Swimming with Mantas

Drawaqa Island, Yasawas, Fiji

By: Kerry (images from internet)

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As I slid from the dinghy into the water, a slate grey behemoth rose beneath me and slowly, gracefully disappeared in sinuous undulations into the deep cerulean sea ahead of me. Its movement was so effortless and graceful, it appeared to be flying, rather than swimming.

Between May and early October, a handful of manta rays appears in the shallow pass between Dravaqa and Naviti Islands in the Yasawa Islands and, at high tide and in the right conditions, snorkellers can get up close and personal as they feed on the nutrients that sweep through on the current.

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Fulaga to the Big Island

Denarau, Viti Levu, Fiji

By: Kerry

After six weeks completely out of touch with the outside world, we left Fulaga, headed for the ‘real world’ and Denarau, to collect our new house batteries, which had shipped from China and were due to arrive at the end of July.

We finally left yesterday (August 10), having waited about a week for a weather window. We’re currently rocketing along at about 10 knots in glorious sunshine – it’s been a cracking sail, beam reaching under gennaker (since we STILL don’t have a mainsail) 15-20 knots and not much swell. We’re going to run close to cracking the 200nm day, which is pretty good considering we only have one sail up! It’s now 10am and we’re aiming to be at Vananui Bay (south coast Viti Levu) by around lunchtime.

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Pito’s Bowls

Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji

By: Kerry

When Pito – master of chainsaw art – wasn’t directly working on the canoe, he would sit on the ground with an adze and fashion tanoas, or kava bowls. He usually sends them off to Suva for sale in the artisan markets and tourist stores, but we asked him if he’d make a couple for us.

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Building the Not-so-traditional Traditional Canoe

Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji

By: Kerry

Fiji 2015-00903

Traditional canoes on Suva Harbour, on the wall of the King’s suite, Grand Colonial hotel, Suva

Alifereti’s earliest memory is of riding in a hollowed-out log that would become the hull of a new canoe, as it was hauled through the forest from where the tree was felled to the water’s edge.

Growing up on Fulaga, the sturdy outrigger canoes were essential to island life.

“My mother was a nurse,” he said. “When a woman on Ogea was having a baby, they’d send a canoe to bring my mother to the island. I’d go along, clinging to the mast.”

Ogea is 10 nautical miles away across open water, which is testament to the sturdiness of the little outriggers: apparently they’ve been sailed as far as Suva. But one hasn’t been built on the island for seven years, and the art is dying.

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The Government Comes to Town

Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji

By: Kerry, photos by Kerry and Damian

Fiji 2015-5847Most of the time, Fulaga doesn’t loom large on the Fijian Government’s radar, but while we were there a ship turned up with no less than 108 government officials aboard, from 21 different departments, led by the Commissioner for Lau.

The ship was unable to negotiate the main pass, so it steamed around to the far side of the island and disgorged its retinue, via the local pangas, onto the beach of Muanaicake. Apparently, it was only after they landed that the villagers were told they’d need to billet the officials for the night: an extraordinary imposition on the 90-odd population of the village, we thought, especially considering the officials reportedly receive a daily living allowance.

Nevertheless, fish were caught, mountains of food were prepared and beds were found. Such is Fulagan hospitality.

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Fulaga on the Flip Side

Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji

By: Kerry

Fiji 2015-5439When we needed a change of pace from the village (or they needed a change from us!), we moved over to the Sandspit anchorage on the far side of the lagoon, hanging off an untouched, golden beach, or sheltered amongst dozens of rocky mushroom islands.

The Fulaga lagoon is six miles wide, dotted with scores of little islands, ranging from the size of a house to the size of a kennel. Scrambling up to a high point, the view looks like dozens of green buttons strewn across a peacock blue coat, with beaches providing gold braid as added decoration.

Up close, the islands are black friable rock, too sharp to walk on, their bases eroded so severely that, at low tide, they look as though they are about to topple off their pedestals. Some have, and lie tilted on their side on the shore.

Many are bare rock – too brittle for anything to get a grip – others support a few tenacious pandanus or figs, or the endemic Fan palm Pritchardia thurstonii, that grows wild nowhere else.

Paddling a kayak among them, their shapes morph surprisingly: look at one profile and the islet looks massive, but from another side it looks frail and ready to fall. Their unpredictability makes them fascinating.

Unfortunately, it’s an El Nino year and our time in Fulaga has been dominated by days on end of 20 knot–plus winds and squally weather: some of the coldest and windiest in years.

But we had two remarkable days: perfectly still, glorious sunshine, beautiful light and spectacular clouds. Of course, I took a bazillion photos – they probably all look the same, but I like ‘em.

And then there was sunset…

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Bringing Spectacles to the People

Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji

By: Kerry, Photos by Damian and Kerry

Sikele and Sera preparing yet another feast in their outdoor kitchen

Sikele and Sera preparing yet another feast in their outdoor kitchen

Sera Tuks is Fulaga’s district nurse and only medically qualified resident. As such, she’s solely responsible for the 100-odd souls in Muanaicake, as well as about the same number in Muanaira and Naividamu, the other two villages on the island, plus the population of Ogea, the next-door island. Some 400 people in all.

When the nearest medical aid is a crackling phone line to Suva hospital, or a four-day ship passage (assuming your medical emergency coincides with the monthly visit of the trader), it’s an enormous responsibility, and one she handles with diplomacy, humour and professionalism. (Helicopter evacuation, at huge cost, is a last resort).

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Supplies Arrive

Fulaga, Lau Group, Fiji

By: Kerry

Fiji 2015-5221When Penina was eight months pregnant with her first child (thirty-some years ago), she was aboard the inter-island trader, the Makogai, when it foundered on the outer reef of Fulaga in the middle of the night. Two lives were lost but Penina managed to get ashore and led a small group of survivors through the bush to the village, where the alarm was raised and the rescue effort was launched.

Since then, she’s had a mortal fear of the sea. While we were in Fulaga, she and Seta were getting ready to go to a Methodist Church conference in Suva, but Penina, understandably, was dreading the voyage on the supply ship.

When it finally arrived – well behind its monthly schedule – we understood why.

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