Fiji: Vanua Levu, Makogai Island and Navuniivi Village, Viti Levu

Sunday night the rain eased so we headed ashore to listen to the band. We ended up joining a big group of people and had a really nice social evening.

Monday morning and it was time to do last minute jobs….so we filled the water tank, I headed out for some last minute provisions, and Richard did his engine checks etc. We then headed into town for lunch with Karen and Paul (SV Gigi). At 4pm we said sad farewells to Karen and Paul and waved them and Savusavu goodbye. It is unlikely we’ll see them again any time soon but hope to cross paths with them at some point, perhaps in Australia. Fingers crossed as we had really enjoyed being back in their company again.

So on a lovely blue sunny afternoon we slipped away from the dock and motored towards Passage Point where we anchored for the night behind the reef. It wasn’t so easy to spot the reef at high tide so we were thankful for our previous waypoint to keep us safe. About 30 minutes later JP and Julie (SV Eleuthera) turned up and we spoke on the radio and made arrangements for the following morning as we were buddy boating to the next anchorage. We turned in really early enjoying being back on anchor again.

Tuesday morning – at 4am – we picked up anchor and headed out in the dark following our tracks through the reef and into the Koro Sea. Here’s Eleuthera underway in the early morning light.

The sea was pretty flat but sadly there was little wind so we motored on and around the Namena Barrier Reef before we turned towards Makogai Island which is part of Fiji’s Lomaiviti Island Group.

And Richard caught a fish!!! He was very happy so I quickly filleted it and shared the good news with Eleuthera on the radio.

Nearing the island we worked our way in through the pass between the reefs and then into the anchorage to find it was 70 feet deep. We dropped our hook but it really wouldn’t set so we picked up and moved again. Then we dropped in 60 feet but this time got wrapped on a coral bombie so we tried for the third time and, thankfully, got a good set. Had been a long day as we weren’t settled until 2.30 pm having covered 51 miles.

We didn’t fancy going ashore at this stage but were invited to Eleuthera for sundowners (and to enjoy the ceviche that JP had made out of some of our catch earlier that day) so we headed over there at 5pm. Was a nice evening in the cockpit and was the first time we had been on their boat – she is huge in comparison to Morphie. I was particularly jealous of the washing machine on board!

Wednesday morning and we picked up JP and Julie from their boat to go ashore. Was a bit dodgy going to the land through all the coral bombies as the foreshore was full of them. Finally we made it and quickly donned our sulas (over our shorts).

We were met by Paul who, with due reverence, accepted our gift of kava (but no formal sevusevu ceremony) and then took us for a guided tour of Dalice village.

It really wasn’t a proper village more like a few houses for the workers who worked for the Government doing conservation work at the Marine Research Station. They are rearing leatherback turtles for release into the wild and also breeding giant clams to be repositioned back onto the reefs. This was fascinating in itself seeing the process, especially when we realised that the giant clams take up to 40 years to get to a decent size.

The island itself has an interesting history as this was a leprosy quarantine colony and housed the Makogai Leprosy Hospital from 1906 to 1969. The patients were segregated according to their gender and, if they were found together, would face time in one of the many jails. There are ruins around testament to this fascinating history especially when you see the graves of the Sisters and Fathers that undertook this difficult work (and who often then succumbed to the disease themselves). But it didn’t appear that life was perhaps all grim as there was even ruins of the original cinema building. And in fact they called this the Island of Hope at the time.

After the hospital was evacuated (with the patients moved to the mainland) the army came in and bulldozed the majority of the buildings making the island deliberately uninhabitable for 30 years before the research station was allowed to move in. In 2016 Cyclone Winston (a category 5 storm) hit the island and it was devastated with the few workers running for their lives across the top of the hill to avoid the storm surge which came above the tops of the houses. We found this a really interesting visit.

Afterwards the workers helped Richard and JP lift our dinghy over to deeper water to avoid the bombies. Assistance was very gratefully received.

In the evening JP and Julie came to us for dinner – only a simple pasta meal – but was good fun.

Thursday morning we were joined in the anchorage by SV Dazzler and we said hi to them as they headed ashore. We decided to stay aboard and have a lazy day which was really nice. Later on we headed over to Eleuthera for dinner (which was fantastic including cakes for desert, thanks Julie) and said more sad farewells as we were now heading off in separate directions. Hopefully one day we’ll see each other again.

Friday morning at 6am we picked up anchor (heaving a sigh of relief that it hadn’t got wrapped around a bombie during the time we had been there) and followed our track back out through the reef. As we motored out of the anchorage the sun came up and we found that the reef was just visible with waves breaking over it but the depth of the water was not possible to gauge in the poor early morning light.

The wind was almost non-existent to start with so we motor-sailed towards Viti Levu (the main island of Fiji). We took the opportunity of making water as we went along. About 11 am we started to cross into the narrow passages and chicanes through the reefs.

Some of these reefs are marked and we had waypoints from Curly combined with some from Karen and Paul but we kept a good lookout as we knew that the charting here isn’t complete. We topped our plotter up by using Google Earth images on Ovitalmap as another check. One uncharted reef was on Google Earth so we knew about it. But a second wasn’t on either device – luckily we got quite good at spotting the different hues of the water!

Finally at 3pm we had anchor down opposite Navuniivi Village, Viti Levu Bay.

Safely on anchor we were able to pick up a Digicel signal for the first time since Savusavu so caught up with all the news. Sadly we found out that a close and dear friend had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away whilst on a sailing trip – RIP Chris, you will be sorely missed by everyone who knew you. Glad you got to meet Morpheus and spend some time in the BVIs with us before we went cruising. We have many happy memories of our times together. In the light of this news, feeling a bit stunned, we decided not to go ashore and raised a glass in his honour instead.

Saturday morning we got ourselves dressed up and headed across to the village. We were met by a couple of guys on shore who dealt with our dinghy for us. The shoreline here dries out completely so they were very kind in allowing us to not get wet, then took dink out and tied him to a re-bar which had been embedded in the black volcanic sand. This meant that we would not be stranded high and dry later at low tide. That was a lovely welcome!

We then were escorted up to meet the chief Joe and his wife. We were also joined by his nephew. We passed over the kava and they made up the bowl and so we had our first formal ceremony sitting on the floor of the outside verandah to their property. The kava (its real name is yaqona) is the traditional ceremonial drink made from pounded roots of a local pepper plant mixed with water in the tanoa bowl and is consumed from a communal coconut shell. There are also chants and claps that you have to do and, thankfully, we managed to get through our first sevusevu without a hitch!

We also gave over some small foodstuffs to the Chief’s wife who reciprocated with three large papaya picked from their tree and some oranges. The Chief decided Richard was the King so he ended up drinking four huge bowls while I managed to get away with just a single small ladylike bowl LOL.

We chatted for a while and sent Paul and Karen’s best wishes to them (as they had told us about their times here in the village) and, lo and behold, they got out some photos of them all together. They are clearly looking forward to seeing them again at some point this season.

The nephew showed Richard how they mash up the kava roots into powder to make the grog and revealed that they often don’t have the roots as they are so expensive, using other parts of the plant instead which they purchase in a cheaper powdered form. They were delighted with our bunch as it was ‘good quality’. Phew! Bit worried about that.

Whilst we were talking to the chief some kids came along to see us appearing quite fascinated by us (and it was clear one of them got a ticking off for not looking me in the eye when I asked them their name!). We were certainly glad we were dressed appropriately for the occasion although I have to say a skirt over the top of a pair of shorts is not the most comfortable attire (but needed for the dinghy trip / landing).

During the conversation we were invited to go to the village on Sunday which, in Fiji, is a great honour. So tomorrow we are going in to meet the Chief, go to church as his guest, and then join his family for lunch. We will also be given a tour of the village as everyone will be home on Sunday to welcome us. Really looking forward to the experience, these people are just so friendly.

So we came back to Morphie and quickly changed and rinsed our clothes out ready for another wear tomorrow as this is our Fijian finest attire and the only things we have suitable for the events planned.

Bye for now