Saturday, August 31, 2013

road trip to Suva

We got to Vuda Point on Monday, August 26 and immediately began decommissioning Southern Cross in preparation for storage on the hard. But I'll leave that for the next post. We decided to break up the decommissioning process with a road trip to Suva, Fiji's largest city. Its a 4-5 hour bus trip from Nadi, so we had booked a very economical room at the "South Seas Private Hotel." When we got there, the women behind the counter seemed surprised to hear we had a reservation, but eventually they led us to a sunny and clean, if somewhat threadbare room, the only one in the whole place with an ensuite bathroom. We enjoyed our stay in this hotel, and the location was very convenient to the attractions we were interested in seeing. First on our list was the Fiji Museum, only a few blocks away. It boasts a great collection of traditional sailing canoes, and a piece of the rudder from HMS Bounty, among other treasures. We spent a few hours here. From here, we walked along Victoria Parade towards downtown, passing Southern Cross Road. Farther along, we passed several Chinese fishing vessels, and wondered if these were some of the dreaded longliners who are currently decimating the world's oceans. Even in downtown Suva, the trees were covered with epiphytes. We had a delicious lunch at the Maya Dhaba restaurant, possibly the best Indian food we had tasted in Fiji. Afterwards, we made our way to the public market, the largest and most interesting market in Fiji. We made several trips back here during our stay. We had dinner at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, where we had hoped to rendezvous with our friends Ed and Fran on Aka, who had recently made passage from New Zealand. But we were unable to raise them on the club's VHF radio.

Our last stop in Suva was at the University of the South Pacific campus. I had applied for a job here a long time ago, and was curious to see what it looked like. It turned out to be a vibrant, beautiful campus. We met students from all over Oceania, and at a crafts fair, we even met a couple of women from Caribbean islands. We enjoyed our time in Suva, and will probably visit again next season.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Koroyanitu National Park

We still had a couple more days before checking in to Vuda Point marina, so we planned to head out to Musket Cove in the Mamanucas to get a taste of the cruising possibilities on this side of Fiji. But on the morning net, we heard our friends Mark and Anne on Blue Rodeo say that they were anchored in Saweni Bay, only a few miles from Lautoka. We hadn't seen them all year, so we decided to make a short detour to greet them and have a chat. When we got to Saweni, we put the hook down, and before we knew it, Anne and Mark had invited us to dinner and to join them on a hike the following day. We haven't really spent much time with other cruisers this season, so we welcomed the opportunity.

Saweni Bay turned out to be a popular spot for Lautoka residents to swim and beachwalk. We took the dinghy to shore to check it out. Once we had walked the beach, we headed inland. We were immediately in sugar cane country. There was a narrow gauge railway, and all along the line, tiny flatbed cars were being loaded up with cane. This is still by some accounts the largest industry in Fiji, and is conducted almost exclusively by Indo-Fijians like this man. After a while, a minuscule locomotive came by, presumably to gather up the flatcars and take the harvested cane to the sugar mill in Lautoka. Scattered among the canefields were small homesteads like this one, each with a well-tended garden. The next morning we joined the crews of Blue Rodeo and Evergreen (not the one that we crewed on 2 years ago) for a truck ride to the mountain village of Abaca, headquarters for a community ecotourism project called Koroyanitu National Park. The village earns income from park fees and from providing a guide service and lodging. This gives them incentive to protect the natural resources rather than cutting down the trees. This park holds one of the last patches of montane cloud forest in Fiji, and provides important habitat for endemic birds and other threatened plant and animal species. We paid our park entry fees and opted to do the hardest hike, to the top of nearby Mt. Batilamu, one of the highest peaks in Fiji. Jon and Heather from Evergreen are keen hikers, and they didn't want to take a guide along because it might slow us down. Vicki and I realized we were out of our league and probably wouldn't be able to keep up with this crew! It's hard to stay in shape on the boat, and we will have our work cut out for us getting back in shape when we get home.

The trail started off through grasslands, and at one point we got off-route by following what must have been a cattle trail. Luckily we found the route again and climbed steeply up into the cloud forest. There were some beautiful Fijian kauri trees, and some beautiful birdsong. The cloud forest lived up to its name today, and when we got to the New Zealand hut at the top of the mountain, there were only intermittent views of the landscape below. Here is a view back toward Saweni Bay, where our boats are anchored. Because we didn't have a guide, we didn't realize that the trail continued on another half a kilometer to a magnificent overlook! I'm determined to come back here next year, hopefully on a sunnier day.

When we got back down to the village, we did a sevusevu and shared a basin of grog with the villagers. They were very friendly, as usual, and made us feel very welcome.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Over the top (of Viti Levu)

We might have stayed longer at Makongai to snorkel among the giant clams, but we awoke to rain showers, so decided to push on. It was an easy sail to Naigani, where we anchored in "Picnic Cove" on the northeastern side of the island. We dinghied around to the other side of the island to visit the Naigani Island resort. We thought about doing a dive or an excursion to Ovalau from here, but the weather remained rather stinky, so the next morning we sailed on again, this time reaching Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji. As we sailed north along the coast, we arrived at the rain shadow which makes the northern and western coasts so inviting to tourists. Not only did it get sunnier, but smoother as well, as we passed into the protection of an extensive barrier reef. Glad there are a few channel markers along the way to keep us out of trouble. Most of them are just old iron rails like the one pictured here. Floating nav aids would be destroyed by cyclones on a regular basis. Our next stop was the difficult to pronounce island of Nananu-i-ra. There are several small resorts here, and the diving is reputedly quite good, so we expected to see some other yachts here. But we had the place to ourselves the first night. The next day, a charter boat came into the bay, and one of the crew soon dinghied over to say hi. Peter asked us if we wanted any fresh fish, and proceeded to fillet out an entire mahi mahi for us! He wouldn't take anything for it, either; he just wanted a break from the boat and to have some conversation. Another example of the friendly welcome that has been extended to us wherever we go in this beautiful country. Before leaving, we went ashore for a hike. We met a number of friendly locals, climbed a very gnarly tree, and saw some very nice vacation homes, mostly owned by Australians. On our way back to the boat, we were invited in for tea by Jane and Charles. They divide their time between London, St. Martin in the Caribbean, and their recently acquired home here. That's a lot of travel! They also keep a sailboat in the Caribbean, and two more here! That's at least two boats too many, in my book. The next morning we set out along the northern coast of Viti Levu. There was very little wind, as you can see from this picture. The smoke in the background is from a canefield being burned after harvest. From here west, we are in the land of sugar cane. Following a recommendation from Jane, we stopped for the evening in the lee of a small motu. The water was like glass, perfectly reflecting the sunset. The next day brought rain, but no wind, so we motored most of the way to Lautoka. Along the way, a tiny bird came aboard for a rest. It clung to the shrouds for awhile, then found a more comfortable perch on a ratline. It wasn't bothered when I came near to furl the sail. We tentatively identified it as a female red avadavat, yet another introduced species. As it finally flitted off toward Viti Levu, I marveled at how such a small bird could find its way so far from land, and back again. How, and why...? Our next visit was from a colorful local fishing boat. We often get asked for cigarettes, lures, hooks, or other small items, but these guys only wanted to get close enough to snap our picture with their cell phone! Turned the tables on us tourists! As we approached Lautoka, one of Fiji's largest cities, we decided to anchor across the channel from town, where we had a nice view of a 3-masted schooner and several other fine yachts anchored along the town front. We dinghied across the channel and walked into town. Way more busy and crowded than Savusavu! It was a bit of a shock after 6 weeks in the outer islands. We had a nice Indian thali lunch before heading back to the boat.

Monday, August 19, 2013


We were lucky to have good weather during our 3 days at Namena, but it was time to move on. Our next stop was Makongai, a small island with a terrific anchorage and a sad history. It had served as a leper colony for several decades, until the cure for Hansen's disease made it obsolete. Though the leper colony ruins and the government fisheries office are here, you still need to do sevusevu as if it were a traditional village. We presented our bundle of waka to one of the fisheries biologists, as the chief was off-island. One of the local schoolteachers, Emily, offered to show us around. You can still see several old buildings and a number of ruins here, including a jail. As our guide Emily put it: "some of the leprosy victims were very naughty!" Most moving to me was the overgrown graveyard, filled with not only Pacific Islanders but a number of Europeans who suffered from this rather ghastly disease. Nowadays Makongai is more important as a center of aquaculture and reef restoration. There are tanks full of giant clams at all stages of development, and a few sea turtles and other threatened species. These blue and green clams are only about a year or two old. We saw a number of larger clams underwater in the bay, some nearly a meter in diameter. There was no Internet or phone reception here, so to conduct some necessary business we had to scale a nearby hill. We were able to communicate via the cell towers on Wakaya and Ovalau, the latter of which is visible across the channel. Several other boats came in behind us. We enjoyed a picnic and happy hour with Eric and Marie, who have lived aboard their custom cold-molded cutter "Pollen" for nearly 20 years. After raising their son on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, they decided it was time to explore further.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


After our day in "Paradise" we were ready for more adventure. Winds were favorable, so we decided to make a 45-mile passage across the Koro Sea to the marine reserve at Namena. This offshore reef system has some of the best soft coral and most diverse fish life in all of Fiji. We called ahead to make sure that the single mooring ball was available, and asked if they would take us diving. Although the small resort here does not normally accommodate non-guests, it has recently come under new management, and they agreed to take us diving, since none of this week's guests were divers. This was lucky for us, as sea conditions were too rough for us to dive from our dinghy. We dove the same two dives two days in a row: "Grand Canyon" and "Chimneys." After seeing this arch, I thought they should have renamed this dive "Canyonlands" or "Arches." The soft corals here were even better than what we had seen at the Rainbow Reef last week. Fish life was abundant and very diverse. We noted at least a dozen species that we had never seen before, including walu (Spanish mackerel). One of the highlights for which I have no picture was taking my regulator out and positioning my open mouth in front of a cleaning station. Several cleaner shrimp stepped gingerly onto my lower lip and went to work like dental hygienists! Couldn't hold my breath long enough for the full treatment, so I guess I'll have to schedule another appointment. We took a short walk on the end of the island after our dives were finished. There were some amazing trees here.