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Sunday, 15 September 2019

Diving with sharks and the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands


With our stores replenished we left Suva and headed for Beqa, the home of Firewalking, according to legend this special power was gifted to the Sawau Tribe some 500 years ago in exchange for the freedom of a captured God.  A fire pit was duly prepared - large rocks were covered with branches and leaves and set alight.  

With great ceremony, over the next hour or so  all burning matter was removed from the pit and the rocks carefully re arranged.




And then they really did walk on the rocks - the rocks were certainly still hot, it was an entertaining spectacle but maybe not quite ‘Firewalking’


Posing with the Firewalkers, Beqa 

Beqa is not only the home of Firewalking, but also of the Shark Reef Marine Reserve which was originally created to study the shark population and aid long term shark conservation worldwide. They offered diving with Apex predators - Tiger and Bull Sharks, we couldn’t resist: We were in a group of 20 divers plus 10 Dive Masters who were there to feed the sharks and look after us.  By far the largest group of divers we’ve ever been with but very well organised so we all descended to 28 metres and knelt behind a rock ‘wall’ whilst the sharks were fed Tuna heads from a large wheelie bin suspended overhead by one of the Dive Masters.  It was an incredible experience - luckily the sharks prefer dead tuna to live divers and it did feel strangely safe down there with 40 or so fully grown bull sharks!










After the excitement of the shark dive we headed on to the neighbouring island of Vatulele, one we had also visited last year.  We anchored off  the beach inside the lagoon - the wrecked small cruise ship is still on the beach much the same as last year, but the resort which closed in 2012 is in a far worse condition:  Previously one of the most exclusive resorts in the Pacific and employing  most of the islanders,  last year there was still a security guard on site and rumours of a $24million refurbishment - this year it really was a wreck, the security guard had gone and the place has been ransacked - furniture and fittings dragged outside and left to the mercy of the elements.


Vatulele Beach, with the abandoned cruise ship visible in the distance.






The remains of a once very high spec resort - now more of a rubbish tip.

We walked across the island with Bernt and Birgit, our sailing partners on the Yacht Rebell, to present Sevusevu, passing the now very disused airfield on the way.  Again, we had visited last year and been shown the foundations of the new church they were planning to build - this year there was a huge concrete base and major steel works erected for the walls and roof.  An absolutely vast construction for a small village which doesn’t even have running water.


The new church taking shape.  We’d met the Pastor last year but he, along with the Chief were away from the island when we visited.

In much the same way as Fulaga is known for it’s wood carvers, Vatulele is known for it’s Tapa cloth.  Initially used for clothing and bedding it is now purely ornamental, the women spend literally hours beating narrow slivers of mulberry bark with wooden sticks on a low bench whilst sitting on the floor.




Several layers of freshly beaten bark are layered together and dried on what ever is available before being sent on to the main islands to be decorated and sold to tourists and used in local ceremonies.


These two young girls showed us round the village, and behind them Tapa cloth is drying on a water butt.


Our route from Suva - first to Beqa then to Pacific Harbour where we did the shark dive, on to Vatulele and then via Denerau for supplies before meeting Clare and Jamie in the Mamanucas.

Clare and Jamie arrived in style, by sea plane.  We went to record the event, paparazzi style, before leaving them to enjoy the first part of their honeymoon in Paradise Cove, Naviti Island in the Yasawas.




Arrival by sea plane - apparently built in the 1960’s!!!  Diving with sharks might be safer ...





We spent a few days round Naviti, staying in Somosomo Bay where a local climbed a coconut palm to give us a drink.

There is a pass between the islands where Mantarays are known to regularly feed, we were lucky enough to see them whilst snorkelling.






Jamie trying to keep up to take a photo - they are very graceful and very fast.

We all dived the wreck of the Glory, sunk as a diving site in 2016 so no coral growth but a great dive.



Mother - Daughter time, underwater.





Clare and Jamie blowing bubbles.

Having been so impressed with our own shark dive we wanted Clare and Jamie to experience one as well - and discovered a dive centre in Waya island also offered Bull Shark Dives.  A smaller outfit this time, we were in a much smaller group of 11 divers.  The sharks were just as spectacular.








This one had just swallowed a tuna head.


Again they were so close you could have touched them.  We heard later that earlier this year a diver in Beqa ended up with their head in a tiger shark’s mouth, fortunately he only sustained minor injuries but I don’t think we will be going on another shark dive now!

Our time with Clare and Jamie was sadly coming to an end, we stopped for a couple of nights on Mana Island (where the American Survivor TV programme is filmed) and we hired a local boat driver to take us on a couple of dives on the outer reef and coral pinnacles then headed on back towards Denerau, stopping at Musket Cove and lunching at the Cloud 9 floating Pizza Restaurant in the crystal clear waters of the lagoon near the famous Cloud Break surf site.

We were joined by a pod of dolphins who came to play in our bow wave.




Cloud 9 Floating Pizza Restaurant on our last day with Clare and Jamie.

Our season in Fiji has now almost come to an end, we plan to head back up to the Mamanucas for a week or so before we head back to New Zealand for what we expect to be our final hurricane season there.







































Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Matuku, and back to ‘Civilisation’

Three days of almost continuous rain in Fulaga was enough for us - we decided it was time to head back to the main Fiji island of Viti Levu, despite breaking the journey with a stop in Matuku, we still had to do an overnight sail to ensure we left one island and arrived at the next in daylight.


Our anchorage in Matuku - we took the dinghy ashore to the village of Lomati to  introduce ourselves and present the Kava for the Sevusevu.  Unfortunately we went at low tide - there is only a tidal range of about 1.2metres, but this exposed a good 250 metres of deep sticky mud.  Access to the village is only really advised at mid to high tide!



Lomati Village, bundles of Pandanus leaves dry out on a line prior to being woven into mats.


The population of Matuku is approximately 800, spread out over 7 villages.  Although still a very remote island and lacking internet, cars  and mains electricity, a supply ship visits two or three times a month enabling the locals to visit and trade with the main town of Suva on Viti Levu.   The village Ladies kept busy weaving mats, and many of the families  also grew Kava  and other produce to sell in Suva. There was a small shop in the village, tiny, but compared to Fulaga it was very well stocked with basic foodstuffs, cleaning materials and interestingly lots of black hair dye.  They do not sell any fresh produce as everyone grows their own but they were very generous and our Host Family kept giving us bananas, papaya, cooked fish and cassava roots.  

Everywhere we’ve been in the islands the locals have used fibreglass longboats for fishing and travel.  Our host family were making a quick visit to the main village of Yaroi and offered to take us with them.


Yaroi is the main village on Matuku, and the first place in Fiji to ever have a hospital.  Interestingly, after a period of 15 years with only a nurse they have just appointed a Doctor at the clinic.  We arrived in Yaroi at the end of the school day, at the local primary school the children were formally lowering the Fijian flag,  after which they turned round and gave us an official welcome.



At the time of our visit there were several other yachts visiting Matuku and we arranged for a local to guide us up to the top of a mountain overlooking the bay.  




It was incredibly steep - our guides had brought a rope with them and without it (and them) I really don’t think we would have made it up to the top or even back down again.


The wind blowing my hair on end as we clamber up to the top of the rocky hill.


It was a cloudy day so the view is not as dramatic as it could have been, we’re anchored in the large bay in the centre of the photo.


These are Kava plants - we were asked to walk round them carefully, they take about 5 years to grow to maturity and each plant yields about ½ kg of Kava which sells for FJ$120/kg (£40/kg).








At the end of our walk one of the guides literally ran up a coconut palm and threw down a load of coconuts - they chopped them open for us with the ever present machettes they carry at all times.

We left Matuku late afternoon for yet another night sail to the next island of Kadavu, it was high tide, when the surf in the pass is at it’s most dramatic - several of the other yachties had gone there for the surfing, but with the unforgiving coral reef just below the surface it certainly is not a place for the novice!


The view out of the cockpit as we head for the pass on our way out of Matuku.


The surf breaking on the edge of the pass - you do not want to get this wrong!


We had planned on spending a few days in Kadavu Island, walking and diving the Great Astrolabe Reefs - it’s an area we’d visited last year, but this time the weather was against us.  After 3 days of rain and strong winds we gave up and headed on to Suva, the Capital City of Fiji, and the largest city in the South Pacific.  We anchored in the very shallow muddy water just off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, now rather scruffy but a large framed photo of The Queen and Prince Philip hangs in the doorway, a momento of their Royal Visit back in 1954.  We joined the Yacht Club as temporary members and enjoyed a few cocktails and cold beers - back in the modern world after our time in the islands.

We spent a few days re-provisioning the yacht, wandered the shopping mall and bought as much fresh produce as we could manage before heading south west to the island of Beqa - the home of firewalking!





Our anchorage in Suva - the large object in the water is the rusting remains of one of the many wrecks in the waters around Suva.


Another ship that came to grief on the reef.


Our route through the Islands of Fiji.