Exploring the Yasawas
13 August 2009 | Navadra, Fiji
For the last couple of weeks we have been exploring the Yasawa Islands of Fiji. We left Musket Cove in the company of five other boats, and I'm sure we made quite a sight as we exited the anchorage in what looked like parade formation: Airstream was in the lead followed closely by Tin Soldier, then Meridian, Blue Plains Drifter, and Wind Dancer. It must have looked like we were playing "Follow-the-Leader". But there was a method to our madness. Airstream (in addition to having gone in our direction before) has an 8-foot draft (compared to our 6) and Tin Soldier is made of steel. After getting the bejeezus scared out of us by nearly hitting a reef leaving Blue Lagoon a couple of weeks prior we felt the safest place to be was directly behind those two. Clearly BPD and Wind Dancer agreed as they kept the formation tight behind us.
Our first stop was the anchorage at Navadra, which, like Malolo Lailai, is part of the Mamanuca group. There were only two boats already anchored there and they probably were thinking, "What the ???" when they saw our five boats round the point like some kind of armada.
The anchorage is really lovely and the snorkeling here is some of the best we've seen in Fiji. Our first evening all the boats got together on shore for a bonfire party which Maddie and Sophie just loved. After that we spent a couple of days just swimming, snorkeling and relaxing in the quiet bay.
After Navadra a few boats headed for the island of Waya but Blue Plains Drifter and ourselves decided to stop first at Kuata which was noted in our guides for the "spectacular snorkeling" at the "Coral Cliffs of Kuata". The snorkeling was good- maybe not quite "spectacular"- but the anchorage was beautiful and comfortable. On shore John and Jim found that a short walk brought them to the northern side of the island where they met Jack, a large and friendly Fijian who runs the backpacker establishment there. The backpacker lodge turned out to be a fun and scenic place to hang out so we ended up staying in Kuata for three nights.
On Thursday we left Kuata and made our way to the island of Drawaqa to the south of Naviti. Another beautiful anchorage that has the added benefit of being the perfect staging area to the "Manta Pass" (otherwise known as Tokatokaunu Pass). Manta Pass is so named because near high tide the current through the pass provides and ideal feeding ground for many large Manta Rays. So naturally the thing to do is take your dinghy out to the pass, watch the water for the tell-tale Manta wingtips just below the surface and then jump in the water with your snorkel gear for an up-close-and-personal viewing of these magnificent creatures. I think Tiffany and Maddie probably had the most exciting viewing. According to Tiffany, she and Maddie were drifting over a large Manta who got curious enough about them to actually approach them for a closer inspection. Tiffany said that as the Manta got within 3 feet (!) of them, she and Maddie looked at each other through their masks with wide eyes. Tiffany even felt compelled to put her body in front of Maddie's (just in case) but of course that was unnecessary as these are some of the most gentle and benign creatures in the sea.
From Drawaqa we continued north to our old favorite, the Blue Lagoon. Some of the other anchorages have the potential to be a bit swelly but the Blue Lagoon- surrounded on nearly all sides by islands- is nearly swell-proof. We were comfortable enough there to stay 5 days. During that time John and I made the expedition to see the "veggie-man" a local Fijian on the island of Matacawa Levu who has an extensive vegetable garden. He's not easy to find though. You can only go at high tide or the bay is too shallow over reef. Then you must find a nearly invisible opening through the mangroves at the head of a large bay. You wind your way through the mangroves until you come upon a small hidden bay at the base of a hill. And up the hill is where you'll find Daki (sp?) and his huge vegetable garden. Sounds like a lot of work doesn't it? Why the heck did we bother? Well, you must understand that even back in Musket Cove fresh vegetables are not always available or even all that fresh. There are no markets at all in the Yasawas, so after a week without the idea of fresh veggies was very appealing to us. Plus it seemed like an adventure. So we followed the directions given to us by a couple of other cruisers and set out in the dinghy to find this guy. It's about a 10-minute dinghy ride to the bay (which doesn't sound like a lot, but 10 minutes in a dinghy is a lot) and then a bit longer to get through the mangroves. Even with directions we still had to ask a few locals, but everyone in the vicinity knows who you mean when you call out, "Vegetables?" Long story short, we were enjoying fresh tomatoes, eggplant, spring onions, fresh basil and much more for several days after.
Vegetable notwithstanding we were quickly running out of supplies (milk, flour, butter) and so decided Blue Lagoon was as far north as we would go. On Friday we headed back south for Somosomo Bay on the north sides of Naviti with the intention of snorkeling over the wreck of a WWII Spitfire plane, a short hike from the anchorage. However after dropping the hook we downloaded some weather and it appeared that the winds would be strong and coming out of the NE, N and NW within the next twelve hours. This particular bay is ill-suited to those winds and so we decided it would be prudent to forego the wreck and move around to Soso Bay on the southern side of the anchorage which would be well protected from anything but southerly winds. So naturally the wind stared howling from the south at 1:30 in the morning, bringing with it a large rolling swell that had our boats hobby-horsing on the anchors. Not a very comfortable night.
Saturday we left Soso (which proved to be less than so-so) to find an anchorage that would be comfortable in the coming conditions. The problem is the weather products we were downloading made it clear that no one knows what the coming conditions are. Oh sure, they're making guesses. But they're not getting it right. We considered stopping at Yalobi Bay on the southern end of Way, even dropped the anchor there for a few minutes, but didn't want another night like the one at Soso. After much discussion between ourselves and Blue Plains Drifter ("Where do you think we should go?" "I don't know where do YOU think we should go?" "I don't know") we opted to head back to one of our favorites, the anchorage at Navadra. We intend to spend a couple of nights here before making our way back to the Musket Cove. Blue Plains Drifter has a friend coming to visit soon, and we want to catch up and spend some time with Tin Soldier before they start heading west.