Our sail from Tonga was a lot faster than anticipated so we sneaked into a small atoll to overnight avoiding arriving on the weekend. Fiji is another one of these independent destinations where the fees from yachts has become a substantial form of income for the country. Hence, arriving on the weekend would have incurred double the already exorbitant fees. The atoll ended up being a welcome relief from the ample seas and we got to meet some locals as they came to greet us.
They were only the second lot of Fijians to greet us as we were inundated by five huge white footed boobies who were fascinated with our wind generator. We had to turn it off as they were acting as though it was a long lost ancestor returning to the devoted and we feared for their safety. The call of the booby is a cross between a honk and a squawk not the gentle chirping one hopes for after a passage at sea. The atoll ended up being a comfortable reprieve from the journey and our visitors gave us an insight of the friendliness that we would be overwhelmed by once we reached the northern island of Vanua Levu.
Once we reached the second biggest town on the island, Savusavu, we were advised to standby for boarding by the officials. A succession of chatting Fijians arrived full of laughter and good humour and quizzed us with their obligatory routine. They smiled a lot and then handed us the invoices to complete their part of the transaction. They then moved off to the next three boats that arrived. At least six boats checked in that day including our good friends on the German flagged boat, Anke Sophie. With the Quarantine flag removed, we headed off to town. Many smiling faces greeted us with Bula Bula and the small village had a certain hype about it. Decorations were hanging in the windows of the shops along with posters announcing Diwali celebrations. Thomas began salivating at the thought of the cuisine that would be on offer. Stylish homes set up in the hills with panoramic views were surrounded by tropical jungle. The one – street village appeared to have everything a cruiser would need: the fresh food market, an internet cafe, a supermarket, restaurants, hardware, clothing and cheap stuff shops. We smiled.
Diwali traditionally means seven days of vegetarian meals, or so we were told. Hooray, I’d landed in paradise. We happily checked in for Diwali feasts and tasted the inexpensive fare on offer at the small cafe style restaurants. Fireworks were sounding off around the town before it was even dark. They were taking their festival of light very seriously. The beauty of the Indian women in their exquisite saris was enhanced by the elegant way they greeted us on arrival into their restaurants and shops. We felt like we had tumbled into a cultural whirlpool and our senses were overloaded. Again, we smiled.
Determined to explore more of this intriguing island we organised a car for the day of the actual celebration. We found a car rental place on a morning stroll. With the public holiday the next day, the young man in the shop told us we could take the car a day early. In fact we could drive away with it immediately. Our planned day was instantly modified to include wheels. In our little four wheel drive we headed along the south coast admiring the private islands and exclusive resorts but it was the natural beauty of this island with its jungles and lagoons of varying hues of blue that really captivated us. We began a mission to find some hot springs but we ended up going across country, utilising the 4wd function and found ourselves on the edge of a huge bay with just one house at the road’s end. A young Indian boy ran out to greet us and directed us back to the main road. We were quick to discover that once you left the one well sealed road you were on a dirt equivalent of a driveway that rapidly deteriorated to a muddy cow track. Thomas’ was in his exploring heaven mode.
We headed off early the next day to explore the interior of the island. Picking up a local hitch hiker along the way, another well sealed road took us through the mountains to a national forest. Unfortunately, it was closed and we didn’t get to have the hike we had planned. So we continued on, dropping our passenger off at her small village not far from the national forest entrance. The change in the landscape was traumatic with the coastal jungle disappearing to make way for a dryer more sparse woodland and then into rolling valleys and plains of agricultural land. Mostly sugar cane bordered the road as we crossed sugar cane train tracks and caught glimpses of the northern coast of the island. We rolled into the capital of the island where a few of the shops were open and the locals were out in numbers. After wandering around and making a few purchases we headed off following the map that showed we could do a large loop and return to the south on a different road.
The designated road on the google map deteriorated rapidly into two ruts winding through the mountains, crossing rocky streams and passing small farms and villages. On one steep incline we were flagged down by a farmer and his son. They were wanting a lift up the road to their small farm house. He was a kava farmer and tended his mountain farm every few days but usually lived near the main town of the island. He showed us the kava growing and invited us in to try some. Reluctant, actually terrified after reading other cruisers accounts of drinking this ‘muddy peppered’ hallucinagenic, we declined his offer but appreciated his directions to find the main road in the south. We regretted the decision straight away as we didn’t even get a photo of the growing plant and we’d missed out a great opportunity to enjoy some Fijian hospitality. We continued on as the track deteriorated even further. If it hadn’t have been for the farmer’s directions we would have thought that we were on the wrong track.
We arrived at the opposite side of the huge bay that we had found the day before. The road improved and we passed villages where people were meeting and chatting. They called out welcoming cheers. As we drove through one village we were swamped by happy giggling children who were super keen to line up for photos. We found a path down to a secluded beach where we shared company with mosquitoes for a quick picnic lunch.
After another few hills we arrived at the south end of the island. We returned to Savusavu where the boat was anchored to find the celebrations in full swing in the yacht club with the local expats. Many retirees find their way to Fiji for the great tropical climate and low cost of living. The Fijians welcome them. We had another wonderful dinner at the restaurant at the marina. Pre-warned about the three local rivalling ‘firework families’ we bunked down to the echoes of rockets and shooting stars. Upon waking at 5a.m. I still heard the occasional explosion although they weren’t as frequent. The family firing the last rocket of the celebration is the winner. Hoorah!
We headed out to Nemena Reef just south of Savusavu to experience some of the highly acclaimed soft corals and we weren’t disappointed. The colours were so vibrant. I’ve never seen coral so bright and varied. We were anchored in 24m of water which is the deepest we’ve done. With only 70m of chain in total we weren’t using the recommended scope for this depth. So with great care and many different lines and an attached laundry detergent container doubling as a marker buoy, we attached our anchor to another 20m of line. Still not the recommended scope but we felt much better. Unsatisfied with the first procedure, the Captain decided to do it again with added ties onto the knot connecting the rope to the chain. It took us awhile but I’ve learned that Thomas wont rest peacefully unless he’s absolutely content with the anchor so I co-operated in my best deckie manner. It took us nearly another hour but we were both satisfied with the result. After a snorkel out in one of the passes on the outer reef we returned to the boat as a wild wind began to whip up. Within a few hours we were in the midst of a nasty storm. We kept a good watch and our anchor held well. Things were reasonably calm by the time we went to sleep.
The next morning we headed off to the atoll of Makogai where the remains of an old Leprosy colony had been turned into an agricultural research centre for giant clam and turtle breeding. We gave our offering of kava to the head boss with the idea that he would pass it on to the village chief who lived on the other side of the island. The kava ceremony is very special and the traditions in Fiji can be enforced by law authorities so without hesitation we obliged by making the offering. We learned how to partake in the ceremony and was looking forward to at least one experience with it. I had even sewn some small vests to cover my shoulders and dug out my longer dresses. However our premature departure of Fiji due to the weather left us kava virgins still as the boss of the agricultural centre didn’t complete the ceremony. He showed us around the property and told us about how the old colony functioned. He directed us towards the well utilised grave yard in amongst the jungle. Toads jumped everywhere and were close to landing on my feet. It reminded of my many wet seasons in North Queensland. The weather was dreadful so we decided to move on to Suva and do a few tasks.
Upon our arrival in Suva we spotted a familiar boat. That of Cara and Jacob who had been at our wedding on Moorea. We ended up having a great day out with them visiting the Fijian museum and wandering about the town. Cara and I stayed in town and had a bit of girl time in the shops. It was nice to catch up and spend some fun time with them. Suva had a delightful range of vegetarian restaurants including Govindas, which I highly recommend for everyone when you visit there. Suva was a well equipped town but the weather was so poor that we decided to take advantage of a weather window to New Caledonia.more pics