Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gunkholing around Ovalau

We spent several days exploring the island of Ovalau on our way to Suva. We approached from Namena through the Makogai Channel (regretfully passing up Makogai because we didn't have time) on a beautiful clear day without much wind. Because the conditions were so perfect, we decided to sneak inside the reef at the very north end of the reef east of Ovalau. (17-43.52S / 178-50.89E)

Approaching Ovalau from the North

This enabled us to travel south inside the reef, in calm water. We left our fishing line out and actually caught a small (but edible size) Walu (Spanish or Pacific Mackerel).

The Marker at the North End of the Reef at Ovalau

As we made our way south to our intended anchorage at Levuka (the primary town on Ovalau), we wandered between the reef and the shoreline, checking out possible anchorages, and sightseeing.

An Old Church on the Shoreline

The Levuka anchorage is somewhat exposed to the prevailing southeasterlies, and we were looking for an anchorage 'nearby' that would be better. We found several possibles--but since we had nearly no wind, it was hard to evaluate exactly how good (or bad) the anchorage would be if the winds were blowing 20 knots out of the SE. One possible we found, about 4 miles north of Levuka, is at 17-37.47S / 178-48.82E.

We eventually ended up at Levuka. Curly had told us to anchor close in, in 7 meters, a shade south of the "leading line". We looked around a bit and decided that this WAS the best anchor spot. The big pier for fishing boats and ferries, if you anchor close in, gives you a wee bit of protection from the chop and swell from the SE. So we dropped anchor at 17-40.97S / 178-50.15E.

Anchored Behind the Pier

While VERY convenient to town, and a spot at which you can check in to Fiji, this anchorage has two MAJOR drawbacks (besides it is slightly exposed in strong southeasterlies). First, the town generator is right at the base of the pier--right next to you. It is a very VERY noisy beast and runs 24x7. It was Sunday afternoon, and we didn't notice the second one until Monday morning--when the Tuna processing plant cranked up. Whew!! We were right downwind of the tuna factory.

From "Ovalau's primary attraction is the old colonial capital of Levuka, a community of 1500 or so inhabitants. Nestled at the base of steep bluffs, Levuka has the ambience of a 19th century whaling town, which is exactly what it was. With weather worn clapboard buildings, narrow streets, and ever-friendly residents, Levuka’s harbor and bars at one time welcomed vessels from every seafaring nation."

As soon as we got the anchor set, we went ashore and paid our respects to the Port Captain (there is a small dock at the base of the pier for dinghies and small boats--the PC office is right there). In fact the Port Captain had called us on VHF 16 as we were wandering around checking anchorages (wanting to know our boat name and intentions). We showed him our papers, and paid a small port fee (something like $10).

We had been out at Namena for a few days, so Dave offered to take me out to dinner in town. He had read in our Moon Guide about a couple of restaurants, and we had our friends on Java's recommendations, too. We walked the town looking for places to eat, but it turned out that only one place was open on Sunday--and not til 6pm.

Downtown Levuka on Sunday Afternoon

It was 4:30pm, so we had an hour and a half to kill. Dave had read about a nice walk up into the hills, so we decided to investigate it a little bit. Then we found there was a river was there, and Dave got hot on the trail of a waterfall. So we ended up hiking WAY up into the hill to the beginning of the town water supply, there was a tiny waterfall. Fortunately it was mostly paved (ending up being just a narrow one-person track at the end). But we got back to town at 6pm in our Sunday Best all sweaty from a hike.

The Main Church in Levuka

The Path to the Waterfall

Overlooking the Main Entrance to Levuka

We Finally Reach the Waterfall

Some Great Kids we Met on our Walk

The only restaurant was a Chinese place, and we were keenly looking forward to some Chop Suey or Stir Fry, but were dismayed to find that they had NO VEGETABLES. Apparently there were no fresh vegetables on the island at all at this time. Ovalau is a small island not far off the coast of Viti Levu, the main island. But everything comes in by ferry. Being Sunday, all the grocery stores were closed.

Unfortunately, this lovely restaurant, with a nice balcony overlooking the harbor, also overlooked the town generator. Un-airconditioned, it was too hot INSIDE the restaurant, and they had 70's music blasting at too loud a volume to talk. Outside on the balcony, it was cooler, but you had to listen to the generator. We were fortunate to get our order in first, service was slow, and we ate our chicken and rice with canned vegetables and left.

The Original Morris Hedstrom Store

The next morning, Monday, we spent about 10 minutes in the tiny M&H grocery store--getting a couple of things, but no fruits and veggies. Dave was keen to see the Levuka Museum across the street, housed in the old Morris Hedstrom building. So we spent an hour looking at the combination Museum and town library. It was interesting reading about how the European traders had injected themselves in local politics between chiefs in Fiji, and ended up owning the country. Typical story we have experienced all across the Pacific islands. And of course the Europeans brought diseases that the islanders were not immune to, and wiped out 2/3 of the population. And the Missionaries, who followed the traders closely, attacked their culture, stealing their souls as well as their country. Oh, I mean SAVING their souls, right?

We Perused a Few Dusty But Interesting Exhibits

We inquired about taking a bus around the island, but found that there was no bus that GOES around the island. There is an old decrepit bus that goes one way, about a quarter of the way, and another bus that goes the other way, a quarter of the way. But the road is bad, and the trip is not cheap. The other half of the island has no road.

Levuka Buses, Built for the Rugged Roads

So we returned to Soggy Paws, hauled up the dinghy, and left Levuka to do our own exploring.

We spent the rest of the day gunk-holing counter-clockwise around Ovalau, checking out anchorages and sightseeing.

Lush Countryside

We were keen to check out a place that Curly had showed us, labeled "Hurricane Hole". We eventually found the place and agreed with another cruiser, Mr John IV, who said it was a snug anchorage, but isn't quite protected enough to be a Hurricane Hole. (but it was way better than remaining off Levuka in a blow). The best spot was saw was about 17-44.09S / 178-45.99E.

Even though it was getting late in the day, we decided not to anchor there, but press on south to an anchorage off one of the two islands on the south end of Ovalau that supposedly had a "Backpacker Resort" on the island. There are reefs all over in this area, and we'd certainly ignored AGAIN Curly's advice to only travel between 10am and 2pm so you can see the reefs. GoogleEarth Charts are our friend. It also helps a lot that the regular electronic charts (CM93 C-Map charts dated 2010, and our Garmin charts dated 2008) are reasonable detailed and reasonably accurate in most places.

A Caqalai Bure

We ended up at tiny Caqalai Island (anchorage: 17-44.15S / 178-43.80E). On our chart, there is no island there--just a reef. But this island is owned by the Methodist Church in Ovalau, and has rustic accommodations for about 20 people. Caqalai is pronounced Thang-a-lie in Fijian. We went ashore and talked with the people there. There was only one guest and she was leaving tomorrow. The 3 Fijian caretakers on the island apologised for the messiness of the island--they had not yet properly cleaned up after getting blasted by the edge of Cyclone Evan in mid-December. (But weren't working very hard on cleaning up, either). We asked if we could get dinner there, and ended up paying $15FJD per person for a small whole fish and some cabbage and rice. But it was interesting hanging out.

Caqalai Staff Cleaning the Grounds (NOT!)

The next day, we headed further south into the reefy areas south of Ovalau. Dave wanted to check out another possible "cyclone hole" Curly had pointed out, down along the coast of Viti Levu. However, we never got that far--it was dicey getting in, and didn't look like we could get far enough in shore to get any real protection in bad weather.

So we stopped instead at Toberua Island. (anchorage: 17-58.58S / 178-42.17E) Toberua Island Resort is another resort on a small island in the reefy area between Ovalau and Viti Levu. What a difference from last night's stop at Caqalai. This resort is owned by Kiwis and is an extremely well manicured family resort. The buildings were nicely constructed, and everything was in its place. The Fijian staff was impressively friendly.

Immaculate Grounds at Toberua Island

We introduced ourselves and asked if "yachties" were welcome ashore (sometimes they are, sometimes they are not). The owners happened to be in attendance, with brand new managers, one of whom was a former sailor/cruiser. So they said, "Yes, we welcome well-behaved yachties ashore."

The Workout Bure at Toberua

We got a grand tour of the island, besides some 20-odd "bures" (thatched guest quarters), there was a sort of barracks at the back for the Fijian staff, a huge generator, a workshop, and water storage. There is a dive shop and "water sports" building out by the beach. And the place was full...

Dave Gets a Briefing on the Route Out the Reef to the Southeast

We talked with the dive shop operator, to get a little coaching on getting out of the reef toward the southeast tomorrow. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. Wished we could have stayed a couple of days, done some diving, and hung out.

But tomorrow... onward to Suva.

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