Sat 4 Oct 2014 21:12
Fiji was an amazing experience and our 5 week stay here could have easily turned into 5 months if it had'nt been for the impending Cyclone Season.
We checked in at Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu, our first day was spent entertaining officials, Customs first, who we found out liked to play games with the exhausted battered sailors who have just spent days at sea, he insisted we went for a ride around the bay until he found a spot suitable to anchor - great! But who's going to argue. Then Biosecurity and Health who all seemed more interested in what food and drink was on offer. We then had to acquire a Cruising Permit which is all in Fijian, a language even half the Fijian population don't speak, as it turned out the permit although valid for 6 months had been dated 6 months before (luckily an eagle eyed Customs lady spotted the deliberate error!) as these permits are very important and there are hefty fines for not having a valid one, so the next day we had to order another one. The second day was spent finding and paying all these officials and then we were free . . . . . Savusavu has a busy town with a great fruit and veg market, 3 banks and 2 supermarkets - civilisation. There is an active yachting community with a radio net every day operated by an ancient seadog called Curly who ran weekly seminars on the hazzards of the treacherous reefs surrounding most of the islands in Fiji (all 333 of them!). The reefs have taken their toll on boats over the years and they are scattered with wrecks, the Admiralty charts which most of the world relies on for navigation are completely out on numerous occasions so local knowledge is an essential part of sailing here. The charter company Moorings set up a Fiji base but it closed in under a year as so many of the charter yachts got seriously damaged on the reefs and bommies (coral stacks) which litter the area.
We spent longer than planned in Savusavu (10 days) as there was a permanent strong wind warning (40 knots in some areas), but as soon as we had a weather window we left to visit as many islands as possible. First stop Koro situated at the head of the Koro Sea, then onto Gau (pronounced Ngau, for some unknown reason the Fijians put an N in front of G.D + Q), here the snorkelling was excellent and we had the entire bay to ourselves so spent an extra night and were treated to a whale sighting on the way out.
Next stop was Suva, we anchored off the Royal Suva Yacht Club and are now joined as life members, the name conjured up days of the Raj, but the reality was a rather tatty but extremely friendly yacht club that served amazingly cheap drinks including huge jugs of Fiji bitter on Fridays at a very silly price - well you could'nt say no to that!
I had contacted the local Hash House Harriers so Saturday we took the bus from Suva to Pacific Harbour (50 minutes along the coast) and we were taken into the impenetrable jungle for a brilliant run through the jungle which included swimming in about 6 waterfalls and rivers along the route. At the finish we were treated to a BBQ on an Irish bridge (Irish because when it rains the water flows over the top of it to be sure!), they even had lights and music so the sounds of Pink Floyd and Led Zep blasted out into the jungle, we even had a full moon, luckily after more than a few beers we got a lift with the Hash master back to Suva. Monday saw us hashing with the Suva Hash, another great crowd of people but this time a Town Hash on the outskirts of the City, the trail wound its way round some of the amazing townships where we had crowds cheering us on and the Master even had a proper hunting horn, the Fijian people love anything different and join in readily even though they can't have had a clue why all these middle aged people were careering round their gardens like a pack of geriatric hounds! After, we were treated to a wonderful real curry served by Pele's (the man of set the Hash) wife. The tamarind chutney was fantastic.
We really liked the faded glory of Suva and it had one of the most splendid fruit, veg and produce markets we have ever seen. A busy very much non tourist place with a mixed race of people.
Next stop the island of Beqa (pronounced Benga!), notorious for its shark diving, Sadly they feed them to get them there as there are very few sharks around any more (lack of fish for them to feed on!). The anchorage was rolly so we spent a couple of nights, enjoyed the snorkelling and moved on to the next island Yanuca where the anchorage was even more rolly, not good, so moved on to the enclosed lagoon of Likuri on the mainland and anchored off the Robinson Crusoe Island Resort, we went ashore to find out that for 1 Fijian Dollar (32p) we became members of the Island and could use all the facilities and have 10% off drinks and food both of which were amazingly cheap to begin with.
We were told they had a Dinner Show twice a week where people arrived by boat from the nearby Port Denereau Island Resorts (Sheraton, Hilton etc.). So we booked for the show F$25 per person including a Lovo dinner (food cooked wrapped in palm leaves in a pit of hot coals). We arrived just before the tourist boats and got the best seats. The show started with a greeting and traditional Kava ceremony (Kava is the local legal narcotic drink, commonly known as Grog, it is derived from the Yaquona root, which is pounded and ground. The ceremony involves a lot of waving of bits of straw stuff and stirring the brew then everyone is invited to drink it. The stuff they serve up for the tourists is mainly water and has absolutely no effect but the real strong stuff usually home grown is a form of anaesthetic and highly addictive, it causes lethargy and can cause renal failure. There are a lot of locals using it and consequently there is a lot of non activity so we found that in some villages a strong anti Kava use was being promoted as it was not conducive to progress, but there are a lot of remote islands and villages in Fiji so the tradition carries on.
After the Kava Ceremony it was over to the Lovo pit where the food was removed and the fire walking began, luckily the crowd were not invited to join in as the men in grass skirts roasted the soles of their feet and managed not to catch their skirts alight. Then the buffet which was excellent and onto the show, wow even Syd was speechless, they were amazing. All the people who work on the island are employed on the understanding that they must dance and sing so all the performers were the staff. All across the Pacific the people have amazing voices, but the music, costumes, dancing and voices of the cast of the show was good enough to hit the London stage. There were dozens of costume changes and fire dancing as well as traditional music and songs which had been updated to make a spectacular. The finale was the departure of the tourists which involved a farewell song, we were classed as islanders so had to join the cast to wish the tourists a safe journey home. I seriously think that every one of those people went back home with that being one of the highlights of their trip.
Next stop was Musket Cove, a Marina and Resort complex at the Southern end of the Mamanuka Island chain, this we found disappointing so moved on after a couple of windy nights around the corner of the next island Malola where we anchored off an exclusive resort which will not even let you go onto to their beach. Guests are helicoptered in or arrive in seaplanes. The amazing thing was it was pretty crowded at $3,000 a night for a thatched hut on stilts over the sea! It was a lovely sheltered anchorage and we spent a few nights there watching the helicopter with its mega rich guests perform a terrifying landing on a tiny helipad next to a cliff wall - hope they are insured!
From there we sailed up the Mamanuka chain, stopping near Castaway Island the setting for the Tom Hanks movie and a popular tourist stop. The islands are picture postcard perfect, white sand beaches and palm trees and we had good weather but we have found the weather generally is very changeable in the whole of the Pacific.
We ended our stay at the South end of the Yasawe group of islands at an island called Waya, there we spent a wonderful evening at a local family's house seeing how they lived and enjoying their traditional food. The villagers made us so welcome. An interesting Aussie character who ran sailing charters to Antartica had made the village home and was single handedly trying to get the villagers motivated to helping themselves to improve their living standards, what he had achieved was impressive. Our last evening in Waya was cut short as the wind suddenly changed direction and blew straight into the bay - we had gone ashore and our return to the boat was like the start of Hawaii 50 with us flying over the pounding surf, we had a crowd of spectators on the decks of the other yachts as the dinghy launched itself over the building surf, getting off was a major challenge and we spent a horrible night lurching and pitching as the swell rolled in - time to leave!
Then it was back to civilisation and into Vuda (pronounced Vunda) Marina to clean the boat, stock up with food which involved an interested bus trip to the City of Lautoka. The West side of the main island Viti Levu is the driest area of Fiji and a lot of it is planted with sugar cane which they transport via a small railway to the Port of Lautoka for export.
3 days later and time to head off for Vanuatu. We have left Fiji 28th September with so many memories, the main one being the happy smiling warm, friendly generous people.