The Reefs, Rocks and Coral Heads of Viani Bay
I felt just a little apprehensive about our next anchorage as rocks and coral heads are far from the ideal bedmate for Zoonie’s anchor and chain. However the day dawned gorgeous and we had a nice leisurely start at 11.35am to motor in light airs the 20 miles to Viani.
The anchor came up a treat and it was easy to follow the black line on the chartplotter back out the way we had come into the bay. Curly’s patent lure caught us a little tuna which I quickly filleted and put in the fridge for later use.
We could see the paler turquoise water where the reefs lay and the white frothing seawater breaking as it washed into the rim, alarming and re-assuring at the same time. The course by sight through the reef involved a bearing on a headland infront of us and a white cross on the hillside of Taveuni behind.
It was not easy to line them up when Zoonie was between them but the invisible line I steered along was exactly on our waypoints marking the entry and with Rob up at the bows reef spotting we made it. Once inside the reef we had deep dark blue water again across the lagoon and past a very attractive double gabled house on an isthmus of land, apparently owned by Bob the American who visits only once a year, as May told us the next day.
The anchoring area of choice faced onto mangroves which usually means mud (we like nice sticky mud and soft sand for our anchoring) but there was a reef between us and comfort, so down went the anchor into deep water where we couldn’t see the bottom and what hard obstructions on which we might be getting tangled up.
We were given in New Zealand a brilliant A5 size brochure of Fiji written and composed with cruisers in mind and in there I found the phone number of a Diva Academy here that sounded as if they could organise a snorkel trip for the four of us on to Rainbow Reef the next day, another one of the World’s Top Ten, which we passed on the way in. The outside of this reef is The White Wall, but that was for divers only.
We are using that brochure for so many things except perhaps navigation. Frankfurt born Marina answered and immediately gave the impression our wish was her command. Their dive master and captain, Siti, would collect us from our boats the next morning at 10.00am. Perfect.
We spent 50 minutes on the first snorkel with May leading the way towing an orange float behind her. Siti stayed nearby in the boat chatting to the few other boats that were floating bases to mostly diving groups.
Never before have we seen so many types of coral or species of fish in such big numbers, it was positively crowded with fish out there. The coral heads were colourful gardens of healthy corals, soft corals of the palest purple and circles of black, white and tan like stretched cow hide to describe just two.
Alison had with her the volunteer reef survey clip board and an underwater marker. She would frequently dive down to see the fish nearer the seabed and record and photograph them as she did so. She counted 96 different species of fish. We spotted an eel but no reef sharks, we weren’t complaining.
As we sped back from the reef to the Dive Academy base May told me she was born in a hospital in La(m)basa and educated at the school next to where the new Academy/Resort is being built before boarding at the high school on the big island opposite, Taveuni. From there she went to university in Suva studying marine biology and catering. She now lives a five minute walk from the academy, in an idyllic setting I hasten to add.
Back on the beach we sat at a table in the open air while Marina and Jone, her Taveuni born partner told us about the birth of their young business. They met by chance in a dive shop away from these shores and instantly bonded over their passion for the water and conservation. The Academy was opened at the beginning of this year and with the help of locals and the money they are making from diving they are building a small resort with small cabins, a restaurant, shop, office and dive gear room with some pretty advanced stuff like dive computers. They also train people and Jone’s specialty is a free-dive training.
Their business is expanding as they can afford it which seems a much more secure and natural way of doing it than taking on huge bank loans. Groups of only four clients at a time are guided safely to do what they would like, wind and tide allowing. We had recently heard of a group of 18 divers going out from one base in Australia and returning to base with two missing.
The captain didn’t notice until he came across the couple’s land clothes and valuables three days later. Arriving at the location searchers found written on one of the waterproof boards the time and date when they were left behind, and the woman’s wetsuit. A simple head count would have kept them safe.
Refreshed with banana milk, coffee, tea, banana cake and slivers of lightly grilled fresh coconut we set off for our second reef experience in deeper water. Lots more fish but still no sharks. I wasn’t too bothered!
Back on shore, tea consisted of ‘monkey balls’, deep fried pancake mix with apricot jam and welcome lemon tea. Children played football with their teachers next door while waiting for their boat to arrive and ferry them home.
Later I cooked the tuna and we took it to Tregoning to go with Alison’s stir fry followed with lemon curd cookies. What a day, we were so lucky to be doing what we were doing in such fine company.
The next day we met May again in the afternoon and she took us off on a mystery trek through the rain forest. New Zealander Pam from a yacht named Kozmo joined us while Randall pursued his projects on board.
It was so pleasant walking in the tree shade. We stopped to smell the wood of a fallen Vesi tree, the Kauri of Fiji, whose hard red wood has been ideal for planking and building. Although the tree fell decades ago the wood is still sound and occasionally some is cut for firewood. A Barking pigeon was calling to its mate. They should really be called Woofing pigeons because that is the sound they make, but I guess it’s not ornithological enough a name.
The highlight of the birds that day was the Orange Dove, with its brownish head and striking bright orange remainder of its body it stood out against the green leaves so we could get some photos.
Lydia invited us into her home when we arrived at her village and gave us a demonstration of how she makes Masi matting, Tapi in Tonga, from cutting the young mulberry canes and splitting off the bark to use the inner white flesh to stencilling patterns on them using acetate film. She creates these mats to order and even makes wedding dresses in her basic forest home. Her grandson watched us as we watched Lydia.
We were accompanied on the walk by Elizabeth, daughter of a well-liked local man Jack Fisher and she told us about the flora and fauna. Marina and Jone have integrated into the related local families and Marina often visits the primary school next door to chat with the 66 pupils about marine conservation, first aid and waste management issues to name but three topics.
We wished them success, with their ethos of ‘giving and preserving’ they deserve it.