Return to Bay of Islands, Fiji

Jun 12, 2018| 1 Comment

Saturday, May 26th – Due to our arrival on a weekend, the cost of clearance into Fiji will be more than doubled, but we had expected this. Far better to be swinging peacefully on a mooring ball off the Copra Shed Marina here in Savusavu than to be bashing around out there in the 30-knot winds that were racing in behind us.

The officials start arriving in the afternoon and, to our surprise, they are super efficient. As has happened in previous check ins with Fiji, they do not have a copy of the Advanced Notice of Arrival form that The Captain had so laboriously filled out in New Zealand and emailed in as required. This time we have copies of the email and the forms to show them that all had been completed on time. The Captain is not going to have to fill out all 13 pages again. Piecing together the mystery of these constantly disappearing forms, we now speculate that they are received by an underpaid civil servant in an obscure subterranean office in the capitol of Suva, and from there, they never again see the light of day. They do not get forwarded to the expected port of entry as directed. Thus, Savusavu, our port of entry, never receives any notice of intended arrival even though they continue to expect and ask for it. Our Customs Officials smile and shake their heads. They are used to this, and we now know the drill. We give them our copies. They accept them, stamp them and tuck them away. Everything else goes smoothly. We are healthy. That box is checked off. No dead mice on board, but they did not ask. No insects. All our meat is acceptable because it is all itemized and stamped as products of New Zealand. What little fresh produce we have is removed, even our honey. Only Fijian honey is allowed. This has not been an issue in previous years, but since Australia and New Zealand are both finicky this way, we figure that Fiji has decided it ought to be also. The only thing we cannot do is pay the various clearance fees we now owe because all offices are closed on the weekends. All this can be attended to on Monday, but for right now, the yellow Quarantine Flag can come down to be replaced by Fiji’s Courtesy flag, and we are free to leave the boat. We are cleared into Fiji without any issues!

As soon as the last official leaves the boat, we quickly lock up and head ashore where the signs and displays in the brightly colored buildings provide a complex mix of Indian and Fijian culture. Can we get to the small Vodaphone kiosk to purchase internet time before it closes? Yes, it’s open! 10 minutes to closing. Wow! Okay, now to the ATM. It’s Saturday afternoon, a huge day for the outlying people who bus into town for their weekly, or maybe monthly, shopping. Will the ATM still have cash? Experience tells us that it may not, but it does! In the money, we head off to restock our larder. Many of the small sellers in the outdoor market have closed up shop for the day, but The First Mate is able to get enough to see them through until Monday morning.

Wednesday, May 30th – Another amazing first for this traveling duo: the Fijian Tribal Cruisers Permit, which has taken as many as 3 frustrating days to procure on our last 2 entries into Fiji, is delivered to us on Monday afternoon. That’s the first business day after our arrival! Our luck is running so good we should be buying lottery tickets! In between frequent rain showers, we provision and refuel. No, there is still no fuel dock to pull Avante up to. We have to take containers ashore by dinghy and haul them down the road to the local gas station and then carry the full containers weighing over 90 lbs each back to the boat.

All tasks completed, we drop the mooring ball and motor the short distance out of the harbor and down the bay where we anchor off the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort. In February 2016, Cyclone Winston devastated this area and many parts of Fiji.  As seen in this June 2016 photo, the substantial dock of this resort had been blown away, and many of the thatched-roofed buildings of had been damaged.

We are pleased to see that repairs have been made.  The dock has been rebuilt. Resort boats are running about, and the thatched-roofed cottages look new and inviting. Money and co-ordinated effort have worked their wonders here. The place is definitely up and running.


Unfortunately, this is not the case across other cyclone-ravaged sections of Fiji. Whole villages and resorts simply disappeared, washed into the sea with the receding water. Lack of funding continues as a major problem. We learn, too, that many of the outlying villages are still waiting for government aid for such important community needs as water storage and schools. The First Mate knows, however, that she cannot criticize Fiji, for her own country is not a towering example of government response in time of environmental disasters.

Anchored near us off the resort is a catamaran, s/v Whistler. Intrigued by the “Telluride” on the stern of Avante, the owners of the cat, Margy and Monty, stop by on their return from snorkeling. They hail from Whistler, Canada and are avid skiers, golfers and outdoor enthusiasts. They have been to Telluride and to Scottsdale, where Margie has often been a guest in Desert Mountain’s annual Women’s Member/Guest Tournament. The two gals wonder that they had never met at this tournament. Even so, it’s a small world sometimes even out here off a tiny Pacific island nation.

Conversation flows, and we decide that if the rain holds off, we will head into the resort for dinner. The rain holds off, and we head ashore for a very good and enjoyable dinner sitting poolside in the newly refurbished main building. While at dinner, another boat had anchored near us. It hails from Big Sky, Montana. Mountain sure met the sea out here tonight in the Pacific!

We have ambitious cruising plans this season. The remote Lau Islands of Fiji are our destination. In years past, it was difficult to travel to these islands, for there are no clearance offices on these islands. Thus, for an arriving boat, one must clear in at one of the ports of entry on the two main islands of Fiji. Then, an often arduous up-wind passage must be done to get out to the Lau Islands, and, to make it even harder, until a few years ago, a visit to the Lau Islands required special permission. It took months to get that permission and extra travel time to get to these islands and back. All that required far more time than we usually had. The special permission is no longer needed, and in 2016, we were able to finally get out there. Our visit, unfortunately, was cut short when our anchor windlass, the motor that raises our 100+ pounds of anchor and chain failed. That necessitated an immediate return to Nadi to get it fixed. What we saw in that brief visit, however, was enough to tantalize us. Now, with all systems working, we are heading there again.

Thursday, May 31st – Today, we begin what will end up being a 9-day trip to get to the Lau Islands. It’s only 100nm from Savusavu to Bavatu Harbour, our first anchorage in the Lau Islands, but there are some interesting places along the way. Also, we need to go against the predominant wind direction. No one wants to push into wind and sea if they can help it.

First Anchorage: Viani Bay. We spend 2 days here where we anchor in a sheltered lagoon area near a small island.

We launch our new SUPs for their maiden voyages. Our first attempts are not pretty. A tricky combination of balance and coordination are needed to stand on a board on a constantly moving body of water. Balance first. Then start paddling and steering that flat board across a rolling surface. The Captain’s initial trial lasts all of 15 seconds before he is caught by a sideways wave and splashes.

The First Mate does somewhat better, but that is because she perfects the delicate trick of falling to her hands and knees whenever balance is threatened. Her inventive technique, so she thought, works great until she notices that her knees are being rubbed raw by the non-skid on the board. Better just to splash in the water. Whatever is she afraid of? The water is warm, and one is sweating anyway from the exertion. Just let go and fall, for goodness sake! That she does, backwards off the board, an embarrassing bottom-splashing affair which sends that board skittering way away from her since neither of them had bothered to put the ankle ties on that connect board to boarder. Eventually, we gain enough confidence to venture further from the boat and explore the lagoon in front of our anchorage. It isn’t as easy as we thought it would be, but it isn’t all that hard either. To The First Mate’s joy, The Captain states that her SUPs are a good addition to the boat’s cruising cargo.

Saturday, June 2nd – Second Anchorage: Periods of rain showers are becoming more and more frequent. Grey skies predominate. Pulling anchor, we motor out Viani Bay. Staying inside the reef, we follow the curving coast to Nasau Bay. We were last here in October, 2011. The building of Sau Bay Lodge had just started. Now up and running, we have learned that the owner, Nigel, welcomes cruisers for dinner. Reservations are made for Sunday evening, and we keep our fingers crossed we can make it there in between rain showers. Dressed in rain gear, we arrive on the shore, pull the dinghy up through the low tide muck and, now looking more like drowned wash-aways than blue-water adventurers, we walk up to the lodge. A strategically-paced water faucet is at the bottom of the steps leading into the dining room. Sand washed off our feet, rain gear removed, hair smoothed, smiles on, we walk nonchalantly into the dining room. Sau Bay Lodge is a pleasant, unpretentious establishment, and we are warmly welcomed by the staff. Seated at the bar, several of the guests come up to us, curious about the big blue sailboat in the bay. Nigel, also, shows up, but as he is busy tonight, he invites us to come by tomorrow morning for coffee. Come back and pay your bill then, for he doesn’t want to fuss with it now! Okay, we’ll do that.

We spend a relaxed evening in the lodge, enjoy an Indian buffet, and end the evening listening to a music presentation by the Fijian workers on site.

Monday, June 4th – Sun! Fantastic! We woke up to sun this morning! Returning to the lodge, Nigel greets us. Having learned that we are going to the Lau Islands and being an experienced captain in those parts, he pulls out his iPad and gives us some interesting facts about the area and some helpful navigation tips.

Standing under an impressively huge and spreading 100+ year old tree, we wait while one of his attendants loads our dinghy with papayas and pomelos (those large, sweet island grapefruit), and thanking him for his hospitality and words of advice, we return to Avante where we prepare to leave.


Exiting through the reef, we cross Somosomo Strait to the village of Somosomo where a large (by island standards) grocery store offers a possibility of more fresh vegetables. “The more, the better,” thinks The First Mate, for we know obtaining such in the Lau Islands will not be possible.


Lugging the boat up the soft sandy slope below the local school, a group of children out on the play field rush over to see us. Eagerly they pose for photos and excitedly exclaim when shown their images.

Later, at the store, to her delight, The First Mate adds 2 beautiful green peppers to her larder and a few more potatoes and onions for good measure.

Third Anchorage:  Naselesele Bay is located on the northern end of Taveuni Island and below the airport. It is one of our favorite anchorages, though it does take some tricky navigation to get in amongst the coral heads. We motor in very slowly to anchor in 20 feet, careful to drop our anchor in sand and not on top of the coral. The water is so clear we have no trouble seeing where the anchor lands. We had hoped to snorkel and get in more SUP practice, but strong winds and rippling waves prevented both.

Tuesday, June 5th – In mid-morning, we slowly and carefully motor out through the coral heads and then direct Avante around the groupings of reefs off the northern end of Tavenui Island. Once clear, we set our direction for Matangi Island. Shortly after noon, we are dropping anchor at our Forth Anchorage: Horseshoe Bay on Matangi Island. Here we plan to sit until the winds turn favorable for our final push to the Lau Islands, and sit we do for 3 full days. In between rain showers, we snorkel some and SUP some more. We now look like we know what we are doing on the boards. Standing straight and balanced, we paddle forward with confidence and explore the shoreline. We head out the bay itself and around the headland to another bay where pulling ashore, we climb a hill to discover a great open area to hike. As dusk is quickly approaching, we head back to the boat planning to return the next day with hiking shoes and water. Rain, again, terminates that idea.

Saturday, June 9th –  0725 Finally, finally, the winds are more favorable. Still forward of the beam, the wind angle should be wide enough to allow us to sail with the jib out. There are 2 catamarans anchored near us who are also eager to get to the Lau Group. We imagine them watching Avante as we leave with a touch of envy, for Avante is designed to sail closer to the wind than a catamaran is able to do. They must wait for a more favorable wind direction or calmer conditions so they are not motoring into wind and seas.

Our destination, the Lau island of Vanua Balavu, is seen in the distance, but it is not until 1600 that we are motoring through the pass following the white leads through the reef opening into the waters around the island. The channel markers, which had been blown away by Cyclone Winston, have been replaced. Keeping a careful lookout for reefs and coral heads, we motor down the channel to enter Batavia Harbour.

By 1700, we are peacefully anchored in the large, circular bay. To our delight, we are the only boat to be seen. A cruiser’s dream, for sure! Sitting on deck with our Gin & Tonics, we enjoy the early evening light.

Sunday, June 10th – Located on the headlands above us is an old coconut plantation. We had hiked up there when we were last here shortly after Cyclone Winston. The devastation had been vast with denuded trees, fallen limbs and trunks and buildings blown away in part or all together. What would we see now? On the heights above us, we can see that one of the owner’s home has been rebuilt. This one had been all but blown away in the storm. That’s a hopeful sign. On land, we hike up the road through the old coconut grove. Mother Nature has definitely endowed life, in all its many forms, to be resilient.

The aftermath of Cyclone Winston – February, 2016

With some human pruning and clean up help, Nature rebounds – June, 2018

Sunday is always a quiet day out here on the islands. Church is the prime activity followed by sitting, dozing or talking and visiting with family and friends. In the early morning, we had seen the workers on the plantation above us motor off in a long boat to the nearest village for church services. They return in the mid afternoon and pull up to Avante to say hello. We invite them aboard for what we assumed would be a brief visit. Three hours later, we are all still “visiting”. How do we entertain them? What to say? What to do? The SUPs! The young men in the group are fascinated and eager to try, and to our chagrin, from the get-go, they are much better balanced and capable than we were.

When one of the young men calls it quits, the Captain takes his turn. Standing straight and balanced, he ventures out across the harbor definitely showing that he has passed SUPping 101.

To break a lull in the conversation, The First Mate asks about the many uses of coconut. When is it best for coconut water? The easiest way to get into the seemingly impregnable coconut? How to tell when the coconut meat is ready? Though much of this she already knew, it did make for conversation. One of the men zips off to shore in search of a green coconut, one that is still on the tree for that is when you get the refreshing coconut water. Balancing in his long boat, sharp machete in hand, he slices through the top of the coconut. The First Mate offers glasses and cookies all around for us to share.

Late in the afternoon, AIS beeps to warn us that a boat is approaching and is on a collision course with us. There’s a bit of a land mass in between, but AIS does not know that. Scrambling below, The First Mate notes that 2 boats are motoring in from the east. What are they doing out there amongst the reefs so late in the day? Those keel-biting reefs cannot be seen when heading directly into the sun. To our surprise, the 2 boats continue past our bay, and we assume that they know the area well or are retracing an earlier track on their GPS. A half hour later the AIS beeps again. Two more boats are coming from the east. These two turn into Batavia Harbour.

Motoring past us, we are hailed by one. “What does it take to get away from Colorado?” we are asked. Seeing “Telluride” on the stern of our boat and also being from Colorado, they could not resist the taunt. They also inform us to expect about 30 other boats to materialize over the next 2 days. They are from the ARC, a round-the-world 2-year marathon rally. The ARC rally has made special arrangements for their boats to be able to clear into Fiji at the small town of Lomaloma which is on the southeast corner of the island we are on. Soon they will all be headed here or to the Bay of Islands. To say we are dismayed is to put it mildly. Sharing this idyllic spot with a few other boats is okay. It’s even expected, but 30? That’s beyond imagination!

Monday, June 11th – Early in the morning, The Captain sees 2 catamarans slowly motoring past the entrance to our harbour continuing on toward the Bay of Islands. He is astounded. They would have left Lomalona very early motoring right into the sun and could not possibly have seen the reefs. Haven’t these people been told about the reefs of Fiji?

We weigh anchor ourselves at 1000. Not only have we done this journey before, the sun is well behind us and the reefs can be clearly seen in the water. We pass a small bay where the 2 catamarans that passed earlier look to be dropping their anchors. We wonder what they have been doing all this time. We round the coral reef and head into the large Bay of Islands. Unlike the last time when we had this bay all to ourselves there are already about 8 boats here and the rest of the ARC boats are surely coming. We anchor well away from the choicest anchoring spots in 90′ of water, knowing that few cruisers want to anchor at such a depth. With the size of Avante and the amount of chain we have out, nobody is going to want to anchor too close to us. We have created our space in an area that is soon to be a cruisers’ parking lot.

With so many boats blocking the views and getting in the way of prime photo shots, it is hard to capture the surreal beauty of this area. To do that, please go to “Flower Pots and Toadstools”, May 8, 2016. That blog captures the magical uniqueness of this area. Then, it was just us and these whimsical islands. To tempt you, here are just two photos:

Toadstool balanced on its slender stem

Delicate arches lead into brilliant blue lagoons

We stay in the Bay of Islands for 3 days. Each day sees more ARC boats arrive. Like ducklings around mother duck, most of them anchor clustered together. Winds have been light, but if a heavy wind picked up at night, we wonder how they would fair. In fact, we learn that several have had mishaps from just such an occurrence with barbecues being ripped off stations as well as miscellaneous dings and dents. Looking at their placement on the AIS, we are amazed. Avante is the black triangle. All the red ones are others.

What about those 2 catamarans whose navigation know-how we questioned with their early morning departure from Lomaloma directly into the sun? We learn that the organizers of the ARC had indeed warned everyone about the dangerous reefs in Fiji and that they also supplied waypoints, though with the warning that the safest path between 2 waypoints is not always a straight line. Watch out for reefs! With one catamaran leading, the 2 catamarans started out heading straight for the first waypoint. Are they motoring slowly, cautiously with a bow lookout? No. The first one barrels onto a reef going about 6 knots and knocks a rudder clean off his boat and damages the other. Fortunately, it is still afloat and able to maneuver off the reef. At this point, the second boat says, “I’ll lead”, and minutes latter, he, too, runs onto a reef and damages one of his two rudders. The two then limp around to the Bay of Islands, anchoring away from everyone, to lick their wounds and try to figure out how in Fiji, with little yacht support and few skilled workers, they are going to get their rudders fixed. Would that even be possible and, if so, could the work be completed in time to continue with the rally when it leaves Fiji for Vanuatu in 4 weeks? “Good luck” we think.

There are non-ARC cruisers in the bay as well. Margy and Monty from s/v Whistler, whom we had meet when anchored at the Cousteau Resort are there, and we have fun getting together with them again. It doesn’t take long before we get to know many of the ARC cruisers, and in the process, we discover that several of the ARC boats, tired of the fast pace of the rally, are leaving it here in Fiji. That’s allowed. They can reconnect with the rally when it comes through next season. We have a great time snorkeling with our new friends, exploring a cave with an underwater entrance and we enjoy lots of Happy Hours. One of the favorites is to raft up all our dinghies in a treed area where the bats nest and hang sleeping in the branches during the day. With daylight fading, a few of the more adventurous bats head out in search of insects, but as the sun sets, flocks take wing. Looking up, the sky is darkening with their black bodies. Someone notes that it seems to be starting to rain. No! That’s not rain. That’s bat poop! Nothing ends a party like bat poop!

On Tuesday, June 12th, The First Mate hosts a birthday dinner party for The Captain. She even attempts to bake an apple cake in her recalcitrant oven. It’s not great, but it’s the thought that counts she consoles herself. “Shaggy”, as she has started calling him, has a great time. Look closely at the photo. “Shaggy” definitely fits this growth of scraggly facial hair. It prickles. It bites. She does not like it one iota! “It’s here to stay until we return to the States,” he tells her. All is not exactly marital bliss aboard the good ship Avante!

With more boats arriving each day, the Bay of Islands is too crowded for us. The magical Bay of Islands just wasn’t as magical this time with all the noise and activity. Next stop: the remote island of Falanga. It, too, has the fantastical islet forms and of special interest are the welcoming locals who “adopt” you into their family group for your stay.

    Comment (1)

Post a Comment