Fiji is the island we will definitely have to come back to, so much is clear. It was the ideal combination of all the ingredients that a south sea paradise consists of:
- beautiful landscapes and beaches
- wonderful diving
- friendly people
- delicious food and groceries
The only downside and best kept secret of the islands is the bad weather, which was one of the reasons why we headed off to New Caledonia after not even two weeks on the islands. The main reason though for leaving so soon was Gaylyn getting increasingly homesick and wanting to see her son & grandson before they move to NZ. But even experiencing just a short touchdown on the islands they became our all time favorite spot immediately.
Our point of entry was Savu Savu, a little port on the south side of Vanua Levu (the northern island). Right away we were intrigued by the friendly population that consists of a mix of the original inhabitants (of Melanesian descent) and lots of Indian people that were originally brought in by the British and quickly decided, that life on the islands had more to offer than in India. The Indian influence brings color and spice into the mixture. A lot of the women were wearing beautiful saris and the air in town was full of Indian scents and music.
Gaylyn was delighted finding lots Indian restaurants offering delicious vegetarian dishes for incredibly cheap prices. The towns market was full of fresh local fruit and vegetables in incredible variety and to irresistible prices and for the first time since Panama we could purchase a SIM delivering high speed internet to the boat 24/7. We were overwhelmed.
The Melanesiens and the Indians seem to get along reasonably well and everybody in town was looking forward to the divali holidays that were coming up. We booked an Indian vegetarian feast in one of the marina restaurants and had an interesting evening watching dances performed by several young Indians. I had expected rather traditional dances but we got to watch dance performances, that were influenced rather by Bollywood than by tradition.
We soon found out that even rental cars were affordable in Fiji and managed to hire a little suzuki 4×4 for 55$ a day. Due to delivery problems – we rented it for divali – we ended up having the car for almost 2 days without extra costs and headed off to explore the island right away. We were amazed by the beauty of the landscape. Having spent a lot of time on tiny Islands the sheer size of the mountainous island impressed us: real land at last, not just a tiny peace of rock or sand in the pacific. The roads were ok, as long as you stayed on the primary roads. Any secondary street would clearly end up offroad sooner or later. When we tried out a secondary road to cross the mountains from the north of the island back south to Savu Savu we ended up having a real off road adventure.
After a week we left Savu Savu for Namena, which is a small Island containing only a dive resort surrounded by a huge reef. The island has been the first and last anchorage on the trip, (so far) that was too deep for my 60-something meters of anchor chain. I had been warned that this would happen since Panama but had managed to sneek around the deep anchorages and stay in shallow water. Now I was forced to anchor in 26 m so I had to put my workaround plan in to action and tie some rope to the end of the chain adding 30 m to a total length of about 100 m. The first attempt was somewhat unsuccessful so I could train picking it up and bringing it out again. A good idea because little later a squall raged across the anchorage bringing more than 30 kn of wind.
The next morning the weather was still nasty. We interrogated our neighbors in the anchorage as to were best to go snorkeling and then took off exploring the shores of the island and later on one of the passes in the reef about 1.5 miles away with the dinghy and snorkeling gear. What we found was probably the best snorkeling on the whole trip. The colors were amazing due to the amount of soft coral. Even with the bad light of a completely overcast sky we were impressed. After hundreds of reefs we have explored in the last two years we had not expected to find one that really made a difference.
We just about made it back to the boat before the next squall passed through and took off the next morning to the island of Makongai situated on the east coast of Vitu Levu – the
main island of Fiji. There is an abandoned leprosy colony on the island that has been turned into a nursing station for giant clams and turtles which we visited. Our next target was Suva, Fijis main port of entry and with the weather still being miserable we decided to head on quickly. A day sail later we lay in the dirty industrial harbor of Suva next to the Belgian vessel Kwispel – friends of ours since the Marquesas.
Suva impressed us with its huge fruit & veggie market and the lively downtown. The arts and craft market was interesting too. The outer stands displayed the typical tourist stuff but the inside was full of little booths were Fijian and Indian women were working hard sewing beautiful dresses and shirts. I purchased several Hawaii style shirts in the unique and colorful patterns of Fiji. Further back in the market you could get a beauty treatment or even purchase a coffin.
Another highlight of Suva was the Govinda Restaurant on Marks street (Careful there are clones that are not as good) where you could purchase vegetarian hare chrishna style Indian food for more than affordable prices. We were so impressed that we came back to eat there every day of our stay.
Meanwhile a weather window for the crossing to New Caledonia was coming and Gaylyn was slowly becoming desperate to see family and friends back home. To be honest both of us were about ready for a break in the cruising life so we headed off way too soon, but not without giving ourselves the promise to return to Fiji as soon as we leave Oz.