From the Sumptious by the Religious And into the supremely Beautiful
From the Sumptious by the Religious
And into the supremely Beautiful
Zoonie’s anchor came home at 4.45 the next morning and we waited outside Matagi Bay to make sure Tregoning had no problem with hers. Wavelength had already left.
We motored gently across Closeluff Pass and Winds Eye Passage that separates Qamea Island from Laucala Island where we are forbidden to even anchor as it is the exclusive 7 star haven of the head of the Red Bull drinks company. The island is magnificent and the facilities amazing, but that is a second hand report you understand. It is one of the world’s most exclusive retreats, frequented by the affluent and famous, happy to pay the $30,000 per night. We could barely afford to admire the blaze of street lights!
Soon we saw Wavelengths white sails making nice progress on an alternative course to us. It was going to be a long day, 56 miles to go, so we chose to stay on course, but on a tighter angle to the wind and so we had to motor sail.
Well across the Nanuku Passage we left Naitanba Island to port, we wouldn’t have been welcome there either as the islanders are members of an American religious sect as yet to be investigated by the writer care of Mr Google. On the other side a green hulled vessel was wedged askew on a reef, a salutary reminder to keep the eyes peeled and the ears listening for the giveaway sound of surf. John and Wendy on Midnight Sun who we were soon to meet told us about how John and two others pulled an American sloop off a reef and towed it virtually unscathed back to port while the owners got their brains back into gear.
Qilaqila Pass led us into the curvy island of Vanua Balavu, through the outer barrier reef and over the lagoon then into some windy gaps between little round islets with overhangs where the waves have dissolved the limestone over millennia. The uniform curve thus formed is similar to the bows of some ships, but in miniature.
I have mentioned that our Navionics charts are miss-aligned for the area, well we were motoring slowly towards a series of possible left turns, but there was only one that was deep enough for us and this led into Shoal Pass where we planned to anchor.
Rob was at the bow keeping coral lookout and I briefly dismissed one likely passage as it appeared to be a dead end, until I saw the reef ahead, clearly near the surface and right across the next gap where we were heading.
Wavelength was a safe distance behind so I was able to put Zoonie into reverse as quickly as was safe for the gear box and we groaned to a halt and then started creeping back a few metres to give us room to turn. Then with the wheel hard to port I gave the engine a burst and the bow spun left into what we now knew was Shoal Passage.
We anchored in 7 metres and Wavelength motored on past us and around the corner to drop her hook where Zoonie had been heading before her emergency stop. Tregoning anchored just behind us. The only other vessel there was Midnight Sun and Wendy and John paddle boarded over to see us and have a chat.
A few minutes later while sitting in the cockpit we were absorbed into the peace of the area and feeling the need to whisper. All around and close by were limestone cliffs and these charming little round islets with their own decoration of green foliage and trees. The water was the most vivid turquoise and the Woofing pigeons woofed across the water.
This wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last that we reflected on how lucky we were to be here, with time on our hands, hooked to the seabed and able to enjoy such natural beauty to our hearts content. The only commercial tourism here is on a few sailing and motor charter yachts. After safely negotiating the reef and lagoon to a safe anchorage the rewards are all before our eyes.
Zoonie turns so slowly on the still water surface, one moment influenced by the tide and then by the halcyon breeze, nature’s own breath. Shoal Pass appears not to do the location justice, but then maybe it is intended to keep this unique place a well kept secret.
Acute Jawed Mackerel (I’m going to flog this name, you can tell can’t you) fed open mouthed on the surface in their big social group and a cunning heron standing on a patch of sloping beach a foot square ate well on the little fish that a large predator was herding infront of itself.
The next morning on Mark and Teri’s kind invitation we joined them on Wavelength for the short trip to Daliconi Village to do sevusevu with the chief, our two dinghies plopping along behind us.
Up at the bows Teri was on lookout and was concerned about dark areas in the water that could be corals heads, but they turned out to be harmless cloud shadows. Swimming children greeted us and led us to meet Isireli, a village elder who would introduce us to the acting chief. The actual chief was away in Savu.
Sitting cross legged on a pandanus mat in the cool shade of his hut he welcomed us and then Isireli presented him with our kava gifts. Anecdotes followed for a few minutes, including the one where at the age of 70 he climbed an impossibly steep hill nearby that would be too much for him now fifteen years on. He is a retired special policeman who worked in Suva. Now, with a proud career behind him, he enjoys an easy life back home with his lovely wife Elenor.
Back in 1893, when the as yet unnamed village was being established sailors from a passing ship visited for sevusevu, the welcoming ceremony where the chief gives his permission and blessing for the visit. The village ladies had not had time to make a pandanus mat for the visitors to sit on during the ceremony, so the sailors brought rope and coiled it into what is known as a cheese and the guests all sat down. They not only provided the first mat but also the name of the village, Dali coni, rope mat.
Isireli and Elenor have 6 sons, 2 in Australia, 1 in New Zealand, 1 in the US and 2 in Hawaii. We teased him when he told us he married up in status as Elinor is a chief’s daughter.
The six of us used our new found freedom of the island and walked up and over the hill along the track towards the school. The school was closed for a two week holiday but we noticed they had just had a drug awareness week which included colourful posters hanging outside the classrooms on topics like the damage drugs such as cannabis, alcohol and kava can do to the human body. Kava, we thought, so health awareness is now head to head with retaining old traditions.
Back on board I finished reading about Little House on The Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder adult life and delved back into my ‘Cook Book’, Farther Than Any Man, The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook by Martin Dugard. The ‘Fall’ comes from the Author’s imagination as he takes steps beyond what is known into what he perceives as Cook’s mental decline. The book has no references and only a smattering of acknowledgments.
Our first snorkel in our new location was around an appealing coral head in the middle of a passage between two islets. It was quite lovely as the sun shone down onto it at an angle lighting the tips of a rust coloured fan coral with gold. We saw the biggest pipefish yet, a good metre long and a few others we had seen before, like sergeant fish, humbug fish and hump head bannerfish. We found a cave where some idiot had spray painted his name in green and live clams abounded.
Alison and Randall collected us for a very civilised evening motor around in their dinghy, binoculars in one hand and glass of rum and water in the other, before we clambered onto Wavelength and all watched the mass migrations of hundreds of fruit bats, from trees nearby, overhead and across to some other trees at precisely 6.04pm., same as the night before and the night after!
Every night it seems the wind gets up, spinning the generator and helping keep the batteries healthy. Whether it is barometric pressure trying to equalise itself or the katabatic and anabatic winds, freed from their daytime activities, go together for a night out I am not sure but it can send us anchored boats in quite a spin, the trees and cliffs whizzing past the windows at an alarming speed.
I awoke one night to what I thought was heavy rain. “Good, that’ll wash the decks I thought” but no it was just the wind driven waves dashing themselves to smithereens under the limestone overhangs.
I prepared a veggy spaghetti Bolognese for six for supper the next day and in the afternoon Rob and I snorkelled in the next bay. We saw lots of what I now knew from Alison were Picasso Triggerfish, with their spectacular markings and in one corner a tree has long ago fallen into the water. Underneath it was lolling with the water movement and looked eerily like a rotting whale with lengths of putrid flesh hanging off it. There was a strange lack of fauna in the foliage of the steep cliffs, but then it was amazing that trees grew big while their roots gripped the razor sharp rock at such impossible angles. They must grow hydroponically on rainwater for there was no soil.
We found an empty five gallon plastic container bobbing under one cliff which we later gave to Mark.
Alison radioed later to say that they would be leaving for Suva the next morning as Randall needed some urgent dental treatment so we were about to enjoy our last social time together for a while as I have already described to you.