Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Weeks in the Exploring Isles

July 24 - August 13

Well, I've given up trying to catch up with detailed updates. I just wasn't making any progress, and as we move into a new area, I want to get up to date.

We spent 3 mahvelous weeks in the area of the Lau Group (in Fiji), known as The Exploring Isles. The primary island in this area is Vanua Balavu, and the best anchoring area is known as The Bay of Islands. We did them all.

We started with an entry through the western pass, off the village of Daliconi. After doing our sevusevu in Daliconi, we moved up to the Bay of Islands. This is roughly a 1 square mile area dotted with small volcanic uplift islands. It has many many pockets in which to anchor, and even after almost 2 weeks there, we were still discovering new spots (dinghy exploration primarily). One boat we know spent 6 weeks anchored in one spot. You could do that easily. But not us...

After a week in the Bay of Islands, we took advantage of a light air period to go explore a little on the east side of Vanua Balavu. We motored around the island counter-clockwise, dragging a fishing line, and in 1 hour, we had cuaght 6 fish between 2 boats. We have continued to do well fishing since then.

We checked out 3 bays (Bavatu, Horse Bay, Little Bay) and then anchored out by Avea Island. We didn't know when we set out that there was a village on Avea that we should do sevusevu with. So we made our stay short, just overnight. We spent an hour in the dinghies in the morning checking to see if we could find a pass through the outer reef to go diving outside the reef. Then we moved into Little Bay for another overnight (gorgeous, great exploration, snorkeling). This bay was associated with another village that we should have done sevusevu with (Mavana Village, just S of the bay). But we again made a short stop of it, promising to come back and do sevusevu on our return (which we never did :()

Then we headed back around to the village of Daliconi, on the west coast, where we had scheduled a "meke" (rhymes with Becky). This is a village celebration, with food, singing, dancing and kava drinking. They were putting it on for us all at a cost of $25 FJ per person. It was a nice evening, with good food, and we got a chance to interact with the villagers some.

After that, we spent another week in the Bay of Islands, and then headed back to the west coast, spending a few nights in Bavatu and then heading down to Susui, the village at the southern end. Bavatu was really nice. We ended up grabbing one of two moorings off the Exploring Islands Yacht Squadron. The EIYS is not really open, but we talked to the caretaker of the plantation (Biu), and he said it was OK for us to use the moorings, and take showers in the water hose on the dock.

While in Bavatu, we hiked to the top of the ridge, where there's a gorgeous overlook over the Bay of Islands. Go in the morning for the best photos. (we went in the afternoon, but I have a morning shot someone else gave us, that I'll post when we have real internet). You could again spend a week here--fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking. But in a few days we moved on.

We took Biu, the Bavatu caretaker, and one of his guys with us when we went south. We stopped in Lomaloma, the only village on the island with stores and gasoline for sale. Biu got off here. His outboard is not working and they were low on supplies, and needed to pick up their wages. He was going to make his own way back to Bavatu. We only made a brief stop in Lomaloma. The bakery's oven was down, so there was no bread. No eggs, and the same potatoes and onions we had found a week before on a trip by road from Daliconi. But we did top off with gasoline.

Then it was a short motor on down to the village of Susui. This is a tiny village of only 65 people, at the far southern end of the Exploring Isles. The village is on a beautiful bay with a beach, and is very neat and clean. Some friends of ours had spent 2 weeks here earlier in the season, and had really liked it.

When we went in to do sevusevu, we were shocked to be presented with a paper, with formal and polite language (but handwritten) telling us that there was now a $50 fee to anchor off their village. Our friends on Sidewinder and Chesapeake who had just arrived 2 days before, had not been charged a fee. We shocked them right back by stating that if they wanted a fee to anchor, we would leave. So they rescinded the fee. (Our village host, Jacob, had told them that this was likely going to happen, but the village council had not listened to him).

We spent 3 days in Susui, attending church on Sunday, and we were invited to participate in the after-church lunch with the pastor of the church. They fed about 30 people with a big spread of baked fish, bananas, casava, and some green stuff, all locally grown/caught). While I was helping the women lay out the lunch, Dave and Jerry from Challenger and Kennedy from Far Star were talking with the village elders about the problem with charging an anchoring fee, and suggesting other ways for the village to generate cash flow from the cruisers. We later followed this up with a typed up list of suggestions, and an example flyer for their "Hidden Lagoon Tour" that they could do as a tourist offering.

We hate to see this nice quiet village pimping themselves as a tourist destination, but they are desperate for cash to support the village infrastructure. Their main village generator is broken, and when it IS working, they often can't afford to buy diesel fuel for it.

Dave, Jerry, and Kennedy also spent an afternoon working on their village generators, to show them that cruisers offered the villages something more than just cash benefits. They were able to fix the school generator, which had an electrical issue that Dave was able to track down. The main village diesel generator needed a part, which we found after spending some time looking at it, was due in with a government repair person, in about a week.

We could easily have spent another week in Susui, but felt we needed to get going on this weather window to Fulanga, 100 miles south of The Exploring Isles.

So we left Susui mid day yesterday, and went straight east to the pass and out the Tonga Pass about 2pm. All 3 boats caught at least one fish between the village and the pass.

At 2012/08/12 12:00 AM (utc) our position was 17°20.44'S 178°56.94'W

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