Monday 28 September 2015

Friendly Fiji

Monday September 28th 2015

There are simply too many places to go and see in Fiji and not enough time in the remaining pre-cyclone season, but we are going to do our very best to see the very best of Fiji.

Our Fijian adventure started out on the Island of Vanua Levu, in the town of Savu Savu where we checked in after a 2 1/2 day crossing from Tonga (Sept 8th-10th). It’s a great little town, we grabbed a mooring ball from the centrally located Copra Shed Marina. A short dinghy ride gets us right into town where inexpensive restaurants are at every turn. Savu Savu is an ideal place to wait for our friend Nat who’s coming to see us from Canada. 

A scary wave. On the day before Nat’s arrival on September 17th, at about 1:20 pm, Mark, the kids and I were on land. We were  slowly meandering back towards the dinghy after having completed a few last minute errands when suddenly we saw a marina security guard running towards us brandishing his portable VHF radio, he was running in our direction so both Mark and I immediately had the same thought: “There a problem with our boat,  it must be drifting off its’ mooring!”  (Just a few days before Mark had to jump in the dinghy to rescue a boat whose mooring had pulled loose and was about to collide into our catamaran neighbour). As the security guy got closer one word from the radio was crystal clear “Tsunami”, and then: “10 minutes.”,  Heart beats jumped into over time. I looked at Mark and said:  “Boat or High Ground?”  He only took a few seconds to process and decided: “Boat!  Lets Go!” It only took us a few seconds to get to the dinghy and another minute to unlock it. Ok, 8 minutes, we were watching for receiding water, as this is usually the first sure sign of a Tsunami, we knew all too well that we had to get the boat into deep waters as soon as possible. We were back on board with a few minutes to spare, I called out to Meg to get the life jackets out and on. Mark was directing me to release the mooring line, the engine was already started when I heard someone on Ch. 16 say that the Tsunami was not scheduled to arrive until 01:30....AM !!!  

Okay so this was just a precautionary warning, we found out that there had been an earthquake in Chili (Magnitude 8.3), and that a Tsunami warning was issued soon after to many regions including the South Pacific. One of our fellow cruisers had received the information that a potential  Tsunami was scheduled to arrive at 1:30 pm but this was UTC (At 0- Meridien) in other words local time in England!  We had 12 hours, still, boats had heard Tsunami and a handful of them had already left their moorings and had gone out into deeper waters, a few more minutes of gathering information and double checking on the source of that information and we turned off the alarm bells that had been ringing in our heads. Over the next few hours Mark did a little more investigating and decided that if need be we could head out of the Bay at midnight and wait it out but in the end, as we closely followed what was happening on islands east of us (Marquesas, Cooks, Tonga) we realized that the Tsunami was not going to happen, although we set our alarms for 01:00 and were up just to make sure. All in all it was a great practice drill and it motivated us to make a better emergency plan in case we were not all together if this ever happens again. 

The Bay of Islands off Vanua Balavu, Fiji

The Northern Lau Group; Nat arrived safe and sound the next  morning and Mark started to make a sail plan, watching the wind and weather. He decided that we would go out to the most easterly group of Islands called the Lau Group, more specifically, the Isles in the North Lau group. We took a few days to provision and head out of Suva Suva on Sunday afternoon. The winds didn’t turn quite like we had expected and so we ended up motoring part of the way into the wind !  Not something we like to do but it was worth it. The remote Lau group only opened up to cruisers recently (in the last few years) and may not stay that way forever, we heard that some of the elders are concerned about preserving their traditional way of life there and so it may happen that this group of islands will go back to being inaccessible to cruisers in the future.

 We arrived and anchored at the Daliconi Village and got ready to go shore to meet the Toranga-ni-koro, this is the village’s “head man”, to ask him to take us to the chief in order to take part in the Sevu Sevu ceremony. During this ceremony  we present the chief with Yagona (pronounced Yangona- also know as Kava) and ask him permission to stay and visit their island and people. For this ceremony, we all need to wear sarongs and hats and sunglasses are not allowed. When we got to shore we found out that he chief and the “Toranga ni koro” were out, at the farm land and so we were greeted by the chief’s sister and his nephew, they accepted our kava and performed a short ceremony to welcome us on their island (and to the whole area called “Bay of Islands”.) We did not have to drink the Kava, as this is not always required, but we were ready to do so if we’d been asked. 

Once we were granted access, we explored the village, visited the school (and presented a puppet show there- the kids and teachers were delighted!) We also gave them a dozen toothbrushes which had been donated by fellow cruisers.

Matthew, Mark, Meg and MC on Vanua Balavu, over looking the Bay of Islands

Arriving at the northern end of the Lau islands

Nat and MC ready for the SevuSevu ceremony
Kava Plant roots drying- AKA Yagoma

Kava roots drying

The Kava Plant

The boys and their Yagoma

Captains Mark and Matt (SV Perry) at the SevuSevu Ceremony, with the Toranga-ni-koro,(the village’s “head man”)

School kids walking home with us, Matthew is ahead of them.

One of the school we visited in the Lau group

The kids brushing their teeth after lunch 

Kids happy faces during the puppet show

We then sailed on to the beautiful Bay of Islands were we spent 4 great days exploring the many little nooks and crannies you can find tucked in between the minuscule islets. We entered cathedral like caves, had a picnic on a small secluded beach and did some snorkelling where we saw some colourful soft coral !

From the moment we arrived in the Bay of Islands we mesmerized to see the giant fruit bats which flew over head, the first day we arrived and every afternoon after that. So It was a real thrill when we found their colony which was only a short dinghy ride away. This gave us a chance to get up close to them as they hung by the hundreds, even by the thousands in the trees above us. We could hear them as they woke from their slumber and flew just above our heads !  They are such interesting creatures to watch, and they put us in a 'Halloween kind of mood' !

On the 5th day, we moved to the North end of the island and went to visit the coconut plantation. It was a very interesting walk as we met the workers and saw the farm animals scattered among the rows and rows of coconut trees. The manager of the plantation gave us direction to the awesome lookout which gave us a great vista of the Bay of Islands. 

The rare soft coral, Bay of Islands, Fiji
More cave vists

Visiting caves in the Bay of Islands
The beautiful rock formations in the Bay of Islands

The Fruit Bat Colony 

Fascinating fruit bats !
So many bats !

Visiting the rock formations with the crew from SV Perry

Matthew chilllin' in the cave

Inside a cave

Nat and Jen (SV Perry)

One of the hundreds of flying foxes

Bay of Islands

The Flying Fox colony

Magnificent Bay of Islands, Fiji

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

Amelie anchored snugly in Bay of Islands

Our hike through the coconut plantation, Vanua Balavu

A rather large arachnid

271 steps to the coconut plantation, (from the northern anchorage)

Our walk through the Coconut Plantation, Vanua Balavu

MC and Nat floating near the coconut Plantations

A typical scenery in the Lau Group

Village in the Lau Group

Meg and Nat walk with the school kids

Visiting schools was always a highlight

The school kids gather to greet us
Adorable little villager

Taveuni and the Paradise Resort: We then sailed back towards the west, to the island of Taveuni. We were lucky to be able to secure one of the 4 mooring balls just outside the Paradise Resort. This enchanting place is truly an oasis for the soul. The warm and friendly people at the resort made us feel very much at home as took great care of us!  With their help we were able to organize a couple of hikes and tours for Nat’s final days in Fiji; including a most scenic coastal walk to see and swim (and jump into) some pretty waterfalls, as well as a village tour, and a walk to see a blowhole. 

Of course we also just HAD to take some time to lounge by the resorts' pool and enjoy the tasty theme night dinners they offered. On Nat’s last night with us we were able to take part in a social (ie non-formal) kava ceremony (Sevu Sevu) and drank the kava and shared stories. Kava (which is a powder that comes from pounding the Kava roots) is a narcotic which, when taken everyday can affect your senses and make you feel drunk. Since this was our first time drinking it, it did not affect us, only made our tongues feel mildly numb the staff at Paradise resort then sang  a moving traditional Fijian farewell song for Nathalie as we all wished her a safe journey home.

Coming up: We will explore the world reknown Rainbow Reef and continue to explore the coastline nearby Taveuni Island. We hope to have a chance to visit many villages and meet as many of the lovely Fijian people as we can in the next month and a half, before we start to plan for our next big destination : New Zealand! As always, we are sending you lots of love from all of us on board, 


Meghan On Amelie (written in November 2015)


I know that I haven't posted a blog in practically two months but since we have just been in Fijj since I last wrote, I decided to combine both months together to make one, long post about all our amazing experiences in Fiji! 

I was super excited to finally visit Fiji because it was only the second place on this entire trip that I had heard of for many years (Peru being the first)!

Savu Savu (Vanua Levu)

Our first stop in Fiji (arrived in about mid September).  This town is a place which I often confuse with Suva (a city on another Fijian island) and Sevu Sevu (a ceremony which I will explain later in this blog)!

The town is quite cute and actually very culturally diverse.  When you walk on the sidewalks, you pass by native Fijians, caucasians, and lots of East Indians.  Even in the markets, you see Indians at their own stands, and in the stores, there are lots of Asian spices and products.

After re-provisioning over a course of four days, we picked up our friend, Nathalie who stayed on board with us for ten days.

Vanua Balavu (Lau Group)

Since before we even got to Fiji, we have heard endless raving about the Lau Group (east side of Fiji).  Some parts of the Lau Group are out of this world remote (especially the southern islands).  I'm talking about people who rarely see outsiders.  Unfortunately, those islands are not permitted to cruisers yet but we were lucky enough to be able to see the Lau Group at all because until a few years ago all the islands were very difficult for cruisers to visit.  In fact, it is said that the islands may close up again in a few years from now so if you want to see these enchanted islands, GO NOW!

In the small villages of Fiji (and other islands in the South Pacific like Vanuatu), there is a strict dress code and a ceremony called Sevu Sevu which you must follow.  Women are not allowed to show their shoulders or knees and everyone (including the men) must wear a sarong.  

As for the ceremony, a cruiser must present a dried kava root to the chief of the village.  Kava is a plant grown in the South Pacific islands which the islanders have been making sacred drinks of for hundreds of years.  We first must buy the kava (we bought some at the market in Savu Savu) and present it to the chief as a way to ask permission to visit his village.  Also, because these people can't really get any international news, the dried kava root must be wrapped in the latest newspaper articles.  In some villages, after they accept our kava, they prepare the drink.  They put the roots in a cheesecloth over a big, wooden bowl (the traditional kava bowl).  Then, they pour some water over the kava and the kava-tasting liquid will fall into the bowl.  After that, the chief fills half a coconut and passes it to the nearest person.  That person first has to clap once, then drinks all of the kava (it is offending if you don't drink it all), then, when the person is done, everybody claps three times.  

At Vanua Balavu, we did the first part of the ceremony but they didn't make us drink the kava but there was a Fiji night at a restaurant and we did an informal Sevu Sevu where we got to drink the kava.  It did not taste good (like muddy water) but I can now say that  I've drank kava.   

Also, on Vanua Balavu, we did another puppet show (our third one this year) at the local school and I think it was our best one yet.  The kids were all different ages (from ages 3-15 probably) and none of them had ever seen puppets before!  Nathalie took pictures and we were so happy to see that even the 15 year old boys were smiling and laughing.  

Bay of Islands

Everybody always says "You have to go see the island Taveuni, it's beautiful and it has great snorkelling!".  Sure, I agree, Taveuni (which we did go see) is absolutely beautiful but also go down to the Bay of Islands, it's just as wonderful and it is less crowded (we were all by ourselves). 

Just a couple of hours away from Vanua Balavu, the Bay of Islands' breathtaking views are right there at the top of the ranks with Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas!  It's name is perfect as well, the place is actually a whole bunch of bays with little islands in them (kind of reminded me of pictures I've seen of Thailand).  I think it's pretty much a paddle boarder's paradise! 

When we were coming through the bays, I looked up and said, "Wow!  That sure is a lot of birds!"But then, I looked a bit closer at their wings and I corrected myself, "Hang on a sec, those aren't birds! They are hundreds of fruit BATS!"

 It turned out that just a five minute dinghy ride away was a whole colony of them! It was SO cool, coming from someone who's never really (until now) taken a great interest in bats.  Since it was daytime, most of them were just hanging in the trees.  Some babies were happily snoozing inside their moms' wings, others were unsuccessfully trying to sleep, trying to cover their face from the light (I don't really blame them, I'm sometimes uncomfortable in my bed, I can't imagine sleeping upside down!), at times a few  would break into a little quarrel !  Others, that decided they would try to sleep later, were flying around.  The coolest part was when they would land in the trees because, in mere seconds, they would grasp the tree with their feet, fall upside down and tuck in their wings!

A few days later, we went to another part of the Bay of Islands where there was a hike up to a coconut plantation/farm.  There were 15 flights of stairs to get up to the farm and the record to beat was 56 seconds to get to the top.  We all made it in about five times that amount! The farm was really big and, well everything you usually see on a farm (lots of cows, horses, bulls, plants) with, of course, a little bit of Fiji added to it (kava plants, breadfruit trees). Some of the farmers led us up to a viewpoint where you could see the whole Bay of Islands, of course with the sun high so the water was that stunning turquoise it was one of the best viewpoints I have ever seen! 

Taveuni (tav-ee-oo-nee)

What I said before about Taveuni may have made it sound not too good but that is not what I meant, where we stayed in Taveuni was spectacular.  We stayed in front of a very pretty resort called "Paradise" and that name suits it well.  Even though we weren't even guests in the little huts, we were treated like gold!  All the employees were going out of their way to be nice to us and they remembered everyone's name.  Plus, they absolutely adored Matthew (a little jealous to be saying this ;) !  

We went on three tours with them. The first one was a waterfall tour (my favourite kind of hike!).The second one was a village tour where we toured around one of the Taveuni villages and learned about the rules and the history of it. The third one, only my dad and I went on, was a dive tour up to the famous Rainbow Reef, making it to two of the dive sites: Dakuniba and the favoured Purple Corner.  I must say the guidebooks are not lying when they say Fiji is the soft coral capital of the world. Later from another anchorage in Taveuni, we went to a natural waterslide.  It was basically a stream of many waterfalls but some were smooth rock and made great waterslides.  The tricky part was telling the difference between the ones that would flow smoothly and the ones that didn't give you a nice landing. 


Lobster- Savu Savu Market

Natural Hot Water Spring in Savu Savu 

One of the anchorages in the Lau Group

Friendly Fijians, Savu Savu

Hair washing day

Taveuni "Weather Station"- later that same year they were  hit by Cyclone Winston ! 

Beach hike, Taveuni

Beach Hike Taveuni

Suspension Bridge Taveuni

Our hike in Taveuni

Coconut trees

Blow Hole on Taveuni

Our Hike in Taveuni
Sites from our hike in Taveuni

Waterfall, Taveuni

Meg and our guide, Taveuni

Girl time in Taveuni

The Fiji Tall Palm tree