Well, if you’ve been following the bouncing ball you know that since arriving in Fiji we’ve had a few issues to deal with on our beloved Dazzler. As we often say, “Cruising is an endless chain of fixing things in exotic ports” and for us it is no different. First we were waiting for a new anchor light to be shipped from the states, then it was generator parts from New Zealand, then the bowsprit needed a minor repair and then came the windlass and finally we waited for a new IridiumGo battery as ours swelled up and ceased to function. Alas, after a little over a month we finally were able to get everything back in working order. Now it’s time to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities and crowded anchorages to embark on some amazing new adventures as we travel north to Vanua Levu.
We left Vuda marina on an idyllic sunny day heading north around the western side of Viti Levu. We really didn’t have a set destination, more like a few different anchorages that we thought we’d check out. Surely we’d find some nice place to hang out for a night. After all, it was just going to be a roadsted of sorts to get us further north. It just needed good holding and the proper protection from the winds and surf.
Sugar City and The Watery Graveyard
As we passed by Lautoka we could see the sugar factory pumping out white smoke from its stacks. The smell of burning sugar cane permeated the atmosphere. Mixed with the brininess of the sea air it yielded a sweet yet pungent aroma that wasn’t entirely enjoyable but somehow not awful either.
As we motored along we noted many abandoned boats were sitting at anchor or mooring to the west of us. We remembered a few of them from our travels up to this area in 2019. One was a Chinese fishing boat and another a burned out ferry boat which thick black smoke marks all along the sides.
I stood on the foredeck studying the mine field of ghost ships and suddenly felt quite conflicted by the sight. This watery graveyard felt so cold and empty yet it was cast upon a canvas that was also so warm and inviting. It was such a strange contradiction that I couldn’t help but feel the war between the two in my heart and soul.
I tried to imagine what these boats and ships were like in their heyday. You know, the fishing boat filled with mouthy, Fijian sailors hauling nets and counting their fish or the ferry overflowing with tourists who were laughing and smiling as they set out upon their yearly holiday. Or the happy couple sitting in the cockpit of their sailboat watching the world go by and delighting in the fact that they were actually here in Fiji. Yes, at one point these boats were filled with life and yet now they float idly on top of the water waiting for the day they will dip beneath the ocean waves one final time.
I find a bit of solace knowing that when they do finally sink they will provide a structure that will hopefully encourage a reef to grow. This reef, in time, will surely be brimming with sea life…a lively aquarium that will keep the vessel’s memory alive not unlike the way a son or daughter keeps alive the legacy of their parents. It’s this thought I choose to allow to linger as we continue along on our journey.
This was our first trip up the west coast north of Lautoka and it was absolutely stunning. We’ve been told this side of the island is usually a little more brown and barren but not right now. They’ve had quite a bit of rain lately which makes the lush tropical jungle beam with a million different shades of green highlighted against the deep blue sky and the white frothy clouds. The water here isn’t that sparkling clear aqua water we see in other parts of Fiji. No, it’s rather a milky green due to the run off from the mountains. Even so, the setting is stunning and we’re enjoying every second.
We finally decided to stop at Toba-k-Noluma as it was getting close to sunset. And oh what a magnificent sunset it was too! As we were dropping anchor I was having a hard time juggling my duties at the helm with the need to take a couple of sunset shots to remember this moment. In this huge bay there was only one other yacht and they actually left right after the sunset. Knowing how much reef is around here we certainly wouldn’t be heading out at dark but I guess they knew what they were doing. Silently I said a prayer for their safe passage.
We spent just one night here as our goal right now is to get north to Vanua Levu. This turned out to be a great place to spend the night. It was a bit windy and there was a little fetch but we truly enjoyed it. For us a little movement is what reminds us we live on a boat. After all, if we wanted it flat all the time we’d live on land.
The next morning Dan said the weather wasn’t going to be optimal to continue north and this bay was going to get a lot more nautical so we decided to go back south for a night and wait it out. We ended up stopping in front of the Vatia Resort. Much to our dismay the resort was closed so no sundowners or dinner on shore.
Just before sunset we were approached by a couple of locals in their longboat. After exchanging a few pleasantries they asked if we could spare any zoom. That’s what Fijians call the fuel they use in their two stroke outboards. If we’d have had some we’d have gladly given them a little but our outboard is a four stroke and it uses regular gasoline, not the gasoline/oil mixture used in their engines.
The men didn’t seem to fully understand what Dan was telling them about the difference in the fuel. As I said, we’d been more than happy to give them some but if they used straight gasoline in their engine they would destroy it. In spite of their apparent confusion over the fuel they seemed happy enough and soon went about heading back to their village which was a mile or so south of where we were anchored.
We enjoyed another gorgeous evening on board Dazzler. The sunset was near perfect and we even got a glimpse of the ever elusive green flash as the last ray of sun touched the water in the distance. Dan grilled some sausages for dinner and we relaxed in the cockpit as we delighted in the peace and quiet of our first night away from the chaos of cities and busy anchorages.
Something’s Not Quite Right
The following morning I was still in bed when a longboat approached and I heard Dan go out to see what was happening. I heard many “Bulas” being said and so I jumped up and put on some clothes to check it out myself. As I popped my head out of the companionway I saw six Fijian men in a longboat. One was holding onto the port side of Dazzler while Dan was filling a small water bottle with fresh water for them.
They seemed a bit startled when I came up but quickly greeted me. I immediately recognized one of the men as being one of the two who showed up the prior evening. As I watched them I noted that they were acting a bit strange, uneasy even. They didn’t linger after I came out. In fact it seemed they quite hastily departed. As Dan came down below I could see he was a bit on edge.
I asked him what was going on and he said he had a bad feeling about the encounter. First of all when he looked in their boat he saw several spearguns but that was not the troubling part. He noted they also had two turtles and some illegally caught grouper. Far be it from us to judge the locals but it is against the law to take turtles at anytime and grouper at this time of year as it is spawning season.
Their mannerisms combined with the knowledge that they aren’t afraid to break the law just left Dan with a concern about their intentions. Interestingly enough, I too felt something was amiss as I watched a couple of the men seemingly taking stock of what was on our decks. It almost seemed as if they made up an excuse to stop by the boat. I mean really, there were six men and they only asked Dan to fill up a small, 20 oz plastic bottle with water.
It is quite unfortunate that we felt there was something more to their visit than just needing a tiny water bottle filled. The fact is we find that Fijians across the country are always so welcoming and kind. In all the time we’ve sailed in Fiji we’ve never felt uneasy when approached by locals in a longboat. But, as we all know, Covid brought tough times to everyone around the world. Add to that the fact that fuel prices here in Fiji jumped from an average of $2.77 FJD per liter in April to the current $3.44 FJD per liter and it’s easy to understand how desperate people could resort to theft to support their families.
Of course we do not know that they actually had any ill intentions but we both know what our guts where telling us and out here in the remote parts of the world you have to trust your instincts. It’s what keeps us alive and out of harm’s way.
Stunning Volivoli Bay
The visit while disconcerting did not dissuade us from continuing our journey into the more remote areas of Fiji. We left later that morning and made our way up to Volivoli Bay near the northern shores of Viti Levu. WOW! What a spectacular bay! It turned out to be the perfect place to spend a few days waiting for our weather window to head north to Vanua Levu.
The bay has several villages however we chose to anchor near the Volivoli Beach Resort. Through our research we’d learned they are cruiser friendly which meant we could go to shore for a frosty cold beverage or a bite to eat. They also allowed us to drop off our trash and even arranged for a taxi so that we could go to the nearest town to get some more provisions.
Our taxi driver, Raj, was so very kind. He drove us the short twenty minute drive into Rakiraki to pick up a few provisions. This dusty little town was bustling with people. There are no traffic signals in the town so cars just move from place to place at will. It sort of reminded me of images I’ve seen in India where there seem to be no rules just a maze of movement.
I would never have expected to see so many people and cars in this remote part of Fiji but as Raj explained it’s the first of the month so many have received their government payments and are in town to buy supplies. Well, they certainly were on a mission as no one seemed to be just sitting about. Everyone was moving very determinedly around the stores.
While Dan was at the ATM I sat in the car chatting with Raj. I was in the backseat and noticed that while he told me all about his little girl and the way she was naughty for getting into her mother’s lipstick and smearing it all over her face, he never once took his eyes off of Dan. At one point he quickly jumped out of the car and walked over to where Dan was at the ATM. Apparently someone had come up behind Dan and Raj wanted to make certain there was no trouble. Like I said, he was a great guy and also very protective of us.
Raj even stopped on our way back to the resort to pick a piece of fresh sugar cane for us. He just pulled up to one of the cane fields and jumped out of the car. The next thing we know he’s ripping and tearing and pulling this piece of sugar cane out of the ground. He wanted to be sure we had a chance to experience eating it fresh from the field.
You see Lautoka is called the Sugar City as sugar is the main crop in the area. The Lautoka Sugar Mill was started in 1903 and today it employees some 1300 people. Our friend Veeru, a taxi driver in Vuda, has a son who works for the Fijian Sugar Company. They actually live in a house that is paid for by the company and Veeru has proudly pointed it out to us when he’s taken us from Vuda to Lautoka.
Having never eaten fresh sugar cane I was very intrigued by it and excited to try sugar in it’s most raw form. Of course you don’t really eat it, rather you suck on the white, grainy stalk inside the green outer shell. I’ll tell you this…. it certainly can be addictive as Dan and I ate the entire stalk sitting in the cockpit when we returned to Dazzler.
We spent almost a week here at Volivoli and quite frankly we could have stayed longer. There were a handful of other boats in the anchorage near us but unlike so many places we’ve been to lately no one was directly on top of us. That’s always nice. And, the staff at the resort were simply spectacular! From Oscar to Va to Tina to Pola who ran the dive operation. Everyone was so wonderful. We truly enjoyed going ashore and chatting with all of them.
The Weather Is Here
Finally our weather window opened up and on the seventh day we departed Volivoli Bay and headed across the Bligh Waters to the northern island of Vanua Levu. Both of us are pretty excited about this trip. We are finally going to make our way back to the villages we visited in 2019 and this time we have the immense honor of bringing reading books for the children.
You see in 2019 after learning that the Fijian government provides textbooks for the kids but not reading books, we made it our mission that we would bring books. All in all we raised over $4000 USD to buy new books and the Lions Club of NZ as well as Kokopu Elementary School in Whangarei donated hundreds of used books. In sum we collected over 2500 books to be brought to the remote villages of Fiji.
Obviously Dazzler could never hold them all so we recruited some Cruiser Angels to help. Beginning in 2020 when SV Pogeyan and SV Archer as well as couple of others headed up to Fiji the books started to make their way to the villages. We’ve lots more to report about the book situation but you’ll have to wait for that.
Escape To A Remote Paradise
We made it across the Bligh Waters and found a secluded anchorage in Baulailai Bay where we spent the night. On the hillside there were goats and cows but no sign of human life anywhere. This was a perfect anchorage and absolutely breathtaking. With no village to visit we simply sat in the cockpit and enjoyed the stunning views and shear remoteness of it all. There’s something so special about being the only two people in a place like this. To me it always reminds me of being an ancient explorer. Of course we get to do it with a little more of the creature comforts of life.
The next day we made another 25-30 mile jump to Basa Bay. Again, no village but we did finally see a couple of fishermen in longboats whom we would later learn were out tending to a pearl farm. Another perfect anchorage in remote Fiji. Our escape from the chaos of the cruiser filled anchorages is bringing a wonderful peace to our souls!
Until next time,