Watersports

 

Our entertainment up til now has been strictly water based.  Kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing have been the daily fare, star watching or a DVD on the big screen TV for evening entertainment – if we can stay awake past 8 p.m.!

The scuba diving in the Lau group was exceptional. Being so far off the beaten track, the reefs are unspoiled and the fish plentiful and curious about the bubbling newcomers in their midst. We enjoyed two awesome dives on a sunken pinnacle called Trigger Rock.  The sheer north face of the pinnacle wall plunges some 600 meters into the blue depths, making it a prime spot for the big pelagics to come cruising through.  Mike and I began the dive by pulling ourselves down hand over hand along Avatar’s anchor chain to cope with the significant current.  Once we reached the wall we were able to tuck down behind it and have a more leisurely view of the reef.  We found ourselves swimming with fifteen or twenty tuna, rainbow runners, trevally and schools of barracuda, as well as the plentiful reef fish. When we concluded the dive, as soon as we pulled up anchor we dropped our fishing lines off the stern and circled the pinnacle a couple of times; it only took two minutes before a pair of dogtooth tuna hit our two lines simultaneously and it was sashimi for lunch!

Another reef dive in the Lau presented us with a wall of barracuda and a big grey shark cruising through their midst, no doubt occasionally snapping up one or two as a snack.  There was a multitude of white tip reef sharks here as well, so curious about us that I had to backpedal to try to fit them in the viewfinder.  Mike, who is exceedingly wary of all sharks, asked me later why I didn’t just bonk the pushiest white tip on the nose with my camera housing but in fact it was only curious – and white tip reef sharks aren’t a threat.  Grey sharks, however, are the real deal and we treat them with respect.

Back in the Bay of Islands lagoons there was one big bommie in shallow water between two islands, not far from our anchorage.  A bommie is a sunken pinnacle rising up from the bottom, a cluster of rock, coral and sealife, and an omnipresent navigational hazard in Fiji.  This particular one was abolutely blooming with soft as well as hard corals and an abundance of creatures.  I took my camera and scuba gear and spent several hours poking into all its nooks and crannies until I was just about on a first name basis with the inhabitants, including a huge old lobster trying desperately to disappear out of sight under a ledge – but his 3 foot feelers poking out were a dead giveaway.

Fishing here has been awesome – normally we don’t scout out the fishing in advance like we did at Trigger Rock, but truly our biggest problem has been losing our lures and hooks to fish too big for our tackle.  So far in the last month we have lost 4 lures, and one big fish even snapped the elastic bungee that Rod rigs up as a shock absorber for the lines. Our last fishing run netted us another even bigger dogtooth tuna, a rainbow runner, and a smaller tuna.  With the fridge full of fish, we have had to put the fishing gear away or we won’t be able to eat it all by the end of our trip.

 

 

Sevusevu

Our first order of business upon arriving in the Lau group was to check in with the local village to perform the traditional ceremony of sevusevu. Although on mainland Fiji more and more it seems the sevusevu is often skipped over by the more accessible villages, here in the Lau it is still taken very seriously.  As outsiders, we are expected to present ourselves to a council of the village headman and elders.  At their invitation we remove our shoes and enter the council building where we sit crosslegged in a circle on the floor.  We offer the chief a gift of kava, a bundle of dried roots from the pepper tree that Rod purchased at market in Nadi.  Our offering is gift wrapped in newspaper and tied with a spiral of pink ribbon making a shape much like the Sorting Hat of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  Our gift also included a couple of tee shirts with the AVATAR FPB64 logo.

When ground into powder and mixed in a large ceremonial bowl with water, kava makes a mildly narcotic drink flavored suspiciously like mud.  It numbs the lips and tongue and creates a mellow zoned out state.  It is dipped from the bowl using a half coconut shell which is passed from person to person, each expected to gulp down the contents in one go.  Even more traditionally kava was originally prepared by young boys who chewed on the roots and spit the pulp into the communal bowl.  We have thankfully bypassed that method of preparation, and on this trip to the Lau we were spared the kava drinking portion of the ceremony as well. However the chief accepted our gifts with a ceremonial speech in Fijian and then, converting to English, we shared our names and a little of our story – where we came from and what we were up to – after which the chief formally welcomed us to his village and gave us permission to make use of their land and water for our recreation – to anchor our boat, cruise their waters, swim, dive, fish, explore.  We made our entry into the ledger kept of visiting yachts, and Rod looked up his prior visit to the Lau in 2003 aboard Raven.  The count of visiting yachts thus far in 2011 stands at thirty-four.

Post ceremony we were invited into the home of one of the elders and served hot tea by his wife while we visited and chatted, exchanging counts of children and grandchildren, hearing the Lau version of Fijian politics, and otherwise just getting to know one another.  There was a bit of fund-raising involved as well; the village had a list of fees for some of their tourism endeavors.  They have set aside an area of the reef as a marine park and have started a nursery of giant clams as a present and future tourist attraction.  We paid the fee and later in the day snorkeled the reef, much like any other reef we could have snorkeled for free, but the wire frameworks housing the baby giant clams were interesting to see, along with the larger giant clams strategically spotted throughout the coral.  It was a worthwhile expense to support the ecological efforts of the community to preserve the marine environment.

 

Bula from the Lau Group

Greetings from a remote outpost of Fiji – the Lau Group of islands where traditional Fiji still exists isolated from the march of modernization. The Lau consists of 57 isles scattered across the southeast corner of the Fijian archipelago. Here there are no hotels, bars, restaurants, dive shops, banks or tourist shops. There is a small grocery store, but the supply boat is broken down and hasn’t been here for a couple of months, so the shelves are bare. The attractions here are spectacular unspoiled scenery, a rich undersea environment ripe for exploration, and villages that still honor the old Fijian ways. To cruise here requires a special permit, which we have. Not long ago it was very difficult to obtain the permit, but the locals lobbied the Fijian government to ease the restrictions and just in the past few months the permits have become more easy to come by.

We are anchored in a secluded cove in the stunning Bay of Islands, also known as Qilaqila, near northern Lau’s largest island, Vanua Balavu. Calm waters as turquoise as any country club swimming pool wind in and about a labyrinth of islands and islets. All feature steep plunging limestone walls rising abruptly from the sea, heavily cloaked with virgin hardwood forest. Where the cliff meets sea, the limestone is uniformly worn away by eons of wave action steadily eroding its base, so that each islet is like a mushroom cap floating on its stem a few feet above sea level. Even when the sea is quiet, the swells lap under the overhanging ledges and break UP against the stone ceiling, to create a ceaseless clamor of splashing and sloshing.

Native birds that we see regularly include small blue herons with yellow feet, barking pigeons whose call sounds like a distant large barking dog, flickering swallows, and beautiful paradise terns that soar along the dark green cliffs, pristinely white in the sunlight with dramatic long tails that give them a profile like a dragonfly. At sea boobies with blue beaks and blue feet fly low over the water cruising in search of a fish dinner.

Just a short kayak paddle away from our favored anchor spot is a colony of beka (large fruit bats, also called flying foxes). These giant bats are the size of a duck. They roost restlessly in the daytime, hanging upside down in the tall trees by their feet, screeching and squabbling and occasionally flying off to relocate on a new branch. At twilight they begin to take to the air en masse, circling along the cliffs to gain altitude and then striking off for a night of foraging.

We’ve been here in the Lau ten days or so, maybe the longest stretch of time we’ve spent in any cruising destination to date! Mike and I flew into Nadi nonstop from Los Angeles, arriving in the dark of predawn. From Nadi we had two connecting flight legs on smaller aircraft, first to Suva and then Taveuni, to meet up with AVATAR who was waiting for us there. The Suva flight was delayed for mechanical reasons and it looked like we were going to miss our connection. The text messages were flying between Rod on the boat and me at the airport as we started to reorganize. The airline had already pulled our suitcases off the flight when suddenly the problem was fixed and the plane was ready to depart. Turns out the pilot and copilot for the Suva-Taveuni flight were passengers on the first leg, sitting right behind us on our crowded plane, so there was no possibility of missing the connection after all! When all was said and done, we arrived in Taveuni on schedule. Rod as always was waiting at the airport to meet us, taxi in hand. And this trip we have a new crew member in training, Rod’s Filipino girlfriend Mayflor.

No sooner had we boarded the boat and unloaded the suitcases, we were underway towards the evening’s anchorage and an early start for the planned 50 mile crossing to the Lau next morning. We met an oncoming humpback whale in the first half hour, an auspicious start to the trip!

Our days here in Bay of Islands have been a steady diet of kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. I’ve dusted off my sadly neglected cameras and started taking pictures again. I am starting to pray for rain so I can have a peaceful day or two at the computer but so far the rain has only fallen at night and the sun comes out each and every day, lighting up the water and beckoning us on to a new adventure. Details of this delightfully monotonous lifestyle to follow…