After an easy 4-day passage from Vava’u, Tonga we landed in Levuka, Ovalau. Watch out … longitude is now East! Fiji is on the same day as Tonga but 1 hour later. Plan accordingly to arrive and being able to clear in. If you arrive after hours or on WE, you will have to pay overtime.
We recommend the following cruising guides for more info: 1> Calder’s Yachtsman guide; 2> Migrant cruising notes (old, less elaborate and not as complete as above guide)
As usual, we’ll try to give practical information so you can plan your visit better. More details are posted on www.noonsite.com
Easy entrance thru the marked channel (large 2-story White light beacon on the South side) and a fairly well protected anchorage just South of the tuna cannery (in front of the white pier of the park with the white picket fence, and at least 200 yds from shore to avoid 3-4 dangerous coral heads) or in front of the cathedral of the town (open to swell from the pass in E wind). As Jimmy Cornell wrote, check-in procedure here is relaxed and easier than in Suva or Savusavu. Since nobody answered Luc’s radio calls, he went ashore and cleared in with Customs & Immigration (who called the Health officer) and the Harbor office next door.
What a pleasant surprise, after Tonga, to be greeted by passing people and see lots of smiles! Contrary to what we had read, it is now widely accepted in cities (not traditional villages) to wear hats, glasses, men’s shorts, and carry any bags on your shoulders!
We spent a week here enjoying different activities:
- Scuba diving with the German couple, Noby & Andrea, who run the Lomaiviti Dive. Visibility wasn’t the best but we enjoyed 4 dives none-the-less on the very healthy coral reefs and saw sharks, rays, napoleon and other pelagic. They have many dive sites around Ovalau and other islands eastwards.
- Walking with guides to 2 different waterfalls. Tatoga Creek, just below the town’s water reservoir, a 25-min walk and Waitovu is a 5-min ride + 15-min walk. Small falls, but in beautiful settings. We still enjoyed bathing; jumping in and watching local kids play a kind of water-dare-tag like a band of screaming simians.
- Epi’s tours: Went with Epi on his day-tour in Lovoni, the original settlement on the island, in the middle of the volcanic crater. We learned all about Fijian history with tales vivid with emotions. We missed the kava ceremony to the chief as he was off island. The wx was rainy so we had only a short walk to look around and learn about medicinal plants and food crops but a 3-hour or 6-hour hike can be included. Fine local lunch included. Epi will only tour for groups of 4 min and the sign up book is at the reception of the Hotel Royal, the oldest hotel in Fiji!
We had also a chance to get our first taste of local food at Kim’s (do not miss their Sunday buffet dinners) and at the Ovalau Holiday Resort (lovo when sufficient tourists around).
A great friend to cruisers is found here: Jean-Claude (F) the manager of Pafco (the cannery) is a sailor himself and has many times helped sailors with mechanical problems. He is soon going to open a club that will be open to sailors. Check it out!
You have to check out with Customs before leaving for any other port’s jurisdiction, such as Suva or Savusavu.
We decided to break the trip from Levuka in 3. After a 15nm-leg, our first overnight stop was at the tiny Nasautabu bird’s islands (17d49’48S-178d45’25E) in 25ft, good sand bottom with isolated coral heads. Our second leg (20nm) led us to Nasalai Mouth where we anchored behind the reef (18d05’76S-178d41’34E) in 15ft, coral rubble.
Officialdom: Coming from another Fijian port, we had to check in only with Customs at the town wharf. Quick & free. Went to the Fijian Affairs to obtain a cruising permit: you can ask for “all islands except Lau” without having to detail itinerary like in the past! Went to the Lau Council to find out how to obtain a cruising permit for all Lau islands. It took me 4 visits to find the whole story! First you have to obtain a police clearance for each crew onboard (takes 2 weeks, cost 25F$/person, at the Suva police administration building). Second you have to write a letter to the council explaining why you want to visit the Lau and give precise dates. Third, they will let you know the cost of the permit. Since I didn’t want to go thru steps 1 and 2 without knowing the cost, I had to go several times to get the full story. They still want a cruising permit of F$1,000 (negotiable to a minimum of F$500). The reason: get money to develop the islands! When asked about giving money or goods to the villages themselves … “those people are not educated and would spend it on alcohol instead! But WE know what they need and take care of it! “ Alas, I suspect that with bureaucracies everywhere, the money will go anywhere but to the people who need it L So, we decided to perhaps visit only 1 or 2 islands by getting an invitation via Curly in Savu Savu instead!
Tradewinds Hotel anchorage: we picked up a free mooring after asking Tony, the owner of the beautiful ketch & villa ashore (owner of many marine businesses here and former owner of the Tradewinds Hotel). Well protected in all but the worse cyclones! While Jackie went to California to visit family, I stayed there for 2 months doing boat projects. No theft, not as much rain as I had heard, convenient, free dinghy dock at the Tradewinds hotel if one patronizes the restaurant and bar once in a while. Not a bad arrangement! Jackie took the Coral Sun a/c bus to Nadi (F$19) and we hired one of their limousines to return together to Suva when she returned. I spent the previous night at the very nice Tanoa airport hotel (firstname.lastname@example.org) .
Royal Suva Yacht Club: the anchorage is not the cleanest but has the merit to be a dinghy ride from downtown Suva! You can ride in the canal and tie your dinghy right under the eyes of a small police station on the bridge.
The Yacht Club is very nicely furbished, plush carpet, nice garden, modern bar & restaurant (not at all run down as we had heard!).
Duty-free yacht parts and shopping: the only real duty-free electronics, liquors and luxury goods like in St Maarten in the Caribbean are at the airport when leaving or returning by air! No duty-free for any goods purchased in Fiji by boats in transit. Local merchants cannot get back the duties already paid to the gvt and thus cannot sell you any boat parts duty-free! But you can order yourself directly outside of Fiji and get things shipped in especially for you … with no duties of any kind. You will probably still need to pay a moderate Customs Fee. We found the Post Office to be very reliable and pretty quick to send and receive packages.
In the past, we remember many folks raving at how cheap it was to provision in Fiji. We found that for the items that we normally use (not really exotic or out of the ordinary) Fiji was not as cheap as we had expected, nor was there the selection that we hoped. American Samoa had much better prices for most all the same items at Cost U Less, and better selection and prices for many non-refrigerated items, and especially for things like toothpaste, laundry soap, and sanitary paper products. One thing of note is that even tho Suva is the biggest city in the tropical South Pacific, consistent availability, quality, and service is still not there. A lot of stores are filled with cheap Asian junk. Suppliers that we bought from lamented that they were not able to get things on time or get consistent quality even from New Zealand. Like elsewhere in the S. Pacific islands, IF YOU SEE IT, GET IT NOW!
For us Americans, many of the things not easily found elsewhere (tortilla chips, trail mix snacks, brand name items, dry yogurt-making kits, expresso coffee) were available at the Cost U Less out across from the University of the S.Pacific. ($0.65 bus from Mkt). The folks there were very accommodating, and will deliver free for $500 Fiji, or more purchases, and will often give about 5% discount if you ask. Other yachties were told that CUL will even deliver as far as Nadi and Lautoka because they have trucks delivering there regularly.
New World supermarket's (near the bus station) manager and assistant, Asinate, were also very accommodating and when we gave them a list of the products in which we were interested, gave us discounted quotes, free delivery, and option of payment COD.
One of the most delightful persons we dealt with was Mark, manager of UNO Limited, a vendor of Indian spices, beans, grains, fresh produce, and wines. Tho a very busy man, this former New Zealander was always smiling and welcoming and answered our numerous questions, spent time with us even though he knew our order would be small. (Even gave me tips on how to pressure-cook beans for Dahl!) Probably of greatest interest to most of us yachties, is Uno's wine list. Mark has Australian vintner friends, one who have the biggest vineyard in Australia. When these winemakers have odd lots, Mark gets them at deep discounted prices so that even with the high duty in Fiji, he can sell nice wines at $10-$20 dollar Fijian. Uno will also do soup-to-nuts provisioning for yachts, using other suppliers to supplement their own inventory. Delivery can be arranged. (email@example.com)
Fresh'et Grocers is a supplier of local and imported meats and produce. Located in Walu Bay area across the road from the Brewery. Their prices are quite interesting, tho the local beef may not be the tenderness that you would like; lamb, pork, and chicken are imported frozen. Where possible, they can vacuum seal meats in small packages. We had boneless lamb pieces, and mince (ground meat) and bacon cubes packaged in 1/2 kg packs to go into our small freezer. The local beef is butchered fresh and you can get it packaged or order and cut it yourself for freezing. The only problem again is availability of products. If you can give a week's notice, you will probably get most of what you want, but our 2-day notice left us without the produce we ordered. Fresh'et also delivered COD.
Locksmith: decided to replace our 25yr old door locks. Were quite surprised to get parts and service with a smile at Elite Locksmith (331 8973 or firstname.lastname@example.org). Got an excellent and quick upholstery job by Anton in Lami.
Refrigeration, AC and metal fabrication, contact Jo at Cooke’s United (33 03 845)
Hydraulic jobs: see Shane at Seamech or Fluid Power Services Ltd , both located between the RSYC and town.
We found a great place for any SS fabrication, also electrical repairs and more at Mechanical Services Ltd (also between RSYC and town).
Whitewater rafting: a great activity to discover wild inland Fiji! Went with Rivers Fiji (www.riversfiji.com) on their Upper Navua river trip. Full day from Pacific Harbor with a 45 min bus ride to/from Suva. Who would imagine white water in Fiji, and kilometers of steep-sided narrow canyons?? Rivers Fiji is not only letting folks discover this hidden treasure in the tropics, but they are actively involved in preserving the natural integrity of the upper Navua watershed from the extensive logging being done in that region (Fiji's only privately held lease used for conservation, chosen by the gvt to represent Fiji in RAMSAR, an international wetlands conservation convention). It's a beautiful, entire day's worth of safe, fun rafting with a sandwich bar lunch set up right at the swimming hole! Nice to know that this company funded a new school in Namosi Valley, support two villages, and 15 different landowning clans.
Discover Fiji Tours (679) 3450180 www.discoverfijitours.com
What a great way to discover inland Fiji! This tour combines river canoeing on the beautiful lower Navua river + a Fijian village tour including kava ceremony, lovo lunch, dancing, arts & crafts) + Magic Waterfalls + leisurely bamboo rafting (Bili bili). An international award winner professionally organized from A to Z with a smile! Not to be missed. Lionel, the creator of this company, is not only introducing visitors to the Fijian culture and inland beauty, but uses the proceeds to rebuild and repopulate abandoned villages, bringing people back from the cities to their heritage. We visited the 4th village to be rebuilt. Direct booking and arranging your own transport, affords a great price. Several cruisers went to the tour after we recommended it to them … they all thanked us for the great tour they got! Don’t miss it!
The Cave Tour with Adventures In Paradise (679) 652 0833. Nice day trip too (10am-4pm) from the Coral Coast. That cave is really impressive. The kava ceremony was the usual thing and the bamboo rafting was a bit short. They also have a waterfall tour.
Kadavu Island and the Great Astrolabe Reef
We found that there is not much info in our cruising guides or even Lonely Planet about Kadavu. Jason’s Guide and tourist maps show some resorts but give little detail. Even our CM93 electronic charts left out some details, such as small rock islands, and a second deep water pass into Naigoro bay, but they are quite accurate to the GPS and show accurately major shoal and reef areas. Don’t be scared away by the areas marked as “shallows” with isolated +’s marked within. These areas are usually plenty deep for pleasure craft, and even with fair light conditions, an attentive eye can spot potential dangers. One inconvenience in many places is that large expanses uncover at the lower tides making access to the shore impossible or a lot of paddling, wading and dragging the dink. The 6ft tidal range can uncover up to ¼ mile of “flats” at ebb. The chiefs in the villages usually ask to see your cruising permit papers from Fijian Affairs when you bring the kava for sevu sevu.
Made a day-sail from the Tradewinds Hotel area to Usborne Pass in the Astrolabe Reef arriving late afternoon. We had just enough time to check out Vanuakula Island and rule it out as a possible anchorage and get over to Dravuni and get anchored in good sand in about 20 ft of water as the sun was setting and the passing squalls thickened all around us. Dravuni village is fairly well-to-do because of the visiting cruise ships and the University marine research center. They have generator power in the evenings. Some cruiser comments indicate that the villagers are blasé about us because of the cruise ship business, but we found the young chief and his wife to be very nice. The first thing after sevu sevu, they invited us to a tevu tevu, which is a ceremony honoring a woman that is given by her side of the family after around 10 years of marriage. Many mats and pillows and an armoire were presented to the woman and husband and family members and the village. The husband’s family kills a cow and pigs and presents it to the village. There was much speech making and kava drinking. We were invited to the community house and were presented many kava cups, which strengthened in potency as the evening progressed. (we were told that it is okay to decline the cup if it becomes too many). Later, in the Community House, all the family members came for the ceremony in which older men (I think, the woman’s father and perhaps her 2 grandfathers, and the village Chief) made speeches while holding the traditional Fijian talisman: a whale’s tooth on a fiber woven necklace. Supposedly, they were praising her for all her achievements and performance of womanly duties. Surprisingly, the woman was not presented or placed in any kind of place of honor and we had to ask to find out who she was. After wards, we were invited to the meal that the woman’s family had prepared: pork stew, fish cooked in coconut milk, curry fish, cucumbers and cassava. The villagers were quick to recruit Luc’s services to look at their village launch’s motor that wouldn’t start. The motor looked like it hadn’t seen maintenance since it was installed! The villagers definitely DO welcome cruisers because, unlike tourists, we have skills to offer! (and tools to go with ‘em).
After 2 days, the weather was due to deteriorate and really start to blow hard from the SE. We decided to head to Ono Island to Nabouwalu Bay. The cruising guides we had didn’t show it as an anchorage, but it looked to be the best-protected area. We were lucky to have good light, and the sailing was easy. The bay is well protected and there is good anchoring depth (about 25-30ft) before you get too close to the shallows fringing the 3 sides of the bay. The villagers were the nicest people! We made sevu sevu, and the chief’s son and friend showed us a hot gas vent in the stream and the trail that goes up a valley and eventually goes to the village on the north side. The next day, 3 young men came out with a punctured volleyball and asked if we could patch it. They took us on a hike on the south side of the bay up over the ridge to a small, deep valley with a small stream that enters the ocean through a cave naturally carved through the rocks bringing you to out on the west coast a short way from the bay entrance. We were there at low tide and were able to walk thru the cave out to the uncovered rocks along the coast and they showed us an area of more caves at water level which according to legend were entrances to other caves that could only be reached by diving down, swimming underwater, then coming up inside. We love these kinds of mysterious stories, and arranged to come back via the dinghy with a small scuba tank, and seek out the truth. Out of 3 caves, none gave access to dry land inside, but one did go back a fair distance, perhaps 100ft, and on a low tide, there would be air pockets just large enough for one to get his head out of the water and grab a breath, but it would be very scary without a light and a dive mask. The young men also showed us an area on the north side of the bay entrance with a grotto swim-through and another 100ft cave that one could do on a shallow scuba dive.
We had our first taste of mud crab at this village! Very yummy. The grandfather of one of our young guides caught them for us and showed us the proper way to kill and cook them. In exchange, we gave him some paint that he needed to paint a repair that he had done to his boat bottom. It’s so nice that yachties and villagers can have this kind of symbiotic relationship where each one benefits. We’re not just useless tourists throwing money.
South point of Ono Island: On an unusual day of light NW wind, we took the opportunity to stop in at the beautiful, 24 hr (all tides) beach in front of the small resort that is marked as Jonas Paradise in Lonely Planet. (18 56.3S, 178 28.9E). This “resort” is being renovated by a jolly Senegalese man, Ali, and his Fijian wife. As of now there are a few thatched buraes w/ coral rubble floors, and basic beds. The best thing about the place is the nice white beach that is not incumbered by shallows or blocked off by reef. There is a walk you can take up to the ridge overlooking the resort that affords great vistas to the W,S, and E looking out over the Great Astrolabe, east Kadavu island, and east Ono. Great! We could see our route to follow for our sail up the East side of Ono.
Yaukuvelevu Island: Missed this island on the way down because of weather. Most would visit here after Dravuni, as this is under their village’s control. In a 15kt SE, it is fairly protected, better in E winds. The anchoring is good in sand with occasional heads in 20-30ft of water. Unfortunately, this place will probably not welcome yachts after the exclusive Ultra 5 Star resort, that will cater to the entertainment industry’s rich (>$2000/nite). The Yaukuve Resort is under heavy construction and people are not allowed on the grounds. Should be opening in 2 yrs or so. Save your pennies!
Namara Island: Just west of Yaukuvelevu, this is a small uninhabited island with protection from the E, (tolerable in a light ESE), and same good sand bottom. Very attractive beach and black volcanic rock outcroppings. We walked all the way around the island during the low tide. On the S side, there is a great mystery. At the base of the rocky cliff were 2 large rusted bullet heads, about 18” long, 6” in diameter. But mort intriguing of all, is that there are at least 2 other shells embedded in the cliff, intact! They do not look like they were shot into the hillside, because they are solidly in the undamaged rock, and they do not look deformed. It looks almost as if they were embedded when the rock cliff was formed….but how could that be?? Unsolved mysteries!
Kadavu Island: (Kan-DA-voo)
Naigoro Bay: We anchored towards the head of the bay in 15ft of water at low tide in a black sand/mud bottom. The holding is good and in 15kt E-SE was not too choppy despite the E orientation. Our Warwick cruising guide showed an anchorage in the southern corner, which is more protected from wind, but it is over 70ft deep! We anchored here to check out Waisalima Resort (2 miles north) and dive some sites with them that we would never find or dive on our own. See below for detail on the dive. The dive operation has a clean, well-organized dive shack, and compressor and dive gear appear in good condition. The Fijian instructors and dive masters were friendly and knew the sites well. The resort itself is very basic, Backpackers-type. The dive operators will come out to Naigoro bay to pick you up, but you should arrange this ahead by e-mail (email@example.com), as they do not monitor VHF. Otherwise, there is not much to do at this bay. Access to the village is very difficult unless it’s the highest tide, and we saw nothing to do other than trading for fruit and taro.
Inside Route between Vesi Pass and Naigoro Pass: On our CM93 electronic charts, even the most detailed did not show this route, and in fact made it look like it crossed a very wide, very shallow reef. There is a deep-water channel through here with only a small section that might be a worry for a deep draft vessel at low tide. Traveling East to West, at around 19 01.5’S, 178 28.5’ E, is a channel marker on the reef of a rock island with a lighthouse. Keep it to stbd, and then head to the next marker, which will be somewhat in line with 2 rounded rock islets with distinctly black and gray coloring ahead to the right. You will leave this marker to your port and do a U shaped turn around it until the islets are on your stbd and you are following the deep water channel to the next marker which is only the stump of a broken one. The shallowest water is next to this broken marker, which you will leave to stbd, but keep fairly close to it. On a dropping tide, you’ll have a current running against you. For safety, the best time to negotiate this pass is mid to high tide. You should have at least 12-15 ft of water then. After that marker, you’re home free into spacious deep water again. There are channel markers on reefs all the way to Kandavu village anchorage, but you will need to have the charts or eyeball nav. to know which side to pass them.
Kadavu Village: At the head of this unattractive bay is the unassuming village of Kadavu, accessible only at mid-to-high tide. But it is the guardian of one of the most intriguing and gorgeous waterfall settings that we have seen in our many years of traveling. Located right at the edge of the village, is a canyon and cascade right out of a Romancing the Stone movie. Your first view is water pouring 10-12 ft. out of a cleft in the red, brown, black, amber and ochre colored cliffs into a deep pool. The biggest surprise comes when you climb up and get a view into this cleft in the rocks and see an incredibly sculpted chamber in which cliffs, overhangs, and cut-backs all hang impossibly over a large pool that reveals, half hidden by these fantastic structures, a large cascade of water plunging over a black and reddish cliff into the pool. It’s worth timing the tides to get to shore, walking to the village, and doing sevu sevu just to see this wonder of nature. (Note: this village, as many on Kadavu, is strict about women wearing sulus and covered shoulders, no packs or anything carried on the shoulders, and no hats in the village proper) When you sail into the bay of Kadavu, you will see reef markers that will help you avoid shallow reefs. Just after you pass the last marker on your port, you will see in the bay, a large white mooring with the words “Nazerene” painted on it. Plan on anchoring immediately after or next to this mooring or you will be stuck in the mud at low tide. The water is brown and gives no clue to how quickly it shoals from 20-30ft to less than 10ft. We anchored at (19 02.678’S, 178 23.139’E).
There is a good shore access close by. Look for a cut in the mangroves in line with the wooden building on the hill (the Nazerene Church). You need mid-tide or higher to get to the cut without walking, but once in the mangrove channel, you can make your way to a small pier and a trail. Go left and you get to the school and then farther along, the village. Go right, you get to the pastor’s house, and eventually, the “store” which sells canned goods, eggs, potatoes, onions, some frozen goods, gasoline, and kerosene. At high tide you can get to the store by dinghy. Just opposite Waya Island, is the Matava Resort. This is a 2- 3 star resort with clean, well-maintained simple thatched bures, groomed grounds, and a very nice, airy, raised bar/dining/community bure with terrace. Adrian, one of 3 partner-owners is a prize-winning deep-sea fisherman. He and his staff were very welcoming. The evening meal was delicious with fresh fish dishes and produce grown on site. There is a serious dive center, the main activity of the clientele being diving Astrolabe Reef and it’s passes. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to dive with them so cannot comment on the operation or the dives. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
At Matava Resort, we met Epeli, a gregarious Fijian who does free-lance airport transport for the resort, and others. He invited us to his village to see the waterfall there, and to see a Fijian church wedding that just happened to be held the next day. We took the dinghy with Epeli guiding us thru the tricky parts at low tide, went west passed Lion Rock, a formation that looks like a lion standing, passed a couple headlands to Nagamoto village. We made sevu sevu with the elders, who were already well into the tanoa bowl with all the festivities and visitors from other villages. Their kava mixture was much stronger than that at the Dravuni celebration. My tongue and throat felt numb immediately! The waterfall was about a 15-20 minute easy rock hopping up the stream. Cute, idyllic, 2-level falls with nice pool for swimming. We took some photos of the wedding, with the couple and their attendants in elaborate tapa cloth costumes. We couldn’t stay for the whole celebration, as we had to get back thru the reefs well before dark, but were given “take-away” plates from the feast fare. Luc edited a DVD video for the wedding couple with some special effects from his editing program and presented it to the couple and the village as a thank-you.