16 July 2017 | Musket Cove
Jane warm and sunny
Bula from Fiji. Everywhere we are greeted with a big smile and Bula (Hello) in this wonderfully friendly country. The people are delightful. Please go to gallery at the top of this page for photos with descriptions.
Our sail from New Zealand to Fiji was challenging, the hardest leg since we started cruising offshore. We knew it was going to be tough and it was. Several other boats left with us and stayed on the rum line, but we eased off to the west to avoid the worst of the wind. More miles, but easier conditions, even so we had a rollicking ride with big, confused, seas and high winds, a lot of the time a steady 40 knots. Still Ta-b did us proud, as she always does, and got us to Savu Savu safely and in good time.
Fiji has 333 islands, but for us the big draw was the Lau Group on the eastern side. Only recently have the 57 islands allowed cruising permits. They are off the beaten track being difficult to sail to after checking into Fiji, but their allure of isolation, lack of facilities for tourists, simple life of villages and beauty; was what we were looking for.
We were not disappointed and so far the islands have been a highlight of our trip. We could have spent months exploring the area, although the lack of fresh produce, in fact of any produce, would have been hard.
The few Indigenous Fijians who live in the remote villages do so in extended family groups and acknowledge a hereditary chief who is usually male. When arriving in each island we were expected to visit the chief with a present of Kava Root. The tradition of sevusevu (a gift of Kava) is still expected. Drinking Kava and feasts are a highlight of village life. Each family is allocated land for farming and has communal obligations. Gender roles are adhered to and the villagers are quite conservative and happy to continue to live their simple lives. They mostly live off what the ocean and land provides. We were surprised that farming consisted of only a couple of root crops, but there were plenty of wild paw paws (papaya), bananas and coconuts to be had. Cooking is usually done over open fires or lovos (where food is wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked underground).
We started our trip in Savu Savu, where we checked in and stocked up on fresh produce (and a lot of Kava Root), whilst enjoying the character of the laid back town. We waited anchored off Jean Michael Cousteau's resort, just inside the large bay, for a weather window to head to the Lau Islands. We ended up sailing to Koro Island south and then back up to Vianni Bay to get east.
We have found there is a lot more wind in Fiji then we were expecting and as always we are dictated to by the weather. No problem as Vianni was delightful and we enjoyed our few days there, although going diving or snorkeling on the famous rainbow reef was a challenge with the wind. We went over to Taveuni to stock up with last minute fresh produce and fuel before having a magical trip down to Vanua Balavu in the northern Lau group. Flat glass seas, a full moon and gentle winds gave us a wonderful overnight sail.
Vanua Balavu is known for its Bay of Islands. On our arrival we visited Daliconi village with friends to offer our Kava to the chief. Cyclone Winston seriously damaged this part of Fiji last year, people were killed and they are still rebuilding what was destroyed. It was sad to hear how the area suffered. We spent most of our time in a delightful anchorage called Shoal pass. The sea has undercut the limestone coast making beautiful mushroom islets in the breathtaking aqua water, a magical place.
We also went to Bavatu Harbour where there is a coconut plantation with stunning views over the Bay. Sadly Winston destroyed all of the village, and most of the trees; thankfully no one was hurt due to a large tree that they tied themselves to for 12 hours. The village now consists of four homes and a store called the "Sometime Store" as it only occasionally has items to sell. When we were there they had ... onions. The family living there is currently clearing the land and will replant the trees. The harbour was a very protected anchorage; thankfully, as yet again we had quite a bit of wind while we were there.
We made great friends with the few boats that were in the area, but suddenly a rally arrived from Tonga and we were surrounded. Luckily it was the World ARC and they only stayed two days before leaving the Lau Islands as they travel very quickly. However when the next rally arrived, we were about to leave, good timing we thought. Waiting the extra few days for the wind to drop certainly made for another excellent 24-hour sail down to Fulaga.
Fulaga is a little piece of paradise. Lots of lovely anchorages, deserted beaches, limestone mushrooms and coral bommies to snorkel and then there is the pass; which at slack tide is a divers heaven. We were the 20th boat to arrive this year, so a novelty and a link to the outside world. There are four villages, with no cars, just a wheelbarrow. The main one where we presented Kava to the 95-year-old chief organises a family to host each cruising boat. Our hosts were the headman and his wife, who were charming and spoke good English. We were now family. Socci and Ba taught us how to fish, catching three HUGE fish off the back of Ta-b within ten minutes one day. The smallest was enough to feed six; we were most impressed. The population of the main village is 102 and we felt we got to know them well as everyone is so friendly. We visited the school that has boarding for 15 children from outer villages and learnt that English is their third language. Fulaga has a local dialect; at school the kids learn to speak Fijian with English being one of the subjects. Although the elders did not speak English most hosts and many of the kids luckily did as we are still struggling to learn more than a few words of yet another language.
Socci our host organised a "picnic" one day on one of the islands for all of the cruisers and about half of the village. We ended up having 30+ Fijians on our boat, plus ... a live pig to take to the island. As you can imagine it was quite the experience. We had a fantastic day. A wonderful insight to see how quickly they make tables, bowls, fires and underground ovens for cooking, collect coconuts for drinking and bread, etc. Everyone bought food to add to the feast and we drank kava, they do not drink alcohol. It is infused with water (in a dirty looking rag) and tastes of mud, obviously an acquired taste. I don't think they made it very strong as it only gave us a slightly numb tongue for a minute of two. We sang and danced the afternoon away and only just got the villagers home before dark. The happy kids were all so well behaved it was impressive. A very special memory we will never forget.
Sunday is for church, beautiful singing, and lunch with one's host. Wow they know how to cook and Ba our host's wife made eight different dishes for us. They eat with their hands, but laid out knife, fork and napkins for us, we felt very honored. The stuffed clams and razor clam salad were probably my favourite, plus a spinach type vegetable served with fish. Our hosts had huge appetites (and are large too) and because we did not eat enough sent us away with takeaway. Each day we were given food and as the Fijians love sweet things, I made cakes, tarts, etc. for them to enjoy. We managed to unload Ta-b of many items they needed as the supply ship only visits every 4-6 weeks.
Another highlight while we were in Fulaga was the America's Cup. We had been following the Racing, difficult without wifi, but possible with our Ham Radio and helpful feedback. So when New Zealand won it was a day of celebration. We started on a friend's boat with a champagne BBQ at 8am and ended up with 25+ people on Ta-b for a potluck evening party. A terrific day, we certainly know where we will be in four years time ☺
Before we left Fulaga we bought some carvings from the village. One of the main ways they earn money is from selling the wood from a nearby island to Suva for carving. About seven of the village men carve, with one being an expert at the intricate native designs. We bought a traditional Kava bowl and hunting club to remind us of our time in Fulaga. It is interesting to learn that the children leave the island to go to school in Suva at the age of 14 and many do not return to live until they retire. Often the grandparents are sent their grandchildren to bring up, an interesting and not unusual concept. Certainly it is a wonderful community with everyone looking after everyone else, a simple relaxed life with no crime, and no internet/cellphones ☺ .
As I write we are having a lovely sail west to Fiji's main island of Viti Levu. The cruising life is being kind to us, although we do have an urgent "to do" job on Ta-b as our freezer is suddenly not working. But that is for tomorrow, for tonight with the moon out, the seas calm and the wind gentle, life is truly peaceful on Ta-b.