Episode 7 - Exploring the Yasawas Islands

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September 28th 2011
Published: September 28th 2011
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Yesawas - Western Fiji

Captains Log:

Distance Run: 219 nautical miles in 23 days

06.09.2011 Southern End Waya Island
07.09.2011 Kuvu B ay
08.09.2011 Natovalo Bay
10.09.2011 Port Denarau
14.09.2011 Wayasewa Island
15.09.2011 Kuvu Bay
17.09.2011 Narewa Bay
19.09.2011 Blue Lagoon
21.09.2011 Narewa Bay
22.09.2011 Off Drawaqa Island
26.09.2011 Port Denarau

The Bigger Picture

Our time with John and Sharon, as always, was very special. They only had a limited amount of time left of their holiday before they were due to fly back to NZ so we spent the time retracing steps they had taken last year when sailing with the Captain.

I mentioned Navadra Island in my previous blog – this would have been one of Sharon’s favorites I think and where we headed after picking them up from Mana Island. In fact Navadra and Vanua Levu islands sit side by side providing a very secure anchorage if the wind is from the North East through East around to the South West. It is, however, often subjected to a swell that can make staying there a bit rolly polly.

Vanua Levu appears to be the island most frequently landed on. It has an amazingly shallow lagoon on the south side which, when not subjected to the wind, is great for enjoying a swim though the coral on the north side is more impressive. When the Captain and I first visited this island I had looked at this lagoon and there was no way it would have made comfortable swimming at the time as the wind was howling straight into it and it was full of white crested waves. This was not the case during the visit with John and Sharon and we all enjoyed a swim there.

Sharon and I went walking to explore the island which, as previously mentioned, is uninhabited. The interior has some very interesting rock outcrops rising steeply from the trees and it looks like some of the crevices could lead to shallow caves which I suspect are used by some of the animals; it is home to - goats, fruitbats, and poultry. Crabs are also in abundance. Walking around the rocks large crabs scuttle away in front of you, of many and varied colours. Walking through the interior, if you look down, the ground is alive and moving with hundreds of hermit crabs moving along in their shells.

By an overhang (some would call it a cave but it does not quite fit the bill for me) by the beach someone has put a lot of ornamental shells into a formation which looks like a shrine. The only downside to this beautiful spot is the rubbish found on the beach – plastic! We met some yachties who had gathered up great piles of it and did a beach fire to burn it off. The rubbish found in the water and washed up on some of the islands is, I imagine, a growing problem for Fiji and the marine life found here as it is for the rest of the world.

While Sharon was very keen to explore further, the wind intervened by backing to the north and the swell was causing much ‘rolly pollying’ so the Captain prudently decided we needed to find a more sheltered haven and we had to up anchor and head to Waya which afforded us a very lively sail into a headwind.

Over the next few days we progressed north to the southern end of Naviti Island by the Tokatokaunu Pass where large Manta Rays are often seen. This is a very popular place for visiting tourists and yachties. The Manta Ray Resort is situated on the northern tip of Nanuya Balavu Island just down from the channel. This resort has a very good marine reserve off the beach which provides some awesome snorkeling, a pastime John, Sharon and Doug all enjoy immensely and which I am slowly getting my confidence around.

We were able to watch the opening of the World Cup at the Manta Ray Resort, which we enjoyed with quite a crowd of people (guests and staff) after eating a traditional meal in the elevated dining area of the resort. This was in dispersed with a dance exhibition from the people of one of the local villages – a really nice evening all round.

And then it was time to take Sharon and John in to Denarau, and after sadly waving them off in their taxi we spent a further few days catching up on laundry, restocking, watering up and getting fuel before heading back to the Yesawa’s.

The World Cup was big in Denarau, the Fijians love their rugby and added to this the place was full of kiwis, Australians and tourists on their way to the world cup. Big screen tv’s had been set up outside many of the restaurants to entice patrons in to eat and watch, the largest of which was by the Hard Rock Café. While we watched some of the games onshore, we also found that where we were moored we had a clear, if distant, view of the Hard Rock screen from the deck. After watching two games up close we retreated to the cool isolation of the boat to watch from afar. This meant sitting on the foredeck binoculars in hand trying to focus on the distant screen to get current scores or whenever the cheers from the crowd indicated something exciting was happening. If you have ever tried focusing binoculars on a specific object from a moving platform you will have some idea of how difficult this is and what a strain it can be to ones eyes! And, given that we retired to the boat for the games that his nibs thought would be the least exciting, only to find they were the ones that were the cliffhangers meant we spent many hours recovering from strained vision!

Leaving Denarau, desperate to rest our eyes, the first day out we got to Wayasewa Island to anchor just as the sun was going down. While out of the wind, the swell we experienced there lent itself to giving us a very uncomfortable night rolling about. Neither of us slept well and were very happy to get moving again the next day to head back to Cuvu Bay at the south end of Naviti Island, by the Manta Ray channel.

We had spent a night here with John and Sharon – it is very sheltered and picturesque but not easy to reach the shore except at high tide. Sharon and I had decided to take Ethelred in and go for a walk and do a bit of exploring – the guys were going to follow, swimming. The tide was very low at the time and we ended up stuck in the coral, water up to just below my knees. Now those of you who know me will understand that I am not exactly a dainty young thing, and I have already explained my phobia of putting my feet in the water - and add to this my extreme respect for the coral reef systems we have encountered and you might understand my dllemna being stuck half way to shore. Luckily I had my trusty reef booties on so was able to stand in the water, but every time I took a step I could feel the crunching of the coral underfoot. So having found a sandy patch I sacrificed myself (well that’s my story anyway) and stayed with Ethelred while John and Sharon went in to have a look around – some local people live there but were not home at the time. The Captain, who had followed us in, ended up stranded in the coral as well. It took a while for us all to negotiate our way out again, John trying to find a channel for us by swimming ahead while I rowed Sharon in Ethelred and the Captain having to tiptoe through the coral until he got enough depth to move out again. By the time I rowed back I was ready to have my first swim around the boat in deep water with the Captain as escort. Glad I have done it, but I am still not happy to jump off the boat – it is a little like my approach to skydiving; why on earth would you jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane even with a parachute on? – jumping off the boat seems similar in philosophy though I am happiness filled to be on the boat. Sharon impresses, as she is confident enough to do the snorkeling and get off the boat for a swim though I believe that was not the case a few years ago, so there is hope for me yet!

There was a feeling of great excitement for the Captain as we headed north again into new territory for him. Having decided to head north up the western side of Naviti, we actually went south to get a passage across to the west and this took us past the deserted resort on Nanuya Balavu Island we had been told about. The first thing the Captain noticed when we entered this passage was the rock formations – see the pics. Anyone interested in geology will note the faults in the bedding plains. These are very distinct and quite dramatic when thinking of the massive forces needed to create this upheaval. The channel running between three islands is stunning on both sides. It was hard to imagine why the resort is not up and running, though we have since learned that it has recently been bought and will be established soon, though not knowing this at the time I was itching to go exploring but as there were some local boats on the beach and the place was obviously being tended we moved on planning to come back on our way south again.

We did in fact visit on our way south, but not without a bit of drama. As we were approaching the resort my daughter and son in law rang, so while I enjoyed a catch up with them, the Captain was getting us ready to anchor. When I rang off and dashed up front to assist by dropping the anchor the mechanism jammed on me and the anchor chain went hurtling down into the water with me powerless to stop it. Keeping a very cool head, I did what every self respecting gal does in times of crisis and had a minor panic. “I cant stop it”, I shouted over my shoulder to the Captain who was at the helm. Still trying to get the @#$##!!! thing to lock, I kept shouting for assistance. Finally I heard a gentle, “GET OUT OF THE WAY” blasted into my left ear and he put his hands down over the racing chain and stopped it! There are times when the male half of our species can be very irritating! How his hands didn’t come off is beyond me, and within very quick time he had everything back in order and working again – apparently I had turned the brake the wrong way! Sigh. After all that drama I did not feel like going ashore and we up anchored and carried on while I took my aching head below for a cool drink. It was great to hear from the kids though! We keep going in and out of range for our cell phones so their timing was just perfect.

Reefs! They are everywhere in this part of the world and need to be avoided. The Captain is becoming adept at skirting either around them or running inside them. Naviti Island is very picturesque – we passed about three resorts sitting in lovely bays on our way up the Western side, heading for Narewa Bay at the northern end of the island. This is a large beautifully sheltered bay with two villages at the head of it. We anchored not far from the entrance just out from a spectacular beach. One of the hillsides was on fire as we came in and we watched for several hours as the wind fanned the flames and the tussock like grass was burnt off leaving a black scar on the landscape. The reef systems are very evident around here, not only in the middle of the entrance to the bay but also along the coastline so you have to be very careful when anchoring. We were the only yacht there at the time and were able to head right in to the head of the bay and put the anchor down just out from the reef. The beach gleamed white in the distance, coconut trees fringing it, and I could see large pools of water clear of coral or sea grass. My kind of beach! The water was crystal clear and we could see fish playing all around us.

Not long after we arrived another vessel joined us in the bay. I was reminded very much of a holiday I had had some years ago on the Murray River in a houseboat. “Come in Dinky Di number nine!” The boat had three NZ guys onboard, who told us they keep the boat in Vuda Point Marina and come up each year when they want to use it - ideal for cruising in calmer waters.

I was sitting in the cockpit not long after we arrived, the Captain was downstairs having a rest, when we were approached by a local boat with four or five men on board. By the time they left, having checked us out very closely, we had parted with about $20 worth of fuel, and had we been smokers they would have disappeared too. Doug drew the line at parting with biscuits, and after they left he expressed the sentiment that we had just been right royally done. I agree, but it was done in the nicest possible way, and they gave us a small crayfish (Captains Note: A VERY small crayfish – even a TINY crayfish – which I enjoyed) for our dinner plus invited us to visit the village to watch the big game (Fiji vs South Africa) which we actually listened to on the radio. The smiles flashing at us as they sped home were well worth any minor inconvenience to us – the Fijian people really are delightful.

The next morning I woke up at 6.00am and went out on deck. The sun had just come up and the morning was absolutely still, the water like glass stretching out around us. Standing on the bow I could look down and see the bottom clearly. For me, this place was absolutely idyllic.

After breakfast we headed in to the shore and I luxuriated in the cool clearness of the water – heaven! Then we took Ethelred up to the other end of the beach to find the track we had heard about which leads across to the other side of the island where there is a WW11 fighter plane wreck in the bay. The walk, (about 25 minutes) takes you through the bush, up over part of the hilled area and down again into the bush following a fairly obscure track. It ends in the compound of the local residents, an elderly couple who have been there for twenty years. The gentleman came out to greet us and was very welcoming as are all the local people we meet. They are so courteous, shaking hands and taking an interest in who you are and where you are from. He took the trouble to describe exactly where to find the wreck and give us permission to cross his land.

Walking out of the cover of the trees, through what is clearly their ‘front gate’ – an area surrounded and decorated by large beautiful shells, we found ourselves in a very sheltered and shallow area bordered by several small islands. Palm trees once again line the beach and there were a couple of small boats, or the remains of them, out from their front entrance. It is very beautiful, though closer inspection uncovers the rubbish littered on the beach – clearly washed in – pieces of plastic, lids, all manner of litter which would be best not found on a beach. However the crabs don’t seem to mind and there is an abundance of them, large aggressive looking fellows, smaller white ones and a huge variety of hermit crabs making there way along the beach. For the first time in my life I find these creatures fascinating rather than frightening. Some of them are quite aggressive if you go towards them, while others sit back and watch you with interest. The holes on the beach and way into the bush indicate extremely large crabs in the area, but I have yet to see them – thankfully. In the water, which is very shallow, almost a large sand bank, there is evidence of mangroves beginning to establish. Doug walked out half way to where the wreck is located before putting on this gear and swimming the rest of the way.

He found the wreck . There is a propeller blade attached to an engine embedded in the seabed which points straight up and there is also another piece of wreckage, which he was unable to identify, lying beside it.

Heading back to the track we were met by Clara, the lady of the house. She was apologetic because they had not cleaned up!! It looked like heaven to us. The compound is made up of several small structures, all separated. I counted four. She explained that they were re-thatching the walls of the dining room – a hut with a sand floor which had a table and a few chairs in it plus a few benches on one side. The roof is made of corrugated iron, and the thatch is made from the palm fronds. The work is quite intricate and seems to keep the weather out for them though I don’t know how they fare when it rains or if they have storms. I tried to find out how often they have to do the walls but she did not understand the question even though between us we posed it in several different ways. It is all very basic, and idyllic. Through the bush you see areas where coconuts are husked, there is a small fenced off area that appears to be the vegetable garden with various plants growing. This was very traditional Fijian living, unchanged I would think, in a very long time.

The walk back was extremely warm, though it seemed to only take half as long as the walk there (isn’t it always the way). I threw myself in the water (bliss) to cool off as did his nibs, before making our way back to Hakura. This would be my favorite spot to date. Awesome!

After two nights it was time to move on again and we headed off bound for the Blue Lagoon. The further north we get the more reefs there seem to be avoided. On this sail we headed out between two reefs on the eastern side and motored up on the outside of the encircling reef system before finding the southern channel to head into The Blue Lagoon which is formed in a group of surrounding islands, all with either villages or resorts situated on them. This is probably the most populated area I have seen since leaving the mainland. The anchorage is off Nenauy Levu Island, and this is obviously a very popular spot for yachties. There were five other yachts sitting in the anchorage when we arrived, some of whom we had seen before. There is a lot of activity on the water with a local water taxi service on the go, plus boat loads of giggling school children being ferried to and fro, not to mention the Flyer coming in and divesting itself of passengers.

We have been using a Migrant Cruising Notes journal on Fiji which was written back in the 90’s and while the information around the anchorages is sound other things have changed. Clearly this is the case for the Blue Lagoon – I suspect at least some of the resorts currently operating are new. The journal speaks of a General Store and a Tea House. The General Store is definitely not here, though there is a makeshift stall on the beach with locals selling shell jewellery (I bought a necklace), and the Tea House is still operating though you have to be prepared for a quite a walk to get to it. This I am told, though we did not make the trip, is worth it if you fancy really nice banana cake.

It’s not hard to relax in such surroundings. I had a delightful swim off the beach here, or it would be propably best be described as a salt water bath. Having managed to get myself well and truly sunburnt sailing up, I really needed the full set of clothes I wore to sit in the water and cool off! And don’t forget my trustee reef booties which are essential for sitting on pure white sand. Doug went off for a snorkel and I watched from my bathing area as his flippers regularly arched gracefully into the air and then disappeared below the surface. (I have seen him underwater too, and he is like a fish moving effortlessly through the water with ease.) I was joined by a small school of curious fishies (Captains note: They were Crescent grunters, widely distributed through Fiji they inhabit the beach sand zone. They have brown and white horizontal stripes, and grow to about 18cm) who swam around and around checking me the out from all angles clearly intrigued by my reef booties, so much so that at one stage one of them got very up close and personal and tried to find out if said booties were good to eat. They were very friendly and having decided that I was clearly harmless (or perhaps they found the sight of a fully clothed human sitting waist deep in water highly amusing) they went off and got some of their friends who joined the party and I sat with a whole school swimming around me quite happily.

In the evening about fifteen people off various yachts fronted up for a traditional Fijian feast (lolo) prepared by the family who live on the beach and obviously do this for the boaties on a regular basis. Very like the Maori hangi, the food is cooked over hot stones and buried in the ground. Two types of banana leaves are used, one type is woven into baskets that the food is placed in for cooking and the other type are placed below and over the baskets to protect them from the sand. The food was delicious. We had pork, chicken and walu (Spanish mackerel) accompanied by kasava, pumpkin, freshly baked bread and platter of fruit – papaya, banana and pineapple. It was a very pleasant evening listening to everyone talking, though I came away wondering why some people only ever share their bad experiences. It’s enough to put people off sailing, though these people are still sailing and definitely appear to be still breathing so they clearly enjoy the excitement of their adventures.

Having spent a couple of days in The Blue Lagoon we decided to sail a bit further north – there is a cave at Sawa-i-Lau Island which we heard about in detail from one of the people at the lolo. The locals take you through for $10 and it involves going into the first (dark) cavern then swimming under water to the inner cavern. The place is not lit though the locals do provide torches once you are through and it is apparently spectacular and well worth doing. Almost there and sailing into a strong headwind which was not comfortable we found the wind whistling through the channel and decided to abandon the idea and turn around heading south again – it was time to start thinking about heading back in for supplies and to start looking for crew to get us back to NZ.

We spent another couple of nights at ‘my’ beach before leaving Narewa Bay and traveling south again, this time on the eastern side of Naviti Island. It was a pleasant sail with the wind behind us, and worth it to see this side of the island. It was interesting to see the place where the WWII plane wreckage sits from the opposite angle. As you travel down avoiding the reefs, you see locals in their small craft fishing the reefs. Doug keeps a lure running out the back of the boat when we are moving but we have not done very much fishing while at anchor. This is because, as the Captain has pointed out to me on two occasions now, the locals rely on these areas to feed themselves and the reefs have been heavily fished, so for us to fish them is like taking food from their mouths. The fish, caught while on the move are not reef fish – so he views them differently. In fact, if you want to fish in the bays and on the reefs, you are actually supposed to visit the local chief to ask permission.

We went back to an anchorage just out from the Manta Ray resort. They have recently built a pizza oven by their bar area and make and sell them during their happy hour from 4.30 – 6.30pm. Short on supplies we were really looking forward to one for dinner and managed to get there just before it closed. Heavenly! We spent a very pleasant evening talking with the owner of the resort and some of his family (Australian people). They have done a great job of this resort, which caters for a younger crowd really – backpackers and the like though they make the yachties very welcome. This in spite of some people taking the hospitality for granted and not respecting the area – there is a marine reserve operating around the area with a protected reef just off the resort.

We enjoyed the place so much we stayed for three nights. On the day of the NZ vs France World Cup match we spent the afternoon snorkeling and then stayed for pizza and I had a few drinks - more than I usually do - a cocktail concoction that came out green which turned the captain a similar colour looking at it – and then over the course of evening I had a couple of dark rum and cokes which fairly grew hair on my chest. Some of the younger people, friends of the owner I believe, were having a rip roaring time of it and were highly amusing. We watched one guy who was completely out of his tree, getting into one of the hammocks by the bar in his drunken state. How he managed it I will never know – but he did, clutching an unopened can of beer to his chest he finally managed to get almost into the middle of it before passing out – er, I mean drifting off into a blissful sleep. All the resort people had gone up to have their dinner at this stage so we, and an American couple off another yacht who had come into anchor earlier in the afternoon, were the only witnesses to his graceful decline. However when his mates came back from dinner you can imagine the comments and later, having regained consciousness – er I mean woken up – for about five minutes, after falling out of the hammock he staggered – er, I mean walked – to one of the lounges where he passed out (went back to sleep) and his mates covered him in a palm frond.

As we waited for the All Black game to begin the place started to fill up (they have built a large open lounging area for the guests – the one solid wall of the structure is covered with photos of people, the reef, guests, fishing conquests etc, and the wooden floor has backless lounges scattered around so people can sit or lie and watch television, talk or whatever they fancy to relax). Resort guests, staff, friends of the owners filled up the area as they came down from dinner as well as more yachties. There were five yachts anchored down from the resort and every one of the occupants turned out to watch the rugby, including three French people and some Americans as well as other kiwis. It was a great turnout for the game.

The Manta Ray Resort gets a huge thumbs up.

So here we are again, back in Denarau. Showers have been had (bliss), the notice for crew has been posted in the marina office and we are actually tied up to one of the piers as Ethelred had been slowly declining and in need of repairs. Yesterday we went into the markets at Nadi for supplies – we were hanging out for fresh papaya! While we were away it rained, I mean it really rained! We, and most of the rest of the population who stepped outside got drenched – the local bus we caught back was full of school children, all of us sitting there quietly steaming. When we got back it was to find the rain had spread itself around and we had not shut the hatches – nor taken in all the laundry. So it was a soggy night all round, but today (28th September 2011) has dawned beautifully (probably due to the fact that it is the Captains birthday) and we are drying out rapidly.

We will head out to Musket Cove in a day or so and post another notice out there looking for crew and start preparing for the trip home to New Zealand, which we would like to have begun by mid October.


29th September 2011

Thank you
I have enjoyed your narative and look forward to the next Happy Birthday for the 28th Doug. Still remember you taking me out for my 50th. That was 29 years ago. Cheers David
3rd October 2011

Once again...
.... such a great blog. Lovely to read of your adventures. You wont be wanting to come home really - and who could blame you both. Take care and happy sailing.

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