When Fijians say hello (bula! or bula bula!!!) they make eye contact and their dark faces break into big, sparkling smiles. They are a sincerely friendly and welcoming race… Its hard to write bula! without an exclamation mark because it is something that is exclaimed not merely spoken Bula!!!
Tika had a smooth 2.5 day passage from the Ha’apai’s to Suva, Fiji. It was hard to leave the Ha’apais and we had yet more whale encounters as we headed west and slipped past the Lau group. We were slower than usual and enjoyed cruising along on flat seas- a lovely sail…
Yellow fin tuna!!! Team Tika are getting better at fishing…honestly, we used to be pretty hopeless when the “fish on!” call went up.. stirring from passage stupors, flapping around in circles and arguing about who was doing what….At times Russ got so excited he forgot all about the boat, ran for the line and started barking orders from the back step. The kids and I stressed about reefs, course, sails and wind angles while frantically rummaging through lockers in search of the myriad of equipment being demanded from the stern… Sometimes we lost the fish, the lure, our tempers and one time, the entire line! Slowly, we are getting more streamlined and professional We now have allocated tasks; Russ sets the boat on a safe course/wind angle and then heads straight for the rod. Jaiya gets the fishing box out and calmly hands him the gaf, knife, gloves and alcohol while Kai and I manage the boat (sails in, check the chart for reef, get the boat moving again once the fish is landed etc) We have been rewarded for our teamwork by many meals of sushimi and sushi. Often, we get the wasabi out straight away for the freshest ever!
We also caught 2 skip jack tunas between Kandavu and Suva!
We arrived at Suva on a Saturday night and safely navigated our way past unlit wrecks, reefs and markers thanks to a friend’s waypoints. We had to sit on the boat all day Sunday and Monday waiting for the officials to check us in, finally, on Monday afternoon. We were a little bit (ok a lot) miserable due to a run of tropical skin infections that plagued us one by one. Just to prove that cruising isn’t all about palm trees, sunsets and drinks on the deck, sorry, but I am going to tell you all about it…..
Jaiya had a series of 3 small, painful boils and then poor Kai developed a three headed monster on his butt (yes I know- too much information but I did spare you photographic evidence) Russ and I both had infected coral cuts on our feet and I also sprouted a boil on my shoulder. Yuk! I wouldn’t wish one of these gross infections on my worst enemy. I felt lethargic, my foot and shoulder throbbed and we had not set foot off the boat for 5 days by the time we cleared in. Russ, Kai and I all ended up on a course of antibiotics (cephalexin) but even then, weeks later, Russ dealt with another boil on his knee and yet another swelled up his calf. Kai developed a mini but nasty little marble-sized pimple (read-boil) on his forehead and Jaiya, another on her arm. In those 5 days, I just wanted to disinfect the entire boat but that was tricky because we had minimal water (Suva is a big, industrial harbour and not somewhere we would want to make water) Dr Google told me to wash all the sheets and towels which was a bit of a joke to someone on a yacht with near-empty tanks. I pulled out a big pump pack of hand sanitiser, we smothered antibiotic cream on our sores and waited, grumpily, for the antibiotics to kick in….Not one of our favourite weeks! Bacterial skin infections (usually staphlococcus) are apparently common in the tropics but this is the first time on this trip we have encountered them- boo!
Above and below; Suva harbour is full of rusty supply boats, ships, tugs and ferries. Some of them are afloat and many of these are rafted together to form bulky, looming vessel-islands. The sunken wrecks dot the harbour and at least one has been merged with the breakwater that surrounds the dilapidated Royal Suva Yacht Club.
Suva itself is the big smoke, with more than one multi level, air conditioned shopping center and even a Gloria Jeans Cafe. The cities on the two main islands of Fiji (Viti Levu and Vanua Levu) have a large population of people of Indian descent (44%), and walking through towns like Latouka and Suva are like visiting mini, tropical-Pacific versions of Calcutta. Colourful stores trading incense, spices, sparkling saris and gaudy Ganesh statues squat in between curry stalls and electronic shops with booming bollywood beats. It is a gritty, high energy city with throngs of people and third-world edges. I like it. I could people-watch on the street for hours. The flavours of Indian and Fijian cultures are also melded with sprinkles of Chinese and a smattering of tanned, sun bleach-blonde, European ex-pat residents.
Indian, indentured labourers known as girmitiyas where brought to Fiji by the British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work in the sugar cane plantations. The labour scheme was abolished between 1916 and 1920 and the freed workers began to trade, thrive and create an Indo-Fijian identity. Today they own a majority of the businesses and hold many of the professional and government positions in Fijian society. Although the Indian and Fijian cultures seem to mix comfortably in public places, you get the feeling that the integration doesn’t go much further. Fiji’s culture of political coups have been motivated by leaders either wishing to establish reduced political rights for Indo-Fijians, or to establish equal rights for Indo-Fijians.
Outside of the two main islands, the Indian vibes disappear and we meet only Fijians (plus tourists and rich, white resort owners). One Fijian islander told us that another (big) coup is coming to Fiji. “When this coup happens” he told me “you will remember me and you will know that I was right….a big coup is coming because this is our land” I nodded and emphasised but at the same time I was remembering a conversation with an Indian taxi driver whose ancestors where forcefully located here to work the plantations. Although he had heard many stories about his descendant’s homeland and the Indian culture is alive and well in his community, he was born in Fiji as were his parents. He had never even been to India.
We picked up some necessities, saw a doctor to top up our antibiotic supply and it was time to get out of Suva! We sailed the 50-ish miles to Kedavu (pronounce Kendavu), an island group that sits in the south (19 degrees), away from the bustling cities of Viti Levu and the well trodden super-highway of resort-holiday tourists flowing to the islands off it’s west coast.
We found a peaceful anchorage off Namara Island and immersed ourselves back into life in the outlying islands. We loved being back in clean, clear water, diving off Tika’s bows, running on the beach and breathing in the salty air and quiet surrounds! We all felt oh so much better to be back out there and we were able to catch up with laundry, school, sleep and nutritious, home cooked meals.
Kedavu has some world class diving and snorkeling locations. We started at Naiqoro passage, a pass through the Great Astrolobe Reef that arcs around the east side of the island group. One of the largest and healthiest barrier reefs in the world, the Great Astrolobe is a diving, free diving and snorkelling mecca. And we jagged a perfect, calm, sunny day…..
We slipped into the water right on slack tide so that when the current started to flow it would be sucking us into the lagoon. Drift diving passes is so cool but I can’t imagine ‘superman-ing’ along with the current would be quite as much fun if it was sucking you out into the open ocean The current can be strong through here but our timing was perfect and we ghosted along in a whisper of a current and took in the underwater spectacle! The walls of the steep sided passage were stunning; brimming with pelagic and reef fish, a number of cruising reef sharks and vibrant coral.
Above left; brain or honeycomb coral. The perfect little fruit loop craters jigsaw together looking to me like the surface of a strange and alien planet.
Above middle; a glossy, orange pencil urchin tucked into a little crevice in the wall.
Below left; Kedavu with its fringing Great Astrolobe Reef.
Above; loving the pinks in the stony coral here!
Below left; a carpet of tiny, flower-like animals that my new, reef creature identification book tells me it is a colony of Zoantharia (similar to, but not quite, a sea anemone)
Hopefully these pictures give you some idea of the biodiversity of the reef and it’s creatures! Sponges, anamones, urchins, soft corals, stony corals, sea fans…the near vertical walls gave way to a backdrop of aquamarine water swarming with tropical fish.
The texture and colour of coral is quite intoxicating when you get into it!
As is custom in all Fijian islands, a visitor must visit the local village and perform ‘sevu-sevu’ (an offering of kava) to the chief. In exchange you are welcome to roam freely around the village, the island and the surrounding waters. a fair exchange!
Below left; the kava is pricey (about $80 Au a kilo) but it comes in neatly packaged ‘swizzle sticks’ from the markets.
Below left; kava drying out in the village of Nabouwalu… we felt a little bit silly as we offered our humble bundle to a village that grows their own Kava in abundance.
Below right; we were gifted a pumpkin by the chief’s grandson.
We were invited to the Sunday church service by the chief at Nabouwalu (below middle) The large church was very central to the village community and the singing was loud and earnest…
Below left; the children arriving back to the village for the weekend. On a Sunday afternoon, the kids (6 years and up) leave to commute to school where they live and study until Friday afternoon when they return. The quiet village got noisier once the school boats arrived.
Above right; the Naiquoro Passage through the reef- a wonderful drift dive!
Above right; off to meet yet another chief with our kava offering in hand…
Above middle; we met Isaac, a dive master in the village and he introduced us to his grandson, Neville; here with Jaiya (Tika Taka’s in the background and Tika’s beyond that)
Above right; this guy emerged from the water at the beautiful beach-front village on Buliya Island; a successful afternoon spearing in the channel.
Below middle; Isaac and Neville took us free diving/snorkelling at Split Rock where we saw some of the best coral, drop offs and tunnels we have seen since the Tuamotus…
Split Rock dive site…
below middle; that’s Jaiya down there! she is proving to be an amazing free-diver…
Below left; the anemone fish have so much character I can see why they made the Nemo movie!
Below; Straight after Naiqoro Passage we checked out an area reputed to be frequented by manta rays- and we weren’t disappointed…
Below right; Jaiya again ascending from a steep drop off…
Below left; the coral gardens at Split Rock
We had heard about Kokomo; the brand new, opulent, 6 star resort on Yaukur Levu Island and decided to treat ourselves to some opulence in the form of a 7 course degustation dinner…
Above; Just as we were approaching the resort, we were delighted to watch a seaplane flying very low straight over our mast. We were busy enjoying the close encounter and snapping photos when a rib from the resort zoomed out to ask us to move so their seaplane could land! oops! they had been circling and flying low because they were attempting to land and we were ignorantly sailing into the patch of sea that was, in fact, their runway….
The resort is very stylish and the food sensational…luckily it was still beachy-casual as our footwear options were thongs or hiking boots!
Below; After hanging out on Ono and the surrounding, northern Kedavu islands, it was time to head up to West Fiji to catch up with some friends. Just after we went through the eastern pass of the lagoon we got a hit on the line and pulled in a mahi mahi- more sushimi!
Next Post; we get 7 kid boats and 22 children together for a 5 day catch up in Navadra (the Mamamouca islands)