend of mine was staying to attend a wedding. It was great to see her and we got to meet her husband George. We’d met on a tour through Mexico in February, 2012 when I first began my travels.

Julie and me at Mana Island Resort

Julie and me at Mana Island Resort

Dragons and gargoyles watched over us as we paddled about the rocks.

Dragons and gargoyles watched over us as we paddled about the rocks.

Thomas was determined to take Alec to Cloudbreak, the world class surfing spot. The weather was perfect and the break was meant to be pumping. We had to organise a board for him and this was done through one of the locals at Musket Cove. Upon arrival out at the surfing Mecca, Alec’s guide assessed Cloudbreak as overcrowded and took them to some other breaks. Thomas and I followed at a slower pace in Qi and arrived about an hour later. Alec got some great waves and was shattered by mid-morning when he was returned to us. Thomas had gone out in the dinghy to try and film the action but he on the wrong angle to the wave.

Naumotu Island. Leased by an Aussie. He's made it into one of the top destinations for surfers.

Naumotu Island. Leased by an Aussie. He’s made it into one of the top destinations for surfers.

A selfie as I'm paddling along.

A selfie as I’m paddling along.

We spent the remainder of the day exploring and relaxing. I went on shore at Naumotu where I met a fellow masseuse and we arranged for an exchange. This is the place where Mick Fanning hangs out when he’s here for a comp. On the way back to the more secure anchorage at Musket Cove, Alec caught his first huge mackerel. I was late getting back from my massage so Thomas wasn’t slowing down much. He wanted to get back before dark. Alec had to use his muscles to bring it in quickly. Lucky he’s pretty fit at the moment. He’s caught three more since then.

We headed north stopping at various anchorages where we trekked cross-island to collect mangoes before we returned to Sawa-i-Lau. Thomas and Alec went and delivered the sevusevu to the lady chief at the village on the far side. Several local kids showed them around and took them to the school. Alec entertained them with his juggling prowess and SUP manoeuvres bringing on plenty of smiles and giggles. Thomas kindly arranged some school time for me and I spent the next morning presenting an English lesson.

Qi from 'Monkey Mountain' on Waya.

Qi from ‘Monkey Mountain’ on Waya.

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Swimming in the Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Strait, Fiji.

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The kids of the village told us that is was Monkey Mountain because it looked like a monkey’s head.

Further down the island chain, we called into a small village on Waya. We all went to present the kava to the chief. Smiling children swam out to greet us with ‘Bulla Bulla!!!’

The party crowd was already having fun celebrating their participation in the finals at a local football tournament. So we finally got invited to a full sevusevu ceremony. I wasn’t too keen on the kava and immediately felt my throat and mouth go numb and my head go a bit woozy. The wooziness was gone as quickly as it hit me. I only had a small cup and then moved to the ‘dancing’ part of the party. After my dancing I was thanked for the entertainment. We were invited into the village and told that we were welcome to enjoy their surrounds. We chose to climb the hill nearby and swim in their clear fresh waterfalls rumbling down the valley. We liked being a part of this village. More Pics below…

We had a beautiful swim in this cool freshwater pool after our hike up the hill. What a joy!

We had a beautiful swim in this cool freshwater pool after our hike up the hill. What a joy!

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Thomas and Jack in Somosomo’s version of a Hard Rock Cafe.

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Wash day on Qi. Like my friend Cara said, A boat is just a clothes line.

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Me exploring up a mangrove channel.

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Sam and Willy looking after the dinghy in Somosomo.

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Richard and Jude off Sarita were happy to host us on their boat to share Jack.

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The Captain getting ready to dive.

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A few shots of Rainbow Reef. A must if you’re a diver visiting Fiji.

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Jess and Neil from The Red Thread joined us on Sarita in the Somosomo straight so we could share Jack.

Jess and Neil from The Red Thread joined us on Sarita in the Somosomo straight so we could share Jack.

Amazing bright colours in the soft corals.

Amazing bright colours in the soft corals.

Found some nice spots along the way on our hike up Monkey Mountain on Waya.

Found some nice spots along the way on our hike up Monkey Mountain on Waya.

Al kept the protein up for the Captain.

Al kept the protein up for the Captain.

Sea planes landing all around us in Mana lagoon and again in Blue Lagoon. Saw some very clever landings.

Sea planes landing all around us in Mana lagoon and again in Blue Lagoon. Saw some very clever landings.

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