1 month in Fulanga - wish it had been longer .......

Sun 14 Jul 2013 22:32
"If the jungles of the Marquesas, the clear turquoise water of Bora Bora, the limestone formations and caves of Niue and the beaches of the Hapaii group in Tonga all had a child - this would begin to describe Vulaga."

When we read the above quote in a blog last year - we decided it was a priority to seek out this little paradise in the middle of the Pacific. Only being "open" to cruising yachts for the past 3 years - the Southern Lau is isolated and very much "traditional Fiji". Literally half way between Fiji and Tonga, there are no Recent immigrants such as Indians or Chinese as there are on the mainland - only the legacy of the marauding Tongans who used to run raiding parties in their mighty canoes - with very bloody consequences.

In the interests of the time and space to write today - we'll break it up into "the people" and "the place".
We feel extremely fortunate and have been humbled on a daily basis by the inquisitive and generous locals. It was refreshing and grounding for us to be drawn in by people who don't regularly use money (they do have a little but in their society they have no use for it on a daily basis), no electricity, no alcohol (they can't even grow kava here), no resorts or any sort of development. however, because English is Fijis official language, we can interact with the locals in a way that's much more difficult in other places. Every time we went into the village we were fed ( fish and a lesson in 101 ways to cook casava) and showered with small gifts. They live pretty much a self sufficient lifestyle providing all their own food consisting mainly of fish, clams, lobsters and huge mud crabs - pretty much served with cassava and sometimes breadfruit and some green stuff kind of like taro leaves - but they can't grow that here either - with little soil on the volcanic ground. Good old bananas, coconuts and paw paws make a regular appearance as well.

the houses here are still in the round Tongan style rather than the usual square found in Fiji, and a home generally is a one room affair - corrugated iron - shutters for windows, a curtained area with a bed and the rest " open plan". No furniture - everything is done sitting on the mats and we are slowly learning the etiquette of where it it polite and impolite to place your legs and feet. it's a challenge for us phalangis to sit like this and we get plenty of good natured teasing about our inability to sit still. Cooking is done outside over fires and In the lovo underground oven with the occasional kerosine stove found - when it's possible to get fuel. there is a trader boat that allegedly visits every month but it was over 2 months since it last did. Consequently their store which normally has basic supplies was empty and gifts of rice, flour and other staples were much appreciated. one thing that the harsh soil he does grow really well is various sorts of timber highly valued by carvers. With nothing but adz and basic files, the men carve tanoa (kava bowls) which they give to their shop and get a credit in return. When the boat does eventually come and goods arrive from the mainland, they can use the credit to "purchase" goods - hence the lack of need for money. Although its very idyllic in some respects, it's got a very harsh side too with practically no medical care, no dentists - people are often very ill with things easily sorted where we come from. there is an elderly blind woman with a system of ropes to get from house to cookhouse to toilet - all as a consequence of cataracts.

of much excitement to us is the fact that Vulaga is the last place in Fiji where they make and still regularly sail in traditional out rigger canoes called waqa. with fuel so hard to come by the fisherman can get everywhere they need to on these. Through our friendships we were taken on a day excursion to one of the islands in the lagoon where our friends ancestors lived before the missionaries bought them all together on the same island, and carl sailed with the men. What a thrill - great photos to come another time. hand made, held together only by the expertise of the components and lashing (albeit with an australian railways tarp for sails) these things can really honk along. All sailors are the same - as soon as there's two of them - it's a race!
We could still see the fortifications from the old villages, with lookouts to every pass into the lagoons so that everyone could be warned of the Tongan invaders when they were on one of their many raids. They showed us piles of skulls and bones from the Tongan enemies and demonstrated the evidence of the fatal injuries that would have killed them. the skulls all had either huge holes in the back of the head or the old sideways crush on the base of the neck - and bits all over the place as they were eaten. it was a common joke that they were fattening carl up !
the Tongans were great sailors and the fighting canoes called " drua" we're extremely serious vessels on both sides. in their hey day of the mid 1800s these thing were 120 feet long, carried 150 warriors with racks up the side to hold all the spears and clubs while on passage. they could travel in excess of 20k and much to the shock of European explorers, they could not only easily outrun sailing ships, but even sail to wind and " shunt" backwards and forwards for an immediate change in direction - they must have been an impressive and fearsome sight.

Beautiful beyond any description really, Vulaga is a collection of volcanic islands - white white sand - mushroom shaped limestone islands and every shade of blue and green as the depth changes. Being so far away from land that has soil, the water clarity is as if there's nothing there - quite extraordinary.
When we weren't on land we were in the outer anchorages where our favourite sport became swimming the various reefs passes. Obviously you need to get the tides right but the basic game is that you punch through to the outer reef or inner lagoon in your dingy with the outboard hard out ( a bit like going up river in white water in 1 or 2 of them), then you quickly pull on your mask snorkel and fins, roll over the side, keep the dinghy on a short lead and then hang on for the ride as you get swept back through the pass at 4-5 knots! on the outside of the main pass It drops to 100s metres of deep blue, and there are huge schools of large fish. As you get swept in the fish become smaller, and the coral becomes plentiful. Always a few sharks around but being reefies we are much more interested in watching them than they are watching us ( thank god!). After about 1/2 mile you get washed into various sandy channels with soft corals the size of small cars and fish everywhere. Bright greens and yellows, blue stag horn a surprised turtle or two as we speed along. Carl being aqua man in a previous life dives down into the current in the middle and does a very convincing superman impression as if flying at speed - it was so much fun. Giggling like 5 year olds at a birthday party, we pile back into the dinghy and go out and do it again!! It's always so disappointing when the tide changes...

well - a couple of day sails and we are now 100 miles north in the northern lau island of Vanuatu balavu. We got hunted down and boarded by a fiji customs patrol at sea - very serious uniforms and shiny boots wanting to see our permits and papers. After the usual questions of where you come from, where you going etc, they ask the purpose of our visit. carl tells them were on our honeymoon and lots of laughter, smiles, back slapping, nods and winks - we have their very best wishes, and are bided an enthusiastic farewell :-).

They have very very slow Internet access here - so apologies for all the typos as its easier on the data to email on the iPad - and well have to save the photos until we get some speedier access.

hope everyone is well - our SSB has gone on the blink so we can no longer keep up with NZ news - hope to get that fixed further down the line. All the best
lots of luv
L & C
Sent from my iPad