Frank & I stood on the beach at Nanuya Island Resort in the northern Yasawa Islands, watching the seaplane slowly motor away from the beach, then struggle to take off in the strong winds, having to bounce back in the water, appearing to precariously stop mid air, before gradually rising into the sky on its way to the airport back to the mainland of Fiji.
It was a dramatic finale to Paul & Jenny’s 2 week stay with us on board ‘Stars End 2’.
We were so sad to see them go, as we had all had such a fantastic time together, and we knew it would probably be a long time before we saw them again.
We had spent the first 2 nights of their visit at Vuda Point Marina, as we had found out that new regulations meant that we needed to pay a visit to customs in Lautoka to add Paul & Jenny’s names to our crew manifest before being given a permit to cruise the Yasawa Islands, even though they were only guests on board for 2 weeks.
On Sunday, whilst Paul helped Frank to work on the yacht doing several fiddly jobs, Jenny & I went with our friendly taxi driver Abdul into Nadi to purchase souvenirs for her to take home. Just as well, as there was no occasion during the rest of the trip to browse shops or buy gifts.
By mid morning on Monday, we had obtained the cruising permit, refueled & were on our way south to the Mamanuca Group of islands that lay less than 20 miles away from Vuda Point.
As we rounded Malola Island into Musket Cove, we saw at least 40 to 50 boats anchored, and with little room left to anchor & strong winds blowing, we decided this was not the ambiance we wanted. Many yachts were part of the ICA (Island Cruising Association) from New Zealand tin a rally of approx 20-30 yachts & catamarans that were all gathering in Musket Cove in the next couple of weeks to sail to Vanuatu, having already cruised from NZ to Tonga before arriving here in Fiji.
We meandered through reefs scattered in waters a myriad shades of blue, to the north of Malola Island where we found a much more protected anchorage for the night with only one other yacht. We enjoyed our first swim in Fiji, soaking up the last of the sun’s warmth as dusk fell.
Next morning, we sailed out of the reef that fringed the Mamanuca Islands so that Paul could try some trolling in deep waters. He caught a rainbow runner as we were just passing through the reef, but no large tuna or wahoo he was hoping for during the sail to the next entrance some 28 miles north. Jenny & I languished on deck, soaking up the warmth and catching up on a couple of month’s of missed girly time!
We anchored at Nevadra Island, a stunningly beautiful deep lagoon set between two uninhabited islands providing a u-shaped anchorage that protected us from the wind. Unfortunately it didn’t shelter us from the swell that swung around the headland causing all the yachts to rock from side to side with a precarious roll. It was so frustrating as it was a magnificent anchorage and we would have happily stayed there for several days. Our friends, Dave & Isabelle with their girls Yara & Lanie, met up with us here from Vuda Point on board their yacht ‘Periclees’.
We tried to make the best of it. We snorkeled in the clear aquamarine waters, walked on the sandy beaches fringed by coral reefs, enjoyed a fish dinner, thanks to Paul, disappointingly followed by a restless night due to anchor alarms waking us several times when strong gusts swung us around on our anchor chain in the deep water.
We had hoped that morning would bring a reduction of the winds and the swell, but no such luck! ‘Periclees’ left the anchorage by 8am, fed up with the rocking & rolling, but our group decided the waters were simply too inviting not to have one last snorkel before we left.
We anchored the dinghy near the point of the small island and spent a long time snorkeling around in the clear warm waters.
Later, we motored into the wind 10 miles to the next island of Waya & joined ‘Periclees’ anchored off a small village where steep hills dropped to form a narrow sandbar that joined two islands at low tide.
Paul & Jenny joined Frank & I ashore so we could pay our respects to the village chief, Joe, and offer him our kava sevusevu (welcoming offering). His grandson showed us around the village and when we visited the local primary school, some of the children entertained us with songs sung with great enthusiasm & quaint English pronunciation.
The water looked too beautiful to ignore, so later Paul dropped Jenny & I ashore whilst he crossed the sandbar to try fishing in the deeper waters. The tide was rising, but the water was refreshing and the 2 girls from ‘Periclees’, Yara & Lanie, joined us and we walked along the beach shell collecting.
Back on the yacht after dinner, the family from ‘Periclees’ came aboard and all 8 of us played Mexican train with much shrieking and laughter.
After another day of swimming, fishing & relaxing, we motored 2 miles back along the coastline of Waya to the tiny island of Kuata where we dropped anchor in 17 metres. Here, the snorkeling was interesting, with nooks & crevices in the rocks and the marine life was abundant.
Paul, Jenny & I explored the beach by wading from the dinghy anchored in the shallows across the coral & rocks at low water in our reef shoes in order to access tthe shore. We walked across the island & checked out the beach for shells, hoping unsuccessfully that the difficult access would uncover some great finds.
By now, Paul was starting to feel discouraged by his lack of successful fishing, but we enjoyed his keen enthusiasm the entire trip and he still supplied both us & ‘Periclees’ with fish for a number of meals.
The next morning we only ventured a few miles north to another bay on Waya where we anchored in crystal clear waters off Octopus Resort.
We were all really impressed with Octopus resort- it was well designed & had a great atmosphere, full of backpackers and offering more up market accommodation as well. We spent a great evening with the family from ‘Periclees’ enjoying cocktails on the verandah of Octopus Resort, but were glad we didn’t have to fork out the $499 a night for our accommodation!
The snorkeling was very good here, with reefs fringing the coastline and several shallow reef areas within the bay where we spotted schools of giant Humphead Wrasse, (Paul reckoned them to be at least50kg in weight) that resembled a herd of neanderthal buffalo as they slowly wend their way through the deep gullies between the rocks.
However, we felt that there were still places further north where we wished to take Paul & Jenny, so next morning we left Waya Island and motored north (into the wind yet again!) the few miles towards Naviti Island.
Here we dropped anchor in ‘Oni’s Passage’- a name we had given to this narrow passage between Naukacuvu & Nanuya Balavu Island back in 2005, when we had first sailed here aboard ‘Gypsy Lee’ with our great friends Dave & Lanie and Dave & Desley.
Back then we had anchored in a magical unspoilt paradise full of coral and fish. The islands on either side were uninhabited and Oni, his sister Vaci & husband John were living temporarily with a few villagers on the island with no power or running water, doing some maintenance on some old buildings that had been left abandoned. They told us that their village had leased some of the land on this island to a New Zealand company who were going to build a resort here eventually.
We had spent several days lapping up this unsurpassed beauty and enjoyed bonding with Oni and his family, sharing meals and developing a strong friendship.
Over the subsequent years, all six of us have returned to Fiji several times, both on board ‘Gypsy Lee’ and flying in on holidays to stay at nearby Mantaray Resort & each time, we have renewed our friendship with Oni, Vaci and their families. We have been welcomed in their village of Soso on the nearby Island of Naviti, and Dave & Desley enjoyed the privilege of being the first ‘white people’ to ever hold a ceremony in their village church when they renewed their wedding vows back in 2008, with Dave & Lanie, Frank & I present as well.
The next time we came to Fiji was in 2012, & we had watched with dismay the start of the resort being built.
Three years later, we now arrived on board ‘Stars End 2’ and saw ‘our’ beautiful island had been transformed into Paradise Cove Resort, a 5 star resort that costs $1,000 a night for one of the beach side bure’s.
We anchored in ‘Oni’s Passage’ and Frank & I took the dinghy to the beach, where we were greeted by a well spoken member of staff in a smart uniform. I knew our dear friend Vaci worked here as head of housekeeping and was thrilled to hear that she would be returning from church in Soso village within an hour.
It was so wonderful to catch up with Vaci after several years and she showed us around the resort with pride. Over 90% of the staff who work here are from their village of Soso, including Mererai, Vaci’s 19 yr old daughter, whom we met as an 8yr old on our first visit. It was an emotional reunion and with a sense of happy nostalgia that Vaci pointed out the large old tree under which we had all shared so many happy gatherings.
With more strong winds predicted to pick up in the next couple of days, we felt that we didn’t want to prolong our stay, so we promised we would try to catch up again & exchanged up to date contact details with Vaci.
Then we motored the couple of miles north to where Mantaray Resort is situated on the eastern side of the island.
There was already another yacht anchored there as well as “Periclees’ but we managed to find a spot out of the main swell, and were very excited to be in familiar waters of one of the best snorkeling places that we known of in Fiji.
We went ashore and renewed our acquaintance with our friends who work at Mantaray Resort where we have stayed several times before, and booked dinner at the restaurant for that night with the ‘Periclees’ crew.
It was with a sense of relief that our first snorkel in the waters off the resort showed that the coral and the marine life were as prolific as ever. The water was crystal clear, the bommies scattered in the deep waters abundant with fish and soft & hard corals. It is a spectacular snorkeling area and we would have loved to stay for many days.
Unfortunately, the anchorage here is a bit exposed & a little roly, but well worth it for the joys of snorkeling in such clear waters.
Next morning, I woke to the commotion of Paul having landed a good-sized coral trout just off the headland to the north of the resort. Within a short time, Paul had caught & released several other small fish he considered poor eating but then he caught a second coral trout and was happy to call it quits for the day. Had we known that this prolific spot would be Paul’s last successful fishing I think we would have all pushed to stay another day or so.
As it was, all four of us went for another snorkel on the reef off the little island opposite the resort, which Frank & I had always felt offered the best snorkeling. The water was a little disturbed from the strong winds and swell but it was still full of life & Paul & Jenny agreed that Mantaray was exceptional all round.
We left the anchorage and motored just 7 miles to the north of Navititi- to Somosomo Bay, a large wide bay that gave us good protection from the strong winds. We decided to anchor to the west of the bay, away from the village, as we had heard from another yacht that here we not only avoided the compulsory ‘sevusevu’ ceremony with the village chief, but that we could walk across the island to the ocean side.
‘Periclees’ had already anchored and we could see them on the beach, so we went ashore shortly after we had anchored and followed the beach along until we saw a path that led inland. We walked for about a mile and a half inland, across hills full of thick stalks of prickly wheat-like grass that led to a beach on the leeward side. It was low tide and several islets dotted the shallow waters and long stretches of sandy beach. It was too shallow to be able to have a decent swim, so we explored the foreshores before heading back to the bay where we had anchored.
After yet another roly night at anchor, we went for a morning snorkel and Paul grabbed the tail of a huge shovel-nosed shark which took him for a fast ride before shaking him loose. He pointed out a large leopard shark to us that lay basking on the ocean floor and we all followed another school of over-sized Humphead Wrasse slowly making their way through the deeper waters.
We were keen to head to Blue Lagoon 6 miles north where Brooke Shields had filmed the movie of the same name back in the 1980’s, so we set off mid morning meandering through a number of reefs to the eastern side of the Yasawas.
Paul persisted unsuccessfully to troll behind the yacht and by early afternoon, we motored into the protected bay behind several small islands with long sandy beaches and waters colored a million shades of blue. Known as a particularly sheltered anchorage, we not only joined several other yachts at anchor but a small cruise ship pulled in close to the shore. Anchoring in 14 meters of water close to Nanuya Resort, we decided to stay here awhile to enjoy the protected anchorage & the golden beaches.
Even though it is only 40 miles back to the mainland from here, Paul & Jenny suggested they take alternative transport back instead of us having to beat into the strong winds just to drop them off.
Since we arrived almost a week ago, it has been blowing a steady 25 knots and gusting up to 35 both night and day and has not decreased one iota. Whilst the southern islands in theYasawa Group are somewhat protected being in the lee of the mainland, the further north you travel, the more exposed you are to the full force of the wind. We keep thinking the wind must surely abate before too long, yet the weather updates continue to show the same conditions for a further week or more! It remains very windy & gusty even on board the yacht, but we are well protected, in calm waters & on the beach, it is beautifully hot and balmy and the waters are cool & inviting.
Paul tried in vain to catch more fish, but still had fun trying, and we all relaxed for the last few days of their stay, swimming off the beach, playing board games & having movie nights on board with the gang from ‘Periclees’ and enjoying Happy Hour most afternoons at the newly built beachfront bar at Nanuya Resort.
The time flew and before we knew it, Paul & Jenny’s last day came. A group of us walked a couple of miles across to the other side of the island where a quaint village lay nestled along the shoreline, surrounded by fringed reefs and breaking surf brought by the strong winds. An enterprising local lady, Lo has opened a cafe/shop and 2 days in a row we trudged across the island, enjoying the exercise and spectacular views from the hilltops en route, to reward ourselves with a drink and homemade chocolate or banana cake in the village ‘cafe’ only feet from the water’s edge.
Now that Paul & Jenny have departed, Frank & I are waiting patiently for the winds to abate before moving on. After all our previous months fighting adverse trade winds & enduring roly anchorages, we now feel it is time to pick & choose our trips more carefully.
We will probably go a little further north in the Yasawas before wending our way back south and crossing back to the mainland to re provision & for Frank to tackle the question of replacing our broken generator (run daily to keep the fridge & freezer happy).
All the ‘yachties’ we have met are like us, disillusioned with the unusually & exceptionally strong trade winds this year, and we are considering our options as to where we head next. I guess you will all have to read my blog to find out………..!!