Whangarei, New Zealand
It crossed my mind that it would be a good premise for a reality tv show: drop the contestants in a developing country and tell them to find a taxi to the nearest town, which is half an hour away and where they’ve never been before. They then have to do the grocery shopping for a week at sea (ie you can’t forget anything), get back to the boat and leave port before they get busted by Immigration.
All in under two hours.
When we left Fiji, we cleared Customs and Immigration at Vuda Point. We’d been led to believe we’d have 24 hours to leave the country and that we’d be able to do the provisioning after we’d cleared. But the Immigration official made it plain that we had to be gone in an hour.
When I pointed out that we had nothing to eat, the official reluctantly relented and said we could go ashore to buy some food. “But make it quick.”
Trouble was, there was nothing available ‘ashore’ at Vuda Point. So while Damian stayed on board, Verdo and I jumped in a taxi and headed for Lautoka, 30 minutes away. We started at the market, where the fruit and veg were spread over a couple of acres. From half a dozen different stallholders, we piled up pawpaws, bananas, potatoes, beans, bok choy, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, and whatever else we could find – the variety wasn’t huge, but with a bit of picking and choosing, the quality was great.
Then we headed across the street to the supermarket, where the aisles were blocked by large, idly browsing locals, and where everything was where you least expected to find it. No problem – after doing a few circles and Twister-like manoeuvres I’d found everything I wanted.
It was at this point that our taxi driver, Mohamed, who was supposed to be waiting for us, went AWOL. Nowhere to be seen and the clock was ticking…
Eventually, Verdo phoned Damian back at the marina, who spoke to another taxi driver there, who phoned Mohamed, who then appeared and we loaded up our umpteen bags and boxes. We sped back to Vuda Point – stopping en route to buy a heap of mangoes from a friend of Mohamed’s at a roadside stall – piled it all in the dinghy, zoomed out to the boat, unloaded it, pulled up the dinghy and high-tailed it out of there.
All in under two hours.
We would have totally nailed the reality show challenge.
Provisioning (aka grocery shopping) when you’re cruising is hardly ever as simple as driving down to Woolies. Sometimes it’s slim pickings, like in the Ha’apais last year, where finding a lettuce was a challenge.
At other times, there’s an overwhelming abundance, like at the Saturday Growers’ market in Whangarei, where the locally-grown, in-season produce is so beautiful and so delicious I have a River Café moment every time I go.
We’re now pretty much ‘locals’ in Whangarei, so the stall holders all know us (‘Welcome back’ they all said last weekend, our first back from Fiji) and I come home laden with fragrant herbs, the best grass-fed beef and home-made chorizo, golden kiwifruit, organic mushrooms and avocados, and award-winning cheeses.
There are always beautiful flowers, too: this week I have a bunch of deep pink and canary yellow callas. Early in the year, I buy bunches of electric blue and hot pink water lilies that open and close with the light and whose stems twist and warp in the vase like alien beings.
We almost always meet some colourful characters along the way. Our first stop of a Saturday in Whangarei is to have a chat to Steve, a bald, goatee-toting dude in tight black jeans who makes the best coffee in town out of the back of his van. He and Damian compare barista notes and music collections and Steve usually has a tale to tell of his latest encounter with the local constabulary, or misadventure with firestick juggling…
In Fiji I met Anjee – glowing in a fiery orange sari, wearing half her body weight in bling, and beginning and ending every sentence with a strongly-accented “Darling!” – who has a vegetable stall at the markets near the airport in Nadi. The day I met her, she was surrounded by enormous, brilliant green piles of lettuce and bok choy and the smell of coriander. She seemed to be giving as many orders as she was taking.
Anjee has a business called Farm Boy that delivers fresh fruit and veg just about anywhere. While we were at Musket Cove, and even way up north in the Yasawas, Anjee was our main source of fresh produce. I’d send her an email and she’d pack up the order and put it on the next ferry. I’d meet it off the ferry, or have it delivered to the nearest resort and collect it from there.
When I asked her about payment, she said, “Just pay me next time you’re in Nadi, darling.”
There was always a surprise element: if she didn’t have exactly what I’d asked for, Anjee would improvise, which was fine.
Occasionally the boxes would arrive looking like they’d been dropped from a height (which they probably had, by the ferry company). Once, when I’d ordered a dozen bananas I received an entire 12kg box, which arrived very ripe and looking like they’d been run over with a wheelbarrow. No problem: Anjee issued a credit and all the surrounding boats shared in the makings for banana bread.
The Yasawa Islands are surprisingly barren as they lie in the rain shadow of the main island, Viti Levu, and the locals don’t grow much in the way of produce – or at least not for sale. Pawpaws, coconuts and bananas (plus starches like taro and breadfruit) are about all that is readily available.
An exception was when we were at the Blue Lagoon, where we heard about a local farm. We jumped in the dinghy, along with Steve and Michelle (from Citrus Tart), negotiated the reefs and headed up a narrow, mangrove-lined estuary until we ran into a couple of burly local boys carrying machetes. Always a little disconcerting…
We called out “Bula!” and they pointed their machetes in the direction of a couple of rough-hewn buildings. We waded ashore and were met by a trio of laughing Fijian ladies who offered us cold drinks and then insisted on making us omelettes for lunch. We talked politics, families and their memories of the making of the Blue Lagoon movie before they pointed us up the hill.
It was spoiling for a storm as we headed uphill along a rough path, turned right at the mango tree (as directed), met a bunch of goats who looked surprised to see us, eventually found the farm and met the young farmer and his wife, who asked us what we’d like.
We sat on a fallen tree trunk while they went off to harvest the fruit and veg to order: bok choy, peppers, pawpaws, bananas, mangoes, lettuce, basil (!), tomatoes, bush lemons, limes and fresh eggs.
It started to rain… and then it bucketed down. Soaked through, we slithered back down the path to where the ladies were still laughing, and to the dinghy – which was now waist deep as the tide had come in.
We sped the couple of miles back to the boats with eyes slitted against the stinging rain.
At least it was warm rain, compared to my pre-departure extreme-shopping provisioning trip in Whangarei…
For the week before we left NZ in July, we’d been pinned to the dock with hurricane strength winds. The day I drove in to Whangarei to do four months’ worth of provisioning, it was blowing dogs off chains and raining freezing sideways bullets. I wrote about it here, but I didn’t mention the day’s finale, which was a cracker.
After running various errands and the gauntlet of two supermarkets, looking like a sodden fireman in my foul weather gear, I detoured to pick up some cruising guide info from friends Craig and Bruce on their catamaran, Gato Go.
The boat was up the river, tied to a rickety dock comprising several sections. I picked my way in the pitch dark and pelting rain to the boat, had a chat with the boys, collected the information and went to leave. Craig flashed a torch on the dock. I saw what looked like solid ground, took a step onto it… and found myself up to my neck, out of my depth, in the freezing, flooded, muddy water of the Whangarei River.
Fortunately, I somehow had the foresight to keep my handbag (with phone, wallet etc in it) in left hand and car keys in right hand, above my head. The pontoon was above my head height, but I managed to haul myself out, foul weather gear and all.
Craig and Bruce kindly offered me a hot shower and one of their tracksuits to get home in, in lieu of my sodden clothes. The trouble was, I hadn’t finished provisioning: I still needed to buy alcohol…
So I drove to Countdown (Woolies, in NZ) and wandered the aisles in my oversized man’s tracksuit, bedraggled hair and bare feet. I arrived at the checkout with a trolley full of booze, leaving wet
footprints behind me.
And the best bit? The checkout chick didn’t bat an eye!
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