New Zealand to Fiji
02 July 2019
A few thoughts on our 20 months we spent in New Zealand (minus a trip to the US during the coldest part of the winter)....... Beautiful, beautiful, diverse country with kind, warm, helpful and friendly people. We found their health care to be very good, although we did not have any issues beyond general medical check ups. Medications were very reasonable. Because we asked for a visa that extended past 12 months, we had to have blood work to check for good kidney function, no signs of diabetes and a few other specific diseases. We also had to have a chest X-ray to check for TB and a medical check up all done by New Zealand doctors for about 500 dollars each. We also had to have an FBI background check done in the US while we were back in the states. We did decide to use an immigration agent or specialist but we know of another cruiser that did all of the paperwork himself.
As far as the cost of goods, many general items seemed to be on par with US prices, some things were actually less expensive and some things, were surprisingly a lot more expensive. Yacht services were first world and the fact that English was the common language was a bonus. We joke because before our arrival to New Zealand we were so looking forward to a country with English as their first language. We said excuse me and could you repeat that for the first several weeks when we arrived to New Zealand as some of the English is not the same wording or pronunciation that we would us in the US. We quickly got the hang of it. Food and dining out seemed to be a wash with the US. Provisioning was great as they have a wide variety of items to chose from at the grocery. We spent most of our land based time, except for the time we spend touring the North and South Islands, at Riverside Drive Marina just before Town Basin. Great small marina with wonderful friendly staff, Karl, Louise and Moe! It is a further walk from town but a quieter spot that the town basin. Eating out......We are vegan so eating out can sometimes be a challenge but the town of Whangarei had a few great restaurants to chose from. A few of our favorites were The Power Plant, awesome! The Fat Camel, amazing hummus and falafel, Israel style. Turquaz for Turkish was a favorite for Kim. There were several others that we enjoyed but just to name a few.
We were very lucky because we heard from long time locals that the time we were in New Zealand had been one of the best seasons they could remember. Lots of sun, drier that usual and mild temperatures right up until the time we headed for Fiji. We were still wearing shorts on the sunny days and bundling up a little at night. We did have the heaters running in the evenings but we are equatorial creatures so that only makes sense. We left on what was said to be a "superb" weather window but a few days out changed to some big wind and waves. We had a little of everything, from motoring, motor sailing, heaving to and some more motoring. In our ten years of sailing we have never needed to heave to but we thought we may need to for 4 days in the middle of this passage. We only ended up needing to heave to for less than 2 days and then took off like a scalded dog when we were able to sail again. Slight change in wave direction made making forward progress a possibility. We had two great days of sailing 209 miles and 195 miles back to back. After making less than 1 KM per hour for the last 35 hours or so it was great to be moving toward the destination. We came into Fiji with no wind except the wind we were making.
We arrived at about 2 pm on a weekday. We were instructed by the Copra Shed follow Siti to a mooring ball to wait for Health official. There are two places that will arrange the customs agents for you, Copra Shed and Waitui Marina. We chose Copra Shed because they do have a dock with water for a good wash down as Waitui does not have a dock. After the Health official leaves were were asked to move to the dock for the remaining agents to check us in. They do have a customs dock but we were allowed to go directly to our slip in this instance. Clearing in we had three agents at one time, Customs, Immigration and Biosecurity. The three agents were all asking questions and papers were being shuffled around and signed. Everything went well and the agents were all very friendly and relaxed. We were asked to pay our fees the next day in cash and we quickly found that change is not provided so you need to have the exact amount. This is the first place we have been to that is a cash society. You can use a credit card at some locations but 3% is added to the bill. Then cash it is!
Food in Savusavu. Remember we are vegan and try to eat low sodium so this really influences any eating out choices. We found the Copra Shed to be reasonable as far as cost, good food and easy access by dinghy. Grace Road and Snowy House for desserts and cappuccino. I have read there is some question about the "cult" behind the group but have no idea the validity to any accusations. The food in Fiji so far is really inexpensive unless a resort style meal is on your list. 150 Fijian pp at some of the 5 star resorts. Dinner in town 15 Fijian. The exchange rate is approximately 2FJD=1USD, so even the mental math is easy.
Shopping is very good in town. Several supermarkets with a good selection. Sea Lovers for specialty items and wine etc is great. The local market is in swing M-F all day and Saturday is the big day. Lots of inexpensive items to select from. Celery, cabbage and sometimes tomatoes depending on availability seem to be pricey. Everything else a few Fijian dollars. Anything imported is more expensive but apples are a bargain from New Zealand. Small but four for a few dollars.
We did make a 2 hour bus trip up over the cool mountain to Labasa. Not due to our planning but more luck we arrived when the local people were ending their 30 day religious fast. The area is mostly Indian. The ladies were all about town in their beautiful costumes, some with the head jewelry and makeup. Really stunning to see. The children were also really fun. They asked to have their photos taken and thanked me after taking it. Some of the Indian people originally arrived here as slaves. They were slaves for a time and then given land to farm for the sugar cane business and to make a home for themselves here in Fiji.
We spent a few days out at Cousteau's Resort. Nice spot. Did a shallow dive to check out equipment. Steve's inflator hose came right out of the BC so that started a new adventure of finding a new one on a small island. Got the situation handled quickly but we were asked not to share where we got the BC at they are expensive and difficult to get into the country. We had a few cappuccinos at Cousteau's Resort. We got to Jean Michel Cousteau himself who was a very gracious and helpful host. The servers were getting a lesson on how to froth the milk with someone that had flown in from Suva. We got to help drink a few of the practice coffees. We spoke with the ladies the next day and they all said they were awake until midnight until they could fall asleep from the caffeine jolt.
We made the 25 mile passage up to Viani Bay. Winds weren't in our favor and it was a wet motor sail passage with several tacks. Viani Bay has a totally different look that what we have seen of Fiji so far. Brown hills?????? Obviously, not as wet as the other areas. We were told that they have gone 5 months with no rain in the past. We have been here a week and still haven't gotten the salt rinsed from the boat yet. We did get a few sprinkles but not much. The famous reef is Rainbow Reef that we are here to dive. The island across the Somosomo Strait is Taveuni. We have seen a rainbow or multiple rainbows every day until the last two days. Lots of rain over there that just doesn't make it over here. We have done two test dives here with all of the new BC, computers and then the cameras. We hope to get a dive in soon.
Insert from Steve:
For those who think we just sit under palm trees and get served drinks, tomorrow, and probably the next day, are shaping up as a more typical day in the life of a cruiser.
Kim, a dental hygienist, had a crown on a tooth come off yesterday and so it began. I told her I could mix up some West System epoxy, but she isn't hearing me. Some crap we bought for exactly this purpose in our medical kit doesn't work of course. I guess the heat, or age, or something got to it.
Since the only way in and out of Viani Bay is by boat, tomorrow we will get picked up at 7AM in one of the dive operator's skiffs for a 1 hour boat ride to Buca Bay, then a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Labasa to see a dentist we have no appointment with, but think we can get in to see. There are only 2 bus trips per day from our area here in Viani Bay. So, if we are successful and get the tooth fixed we then have a 2 1/2 hour bus ride back to Buca Bay, then try to contact the dive operator here to see if they can pick us up. You cannot travel here by boat after dark, because you have to be able to see the coral bommies in the water, so as not to hit them. If they can pick us up early enough, then we will actually make it back to North Star the same day. If not, and much more likely, we will have to find somewhere to sleep in Buca Bay, or Labasa, or somewhere in between and return the following day.
BTW, Marina, who owns/runs the dive operation here in Viani Bay has been wonderful and very helpful in getting it all organized.
No telling what this will all cost by the time we done, but we are at $300 Fijan or $150USD plus whatever the dentist charges IF WE CAN MAKE IT IN ONE DAY.
Keep in mind, our plan was to be diving the world famous Rainbow Reef tomorrow, but instead.....the adventure continues.
Marina the owner/operator of Dive Academy located here in the bay has been great. We had a vegan meal with her and other guests from the UK a few nights ago. We also had a get together with a few other boats Friday night with music and the drinking of Kava. I did not try it as I tried it in Tonga. Not my favorite. Tastes like dirty water with extra dirt in it. Others that have tried it have a different saying but I wont' repeat it here.
Oyster Reach, friends of ours were in the bay for a few nights before moving on toward the Lau Group. It was great to catch up with them again.