Bula Vinaka Fiji!!
Fiji was a fantastic re-entry to the cruising scene. We easily checked out of New Zealand at Opua and left just before noon on May 17th 2018. Quite a few other boats were leaving the same day and some had already left the day before. We missed the optimal weather window as we were still waiting for a package to arrive. No worries! Instead we were able to have our last dinner in New Zealand with Cindy and David on Full Circle and Megan, Andy, and Brendan our cruising friends since French Polynesia.
We shot out of the Bay of Islands at a lightning speed of 7 – 8 knots and had consistent winds for the first three days.
When the wind farted out on us and we puttered along at 3 knots. When there was zero wind or when the wind was inconsistent we turned on the engine… The engine. So mechanical and loud. Stationed right next to our cabin. It’s directly beside my head when I’m sleeping…unsuccessfully. I reach for my earplugs and the thunder is slightly subdued. You don’t realize how loud the engine actually is until you turn it off…the seconds following is utter bliss. Your throbbing headache dissipates and you feel normal again.
We were slowly stripping off layers of clothing the further north we went. It was a nice slow acclimatization.
OH SNAP! Our brand new heavy duty American auto pilot crapped out on us. Arbutus is no match for any auto pilot. A sheer pin broke during the night so I hand steered while MacGyver dismantled and fixed the pilot (we had spare sheer pins). This breaking of the sheer pin was quite discouraging because we thought we finally found an autopilot that can handle Arbutus. What was even more discouraging was the same thing happened two nights after…with a twist.
During Paul’s evening shift with no wind and just the main sail hoisted we were under engine when another sheer pin broke. Paul realized this 2 HOURS after it broke. Whaaaaaat you question. How can this be? How didn’t he realize the pilot was broken. It was painfully obvious were are off course. During our watches we are awake or wake up every 20-30 mins to check our surroundings and our course. Obviously this did not happen with Paul. So after an extended nap-o ,Paul-o, the captain wakes up to find Arbutus making circles!!! He wakes me up to hand steer while he fixes the auto-pilot again.
I looked at our track on Open CPN and Arbutus LITERALLY made 11 complete circles!!! WTF. So just a note to other cruisers if you see Arbutus on your AIS between the hours of 01:00 – 07:00 (Paul’s normal shift) STAY ALERT!!! Because both of us are probably sleeping…
We had two head sails polled out and full main as we were inching our way towards Minerva Reef. We could see two masts already in the atoll and another boat on our port side under engine headed towards the pass. We were fine going at our leisurely pace and dropped the sails as we approached the pass. She was nice and wide and deep. My mouth was salivating, as I was anticipating a cray fish (lobster) dinner that evening.
We spent 4 days at Minerva reef and I’m still waiting from my cray fish dinner…
Onward to Fiji! The Indian roti is calling my name!!!
We had good consistent wind the entire 3 days to get to Savusavu, Fiji. We arrived on Thursday around noon before the weekend and overtime fees thank god. I called Harbour control and didn’t get a response. I then called Shelter Bay Marina and still no response. Maybe we were too far out for anyone to hear. I called Waitui marina as we got closer…and still no answer. Finally after radioing Waitui and Shelter Bay we got an answer from Shelter Bay Marina and we hooked on to one of their moorings.
Checking in was a bit unorganized because Shelter Bay didn’t have a boat to bring the officials out to Arbutus. So the marina told us to drop our dinghy and wait for further instructions. 3 hours later Paul picked up 4 officials, all women, to complete the clearing-in procedures. The whole time it seemed like they were talking about how their transportation from land to the boats on moorings. In the end they told us we should have went to Waitui Marina because they have a transportation boat. Yes this wouldn’t have been a problem if someone could have informed us before. Anyways, the women were courteous and friendly and even let me keep my honey and eggs as long as they were consumed on the boat.
Paul then took the women to s/v Amazing Grace to do their clearing-in. One negative about clearing in at Savusavu was that it was very difficult to pay our fees because none of the three offices were ever open or the one person who collects money wasn’t working that day??!?! We had a lovely 3 days in Savusavu everything we needed was on the main road and I scored big time at the Saturday market.
After filling up on fresh veg, fruit, and Indian food we left Savusavu and anchored in front of Cousteau Resort where we snorkelled for a few days.
Next stop Koro island due south. Wait, wasn’t that where we came from? The easterly winds were preventing us from making our way to Viani Bay. So we used the wind to take us south to visit Koro island. We were lucky enough to get the only mooring in the bay. Before hurricane Winston there were five or so moorings. After speaking to the resort staff they informed us they were waiting for government approval and/or funding to put in some more moorings and repair the dock.
We only stayed two nights in Koro before heading to Viani Bay. We spent a few days exploring the new area before Paul started 10 days of work for Derceto. The bay was full of coral heads, and because we were staying for 2 weeks Paul installed our own solid mooring with some rope, plastic tubing, a fender, and one large coral head.
We met the kind family on the small island, visited the village, the school, Marina and Jone and their dive centre. While Paul was working I kept myself busy pickling the vegetables I procured in Savusavu, making yogurt, kombucha, ginger ale, kimchi, hand stitching a skirt and headbands, and exercising. At night just before sunset, on deck I would do 500 jumping jacks then jump in the water to cool off and swim.
We even had a fresh water source which the family showed us and said we were welcome to use. So I had water to wash our clothing but we still ran the water maker for our luxurious showers onboard.
A lovely potluck with other cruisers was shared at the dive centre and a Lovo dinner (food cooked underground) organized by Marina and Jone. It was our also our first time trying kava, the swamp like beverage that’s supposed to calm and numb your mouth/lips. The taste was…how do I say…pinch my nose to get it down torment.
Matei, Taveuni island
A short hop across the Somosomo strait brought us to Matei on Taveuni island. We wanted to see the three waterfalls but there was only 3 buses per day going towards the falls. Not knowing the bus schedule and being impatient we tried hitchhiking. There were not a lot of cars passing by and we were discouraged when the few that passed didn’t stop. We eventually got picked up by an empty school bus. He ended up taking us to the entrance of the park but then were embarrassed to see when he dropped us off he went back they way we came from. We thought he would continue down the road but looks like he made a special stop for us. So nice. I remember the entrance fee was expensive. We saw all three waterfalls and swam in the last one with fresh water shrimp! Everything was so green and lush. Taveuni, the “Garden Island” is a very appropriate name.
Namata Bay, Quamea island.
Not the nicest bay for swimming but we received the warmest welcome from the Winston family living in the bay. They came to us and offered us fresh papaya, beautiful eggplant, and chillies. I was so grateful because our fresh food stock was running low. As a thank you I made cookies and brought them when we went on land. We also brought our offering of Kava. The view from their property was calming with beautiful colours of vivid greens, reds, and oranges and the blue of the water. We sat down and had a chat over lemon tea and fried bread fruit. So generous!!
We were gobsmacked when Thomas showed us their cruiser’s guest book. It was started by Thomas’s brother years ago (can’t remember the first year). We thought it would be the regular guest book where you wrote your name, date, boat’s name, and short comment. BUT NO WAY. SO BORING! This book was incredibly artistic. A full page was taken for elaborate pencil crayon drawings of a globe and a sailboat. Many cruisers used paint, markers, ink, and their boat stamp to create their drawing.
We simply couldn’t sign our names as the first boat in the Namata Bay of 2018. Nein! So we took the guest book onboard overnight and dusted off my acrylic paints and honed in on our artistic side to do the best damn job we could. We felt a lot of pressure after seeing everyone else’s entry. I think we did a decent job.
We returned the book when we joined the Sunday service at the small church. Yet again they were kind enough to invite us for a delicious lunch. It was maybe the best meal we had in Fiji. Everything was home made from local ingredients and you could taste the effort and love they put into the food.
We spent three nights in Namata Bay and a big blow came through. It was forecasted so we were prepared. There were a bunch of coral heads in the bay and we could hear the anchor chain wrapping around the coral. Paul decided to try a technique we haven’t used before of attaching a floating device, our fenders, to parts of the chain to lift it off the sea bed and above the coral heads. Probably a good idea in light wind conditions…maybe. BUT we had 30 knots of gusts and the next morning 2 of our 3 fenders were gone. Each gust of wind moved us around so much that the rope attaching the fender to the anchor chain was chaffing on the coral and cut through completely. We just polluted the ocean with more plastic but hope someone found them and put them to use. Lesson learned.
Paul ordered some new parts to upgrade his work computer and some spare parts for the autopilot which were to be delivered to Savusavu. We left early morning and made it to the anchorage in front of Cousteau resort before sunset. The wind was strong 25 knots. We even caught two mahi-mahi one after the other on the way
Genevieve, the lovely lady at Waitui Marina had our DHL package waiting for us. We only spent one night in Savusavu before heading west towards the Yasawa islands.
We anchored overnight at Nabouwalu. Not very nice as it was a harbour for the large ferries.
Next pit stop was Yadua island, not Yadua Tabu were you need prior permission to approach. Rare species of iguana.
Yasawa-i-Rara, Northern Yasawa Islands
What a trip! Or should I say wave? What a wave…that knocked Paul down from his standing position. All good we were both in our secure deep cockpit. But this huge wave came out of nowhere…we weren’t expecting it. The strong easterly winds shot us over the cape and into the protected anchorage at Yasawa-i-Rara.
Wow wow nice! What a picture perfect postcard beach! The water was pristine and the white sand was oh so soft. Oh the Pacific islands how you impress!
We brought our kava offering when we went ashore and coincidentally the first person we met said he was the brother of the chief and would accept the kava on his brother’s behalf. He took the kava, raised it to chest level, said a few words in Fijian, and clapped his hands once. We had permission to anchor in their bay. Disappointingly, we have yet to participate in a traditional kava ceremony where the kava root is pounded into a powder, powder placed into a kava strainer (looks like a cloth sock, also can be used to press coconut milk), sock placed in water, in a carved wooden kava bowl, and said sock is gently swirled around in the water. The result an unappetizing murky swamp like liquid….that tastes like fermented gym socks and is supposed to have sedative properties. This ceremony takes some time and preparation like waiting for your triple shot, decaf, soy, extra hot, no foam, no sugar, no flavour late at Staubucks. One must also dress appropriately. So understandably the village can’t preform this ceremony EVERY time a cruiser arrives! Madness.
Slightly shocking was the man’s next question. “What else do you have to give us?”….errrmmm….well….FISH!! We still had some Mahi mani in the fridge. “Ok great”…..awkward silence. “OH! Should I get it now”, asks Paul. “Yes. We will wait for you.” While we were waiting for Paul the man asks if I have any eyeglasses. “I might have a pair I don’t use anymore on the boat”, I reply. He then points to the glasses on my face….”No I like these glasses”. “No no…I laugh I need them to see.” I was the only one laughing. This was quite the opposite welcoming we had on Quamea island.
But things turned around from there. We were invited to church (how do we always arrive in a new place on a Sunday) and lunch where we met Max and Sarah. At church, during the service, the were introduced to everyone and they even gave a short part of the service in English so we could understand. We felt very honoured and included. Like insiders looking from the inside.
Paul had another 5 day work session so we stayed in the bay, anchoring slightly closer to the phone tower to get a better 3G/4G connection. At the end of the week we visited Max and Sarah and brought them some wahoo, Paul speared just outside the bay, and cookies baked by yours truly. Thank god we ran into Max’s cousin on the beach who gave us detailed instructions to reach their house, otherwise we would have gone the opposite direction.
Their temporary house was very light and peggy. They lived in a (very large) tent! They showed us around their property, the start of construction for their house, toilet and shower and plans for their garden We sat down to a fresh coconut drink at their dinning table and were treated to a world class view of their bay.
With no refrigeration we invited them and their two dogs to our home for lunch where I cooked up the wahoo. We spent a wonderful day with our new family as Max put it
We worked our way south stopping in Blue Lagoon where Paul randomly speared another wahoo. This one was pretty large and we didn’t have a lot of room in the fridge. So we traded it with the resort for a buffet dinner for the two of us! The food wasn’t amazing but good. Example for dessert, a custard with a small piece of parsley for garnish??!? on dessert?!?! I didn’t think it could possibly be parsley…until I put it in my mouth. There was also something red, which I thought was a cherry from a jar, but I think it was a tomato. Yes it was the dessert. However, there was beef for the main course. I had seconds. It was also nice to chat with travelling Germans who were not cruisers. The anchorage was exposed but there was little wind so we anchored there for two nights. We approached using Google satellite!
Paul scoped out another anchorage using google satellite overlays on top of our Open CPN charts. Somosomo bay…if I remember the name correctly. Again because there wasn’t any wind we decided to go there and anchor in 10 metres. Wowza we were the only boat and the snorkelling was incredible.
Next we anchored in front of Manta Ray island resort in 12 metres and hunted out some manta rays. We didn’t see any on our first time out but the next morning when the tourist boats went out (a good indication that there were mantas in the pass) we shot out into the the pass as well. OH MY MANTA Atlanta! I swam into a tourist!! Literally swam into a person while all of my attention was on these magnificent creatures with hover like mouths. I swear one was coming right at me. Such a cool experience.
We are climbers. Ehhh hmm we were rock climbers now our gear is taking up precious storage space. But when we anchored in front of Octopus resort on Waya island and saw a mountainous peak we proclaimed…yee, I must climb you…rather hike you. Putain, nature activities in Fiji are expensive. We are used to them being free in Canada, NZ, and France…so we were bummed out when we had to pay a guide to take us to the top. No worries! We had a grand time hiking and sweating profusely with our guide, sorry I forgot his name. And yes! We were glad we had our nameless guide. I smiled when he said we were strong (fast) and in good shape…but he was probably comparing us to all of the retired Australians at the resort. Super awesome view from the top where we didn’t see Arbutus anchored in the bay because we were anchored too close in. Bad angle.
Vanua Levu island - no not the big one – uninhabited island – protection from SW winds. Anchored two nights. Had internet reception! Took some long exposure photography shots! Paul dove in the pass. I collected shell. Yes one shell.
Lautoka = cool as food market. Prices are marked and you don’t have to negotiate. Amazing bok choy, pineapples, eggplant, tomatoes, and fresh turmeric. Super cheap. Bought too much to carry. Why buy one pumpkin when you can buy three!! Lucky my sherpa was there to carry the heavy items. Thanks captain! Not so cool was the black ass…I meant to type ash…falling from the sky and landing on Arbutus The sugar cane factory was the culprit. All good. It was a small price to pay for the western like mini mall with air conditioning and Gloria Jeans coffee shop.
Bye bye Lautoka. Hello Malolo area. Upon getting a visual of Musket Cove anchorage we saw sooooo many masts. Tooo many masts. Too many people…let’s anchor in front of Likuliku resort and anchor in front of the over water bungalows where the tourists paid big bucks to enjoy…a view of Arbutus and us eating free (caught by Paul) cray fish lobster in the cockpit,as the sun sinks behind our home. I’m sure we made their pictures even nicer.
Why are there so many resorts in Fiji and why are they all erected in good anchorages? Come again Paul? What did you say? There isn’t much wind in the forecast so we can anchor at the edge of Malolo barrier reef. Saweeeeeet. On y va! Let’s go!
Now this is what I call the perfect anchorage. Anchored in 12 metres, the sound of waves crashing on the reef, but the waves don’t go over the reef so the water is flat around you. The water is so clear you can see the shadow of your boat on the sand bottom and because you’re the only boat you are free from the restraints of wearing garments. We was naked. Oh and the snorkelling was on point and there were lobster sweet sweet lobster.
Perfection can’t last forever right? The winds were picking up and the anchorage was going to get hairy. We were also on a schedule. Must be in New Caledonia to meet family, Paul’s brother and his wife, newlyweds who decided to take their honeymoon on Arbutus with us in New Caledonia. What were they thinking?!?!
Must go back to black ash, not ass, Lautoka to clear out of Fiji. No I wanted to stay longer in this English speaking country, and we still hadn’t met up with any of our cruising buddies from French Poly. Paul wanted to suss out Noumea and area, to find a coffee shop or anchorage with strong 3G to work for 5 days before his bro came. He reminded me they have French cheese, wine, and REAL butter. I was sold.
Easy as clearing out at Lautoka. Dinghy-ed to customs/immigration and filled out some forms. The official did ask us what time we would be leaving and I said right after we buy some bread. She wanted us to buy bread first then check out…but that was annoying. So she kindly gave us until noon to depart. We got to the office at 9 am.
We bought some bread and some veg for the passage towards French cheese and after sailing away from Lautoka we turned off our AIS just incase as we anchored for the night in front of that tiny island where all the cool surfers stay. We have a boogie board. Enough said. So we stayed onboard with the boogie board between our legs and made some meals that could easily be reheated for the passage.
So long Fiji. We have so many places yet to explore of you. Until we meet again! Vinaka vaka levu!