West Side (of Fiji) Stories

We are in Port Denarau Marina on Fiji’s west side, preparing for a good weather window in which to depart Fiji and sail back to New Zealand. The key purpose of this annual migration south is to avoid cyclones (hurricanes) in the tropical summer. Denarau is a western style development just a few kilometers west of Nadi, where the international airport is located. The marina here is a main departure point for yachts clearing out of Fiji, and offers skilled and knowledgeable staff to assist in coordinating the process. Also, there’s a boat yard and a couple of reasonable chandlers. Beyond the marina is a small shopping center, completely oriented toward the tourists who fly in and either stay at one of the luxury resorts at Denarau, or catch a fast ferry to a resort on either the Mamanuca or Yasawa islands just to the north. Outside of the shopping center there are gated communities of beautiful houses lining the waterways and the manicured golf course, homes for the affluent who live here part- or full-time. Above all, Denarau is a tourist hub: Fancy and beautifully landscaped resorts, the aforementioned golf course and tennis club, a water park for the kiddies, a shopping center with boutique clothing stores, gift shops, restaurants, and other services for tourists. Denarau is a convenient stop for sailors at the end of the cruising season who are getting ready to leave Fiji, but it does have a peculiar aura. Staying here offers little insight into everyday Fijian life. Continue reading

Vanua Levu, The Far Side

It’s a good thing to be flexible. For anyone, actually. But it’s especially true for a sailor: Circumstances – like the weather – can turn out other than expected, and you find you must adapt to the change. It’s also a good thing to have an alternative plan or two in mind, just in case.

When we left Savusavu mid-morning on a Wednesday in early September, our intention was to make the overnight passage to the island of Vanua Balavu, in Fiji’s Northern Lau group. The Northern and Southern Lau islands are scattered across the ocean southeast of the rest of Fiji. Getting there requires waiting for favorable weather conditions, as they lie to the southeast and so are “up wind” from the rest of the country. (Remember: The predominate trade winds blow from the SE in this part of the globe.) The forecast called for a favorable, but brief, weather window for our passage opening up the next day. We anchored for the night off a beach in Savusavu Bay, planning to start our passage early in the morning.

Planned sail to Vanua Balavu. It’s towards the southeast, directly into the tradewinds. So opportunities are rare.

But, as is sometimes the case, the weather system moved more quickly than forecast. We lost our anticipated window of opportunity, and so had to adapt. Change of plans.

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Island Time: Hanging Out in Fiji

Paradise Resort with Paul & Karen of Gigi

We are taking it easy in Fiji this season, hanging out on the east side of the country (Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Kioa, etc.) for a while longer. The prevailing trade winds blow east to west, so it’s usual for sailors to begin in the eastern islands before moving along to the western groups.

Earlier this season we motor-sailed over to the island of Taveuni for a couple of weeks. We got in a little snorkeling, and some nice lunches at the Paradise Taveuni resort while there. Also a visit to the island of Kioa, sponsored by the resort. On the way over to Taveuni we caught a lovely mahi mahi. Fish for dinner, breakfast and lunch, and enough to share half with Paul and Karen of Gigi. Feeling optimistic, we put a line out again on the way back. This time we attracted not one, but TWO mahi mahi. Unfortunately Rand missed with the gaff and failed to bring the hooked fish aboard, missing out on another fresh fish dinner. So it goes sometimes.

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South Minerva Reef

Velic is currently anchored in the lagoon of South Minerva Reef. We were thinking we would stop at North Minerva, but it was mid-day as we approached the south reef and would be another four hours to the north reef, so we decided to stop here. The Minerva Reefs are classic atolls, but without the small motu islands with sandy beaches and palm trees. Once ancient volcanic islands, each ringed by a coral reef, the land has all worn away and all that is left is the coral reef and a shallow sandy lagoon. The reef ring is wide enough, and high enough, to break the ocean swell. At high tide no reef is visible, and it’s a bit rolly inside the lagoon. At low tide the reef is dry and wide, enough for a nice walk, and the lagoon is quiet. A large navigation buoy has washed up on the southern edge of the reef. It’s settled on the inside edge, high and dry at low tide, just the superstructure visible at high tide. It may have come from where? Maybe French Polynesia. It would have taken quite a storm to toss a very large steel buoy up and over the reef edge. It probably won’t go anywhere for a very long time. Continue reading

Cool for Warm

We’re leaving New Zealand tomorrow morning and heading north, back to the islands. Trading the cool autumn of Northland (yes, we are in fleece) for much warmer tropical climes (back to jandals and T-shirts and shorts, Oh my!). A small flotilla of boats has gathered at Marsden Point Marina, preparing to depart for points north and west. We have met so many interesting people this season, from all around the world. We had a final, pre-departure supper tonight with fellow cruisers at the small cafe here: People from Europe, Australia, South Africa, and yes, from the U.S. as well. All personable, with interesting stories to tell, and all feeling grateful to be “out here,” exploring our beautiful world. We feel so fortunate to be among them.

The weather forecast is favorable for the next several days. We will head toward North Minerva Reef, in order to have a good stopping off place should we need it. But if the weather continues favorable we may sail straight on to Fiji. We can reasonably expect to arrive before the end of June, possibly earlier. As always, everything depends upon the weather. Our next blog post will come from Fiji.