Makongai, Fiji. 17:26:49S 178:51:12E

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Sat 19 Jul 2008 02:05

We departed from Savusavu at 0720 on the 3rd July, bound for the Island of Makongai. We were riding at anchor, in 15m of water, off the beach in front of the principle village, by 1530.


Now this blog entry was intended to cover Makongai, Nananu and around the northern reef passage to Musket Cove. BUT, I have completely failed to be ruthless in my picture editing on Makongai….because it truly is a very special place and so it needs doing JUSTICE!! I am then going to squander more of the kids inheritance on pictures and at the same time extol the virtues of this fascinating Island.


Firstly some background. The island is protected by a barrier reef that is difficult to enter, and without Curley’s waypoints I doubt if we would have had the courage to proceed through the tortuous channels that go through the reef and into the bay. Either way you need settled weather to attempt entry.  Once in the main anchorage, it is very well protected on three sides. The holding is good in mud and sand, but there are coral heads and coral patches, so it is a must that you use 100% chain, and with a snubber. The principle activity of the local folks in this bay is the cultivation of Giant Clams, so there are restricted areas in the bay. This does lead to some interesting snorkelling opportunities, especially on the coral heads.


The island is a former Leper Colony. This opened in 1911, and serviced not only Fiji but a large area of the South Eastern Pacific. At the height of its activities there were 5000 lepers and hospital staff and support teams on the Island. The Leper colony and hospital closed in 1969, and by that time there were only 5 Lepers left. The hospital, its support buildings and retreats are all derelict now or have simply been swept away by the various Cyclones since 1969. All that remains of the functioning elements of the colony today is the  Lister Diesel generator. This provides electrical power to the main village in the arrival bay, and the second village on the other side of the island.  It is a testament to British engineering that this 1911 diesel generator is still working today. Perhaps Fischer Panda could take some lessons here!


The views around the Island are simply breathtaking. We took dozens of pictures, but the one below is of the bay off the second village on the other side of the Island, …….a 2 hour leisurely walk through the jungle.



There are now a total of 85 souls living on Makongai. Mostly in the two villages. The main village has a population of 25 people and there is a very active community here with families, and plenty of children. Their Chief goes by the name of Watson.


A couple of our rally boats had arrived the previous day, and had gone immediately to see Watson and to offer him the traditional gift of Cava. This had been accepted and the crews welcomed to the Island and formerly made honoured guests of the community. When we arrived we were 5 more boats. Sadly, we did not have any Cava root to offer, but Paramour came to the rescue and gave us a bunch to take ashore. So all the crews traipsed ashore in search of Watson, bearing gifts of Cava root and various items for the children, such as books, pencils, writing pads etc. We were invited to sit on the veranda outside Watson’s House. He welcomed us, accepted the gifts, and then said a prayer for us and invited us to join them in the evening in their village hall, to take the Cava drink with them and to enjoy the local entertainment.  He also gave us permission to have a bar B Q on the old steps to the now missing, hospital building.  This we readily accepted. It was also made plain the he and the village were grateful for the fact that we showed respect and had followed the correct protocol. It seems that a number of the World ARC boats had arrived the previous week and had completely ignored the villagers, were swimming, snorkelling and going for walks…all without permission. So a deputation was sent to them to advise them to cease activities or follow the protocol. It seems that they had no Cava, but brought gifts…of bottles of Rum and food for a big BarBQ on shore, which they offered to share with the locals. The food was readily accepted, but the Rum was considered and insult and I gather was the cause of some problems.


Anyhow, I am starting to ramble so must get on!  After “check in” as it were, we all went off to do our own things, before preparing food for the BarBQ. There were several BarBQ’s brought ashore and LOADS of food. Including a large Mahi Mahi that had been caught that very afternoon by Anahi. The site of the BarBQ was directly outside the village hall, and as soon as it got dark they very kindly placed a couple of fluorescent lights out of the hall, on long leads, all running off their limited electricity supplies. So naturally, many members of the village community joined us and shared our food and in some cases wine and beer.



Dorothy from Neva was most active at providing food and entertainment for the local children.



This enthusiasm by the Neva’s for the locals did result in some amusing and entertaining banter…………….


Whilst we were taking the food and drink on the old steps, the local band came out to entertain us with traditional Fijian songs and music by guitar and drums. Once the food was gone we were invited to join Watson and his community in a Cava evening with local music, in the village hall. We all sat cross legged on the rush mats, listening to the music, taking the Cava, whilst the elder village children beat the Cava roots in a giant motar outside, and prepared the next bowl of Cava for the evenings refreshments.



I gather most of the villagers leave their homes each evening to participate in these gatherings, as this is the only part of the village that is allowed lighting in the evenings after 7pm, due to the limited diesel supplies they have to run the generator.


The sense of community and the haunting music made for a very special and memorable evening. At 2045, Watson in what can only be described as a charming way, dismissed us for the night. It is lights out at 2100 hours and he wanted some time with his people. Just as well and the last batch of Cava that was served was much stronger than the earlier “brew” and my lips were definitely starting to tingle.


We had also learned during the course of the evening that the village had suffered something of a tragedy the previous week. There local ferry boat, had capsized whilst coming through the reef in bad weather. It had tipped out their new diesel supplies for the generator. Much worse, the people on board spent some 4 hours in the water, before being rescued. Sadly, an infant of six months died during that time and the funeral was to be the following day. This also meant that they were low on diesel supplies. So all the rally boats volunteered to give them at least 20 litres per boat ,to help them through until the next supply boat arrives in two weeks time.


That night we had a most spectacular thunderstorm and I was very glad we had 75m of chain down with the anchor. Torrential rain, driving gusts of up to 40 knots and scintillating lightening………so I am told. I slept through it all. Perhaps Cava should be sold as a sleeping draught?


The following morning we decided to set of for the trek across the Island. The path is partly the now defunct road (track) that lead from the hospital to the outlaying wards and medical staffs residences. Most of this is unusable, but there are still signs of derelict infrastructure. Such as overhead pylons, telephone poles an, drainage and water pipes.



This was a great reminder that nature came first. In just 40 years the jungle had taken back most of the formers colony.


Some of the Banyan Trees in the jungle were huge with spectacular dangling root systems



But the real gem of the jungle was the wild life. Birds galore, Friuit Bats………………..


Loads and loads of Frogs and Toads. Large Land Crabs with fearsome single large claws.



Some of these guys were a good 9 inches wide or more. Those pincers would have your finger off in a jiffy. I tried one out on a half inch diameter stick and it snapped thru easy as a hot knife thru butter.


Dashing around the fallen leaves were dozens of small Lizards with electric blue tails………



But the best of the best were the Butterflies. Hundreds of them, and several species. Some just tiny, with a wing span of only half and inch or so, with bright orange wings. Right up to the large black butterflies, with a pair of big white spots on the lower wings,  just darting about in the shafts of sunlight pouring thru the tree canopy.  Jennie and I rattled of dozens and more pictures with our cameras. We mush have looked like a couple of Ballet dancers who had overdosed  on Cava. Spinning here and there, in a rhythmic dance to follow the butterflies, in a vain attempt to capture the moment for posterity. Alas this was our best effort…………………



Given the wing span of this creature was IRO 4 to 5 inches, this was a truly pitiful effort at wildlife photography!


After just under 2 hours we came upon the second village. This had an air of decay about it, with very run down shacks with tomatoes and the like being grown in the gardens. The island school was the oasis of the village. It was immaculate, with manicured grounds and the kids were colourfully dressed in pristine uniforms. They whooped and shouted a welcome “Bula, Bula” to us. But as lessons were in progress we retreated to the beach or a rest before the trek back across the other side of Makongai.


By the time we got back to the boat we were, not surprisingly, knackered! So we had a quite night in before the next leg the following morning.