24 September 2014 | Yasawas, Fiji
24 September 2014
The Rose-Sawa-i-Lau Caves Sawasour i-Laua vertical hole
Dear Friends and Family, The day started early for us on the northern-most island of the western-most side of Fiji. We are in the Yasawas at a little place called Sawa-i-Lau which is known for its limestone caves. We have visited caves in Tonga and Niue and New Caledonia and we have dived in undersea caves. This cave system has a bit of all that wrapped into one.
From the beach of the tiny island we walked up a few stairs to the cave entrance and then into a gaping hole which quickly narrowed again and led steeply back down to sea level. Suspended from the entrance ceiling hung a large pendulous rock formation like a uvula which made me feel (as I ducked beneath it) as though I were marching right into the Earth's gullet. Donning masks, snorkels and fins we slipped into the water of the first spacious room which was cool and still and salty. The room was well lit by a large overhead gash of skylight through which I could see trees and sky. John and I immediately began exploring the cave walls for entrances into hidden rooms and promptly found, just a few feet beneath the water's surface, a shelf and beneath it no evidence of a back wall. I swam down the wall, rolled over and pulled myself along the underside of the shelf checking for an airspace. After traveling horizontally a mere three or four feet, my belly pushing up against the underside of the shelf, the ceiling sloped sharply vertical and I found myself looking up at a perfectly clear, high, vaulted and multifaceted concavity like the inside of a great cathedral spire. The odd thing was that I was still underwater and I knew I couldn't be seeing that distant ceiling 20 feet above filled with a column of water but neither could I see any air water interface or apparent distortion. Having no scuba gear, I was holding my breath which prohibited me from pondering the situation at length so I plunged on upward toward the ceiling stretching my hand up over my head to prevent inadvertent concussion and breaking cleanly through the surface into the air of a narrow and very tall chamber. I was alone. A cascade of fine white crystalline stalactite hung down one corner of the space like a mineralized gossamer drape. The walls sparkled and curved and I almost expected them to pulsate or breathe. No exit was visible from above the water and no light shone in except my own. It was a magical seclusion, still and out of time. But it also had a bit of the feeling of a tomb-ample enough yet somehow too close. After catching my breath I descended beneath the water again to examine the oddity of that invisible interface. Twisting onto my back I shined my underwater flashlight ("torch" in these parts) upwards and once again saw the far reaching cathedral ceiling, clear but distant and without any detectable intervening interface. Reaching up with my hand I broke through the water's surface from below stirring it a bit which made the light shimmer and shake for a moment. The stillness quickly returned. The chamber also continued horizontally deeper like a crease in the folded rock wall. Shining my light horizontally underwater into the deeper extension of the room I noticed little twigs hanging at neutral buoyancy as though in suspended animation. Nothing moved. Despite the salty water there was no ocean induced surge or current and no sound from the world outside which led me to believe the sea water must seep in from deep beneath the floor or from very far away.
At the far side of the first chamber, beneath the water surface was a swim through about two body lengths duration into another unlit chamber. This second chamber tapered and divided into a series of broad, tall, deep tunnels which wound around crazily into each other and often into dead ends. Despite my attempts to stay oriented I repeatedly found myself suddenly back at the site of an earlier turn which I thought I had swum away from. The tunnels were so deep that often we could see no bottom despite the intense beams of our underwater lights. The only visible thing beneath us was darkness. One tunnel off to the left of the main led round a pedestal to what seemed to be a dead end but on further examination revealed a narrow, perfectly arched doorway the top of which was some six feet below the water surface while the opening stretched down another ten or more feet deeper. I swam down the wall to the top arch of the doorway where my light illuminated a tunnel curving onward into darkness beyond the reach of my light and breath. So perfectly formed was the doorway that I felt as though I were gazing through the portal of an ancient submerged city. Its silence seemed to beckon and I longed to unlock the secrets of that hallway waiting in the stillness beyond that arched doorway. Perhaps someday we will return with tanks and line and extra lights for a deeper look but today safety and good sense prevailed. We were not prepared to go further.
Building winds and a schedule made wise our departure by mid-morning from the beautiful sheltered bay outside the cave but the long sailing day which followed allowed ample time for contemplation of the morning experience. We sailed south down the west side of the island chain with the wind behind the beam making seven knots with just the jib and winding our way through patchy reefs easily spotted as pale turquoise in the good sunlight and often highlighted by breaking waves along their edges. Sometimes looking far ahead I saw what at first glance seemed to be a party of breaching whales-- so explosive were the splashes of waves leapfrogging over rock and reef. The predictable rhythm of wind and calm followed the skyline of each island-- blocked by mountains and whistling through passes. I watched for wind lines betraying the approach of williwaws, the sudden blasts of wind which intermittently roused The Rose from her sun drenched slumbers and sent her merrily hop scotching amongst the wavelets. But even these were mild and we continued slipping along the western shores of the western islands which are quite different from the eastern islands where we have spent most of our time cruising. These western islands are volcanic with odd rock formations jutting up from low hills of tawny grass and few patches of scrubby shrubs. We've left behind the mist shrouded rainforest and rainbows of Taveuni and here only along the recessed backs of the white sand beaches did we see small clumps of coconut palm. If not surrounded by sea, these islands might be mistaken for the foothills of Northern California-beautiful but not as tropical as the images usually coming to mind at mention of Fiji.
The anchorage we had intended for overnight was full of boats. There are also many more boats and tourists here even in the outlying islands than we have grown accustomed to during our travels on Fiji's east side. Not only sailboats busy the waters but big wake churning ferries, mega yachts and even sea planes must be watched for. After a long day of sun we chose another anchorage quite nearby which we had all to ourselves. The breeze blew gently and the swell was on the beam-not enough to knock the dishes out of the cupboards but certainly enough to rock us to sleep like babes in a cradle. Moce (goodnight) Pat and John s/v The Rose Tokatokauna Pass, South end of Naviti Island, where the mantas play¬...