Fiji 2016

Ocean Child (with Dieter and me) left Tonga on August 6, hoping to sail directly to Opua New Zealand. However, we had a series of calms followed by brief windy fronts, with the wind always blowing in the wrong direction. Each time we checked the weather forecast it got worse, until on August 10 we abandoned our plan and, instead of sailing SSW, we headed directly northwest for Fiji. Even then we were plagued with four days of zero wind.

We had damage to the headsail and headsail furler, which needed attention. Ocean Child's batteries had been giving trouble since Tonga, and I hoped (in vain, as it turned out) that I would be able to source replacement batteries of suitable quality in Fiji.

We reached Vuda Point Marina, north of Nadi, on August 14. Above; a calm morning at the marina, just before sunrise.

Being a Sunday, we were not cleared by government officials until the next day. After having a look around, Dieter flew home to Hobart on August 19, and Sophie arrived for 12 days of land-based touring on August 22.

One of the first places we visited was the Indian temple in Nadi. In the scene above, Deva Maadhus-Amruthavalli and Sundaravalli are praying to Lord Vishnu asking him to grant their wish to marry Lord Murugan n their next birth. He's popular!

 

Not far from Nadi lies the tourist town of Denarau, built to cater for superyachts and their super-rich clientele. It also serves as a tourist hub for ferries taking tourists to the resorts of the nearby Mamanuca Islands and Yasawa Islands. Denarau also contains a small but neat marina, many luxury apartments, and a world-class golf course.

Here is Sophie (above) with two companions, at Denarau shopping centre.

One of the smaller superyachts... note the two tenders and the helicopter at the stern.

 

A world away from the super-rich lies the 'real' Fiji, of little interest to most tourists. Fiji has really only one 'city': Suva on the southeast coast. However Lautoka on the west coast (just north of Vuda Marina) is an important cargo port and services a small but substantial portion of Fiji's population of around half a million. There is a large produce market here (above) where we shopped for fresh fruit and vegetables. We found the juice of the local lemon (which to Australian eyes looks like an unripe orange), added to tonic water, makes a very refreshing drink... actually fantastic in the rather hot weather at Vuda Marina.

We took a hire-car to Suva (a Toyota Prius at $FJ 60 per day). Once we arrived in Suva we thought that finding a hotel would be easy. In fact most hotels were fully booked. Eventually we found a good one, but it was $FJ200 per night (that's about $AU135, the conversion being 3:2).

Prius seem a popular car in Fiji at this time, apparently due in part to encouragement by the government. In the car sales yard above, half of the vehicles are Prius. If Fiji can encourage the use of energy efficient cars, why can't ...?

Suva has two large shopping complexes. In the MHCC complex, the food court (above) closely resembles any shopping centre food court in Australia or New Zealand. We ate tasty Indian curries.

My guidebook says the population of Fiji is made up, roughly, of 50% Fijians, 45% Fiji-born Indians, 4% Chinese, and 1% others. I inquired further, and was told that, outside the towns, most Fijians live in villages, and most Indians live in settlements (I don't understand the differences).  Fijians and Indians generally get along pretty well together, but intermarriage seems rare. I asked a 25 yo Fiji girl if she would consider marrying an Indian man... she said nothing, but shook her head.

People visit Fiji for various reasons. Most visitors come on annual holidays for the resorts: clean beaches, clear warm water, coconut palms, and luxury accommodation. Maybe a bit of diving or fishing (there are only a few good opportunities for snorkelling or bushwalking). The top end of the resorts charge between $FJ 1000 and $2000 per night for a couple, and guests often have a small island to themselves.

Some visitors come to invest, while there is a small medical tourism industry, based on dentistry and cosmetic surgery in Suva.

 

The craft markets do contain interesting carved wood pieces, but most of the costume jewellery does not seem distinctively Fijian. Tonga is quite different.

 

Fiji's main commercial harbours are at Suva and Lautoka, with Suva being the largest and apparently the preferred port for overseas fishing boats.

Like these Chinese vessels... some stay only a short time...

While others stay longer.
I was pleased to learn that this fishing boat has been here since 2014.

But, to return to the subject of Fiji's main industry, tourism....

Above, Sophie's idea of a good resort. The Grand Pacific Hotel.

Above and below: Jon's idea of a good resort. There are plenty of abandoned resort sites... as we found also in Tonga.

 

Our compromise. Below, the Lagoon Resort, at Pacific Harbour on the south coast. The resort we actually stayed in. Luxurious to the point of being a bit over-the-top: dining room ceiling made entirely from mirrors and intricately carved wood... Friendly staff.  Breakfast included in the tariff.

On our first day, we were the only guests.

Lagoon's bathrooms are entirely (except the ceiling) decorated with Italian marble.

 

The Lagoon has ENORMOUS bedrooms, each twice the size of Ocean Child.

 

Two dive boats resting at the waterfront of the Lagoon Resort. We listened to a chorus of bird and insect calls every sunrise and sunset. Insects like the cicada, below.

Below, sunrise from our bedroom window, Lagoon Resort.

The south coast of Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu, has an inshore coral reef along most of its length. The reef is punctuated by small bays, each home to a creek or river. Here there are small but healthy mangrove forests. The presence of the rivers cuts gaps in the bordering coral reef.

Below, a creek flows out of the south coast, not far from Suva.

In some places villagers are planting mangroves, while in other places mangroves are being destroyed by landfill.

Villagers have created some small marine protected areas along the south coast (below).

An important supporter of marine protected areas along the south coast is Dr Victor Bonito, an American marine biologist who has lived in Fiji (Votua Village) for 15 years. I understand his Facebook page can be reached at "Reef Explorer Fiji Ltd". I'm not familiar with Facebook myself. His phone is +679 937 8939.

Two small protected areas to protect sharks were initiated by dive companies in the mid 1990s, with the support of villagers.

The habitats of the intertidal flats are a mixture of dead coral, limestone, algae, sand and seagrass, with a little live hard coral near the tidal channels. On the seaward side, according to Victor Bonito, there is a steep and wave-swept drop-off, populated mainly by soft corals. 

All these habitats have been heavily fished over the past century. In most non-protected areas (the vast bulk of habitats) little remains of the original marine ecosystem.

We were told that the Wainiyabia Village receives $25 for each person undertaking a 'shark dive' on their protected area. Again, local information is that the money supports the village school.



The shark dive companies (four companies I think operate out of Pacific Harbour) have set up feeding stations at different depths. Sharks are fed waste from fish processing factories. Above, staff are feeding sharks at a shallow water feeding station (10-15 m). Tourists look on from behind a roughly-constructed wall of coral rubble and concrete pavers.



Above, the deep water (30m) feeding station. On the day we were there, only two species were present, however staff told us that eight species have been recorded in total. We were informed that these are bull sharks.


There were 15 to 20 large sharks at the deep water feeding station. We were told that the dive company works in conjunction with scientists from James Cook University, who estimate that the food handed out makes up about 3% of the sharks' diet. Dive staff are careful and professional, taking a great deal of care to separate the sharks and tourists.

 

Pacific Harbour was a large-scale commercial land development project conceived by overseas investors in 1970. The idea was to incorporate resorts, a shopping centre, a world-class golf course, and a luxury residential subdivision, based on low-lying land which was then mainly mangrove wetlands. The developers no doubt saw the low flat land as ideal for canal development. Neither the developer, the local village landholders, nor the government apparently appreciated the important role mangroves play in marine ecosystems.

The ambitious development went ahead, with a few houses being erected almost immediately, however (see below) nearly half a century later, most of the land remains undeveloped. We noticed that building blocks were for sale for around $FJ 200,000 and established homes for under $1,000,000.

The central commercial hub of the development, called the Arts Centre (above) houses a variety of shops, mostly small cafes (which serve cheap and tasty meals) and clothing shops. There is a post office and a small supermarket. On Saturdays villagers set up prepared food, produce and craft stalls. So, with the shops open too, it's busy. Most of the customers are Fiji locals.




Above, one of the properties for sale. Note the standard 'western' urban design... quite different from some of the local dwellings in town urban areas, which have extensive use of window louvers on all walls to allow for flow through ventilation. These dwellings are also built high, like the typical 'Queenslander', to catch whatever breeze there is... and have mosquito screens all round, and often window bars to deter intruders. The building above relies instead on air conditioning, and electronic burglar detection, plus the guard dog.

 

Sophie's last day was spent at Musket Cove Resort (below). It is situated in the Mamanuca Islands, offshore from Nadi. The resort includes a small marina, set up to cater for cruisers like us.

This, strangely enough, is unusual in Fiji, with a few resorts even hostile to cruisers. However Musket Cove is 'paradise' for cruisers who love resorts. We heard of one Canadian couple, who set sail from Vancouver on a world trip to find their ideal retirement location. When they found Musket Cove, they stopped, and have been there ever since.

I have heard similar stories from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, and from La Roche Bernard in Brittany.

 

After Sophie left for Hobart, I was joined by Kyra de Baan (Netherlands) and David Brites (USA). We provisioned Ocean Child, and left for Noumea, New Caledonia, on Friday September 9.

There is a seaman's rule that you should never leave on a journey on a Friday, but we forgot to look at our diaries...

 

Home