We arrived at the island of Drawaqa as we wanted to swim with the manta rays that inhabit the channel between the two islands. There are two resorts here – one is a flash and expensive and the other less so. Both are very welcoming to cruisers which we really appreciate as it gives us an opportunity to act like real tourists! We spent a few memorable nights here with Rosie Skye & Genesis playing Mexican Train Dominoes, eating pizzas, drinking cocktails, and watching sunsets hoping to see a green flash. One night we think we saw one but….. nothing like the ones we saw in the Caribbean.
The snorkelling was great with a plethora of fish and recovering corals, a nice change from the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Twice we went to see the manta rays and both times they were hiding from us so we were glad we saw them up close in French Polynesia. The weather was perfect – not too hot or muggy and our days were spent in the warm water enjoying the R & R.
The next island we visited had a resort on it called The Blue Lagoon – yes the movie “The Blue Lagoon” was made here and it had a lovely resort which had a cruisers bar and a shop. We spent a few days here beach walking and enjoying the facilities of the resort. We went to a couple of shows here some Fijian dancing. So much energy and colour…. lovely evenings spent with friends in a gorgeous setting.
One morning we decided to hike across to the other side of the island to the famous ‘Lo’s tea shop’. Lo has been making doughnuts and chocolate cake with lemon tea for visitors for years and has become a bit of a ‘must do’ for cruisers so we set off one morning to find her. On the way we passed ‘Grandmas’ house where Grandma lives and makes shell jewellery for us. We bought some necklaces and bracelets but I stopped short of buying the most gorgeous shell – regret that now!
On our walk we were joined by a few well looked after and beautifully behaved dogs. I expect they accompany all cruisers who hike over – guiding us along the way!
We arrived at Lo’s house and were treated to the famous freshly made doughnuts and chocolate cake. She is kept busy during these months as there are many cruisers heading to Australia and New Zealand to haul out for the upcoming cyclone season.
On our way back we walked along the beach and cut through the village where the dancers lived -the young people are staying now as they get employment in the resort which is keeping these isolated villages alive – a win-win for all.
After a wonderful few days the trio of boats headed north to the next island which had caves to climb through. We didn’t actually go into them as they needed a pre-booked guide and we only had one day there so we just dinghied round the inlets. The coastline here was slightly different and made of limestone (hence the caves) giving the shoreline a craggy rocky look which was just as beautiful as the long white sand beaches. The two villages here hug the shoreline but other than that there was no sign of modernity and I’m sure it looked exactly the same 100 years ago. Even the islands with the resorts are sympathetically built and don’t detract from Fiji’s natural beauty. Very different from the coastline in mainland Spain and Mexico where you just see hundreds of high-rise hotels lining the beach.
The next island is the furthest north island in the Yasawa Group and has a village at the north end of bay which we wanted to visit. As we had headed north we had noticed that here were fewer and fewer boats the further north we went, by the time we arrived at the village of Yasawirara we were totally alone. We have spent the last 7 years anchoring in various anchorages throughout the world but this one was truly spectacular. It was very big, calm, super clean, stunning beach and a friendly village. It’s hard to describe how we felt staying here but we all agreed it was probably our favourite anchorage ever.
We jumped into the dinghies and headed off to do sevu sevu with the village chief. We were greeted on the beach and taken to Nelson the one-legged chief and a few other important villagers. We all sat around under the palm trees to give Nelson our Kava roots while they clapped and welcomed us to the village and invited us to wander through the village to meet everyone.
We walked around the beach and met some of the villagers. They all invited us over to talk to them and visit their homes. One man asked us if we had done Sevu Sevu and we said we had to which he replied – Nelson isn’t the chief – my brother is and Nelson shouldn’t be taking the Kava…. We were very apologetic as we thought we had offended him. His brother was away so he said it was ok but we felt we had stepped into some village politics that were probably an on-going thing.
We found the other side of the island, the village school and a few of their gardens – not cultivated gardens as such but fruit a-plenty growing wild – mangoes, paw paws, bananas, breadfruit, coconuts, chillies, etc. Life in these islands is very easy with no time-keeping or strenuous work, just a few chief politics!
We had arranged with Nelson a fishing trip the next morning with one of the villagers. We had not had much luck fishing over the past few months and we were desperate to hook a big one. At 7am the next morning we all went out on Rosie Skye – and motored around the reef with 4 rods and a handline out. We got three catches but only Ian managed to land his – a tuna… dinner for all!
We spent a few days here, collecting coconuts for for our rum and enjoying the peace and quiet. We felt like we were living on a desert island- albeit in the company our friends and it was as if time had stood still…. but of course we had to start heading south again as our days in Fiji were coming to an end.
We headed south calling into the caves anchorage again as we wanted to visit the small village there. We headed in and did sevu sevu with the village chief who then welcomed us to the village and encouraged us to explore. We set off and found the church which was full as it was Sunday. We were invited in and enjoyed another Fijian service with their beautiful singing. We were sitting quietly at the back when suddenly someone stood up, turned to us and welcomed us to their village and church. She then blessed us and our journey and everyone started clapping. It was such a sweet gesture and we were very touched.
We called back into The Blue Lagoon and anchored next door to Three Little Birds with Ko-Jo and Peter on board. That night we all ended up on the beach with the other cruisers in the bay for sundowners and a bonfire. Various boats we had met all through the Pacific were there, all of us heading to either Australia or New Zealand before the cyclone season. A fun night.
We spent a couple of days here and on our last night had dinner on board Three Little Birds. They then headed north and we headed south – we will catch up with them in Vanuatu in a few weeks.
We slowly made our way down the chain of islands and were thrilled when we caught both a Wahoo and a Tuna within 5 minutes of each other. Our freezer was full by the time we arrived at Saweni Bay in time to take a long walk down the beach before sundowners. We went up to Lautoka early the next morning to pick up our computer and for Ian to go to the dentist. Unfortunately when I was in the market with my shopping bags, my computer backpack and the push along shopping trolley – not thinking properly about where I was – a crowded market place – I put my wallet in my bag with just the flap over it – not locked away. After about 20 minutes of buying vegs I realised that someone had pinched the wallet. Everyone was mortified -the stallholders were upset, the shoppers were trying to find out who had taken it and someone kindly took me to the police station which was just outside . I gave a statement but knew it was gone. There was only some cash in there but my credit card and debit card were also in there. Its such a pain when that happens overseas as you can’t even get any cash out without your cards. We spent an hour or so watching the CCTV of the market but we never saw anything. To be honest I was more upset about the wallet which I had bought in Guatemala than anything else. The police were lovely and even took my WhatsApp number in case anything was found – they said it’s not uncommon for pickpockets to frequent the markets and kept apologising. They were so kind and I told them it was totally my fault but they still seemed to feel terrible that a tourist had been a victim.
Now the issue was cash, as the only way of securing actual cash was with my debit card because Ian’s had got lost in the post from Australia to Saint Martin. We still had one credit card but were worried he may use it so we thought we had to cancel it. Maybe someone in the marina could swap our small amount of sterling we had on board for some Vatu – as Vanuatu don’t take credit cards for their entry.
We went back to the boat to see if our credit card had been used – and when we got there we had a surprise visitor. Waiting on our sugar scoop was a sea snake – a very poisonous one I gather but their mouth is too small to get a good grip. I still shoved him back into the water with the broom.
As the police had told us, we saw that nothing had come out of our credit card. They reckon the guy would have just wanted the cash and tossed everything else, which is why we had been looking in every rubbish bin on the way back to the boat. I cancelled my debit card so he couldn’t tap’n’go it and then poured myself a large glass of wine…. it had been an eventful day.
We had so many offers of cash from friends it was humbling. We could only really take an offer from an Aussie though because we could transfer cash to an Aussie account easily. We went to bed wondering what we should do as we were due to check out within a day or so.
They say you make your own luck – but sometimes the Gods really do seem to shine down on us. By sheer coincidence Steph’s told us that her flatmate was flying into Denerau the next evening for a short holiday, so we transferred $1000 into Steph’s account and she gave it to her flatmate to give to us. The next day we met her at the airport just 15 minutes away and after big hugs all round we took possession of our grand! It just seemed unbelievable that a day earlier we were in such a sticky situation and now it was sorted….
Our friends on Tintamarre that we were going to Vanuatu with were waiting at Vudu marina for us. We had dinner with them that night but sadly Andy’s father had passed a couple of days before and so he had to fly back to the UK immediately. So many of us cruisers have had that dreaded call – and the emergency dash back home.We were sad they couldn’t come with us as we had planned lots of exciting things to do but we will catch up with them in Australia later in the year.
Checkout went off without a hitch – in fact one of the easiest and most fun checkouts ever – the authorities came to our boat and completed the paperwork while we were serenaded by the staff on the dock.
We set off about 11am and spent a couple of days just off an island outside Musket Cove waiting for the weather to improve. Co-incidently we ended up in the same anchorage as Genesis so we all got together for a last drink in Fiji. During the evening we found out that Glen and Michelle from Rosie Skye had also just got the dreaded phone call so Genesis went back to Denerau the next morning to help them sort out the boat as they had to fly home. Sadly we couldn’t go back as we had officially left.
We had loved Fiji – and think it will remain our favourite cruising ground… the beautiful friendly people, (except one lightfingered one) the islands, the culture and the unspoiled nature are among the loveliest we have encountered and we were very sad to be leaving.