Exploring the Mamanuka Islands, Fiji

Jul 05, 2017| 2 Comments

Granddaughter Berlin is arriving soon for her second visit with us here in Fiji. We have about a week available for cruising before heading into the marina to pick her up. That gives us enough time to head out to Musket Cove and then do some exploring in the Mamanuka Islands.  We have passed by the Mamanuka Islands on our way to the more popular anchorages in the Yasawa islands, but we have not really sailed through the Mamanukas.  Maybe we can even get to the island that we were chased out of last year because of filmmaking.

Wednesday, June 28th – 1335 – Our stalwart perseverance and infinite patience having paid off, three full days after first starting our clearance into Fiji, we have all the necessary paperwork and are officially cleared to cruise in Fijian waters. Documents stamped, Cruising Permit in hand, we dash back to Avante anchored in Lautoka harbor. Stow the dinghy, start the engine and motor out. Musket Cove is our destination. That’s 26nm away, but if the winds are good, we should be through the reefs and at anchor well before dusk. To our dismay, for the first 2 hours, Avante finds herself plowing directly into 16 – 20-knot winds. We cannot raise sail. Finally, the wind backs a bit, and we are able to raise the jib allowing us to pick up a little speed. Shortly, we are even able to bear off a little more, cut the engine, and for an hour, we sail along quite nicely under the jib alone. We sail up the passage of reefs toward the lagoon into Musket Cove where just before making the turn in, we furl the sail, turn on the engine and motor in. It is 1715. That is somewhat later than we like to be moving around in these reef-strewn waters, but having been to Musket Cove several times before, we fortunately know these waters.

Musket Cove is a popular spot with cruisers. There are a ton of boats either attached to mooring balls or at anchor. With the winds having been variable, it is hard to know in which direction boats may have dropped anchor. Still blowing in at 15 – 20 knots, we decide not to risk anything and anchor further out than we would have liked, At least we know we’ll be safe if the wind once more changes direction. Maybe tomorrow we can move in closer.

It’s a lamb roast that is to be cooked tonight out on the Baby Q, or should we even try to do so in these stiff winds? The Captain decides to give it a go, and wind and all, he serves forth a beautifully cooked roast from our wonderfully performing barbecue. What a fantastic addition to our cruising life this unit is, and how thankful The First Mate is that she wheedled and cajoled The Captain into buying it!

Thursday, June 29th – A lot of development has taken place in and around Musket Cove in the short time we have been coming here. We decide to head ashore to look around. The first stop is to the small hut that serves as the office for the Musket Cove Yacht Club. Officially, we should sign in with them, but there is no one in attendance. We continue on up the path and veer off towards the inner lagoon and into the hills above the resort. It is a pleasant walk up a gradual hill from whose top a great view of the bay can be seen.

Look at all the boats out there! It never ceases to surprise us that many cruisers, having made the often rough passage to these islands, find spots to contentedly roost for weeks on end. Why not explore? Many to our amazement do little of that. Musket Cove is one of those spots where cruisers roost. Granted, it is beautiful, but with so many, many remotely beautiful anchorages to explore, why not get out there? We know not why, but each time we find ourselves anchored by ourselves in a gorgeous spot, we are thankful the herd instinct keeps many of them in places like Musket Cove.



Returning to the inner lagoon, the view of the main reception center for the daily tourist boats coming out from the mainland catches our eyes. Yes, Musket Cove is a pretty spot.







Returning to the Musket Cove Yacht Club, an attendant searches for Avante‘s name in the registrar. We signed up for Lifetime Membership when we were first here in 2011. Last year, we had to pay another $15.00 to once again become lifetime members of the Yacht Club when they could not find us in their records. This year, The Captain has our membership card with him.  Why do we bother? Basically, membership gives us permission to anchor out there, to walk on the island, to dine in the restaurants and to throw away our trash. It’s a small charge for the privileges.



To The Captain’s irritation and The First Mate’s delight, the dinghy has sprung a leak. Water is getting in between the rubber-like sides and the metal bottom. Sitting on an edge in a certain spot or standing anywhere along an edge causes water to dribble in at a steady pace. It’s not of a volume to sink the ship, but it is enough to need a bailer for even the shortest of trips. Could it be fixed? Not with anything we have onboard, but perhaps back in Oz or NZ, The Captain thinks that possibly he could find someone to fix it. The First Mate firmly thinks not. Anyhow, for now, we bail. We have a wonderful recycled plastic gallon container that we procured one torrential evening in the Kingdom of Tonga when we dinghied ashore for dinner without a bailer, and The Captain puts it to good use.

Friday, June 30th – We are going to begin our travels in the Mamanukas today, and to do this, we exit Musket Cove heading westnorthwest through a long stretch with reefs on both sides of us.  Wanting to make sure we have good sun angle to see the reefs as much as possible, we do not pull anchor until 1140. Our way turns out to be accurately charted, but we still keep a good lookout as we move through these waters. On our right, we motor past several islands whose shores are edged with small resorts.

As we motor along Malolo Island, there’s no missing the Funky Fish Resort with a big heart and its name set out in white stones on the hillside.

By 1315, we are off the east end of Mana Island. Turning northwest, we follow the coast to the north side of the island. Not wanting to anchor off the large Mana Island Resort, we continue further north. Peering ahead, several strange looking towers appear to have been constructed off the reef and running out from shore. Are they part of an old wharf? A huge brown sign can be seen on shore.


With our binoculars, a white skull and the words “Ghost Island” can be seen on the sign. What kind of tourist trap is this? Since we are still far enough away not to be bothered by any tour boats, if any were to arrive, we drop anchor and start to settle in. In the distance, we see a long boat motor motoring into view from near the strange pier. It races towards us. What’s up? We must move! Waving an official paper, he tells us that this area is off limits. A film crew is shortly going to begin work. We have to get out of here. Not for good, but just until they finish their work from a helicopter that is due in shortly. You can come back, but right now, NO, you must go. Where? Anchor down by the resort will be fine for about 2 hours. Pulling up anchor, we move. As we enjoy our lunch out on deck, we watch the antics back on Ghost Island.  A helicopter swings into view. People are disembarked from boats to scramble onto shore and into the woods. The helicopter has what looks to be a projector mounted on its nose. It swings up and around the island for about an hour. Then it makes a final looping pass over us on Avante. (Have we finally made the Big Screen?) And off it goes. We pick up anchor to return to our former spot off what some highly creative individual has called Ghost Island.

The beautiful, rugged, uninhabited islands of Fiji have long been used by Hollywood. Survival TV in recent years has found the place, too. We learn that the Fijian government now has a lucrative business going giving these producers rights to use their islands for specified periods of time. This is not the first time we have been chased out of an anchorage due to filming rights. We understand. We just wish the government went that one step further to notify cruisers when we clear into the country which islands are off limits.


Saturday, July 1st – Leaving Mana Island, we enter an area with islands, small and large, looming up in all directions. The view is impressive, but though in wider waters, a lookout for reefs is still paramount.

Like icebergs, these rocky mounds speak to shallow depths anywhere near them. We steer well clear while still enjoying the impressive sight as waves crash into them. Unlike submerged reefs, these are at least easy to spot.

A lunch stop is planned today for Monuriki Island. This island was the location for the filming of the 2000 movie “Castaway” starring Tom Hanks. Not only is it a pretty, little island, there are reminders of the filming still on the island, and it is now a regular stop for tourist boats coming out either from the mainland or nearby resorts. A small tour boat is already there when we arrive. Circling slowly around the bay, we look for a suitable place to anchor. We are not pleased with either the direction of the wind or the depth, but we finally drop anchor in 75 feet. The holding is not good. For a brief lunch stop, it will work, but this would never do for an overnight stop.

About 15 minutes later, a much larger tour boat arrives. There now are over 30 people walking up and down the small beach and snorkeling in the waters. Pretty as the natural scene is with its crystal blue waters and narrow white beach rimmed with palm trees, we decide to stay on the boat rather than join the crowds even for a short time. From where we are, a palm-roofed open-sided structure can be seen as well as the words “HELP ME” laid out in stones on the beach. We plan to return here with Berlin but will try to beat the afternoon tour boats to explore the island then.




Just to give an idea of this island-, rock- and reef-strewn area, from The Captain’s log, here is a description of our short 2-hour trip to our anchorage for the evening.

1300: We motor northeast and go between Manu Island and Yanuya Island.

1325: Turn northeast at the northern end of Yanuya Island.




1350: Motor east of an isolated reef and turn left to pass west of Kadomo Island.

1425: After passing Kadomo Island, continue northwest going around Camel Rock.

1455: Reach the northwestern end of Vanua

Levu Island and turn east into the Navadra anchorage.

1510: Anchored in the Navadra anchorage, just north of Vanua Levu Island with one other sailboat. This is one of the most beautful tropical anchorages that we have visited.



This is an island that we sailed to last year, but were prevented from anchoring because of filming. It was clearly worth a return trip. To capture the beauty of this anchorage, one needs to do a slow 360° movie scan of the whole area. A massive, detached rock marks the entrance between 2 reef areas. The anchorage is really that of 2 islands, Vanua Levu and Navadra. Both have white sand beaches which follow the edge of the island and are interspersed by boulder outcroppings. The land rises steeply and ruggedly from the beaches with heavy vegetation. From those wooded depths, we can hear the bleating of wild goats. Except for the sound of those goats and the surf over the reefs, all is still, quiet and peaceful.




That night and for each of the three nights that we remain here, the sunset over the huge rock at the entrance to the anchorage is worth a pause to enjoy.









During the days, we explore the 2 islands and the many interesting areas to snorkel. Venua Levu proves the more accessible island. We follow the beach from one end to the other.








Here, several short trails lead back into the thick vegetation. How we would love to climb to the top of the island, but we cannot find a path upward that doesn’t end in a steep rock cliff or vegetation too dense to pass.










It is fun tromping through the brambles, pushing aside vines, climbing over tree limbs, but we decide to leave the heights to the skittish little goats that call this island home.







The other boat proves to be an American sailboat, Moonshadow, with Deb and John Rogers aboard whom we invite over for sundowners on our first night. They depart in the morning leaving the anchorage all to ourselves, except for a Blue Lagoon Cruise ship which arrives for a relatively short afternoon visit. Its passengers are ferried over to the beach on Navadra, but as that’s a distance from us on Avante, they are no real intrusion on our quiet.





They leave after about 4 hours, and this beautiful anchorage is once again totally ours for the rest of our stay. Definitely, this is a place we will bring Berlin when she joins us in a few days.






Tuesday, July 4th – From Mexico on across the Pacific, smoke rising from small fires is a constant sight each and every day. Fires are set to burn garbage and collected dry vegetation of which there is ample on these islands. Occasionally, a wind shift or sudden gusts causes these small fires to explode and get out of hand. Anchored this afternoon back in Musket Cove, a wild fire on Malolo Island sends ashes raining down on the many boats at anchor. We anxiously scan the island to see if there are any threatened villages, but we can see none. It looks like it is just running along the hillsides. With absolutely no fire equipment, these conflagrations must just burn themselves out with hopes that they stay confined to uninhabited areas. As the sun sets, the smoke-filled sky makes for a dramatic sunset, but the sight of the flames darting upward in the night sky is unnerving. We know we are safe on Avante, but a stray smoldering ash on unprotected canvas is still a concern. In the morning, the fire has burned out, but the wide, dark path it cut can be seen across the landscaped. Here in the tropics, though, that vegetation will grow back rapidly with the next rainy season.

Tomorrow, we will head back into Port Denarau where we’ll clean up the boat, add on a few provisions and get ourselves ready for Berlin’s visit. Our brief tour of the Mamanuka Islands gave us several very interesting and pretty spots to re-visit with her, and we can’t wait!


    Comments (2)

  1. Hi guys,
    Love reading your blog in seeing the beautiful pictures. Looks like the weather is holding up for you and there’s no storms ahead. Someday maybe I will get there. I know you’re looking forward to seeing Berlin, enjoy your special time.
    Hope you got the leak fixed before you sail away again. Looking forward to reading more of your wonderful trip.
    Be safe,


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