Sunday 30th November 2014 Day 83
This morning we joined the local Community Church family service, held in the hall of the Trinity Beach Red Cross centre. The congregation was small but it was good to join in fellowship and to share communion. The Word was based on Samuel 3, underlining the importance of listening to and hearing God’s voice.
After the service we went to the beach and enjoyed a swim and a sun bathe, before having a late lunch. Some time was spent in packing ahead of tomorrow’s departure. In the evening we attended the Tjekulpa cultural centre for a show and a buffet dinner. After welcome drinks we had our faces painted then joined in a fire making ceremony on the lakeside, playing clap sticks while singing and dancing. Dinner was followed by the show of aboriginal dance and song, accompanied by an accomplished didgeridoo player.
After a photograph with the performers we returned for our last night’s sleep in Australia.
Monday 1st December 2014. Day 84 Trinity ta ta
Check out time was 10.00am, which we managed to do, just. Joyce had a hair appointment at a local salon and since Eric was looking a little shaggy round the edges, but definitely not on top, he took himself off to find a barber for a ‘short back and sides’. He also took the opportunity to purchase a new travel bag as his original one was splitting at the seams and even duct tape was insufficient to the task of holding it all together. This was successfully accomplished and after repacking Eric joined Joyce in the air conditioned comfort of the salon, privileged to share the final stages of the hairdo.
Once this was finished we took the opportunity for our last Australian picnic, sitting on the esplanade near the swimming beach. Once we had finished this we headed into Cairns to buy Joyce her favourite ice cream, Movenpick Swiss chocolate, and to look for some small gifts. We also enjoyed a final look at the lagoon and the Christmas tree.
The car hire depot was close to where we parked and we soon found ourselves on the way to the airport. Check in was swift, although security was not straightforward as they wanted umbrellas out of the bags and then the electronics in the hand luggage and Eric’s walking boots caused some excitement, needing rescanning. Once across this hurdle we relaxed in the lounge before boarding the Qantas flight to Brisbane. As we were checked through to Nadi we were able to ignore baggage reclaim and headed straight to the transfer bus stop, just missing the coach. 15 minutes wait produced another one and after a delay to load a large number of passengers with mountains of luggage waiting at the other end of the domestic terminal, we were on our way to the International terminal.
Once there it was straightforward reaching departures as we had our boarding cards, although again security was not simple, reprising our earlier experience but thankfully sans boots. We were in very good time for the flight, leaving time for a last minute souvenir shop. We departed at 10.40pm, soon after we boarded.
Tuesday 2nd December 2014. Day 85. Island interlude
The flight to Fiji took just over 3 hours, with the aid of an active tailwind. The loss of 3 hours meant that we landed at 4.45am local time, having snatched a little sleep. The hotel had organised a transfer and we arrived before reception opened. As check in was 2.00pm we expected to sit around the lobby or beach until our room was ready, but the receptionist was able to juggle the room allocations so we were into our room by 6.30am, allowing us to sleep until midday. We then enjoyed coffee and biscuits in our room and returned to bed.
We had no plans for the day so we took the opportunity to simply relax, although rain put a crimp in the hopes for beach time. The weather relented a little later so we had a stroll along the beach and around the environs of the hotel before having an early dinner in the hotel and repacking for the island hopping adventure ahead.
Wednesday 3rd December 2014 Day 86 Mamanuca mission
Pick up was due at 7.15am so we were up in good time to complete the packing and put the luggage in store before check out and breakfast. The coach arrived in good time, already half full, and transferred us to Port Denarau where we checked on for our trip, booked almost a year ago. At the time Eric had not checked the dates booked after a page reset and had managed to book this trip for December 2013. Thankfully the company were fully understanding and changed the booking to the current dates.
Perhaps we should not have been surprised, having been given the idea of island hopping in Fiji from the advisor at STA when we started our planning, but the majority of our fellow passengers boarding the ferry with us were student backpackers, the majority females, travelling in small groups.
Half an hour on the ferry brought us to Bounty Island in the Mamanucas archipelago by 9.05am. A tender transferred us to the beach, with a view of the reef through the glass panels in the hull. Our room was not ready so we appropriated two sun loungers by the small pool and stretched out in the warmth. The weather was still cloudy so the actuality of this south sea island did not quite live up to the travel advertisements.
Our room was ready by 11.15am and we moved in. Known locally as a bure, this hut enjoyed en suite facilities and air conditioning, a deck with two chairs and a hammock slung between two palm trees. Lunch in the beachside restaurant followed, an all you can eat buffet of salad, fish in coconut and lamb curry, then an afternoon nap on the sundeck. Once awake again Eric headed for the sea with borrowed snorkelling gear, to recce the reef so he could take Joyce on a tour. The variety of fish was impressive and the sighting of a small ray and a white tip reef shark made it special. Eric returned for Joyce and towed her over the reef using a noodle. The ray put in a second appearance, as did a pipe fish and many other species familiar from the Great Barrier Reef but as yet unidentified.
On our return a leisurely shower led up to dinner, at which we were serenaded by a duo singing and playing a guitar and ukele, which is feature of the meals here, and whose range of music included classics such as ‘You are my sunshine’. After the meal we sat watching a thunderstorm travel across the water from Vito Lavu towards us. Expecting a drenching we retired to our bure, just in time as torrential rain and thunder swiftly followed us and lasted much of the night.
Thursday 4th December 2014 Day 87 Bounty benefits
Enjoying being on Fiji time, with no appointments apart from meal times, we rolled out of bed and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast beside the beach at low tide. The rain had passed but the sky was still overcast, with neither the extensive blue skies with occasional small, white cumulus clouds nor the azure blue waters we had hoped for.
After breakfast we made a slow circuit of the island using the beach as our highway. Initially rock it gave way to coral sand for most of the circuit, decorated with larger fragments of coral and a variety of sea shells. The beach was backed by a dense woodland.
Having experienced the desert island experience we had coffee, then lunch, before again borrowing snorkel gear for a second tour of the reef, where we swam as part of a shoal of sergeant majors and saw a cornet fish and a box fish. Suitably tired after our exertions we lay on the sunbeds and read before preparing for dinner. All our food is included, tonight we had a choice of burger and chips or beef curry.
Friday 5th December 2014 Day 88 Yasawa yaho
We had to be in time to catch the ferry on its northward journey into the Yasawa group of islands, at the same time as it dropped us two days ago. We were a little later than we had planned but checked out and had breakfast in good time to be on the boat.
The weather remained unsettled and it had again rained torrentially over night. The sky was still overcast and the wind had picked up, creating some movement on the boat. As we travelled north we visited several islands, volcanic in origin, with other resorts where passengers were dropped off and picked up from small boats. As the ferry threaded its way through the islands we could see the waves breaking seaward of us over sections on reef, producing dramatic white water. After a short time outdoors Joyce retreated to the comfort of the air conditioned lounge and enjoyed the DVDs of the flora, fauna and people of the Pacific Ocean.
By 11.15am we were at Barefoot resort on Drawaqa Island. An introduction to and a quick tour of the resort happened as our room was prepared and we moved into our second bure, again with en suite facilities, with a timber frame and roof and canvas sides. Having moved in we sat on the veranda reading until the drum summoned us to lunch. Lunch was served ready plated, vegetable lasagne and salad, so the only decision was whether to eat all of it. At this resort the duo both played guitars and had a repertoire with more Fijian melodies.
After lunch we felt somnolent, which we indulged as the windy overcast weather did little to encourage other activities. Later in the afternoon, after afternoon coffee, we took a tyre inner tube and swam off the sunset beach before dinner. As the weather became more settled during the afternoon, with more broken cloud and lighter winds, the potential for a viewable sunset became apparent. We therefore took advantage of the lookout on the low cliffs to the south of sunset bay. Crossing the creek on a rickety wooden bridge we followed a rough track to the cliff top where a respectable sunset presented itself as we sat on the cliff top. Hurrying down we heard the drum summoning us for dinner and we made our way to the main bure for dinner of beefburger and mash.
The resort had laid on coconut bowling for the evening but feeling a little tired we went to our bure.
Saturday 6th December 2014. Day 89. Barefoot bonanza
At this resort we have fixed mealtimes, as the menu is fixed and all dine together. We were therefore at the dining area, in the main bure, for 8.00am for eggs, fruit, pancakes and toast with a cup of coffee. The weather today seemed more favourable, with lighter winds on the western sheltered side of the island, and broken clouds. Straight after breakfast we went to the dive shack to enquire about a guided snorkelling tour for Joyce and to hire two sets of snorkel gear. On finding that we could borrow a noodle we decided that we could visit the reef together, with Eric again towing Joyce.
The tide was on the way out so we went straight to the sunset beach, as it could only be snorkelled at high to mid tide. Eric went out to recce the reef while Joyce rested in the bure. Eric found a wide reef flat, with a wide variety of fish, but did not reach the drop off at the edge of the reef. Knowing what to expect he returned for Joyce and took her out into the bay. The parrot fish were much in evidence, as was the branching and plate corals. The blue starfish complemented the blues of the growing coral. Other coral colours included green and yellow. We really needed to be carrying an identification book as the myriad multi-coloured denizens of the reef swam beneath and around us.
Although we headed a fair distance into the bay we did not reach the reef edge and retraced our track to the beach, where Joyce left the water and Eric headed back across the reef.
On his return we relaxed until lunch of stir fry on the sunset deck, then relaxed some more. As it was now low tide we headed for the sunrise beach. Almost immediately on entering the water we encountered our first pair of Nemos in their anemone home, who came out to greet us. The reef here was narrower, with more dramatic coral formations and we were soon swimming along the reef edge, a dramatic drop off of 15 metres. We saw another pair of Nemos close to the drop off. On returning Joyce to the beach Eric pottered around the reef, lingering a little longer.
After afternoon coffee we snorkelled manta ray beach, again reaching the drop off but failing to see any rays, as we did not quite reach their feeding ground in the channel between the islands. One consolation is that we are here out of season and were very unlikely to have seen one anyway, even in the right location. We did see two more pairs of Nemos. Again Eric returned for a last look once returning Joyce to dry land and as he was preparing to end his swim saw a black tipped shark patrolling the reef edge.
Having returned the gear to the dive shack we showered and relaxed before dinner of beef curry. The weather again became unsettled, precluding a sunset view. After a dinner of we again declined the evening entertainment of a bonfire and kava and retired to bed.
Sunday 7th December 2014 Day 90 Navigating north
The only downside of island hopping on a schedule is that one has to move on. Today we made our final hop to Safe Landing on Nacula Island, again departing at the same time we arrived. Breakfast was at 8.00am and we checked out at 9.20am, waiting a while for the computer system to behave itself. Just after breakfast one of the housekeeping staff came to us with Joyce’s watch which had been left on a shelf in our room. This has been our first oversight in almost three months of travel, hopefully the only one. As we waited for departure one of the dive team excitedly ran through the restaurant shouting ‘Manta Ray’. Apparently a rare sighting for this time of year had been made in the channel a snorkelling party was assembled but we decided that as time was pressing we would decline and instead made our way to the northern end of Manta Ray beach to try to spot activity. A number of boats were around, with snorkelers, but too far away and in choppy water, negating any attempt to see underwater. As it turned out there were two rays in the channel and we would have had time to join the group and change again before departure. Never mind …. Next time…..
The ferry picked us up at 11.00 from the resort’s tender just off the coast where we had been dropped. It headed north, stopping briefly at a number of other resorts before finally entering the Blue Lagoon, in between the islands of Nacula, Tavewa and Nanuya Lailai. Up until now our transfers to shore had been by larger, flats bottomed and canopied tenders whilst others had to brave small boats. This time it was our turn and we ‘enjoyed’ a bone rattling, bouncy, sea sprayed and intermittently high speed (as the boatman avoided sections of reef) ride in a small boat.
On stepping ashore we were given a welcome drink before being taken to the typical open sided restaurant for a vegetable curry lunch, accompanied this time by a quartet comprising 2 guitars, a ukulele and a mandolin, a full house, Fijian music style. After lunch we were taken to our bure, a more substantial wooden structure with a large bedroom and ensuite facilities. It had a deck with chairs and tables and between it and the beach, a hammock.
The tide was out so we postponed our swim until later, taking full advantage of the hammock and chairs. Borrowing snorkel gear, we headed for what we thought was the reef. Eric did a recce and was disappointed to find nothing but sea grass, with occasional bare areas of just coral sand. The onshore wind meant the sea was choppy and the visibility poor. There were some fish in evidence, but no coral within 50 metres of the beach, any coral being much further out. Although without any flotation assistance Joyce joined Eric for another attempt to reach coral, but we turned back 80 meters out, with no coral in sight.
Dinner was supposed to be 7.00pm so we assembled in the restaurant as the sun set. Tonight the clouds lent themselves to a dramatic display of dark reds as the sun disappeared behind Tavewa island, with its distinctive sugarloaf column in the ridge crest. Dinner was soup, followed by BBQ chicken and sausage, then cake. Once we had eaten we spent a quiet evening reading and farming (a secret addiction of a computer game) in our room.
Monday 8th December 2014. Day 91. Lazy landing
Today marks halfway in our trip. Breakfast again was 8.00am and consisted of pancakes in various guises, mango and water melon. We had nothing booked for the morning so we went for a short walk to the sunrise viewpoint on a ‘nearby headland, taking advantage of a sunny morning with lighter wind. The path passed through the original site of the local village, which had been moved further east across the river that had repeatedly flooded it. All that is left is the graveyard with concrete mausoleums, still being used, with more on the headland at the northern end of the resort. From the viewpoint we had a view of the village, set behind the next bay, and a good view of the neighbouring islands.
The rest of the morning was spent reclining on sun beds on the beach before lunch of a spaghetti bolognese made with ham and onion. We then prepared for the trips we had booked. Eric was due to go snorkelling in the Blue Lagoon while Joyce visited the village. Unfortunately one person was not enough for the snorkelling and not even doubling the number with Joyce would do.
Nevertheless, Joyce’s trip still was viable. The Amazing Adventures company works with local villages to support sustainable development. Most of the resort staff live in the village and other means of income come from fishing, pigs, hens and garden produce. Women, including visitors, have to wear a long skirt/sarong and have their shoulders covered. The only person in the village allowed to wear a hat is the chief, he was in Nadia today, so his son received Joyce in the family house. The houses were built in a similar style to our burr, being one storey buildings surrounded by grass. The village was larger than expected and had four churches, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Christian mission society; unfortunately we had not been able to visit a church in Fiji, as we were sailing at church time, apparently we missed an amazing experience. The traditional village meeting place was still standing, but no longer in use. Joyce was able to walk around the village and was greeted by villagers and friends of her guide, including his grandmother. Cooking is still often done outside on open wood fires.
While Joyce was away Eric enjoyed a snooze and a long read in the bure, as the weather turned again, becoming cloudy and much more windy.
Dinner tonight was at 7.00pm, comprising lentil soup, chicken curry and banana cake. Dining was interrupted as we and other guests went to take photographs of an even better sunset.