Saturday 6 August 2016

Great Astrolab Reef- Fiji

Meghan On Amelie, written sometime in July, 2016
As you have probably heard, Amelie only had three crew members onboard this month: my dad, Matthew, and I because my mom spent this month back in Ottawa with her family.  I guess that means I'm the only one who can write a blog about this month. But you know, no pressure!

Summer vacation aboard Amelie in Fiji this year was filled with everything summer vacations are supposed to be filled with: snorkelling, beach days, hiking, relaxing, and lots of board games. Unfortunately, I was still not able to beat my dad at chess despite my many attempts this summer.

What happens when Mom goes away: Dad buries us alive!

Viewing point from a hike on Kadavu Island (you can see Amelie and Perry in the
bay at the bottom)

Fun nights in the hammock! 

A panorama shot Dad took of a really pretty beach we went to on Kadavu Island

Standing up on the paddleboard while being towed behind the boat! We
have been working with Matthew to achieve this skill for two years!

With my mom gone, I was also given the chance to test my cooking skills. Based on the comments from my fellow crew members, I think I did a pretty good job. However, that is not saying much since both my dad and my brother are human goats (meaning they will eat pretty much anything)! And of course, I sometimes had help from my good friend Betty Crocker but most of the time, I made everything from scratch. Oddly enough, I seemed to prefer to make desserts... Go figure!

Anyways, after dropping my mom off at the airport, catching up with old friends who we met last year, and refilling our food compartments, we left Savusavu and headed south to the Great Astrolabe Reef.

Great Astrolabe Reef
The Great Astrolabe Reef group is a chain of islands with a long reef running alongside them. The archipelago is situated just a hundred miles south of Viti Levu (main island of Fiji).

Ono Island
The first island we stopped at was Ono Island. That evening, we went in to do the sevusevu ceremony and present our kava root to the Turaga Ni Koro (village headman) to ask permission to visit his village and stay in his waters. We came into shore to find the beach packed with longboats and the village in a full-swing party with music and dancing and the men all gathered around the kava bowl! It turns out we had come on the day when the whole island had gathered for their first ever "Women's Day" celebration. We sat and watched the festivities for a while and, in my opinion, their first "Women's Day" was a big success!

After all the cyclone-torn villages in the Lau Group, it was strange (in a good way) to
walk through the villages of Great Astrolabe which weren't even touched by Cyclone Winston!

Kava ceremony
They wanted to continue drinking kava but also wanted to watch the festivities
so they moved the kava ceremony outside!
The kind gentleman next to me gave me the beautiful flower lei I am wearing

I always like it when we come to do the sevusevu ceremony in the evening because that is always when the men are doing their kava ceremony. Even though kava has a very strong and numbing taste and it makes you drowsy, I do find the ceremony itself fascinating to watch because they still, after hundreds of years, take it so seriously. In Fiji, instead of going to the bar after work, the men sit around the kava bowl and talk.

Men from a village on Kadavu Island pounding the kava root
We heard about a little spot right near our anchorage where, at high tide, we could find manta rays! In Bora Bora, we swam with manta rays but I guess that was so long ago that I forgot how HUGE they were! Despite how small they may look in the photos, just keep in mind that these mantas had wingspans of around 10 ft!

After Ono Island, we made our way over to the main island of the Great Astrolabe Reef group: Kadavu. We spent a good two weeks all around this island. It is odd because we were always anchored in mud and surrounded by mangroves but yet, we only had to dinghy a little bit out of the bay to find ourselves sandy bottom and reef.

Exploring mangroves all around Kadavu Island

We spent a few days anchored off the town of Vunisea, which had several small grocery stores we were able to visit everyday. One day, we came into the town to find they were having a sports day! The children from the secondary school (ie: junior high) were competing and the whole island was there to watch! It was fun because I realized that our fellow Calgarians at that time were all going to the Stampede and so I kind of felt like we were going to the Fijian equivalent of Stampede! Okay, so instead of 100 000 people, there were only 2000 (still a lot though for that tiny island) and instead of watching bull riding and barrel racing we watched netball and rugby. Also, there were no mini donuts but there was traditional Fijian dishes: kasava, fish, and taro (which we had the chance to eat with our hands because there were no forks!).

The Fijian equivalent of a Walmart parking lot!

 When we came back to the dinghies after sports day, we found them beached high and dry (in mud, by the way) a quarter of a mile from where they could float! We knew it was going to be low tide but I guess we didn't know how low low tide was. Since there was no point in trying to heave the dinghies all the way to the water, we decided to spend the wait productively. So, for 2 hours we squatted down and dug in the mud for clams and cockles! We ended up finding about 1/4 of a bucket full each (when I say "each", I mean "each boat" since SV Perry was with us)! The next night, my dad boiled them and threw them in a clam chowder and it was delicious!
Digging for clams

I guess I should probably talk about the reef itself since the place is called "The Great Astrolabe Reef". If I had to rank the three famous reefs we've been to in Fiji, I would put Namena Reef first, Rainbow Reef second, and Great Astrolabe Reef third (we visited Namena and Rainbow reefs last year). The reason I am putting Astrolabe third is because the coral was not very colourful, the visibility wasn't great, and we did not see many other creatures other than fish. However, we have been quite spoiled since snorkelling in the Galapagos, Tuamotus (French Polynesia), and the other reefs in Fiji so we are now very picky about the reefs we deem worthy. I still found it pretty and it was flourishing with fish so clearly, it was a very healthy reef.

I found this giant clam shell (already dead) sitting on a reef shelf when I was snorkelling!
We realized after that during our entire time in Great Astrolabe group, we saw one other cruising boat (either than Perry of course) and we saw only 3 other foreigners! Local longboats would very often come out to our boats and talk to us and I think it was mainly because they don't see many cruising boats so they were interested in us and they always gasped in amazement when we said we were from Canada and the U.S. I guess here, Canada seems like just a very distant, foreign (and cold) land.

The evening we left Kadavu, we had made it about an hour out of the bay when we suddenly got a big surprise. Only about 300 yards from our boat, there was a humpback whale breaching! But it didn't stop there: it kept coming towards us until it was only 100 ft in front of us.... BREACHING! That was absolutely amazing because he was ENORMOUS (definitely as big and heavier than our boat) and when he is that close, it looks like a rocket ship coming out of the water! It was also very scary because we didn't know if he could see us and we have heard of whales that accidentally breached onto boats, which would cause damage not only to the whale but could also crack the boat and sink it! Anyways, no blood no foul and we got some great shots of it as it kept breaching, blowing (breathing), and waving (lifting it's pectoral fin up in the air) behind us. It seems like humpback whale migration season is in full swing once again in the South Pacific!

We now have our fourth crew member back on board and we are currently having a great time down at Musket Cove near the Yasawa Islands (just off Viti Levu island) but soon, we will be sailing over to Lautoka city to fill our food stores once again so we can head off to somewhere new: Vanuatu!
Family selfie at the sandbar near Musket Cove