Sun Beds and Sevusevu
Sunbeds and Sevusevu
Draveuni Island in the Great Astrolabe Reef
With a light wind on the nose Zoonie was yet again under motor to her destination. The Herald Passage was nice and clear in deep blue water with the reefs marking the passage on each side of us. The charted depths for Astrolabe reef are generous, twenty to thirty plus metres but we still exercised caution with Rob in the bow once more as lookout.
The reef is named after the French exploration ship which nearly foundered here under the command of D’Urville and indeed the area is littered with the sunken wrecks of small ships and yachts, so we were forewarned.
We were heading towards Draveuni where we needed to do our Sevusevu before we could explore any of the islands. The village off which Zoonie was anchored was very quiet. All the school age children were within the fenced school compound sitting at their desks. A middle aged man pointed to a young lady washing up outside her home.
She greeted us with a smile and words of welcome and invited us into her house. “I will call dad to come.”
I’m not sure if he was the chief or a stand in but he bade us sit and then looked around us to see Rob had the kava, “So you have brought kava,” he prompted and Rob handed it to him. A few Fijian words of welcome were followed by the first of numerous yawns. This guy was not into small talk. We attempted making some conversation but the frequency of the yawns suggested the time had come for us to leave. “Is it alright if we walk up the hill?” He waved an arm and suggested we do that.
A cruise ship comes every few weeks and spews passengers ashore for a Fijian massage at $20 a time. All along the frontage of the village are wooden massage beds, grouped in fours with little grass roofs, so this chief is used to much bigger and more lucrative fry than us. He could take a lesson in friendliness from the little girls who called “Bula” and waved at us from the doorway of their village home.
The path led through the village, past small areas of planted crops and penned pigs and up a soil track to the 113 metre summit from which we could see north to Suva, all around the barrier reef of the Astrolabe (the fourth largest in the world) and south over Ono Island and Kadavu beyond. We had the perfect day for it as the photos will testify.
There was a wind coming in the forecast which would typically last for a few days. Ideal if on passage but as we weren’t we needed better shelter than this little beach could offer. Two deep natural harbours facing north and west looked like good options in the E/SE’lies that were due so we moved on to Yaukuve Levu now better known as Kokomo Yaukuve Island Resort for possibly just an overnight stop on route.
One thing the ‘chief’ did tell us was that he owned 7 of the nearby islands including one, and I think it was Namara, on which the current Swedish Survivor season was being filmed. He told us to keep clear of that island which lies just to the west of where we were.
But Yaukuve Levu is owned by the Fiji Development Bank and is under lease to Lang Walker, a multi billionaire property developer from Australia, Australia’s 17th wealthiest man. For over 50 years he has worked hard at his business but developing this island into the Kokomo 5 star resort has been a passion project of his aside from his regular business and has proved to be the toughest project yet.
Wading through Fiji’s snail pace bureaucracy, the remoteness of the island and the cultural differences are all hurdles that Lang and his team have patiently overcome.
One highly visual difference between Lang’s philosophy and that of say Dietrich Mateschitz of the Laucala resort we passed a few weeks back that bans anchoring anywhere nearby is Lang’s openness. We had heard that this was a friendly resort and within minutes of Zoonie’s anchor gripping the sea-bed a man in a rib came bouncing out to us and said we were welcome to go ashore anytime and visit the resort if we could just follow him first to a different anchor spot as we were blocking the view from the Walker D’Plank (get the pun on Lang Walker?) Beach Bar.
We had set Zoonie in this spot as it gave us some shelter from the wind belting around the end of the island. Our new spot was directly in line with the wind but never mind, anything to oblige.
A few minutes later Rebekah arrived with her boatman. She is from Auckland and no doubt did her hospitality training in university there, “Please come and visit us just for a look around or a drink. You are welcome to dine in one of the restaurants for $75 per person not including drinks. The seaplane is due at 2.30 so maybe come before or after it has left.” Well of course her motives were partly commercial but you don’t go into that industry if you don’t enjoy people do you? I liked the way she was upfront about the cost of dinner too. We dusted off our visa card in readiness, “That’s right we don’t take cash”!!
So while waiting for the arrival of the seaplane, camera switched on in readiness, Rob and I came up with as many reasons as we could to celebrate and justify the coming gastronomic experience. Henry starting Middle School, my Birthday, (although we might have already celebrated that once, at my age it pays to make sure) our coming 9th Wedding Anniversary (quite an achievement as I’ve never got beyond 7 years before), the recent wedding of Rob’s youngest nephew James and Emma in Brighton, we thought that would do and made our way ashore to book and snoop around after deciding the seaplane wasn’t going to come probably due to the rising wind forecast.
We tied up the tender on the inside of the seaplane jetty and immediately came face to face with the sort of pilot fish that stick the flat sucker area on their heads onto the underside of sharks so they can feed on scraps discarded from the shark’s mouth. They were all around us in the perfectly clear water, I’d never seen them so close before.
Casually uniformed staff came down the jetty towards us all “Bulas” and hand- shakes, very friendly bunch. Henry met us and invited us into the reception area in the massive but modestly named Beach Shack. I asked him if he had a brochure of the Resort and while he disappeared to find one we absorbed the décor of high ceiling lined with pandanus matting, the chunky cinnamon wood supporting pillars from Mel Gibson’s nearby island of Mago, the globular grass lampshades and shell mobile and the comfy settees and coffee tables with resort magazines in wicker baskets. H’m this would do for our celebration.
Henry returned and booked us in and then we decided on a wander around. A little flotilla of golf carts stood ready by the main door and Loqo asked if we would like a ride around the resort with him. The seat at the back was covered in a smooth shiny fabric and Loqo was a potential formula one driver in disguise, so we clung tight to the handrail and eachother hoping we wouldn’t be shed into the road as he accelerated.
Building started here around 7 years ago and the plan was for just a few luxury beachfront villas but now there are 21 and most of the central area of the island is taken up with them on both sides; a Pacific view or a Kadavu Passage view. A further five secluded private homes are also available and the resort can now host 140 guests at between £1540 and £14000 (for Lang’s own home) per night or thereabouts. Like me Lang does believe in price negotiation!
There is also a vegetable garden complete with beehives. The project is constantly changing with guests enjoying and witnessing an ‘adaptive experience’ as Lang likes to put it. Local ladies will bring along a basket of some vegetable or fish they have cut or caught, for example little garfish or pipefish, and the resident chef, Caroline Oakley, a local Fijian lady and her team of three other local ladies will use them that day on the ever evolving menu.
After our tour we sat in a lounge area and watched young men laying cut grass along the front roof of the restaurant as a kind of aesthetic thatch. A young lady brought us some iced tea but we declined the cakes as we were saving our appetites. It was looking very grey and windy outside when we heard the helicopter land on its pad just up the hill. A couple were whisked to the covered entrance in a buggy where a group of the Fijian staff were ready with tuned voices and guitars to give an exotic welcome to the new guests. I just hoped the weather would improve for their stay. There was time between then and dinner to return to Zoonie and relax.
Lesle was our charming waitress giving us a full explanation of each course and asking permission to remove this and pour that. I liked the way most of the staff were locals, their natural open friendliness enhancing their work performance. You will see the menu and some of the dishes. One of my favourites was the pecan nut in honey from bees lovingly tended by the executive chef, Australian Anthony Healy who shipped twelve hives and colonies to the island on what has become his passion project.
I thought of the locals earning money from providing the lobster for the bisque and my roasted bream with the crunchy top. Then we both enjoyed the papaya sorbet and chocolate mocha in a mini glass fishbowl. I noticed a gap at the far end of the dining room verandah roof where the grass thatch laying was still in progress. More about that later.
We lingered over the tasty sav blanc before bracing ourselves for a wet ride back, but not before I spotted a rare phenomenon of the tromp d’oeil kind suspended in the water and lit by the white light underneath the pontoon.
Alison would have been as thrilled and mystified as me, or rather she would probably have identified them straightaway as juvenile spadefish or batfish. It took me 2 days of internet searching.
What confused me, but not Rob, was that the white light from the pontoon lights made the whitish stripes on the fish disappear so all I saw was black shapes a little like a sundial without its base and with flat side fins. Also the five fish were totally still like black leaves. Wonderful but a missed photo I’m afraid.
I thank the Australian Financial Review website and the Virgin Australia Publication for many of the facts I have just written.
During the night a wind of Churchillian proportions blustered around the end of the island with wit and gusto, one minute determined to pluck Zoonie’s anchor from its grip and the next leaving her wallowing in a vacuum of no air, very witty for some but not for us.
At first light I was motoring Zoonie ahead as slowly as the control lever would allow while Rob worked the windlass up on the bow. My concern, you see, was the very large, modern and valuable yacht just behind us that it would be a shame to damage! “Anchors free,” Rob called. He cannot always tell when the anchor breaks from the seabed and usually it doesn’t matter if we drift back a little once it is on the rise, but today it did matter!
We passed the island where some Swedish celebs were freezing their little butts off in the chilly wind and slipped around the headland two hours later into the natural harbour on Ono Island to shelter from the continuing few days of blow. Nabouwalu Village faces us at the head of the harbour.
As soon as we were secure, near a yellow cat and a white sloop, I was standing in the cockpit when I saw something large and soft roll down a vertical grassed limestone cliff to the beach below. In a field above three men were cutting grass. Ahah I thought.
A few minutes later we watched a panga, or should I say a load of grass with a panga just visible underneath it, pass us and it wasn’t until it was well past that we saw the driver. “I bet I know where that is going Rob”.
“I don’t rate his chances getting all that around to Kokomo in this wind” Rob half joked. When Lang started his passion project he employed most of the young men on the islands to do the work. He worked on a pay (them) as you go basis. However, being Fijian they often were paid and then went, not turning up the next day for work. So then he introduced a ‘pay once the villa is complete’ basis and that worked better.
Mike, the chief here in Nabouwalu Village confirmed that most of the young men have found useful work thanks to Lang’s project resort. While we chatted his wife was weaving coloured wool around the edge of a new pandanus mat for a wedding present for one of their two daughters. They also have two sons.
His wife asked if we had some school equipment like pencils, pens for the older children and reading books. Also she was in need of food containers and bottles with lids as they have a problem with rats and cockroaches. I asked if they had cats to see off the rats, she screwed up her nose, “We cannot have cats and free range chickens!” I guess not, but they had plenty of free range skinny dogs.
The school children were due back from their weekly boarding school tomorrow at 4.00pm by panga. Two very young children stood at the doorway, their big round eyes studying us. Both said shy “Bulas” when their grandpa coaxed them.
Mike’s wife said they had plenty of water (presumably as a river runs alongside the village) and we were welcome to help ourselves. We wandered along the village paths, all bordered with colourful bushes and noted the profusion of outdoor showers. Some new homes were under construction with imported planed wood and thin tin walls. The buildings were raised well off the ground and had verandas all around, but work had stopped on them and I wondered who they were for.
Matthew was just coming out of his front door and noting the limp and thick bandage on his leg I instinctively said, “So how is your leg today?”
“Better than it was, thanks” He cut it with his machete while harvesting either grass or sugar cane and was taken to Kandavu Medical Centre where they fixed him up. “I could see my leg bone” he confessed with alarm. We chatted and it transpired his sister, Salome, is living with her soldier husband in the army barracks in Marchwood near Southampton! Small world.
Well that was three days ago and we are nearly up to date with this blog. We are still at anchor here as the wind howls and the rain pours. The poor school children got a drenching as they sped past heading for home in their panga on Friday. The cuddy was not big enough for all of them.
We plan to go ashore tomorrow, Monday (don’t often use the future tense do I?) and deliver writing things and bottles and plastic punnets to the chief’s wife, and I must write down her name this time. There is a walk over the hill we would like to take if it’s not too slippery after the rain and then we’ll be thinking of moving on.
The problem we have at the moment is lack of trustworthy waypoints to help us explore Kadavu Island. You may wonder why I spell names in various ways, sometimes I spell the way it is said with an ‘n’ and other times as it is written, both are used and correct.
Remember when we went to Curly’s Seminar in Savusavu he told us to email him as and when we needed waypoints for anywhere in Fiji. Well his response to my email was to say that the hard drive of the computer on which he has all his waypoints lists crashed so he cannot help the 39 cruisers who signed up with him this year. Backups Curly?!