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Day 1,151 - Vatia Bay, Fiji (17° 23S 177° 47E)
19:42hrs - July 25th 2010
The Wilder Side of Fiji

For the last 12 days we've been exploring the coasts less traveled on Fiji's two largest islands - Vanua and Viti Levu.

Unlike the sun-drenched islands of the Mananucas and Yasawas, with their manicured beaches of powdery white sand, clear waters, resorts, jet skies and happy hours, the southern coast of Vanua Levu and the northern coast of Viti Levu really offer very little to lure your average tourist away from the idyllic postcard islands to the west. While the mangrove shores, silt waters and vacant coastlines may not sound appealing to most, they do offer a glimpse to the side of Fiji rarely seen by travelers.

When you consider that these coastlines look much the same today as they did, say, when Captain Bligh drifted through here in 1789 after being mutinied by the disgruntled crew of the Bounty, and only narrowly escaping the cooking pot of a few hungry islanders from the afore mentioned Yasawa Islands, (the waters between Vanua and Viti Levu are known today as 'Bligh Water' in admiration and perhaps sympathy of his journey), it makes you appreciate
just how remote and precious these islands really are.

Yes, when you get over the lack of sandy beaches and clear waters, and have the luxury of enough time to explore the coast less traveled, you can get a glimpse of a Fiji few tourists have the time to experience.

Like the sevusevu ceremony we had with the 93-year old chief in Nabouwalu, the only visitors to offer sevusevu this year, and witnessing the genuine delight as the chief and her sisters shared the glossy prints from the photos we had taken of their family. To watching hundreds of giant fruit bats fly silently over our mast at dusk, or a lone fisherman casting a hand net along the mangroves in the early morning. We've had each anchorage to ourselves, not sharing it with another cruiser, tour boat or ferry. And today, anchoring off a patch of sand no larger than a football field, surrounded by reef and offering stunning panoramic views of Viti Levu's mountanous peaks, we had Sunday lunch on a beach all to oursevles. It's a side of Fiji few tourists have the time to experience. But then again, perhaps that's what makes it so special.

 

 

 
 
 

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Day 1,143 - Nabouwalu Bay, Fiji (16° 59S 178° 41E)
18:05hrs - July 17th 2010
Sevusevu

Unguarded friendliness and hospitality, offers of homes open to us and invitations to join family dinners and community events are all part of the immense and lovely heart of Fiji.  We have had such a happy experience in our time here, and yesterday in the little village of Nabouwalu at the SW point of Vanua Levu we had one of our favorite so far.  Nabouwalu is a small town whose principal activities revolve around a ferry which arrives each morning from Suva, when trucks, goats, the occasional adventurous tourist, and parents balancing children and huge sacks of vegetables jostle to get aboard for the 4 hour crossing back to Suva.  There is really not much else to see unless you have the time, as we so happily do, to look a little deeper. 

One of the unique aspects of cruising in Fiji is the custom of ‘sevusevu’ which is essentially requesting permission to visit a village by getting the approval of the village head or turaga-ni-koro the hereditary chief.  basically when you arrive in a village for the first time, no matter how small the village, you are required to ask to be taken to the chief where you will offer a gift of Kava and then chat for a while to gain his or her approval to visit the village, and once you have that approval you may wander at will.  We weren’t expecting Nabouwalu to be a ‘sevusevu’ sort of place, it seemed a little big for that sort of thing, but when we arrived we were excited to hear the village head would like to meet us so we quickly got the Kava we bought earlier, and were led through the village and up a tree covered hill to a small white house at the top where inside we were presented to the 93 year old female chief, a regal woman with a halo of white hair and kind inquisitive eyes.  We were invited to sit down and after the sevusevu formalities of kava presenting with a little chanting and clapping, we spent the afternoon exchanging stories, taking pictures and being introduced to her two younger sisters an entirely mischievous 90 year old and her slightly younger but equally feisty sibling. None of them spoke any English, and our Fijian isn’t what it should be, so our conversations were slowly but patiently translated by various visiting nephews and nieces who joined in the animated exchanges.  Eventually it was time to leave so we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the boat, but we couldn't resist going back, so we have been back twice since then to bring photos we printed for them on the boat and to meet even more of the extended family.  But each time we made our way back through the village and up the hill, we met even more people and because we are considered part of the village now we ended up joining most of the village this afternoon cheering on the netball and rugby teams playing in the weekend tournament.

We will be heading over to Viti Levu soon where there is more developed tourism, and the accompanying tourists which can’t help but alter a place, so I’m not sure if we can expect to find the same kind of Fiji over there, but that just makes our experience here so special and one we will treasure.





 


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Day 1,134 - Savusavu Bay, Fiji (16° 48S 179° 17E)
18:18hrs - July 8th 2010
My Favorite Place

Ordinarily, being chased in a 4x4 by a man on horseback at full gallop wielding a machete and shouting BULA! BULA!!! might be cause for alarm. But in Fiji, or at least the areas of the island of Vanua Levu that we've explored, it appears to be quite normal. The locals seem to go out of their way here to greet you with a level of genuine warmth and friendliness we've witnessed in few other countries. Perhaps it's because we were driving a rental jeep in an rugged area that we later discovered few rental jeeps have ventured before, or the fact that Catherine has adopted a sort of Forest Gump full arm floppy wrist wave that
she gives with such enthusiasm it's hard to resist. Whatever it is, the locals have made us feel right
at home here.

'Bula' translates to a "hi, how are you, wuzzup" all wrapped up in one convenient, easy-to-use and addictive Fijian greeting. Whether it's shouted from a passing vehicle, spoken gently - exaggerating
the vowels and stretching the word to three times its normal length, or repeated rapidly until the greeter seems to run out of breath, it's always delivered with a sincere smile.

We've been anchored out in Savusavu Bay for four days now, away from the flotilla of cruising rally boats that have made Savusavu their home over the last month - another 26 boats will be arriving tomorrow, part of the Blue Water Rally from Europe, so we're happy to have our own little piece of paradise all to ourselves.

Dream Time is rocking gently at anchor in 25 feet of clear water in a little coral cul-de-sac off the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort. Off our stern the mountainous spine of Vanua Levu fills the horizon, hills and basalt peaks disappear in shades of gray behind the clouds. And just off our bow, the palm tree lined beach and chirping bush, filled with tropical birds, partially conceals the Jean-Michel Cousteau bures - thatch roof huts, making it very easy to imagine that we're anchored off an ancient traditional Fijian village, similar perhaps to the days when Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer, first visited the islands back in 1643. The sound of beating drums resonating across the bay each evening during the torch-lighting ceremony adds to this illusion most satisfyingly.

Yes, this is my favorite place. Not this particular anchorage per se, although it is beautiful, but living on Dream Time once again and exploring the world one island at a time.



 


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Day 1,130 - Savusavu, Fiji (16° 46S 179° 20E)
19:28hrs - July 4th 2010
Bula Fiji!

Our early arrival into Fiji on Tuesday morning was, as most things seem to be here, warm and friendly.  We were met by a smiling yacht club fellow who took us right to a mooring and told us to wait for the customs officials who would be along shortly, so with just enough time to tidy up and make a cup of tea we waited for the officials to come and clear us in. The Ministry of Health comes first in Fiji to make sure everyone aboard is appropriately healthy.  That being done, Customs and Immigration came aboard to stamp our passports and then the Ministry of Agriculture to tell us that any food items we had on the boat, had to stay on the boat (which suited me just fine) - we agreed and were duly stamped with the Ministry of Agriculture’s seal of approval.  And with our entry process complete we were officially welcomed to Fiji!

After flopping about on the boat for a day and catching up on sleep we were ready to explore.  We checked out the little town Savusavu where we had arrived, and then arranged for a rental car so we could really get a feel for the island.  There is still not very much tourism on Vanua Levu so there are relatively few roads in varying degrees of lumpiness, but in every village and along every road there were enthusiastically smiling waving Fijians which couldn't help but make your heart happy as we enthusiastically smiled and waved back. Of course we shot off on the wrong road at some point, but as a result we ended up meeting and giving a lift to Alipate, a local teacher/rugby coach who was on his way to an inter-school rugby tournament which turned out to be two hours of off-road driving away.  He was delivering the trophies and acting as a referee and asked us if we would like to come along. What a day!

Five hundred plus school children playing rugby on 3 pitches with bamboo goal posts, with parents, brothers, sisters  and the occasional dog cheering enthusiastically along the edges. We were introduced to the towns elders and given seats at the front so we could enjoy the grand tournament and it was amazing.  What with the all the noise and the wild energy of 500 rugby playing children, controlled magnificently by their teachers and coaches, and as the only non-Fijian people there, we had an experience I don't imagine we might ever have again! And it was spectacular.  Thank you so much Alipate!

The next day we drove over the mountains past endless sunny fields of sugar cane to Labasa on the north shore. Our Lonely Plant book was less than enthusiastic about Labasa, but we loved it. It's a busy industrial/administrative town, bustling with life, and there was a huge covered market full of grains, peppers and spices to wander around in. And again we were the only tourists there, perfect.  In the afternoon we drove out to Palmlea Lodge a little eco-resort/working farm in Palmlea where we cooled our feet in the pool and then had a scrumptious organic lunch overlooking the Great Sea Reef chatting to the owners who turned out to be ex-cruisers with a thousand stories to while away the afternoon.  They have a little dock and are keen to encourage cruisers to explore the less visited north shore so we are planning to sail up there soon for some more stories and lunch, see you soon Joe and Julie!

We are sailing out of Savusavu tomorrow to anchor out. Our first stop will be just off the Jean-Michel Cousteau resort so Neville can do one of their famous dives, while I float about on the surface playing with the all the probably smiling waving Fijian fish.