For the first time in a long time we were feeling a bit pressed by time. We spent longer in Tonga then we shoulda waiting for a weather window so we knew that would cut into time reserved for Fiji.
We already knew Fiji was going to be one of those places we barely scratch the surface of. It’s something we’ve obviously faced during this whole trip but some places you can get a good sense of in a limited time, and see a good chunk of what it has to offer, while others you sail away from knowing you didn’t see diddly squat.
So the problem facing us, as Fiji’s so damn large, is where to go? What to see?
Adding to this dilemma was the fact we needed to get Interlude hauled out for the last time, mostly to clean her bottom and touch up the anti-foul before returning to Oz, plus we always like to know everything under the waterline is working as it should. The anti-foul has been hammered for everyone on this trip that we’ve talked to. I guess we’ve done over 20,000 miles so it’s understandable.
In the end our decision led us to the Western islands of Fiji. This seemed to be the better cruising ground, the reefs were more charted (more on this later) and it’s also meant to be the drier, sunnier side of Fiji (a LOT more on this later).
A lot of boats head to Savu-Savu in the North first and we were a little gutted by missing out on this but we’d read stories of people being stuck there for weeks as the trade winds can zip between the islands holding everyone captive in port and we couldn’t take that risk.
The passage over from Tonga was shared with our buddy boat Whale and the Bird. We had a great sail for once (the Pacific hasn’t been the calm sea everyone claims for any of us traversing it this season). In fact, this passage was so good we were all a little caught out on the final night as we sailed under the bottom of Fiji’s south coast and a 35 knot squall hit us complete with sheets of blinding rain and sudden increases in seas. Of course this had to coincide with us passing through the busy shipping area with tankers flying about all over the place. Good stuff weather Gods! Well played!
The only other drama was halfway over when my life jacket decided to self inflate for no reason at all. Helen’s went off about two days before in a locker but I was wearing mine and it scared the life out of me when it blew up! Not sure why they both went off, maybe the gas canisters only last two years (that’s how old they are) and then go off so you need to renew them?
Fiji is well known for it’s reefs. Everyone has them on their mind and if they don’t they jolly well should. We were heading for Vuda Point marina which is inside a large reef with a smallish channel you have to pass through. Unluckily we hit this pass around midnight and so were faced with staying outside where the seas were still a little unruly or head in during darkness.
Maybe we were crazy but we decided that due to having so many points of reference that lined up we’d head in. To be fair we did do our homework. We had detailed waypoints from a local who sells them to everyone here. Our radar was showing land to be matching up perfectly with the charts, something that didn’t happen in Tonga. And there were leading lights helping us into the pass exactly where they should be.
So with that we blindly turned in. Everything went well and we were patting ourselves on the back when I said to Helen- ‘Quick, check the chart plotter AIS as that thing we thought was a hotel is moving towards us!’. Sure enough that ‘hotel’ was a 161m long shipping container which was now doing a donut in the area just before the channel as we were blocking up the pass. The ‘ferry’ we’d been watching also turned out to be a pilot boat. It confused things even more but we slowly worked out what was happening and kept out of their way as best we could. Once we were clear the tanker finished his 360 and headed out. I hate to think how much we had just cost him in fuel. Sorry pal.
After that bit of entertainment the trip over to the marina, which was about 30 miles away, was a breeze and we arrived at dawn to a lovely sunrise over Fiji and headed into the customs dock to clear in.
Our clearance went without a hitch and after 30 pages of forms we were officially in. Whale and the Bird didn’t fare so well as five customs officers tore their boat apart for three hours looking for all the drugs they must have thought they had on board. Seems it was all because they bought the boat in Mexico. I think it’s more down to how doggy Pete looks, oh well, they never did find the 100kg’s of coke he had hidden in his fenders.
Vuda Point marina was to become our home for the next week. Home’s a great word for it as the people we met were so welcoming we felt like part of the family. We’ve never been to such a friendly marina, amazing place. The actual marina is weird though. It’s a huge bowl that all the boats line up like the minute ticks on a watch face.
The best thing is that the tide is about two meters here and none of the pontoons float so at high tide you’ve got a one-meter jump off the boat and at low a one-meter climb on your hands. It’s not unheard of for people to fall in the drink trying to get on and off their boats and while very unsafe really adds to the quirkiness of the place. Helen didn’t appreciate this particular quirkiness and wore a big bruise from one of the many near misses.
Oh, it’s got a kick-ass bar with the most amazing sunsets as well!
Vuda also has all the haul out facilities right there in the marina. Compared to Martinique (where she was last taken out of the water) this boat yard is five star. The lift went without a hitch and the work was very professional, and about half the price of what we paid in the Caribbean. And yes, that is one of the workers hitching a ride on our keel – lazy git! 😉
The cost of labour is so cheap we got a guy to give the boat a full polish and wax. If you’re ever in Fiji look no further than Mosses!
Interlude was checked from top to bottom and we found no issues at all which was reassuring. We had an amazing view from where our boat was in the yard. Looking right out over the ocean. Quite good fun living in a treehouse again!
While the paint was drying we took a few trips to the local town of Latouka. The bus ride there was great fun! No windows, no suspension, no worries! Great tunes blasted out of the amazing 20 speaker audio setup onboard, which must have cost as much as the rest of the bus (priorities bro!). All the school kids bounced along to the beats (when they weren’t reaching out the windows to smack branches on trees).
We’d read that Fiji has some problems with how it’s people integrate with each other. There’s a strong Indian presence here and sometimes things blow up. It’s definitely different to Samoa or Tonga where people are so friendly. Here you felt like you were being watched a little and we were told to just be on our guard. It’s a shame but you have to play by the rules when you’re playing in someone else’s backyard.
Personally we never felt any problems while in Latouka. However other cruisers reported that the nearby town of Nadi was pretty full on with locals coming up to them and staying they shouldn’t be there as it wasn’t safe, or saying they should only buy things in local Fijian shops and not Indian stores.
We had a few supplies to get and Latouka delivered. The market is HUGE!
The real reason we were here was to grab a curry though as we’d been told you can get some of the best Indian food in the world from Fiji. After a big search we found a little place full of local Indian people and rolled out of there two hours later after having the best curry we can remember. Sure we couldn’t feel our mouths for the rest of the day but that’s the price you pay! Yum!
The rest of the week was spent relaxing while we waited for our turn to get back in the water. The weather was amazing. Bright sunny days, cool nights. After some of the greyness that seems to be following us across the pacific we soaked up the rays.
Then of course as soon as we wanted to head out to the islands we checked the weather and it looked like being very overcast and wet for the next week. Grrr! So much for the ‘dry’ side of Fiji!
We headed out anyway, over to an area called Musket Cove which is a small yacht club and marina but also linked with the fancy resorts on the island. For a small fee you can become lifelong members of the yacht club. No one was really sure what this meant as you seemed to be able to use everything regardless but we did get these really fancy cards that we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives. Pure quality.The resort was just what the doctor ordered. Long swims in the pool, lazy afternoons walking around the island. It was what we were hoping for and although knowing we’d missed out on other places in Fiji we felt good about of decision to just focus on one small area and enjoy it rather than our normal trick of trying to see as much as possible in a haze.
Whale and Bird and some other of our travel buddies popped over a few days later and we had some good nights out with them at the bar listening to some great old rockers bang out the classics.
From Musket we wanted to head North up through the Yassawa group. The weather was really starting to turn for the worst though and although I’m sure the islands are amazing we’ve been spoilt on this trip by seeing so many that we knew they aren’t that much fun if it’s raining and grey.
We did venture out to Cloud 9 which is just beyond the reef. Talking of reefs there’s a brand new Swan 52’ on it’s side about 300m from here. It smashed into the reef about three weeks ago and sank. No one really knows what happened but we’d heard he’d typed in the wrong waypoints and just sailed straight over the reef – at night!
To us that’s just crazy! You really need someone on the bow around this area at all times. The charts are pretty good but there’s a lot of stuff missed out. And this area is meant to be safer to cruise than say the Lau group to the East. It did make us think how nuts we were coming into the pass at night. There is a big difference between coming into a large shipping channel as we did and playing frogger with reefs like his guy did. Game over.
Cloud 9 was such a cool place, basically a massive floating bar that serves healthy doses of cool drinks and unhealthy doses of amazing pizza. Most of the customers come from the small tour boats that zip over from the mainland but they have a few moorings for yachts. We hung out with a local guy who works there. He told us a bit about Fiji and sadly some of it’s problems, it was great to chat with him and it does seem that the younger generations see the integration issue as less of a problem. Fingers crossed.
After Cloud 9 we snuck back behind the reef at Musket as the wind started to blow. The next day we headed back to Vuda after trying our luck at the other marina in the area which was full and the anchorage that was just too slippery.
The forecast was looking grim as you like. A front was hovering over Fiji and didn’t look like moving on for at least a week. We talked with others and decided to just leave for New Caledonia as the weather was actually way better over there.
So that’s what we did. We cut our time short in Fiji and decided to move on. And it felt horrible.
Back to those feelings of totally missing out on a place. Grr! Oh well. We did, and saw, what we could. We left feeling relaxed and recharged for the final push back to Oz. We met up with friends- including our Galapagos to French Polynesia heroes Matelot who sailed over to Vuda to wish us farewell as they are heading back to New Zealand.
We’re sorry Fiji, we know we never gave you a chance. We loved what we saw and will be back we promise. It’s not you it’s us.