Putting our hands up in the name of honesty, we admit Fiji was not top of our priorities when planning our Pacific route. You get just a little spoilt on a yacht as you can visit some parts that planes have not yet reached. And we’ve focused on making the most of the more unexplored areas, meaning we’d budgeted less time in Fiji. That soon changed.
First trick on arrival was dealing with Adina’s floating bar. Unlike other islands, Fiji has limits on the quantity of spirits, wine and beer you can bring in; it amounts to 2.25 litres of spirits or 4.5 litres of wine/beer per person. Yachts have to send all their paperwork ahead of arrival and that includes declaring how well stocked your bar is. Time to hide the contents of our bar. We, like others, had sat for a few weeks working out where to hide our precious Tanqueray, Hendricks, Bombay, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Beausire’s Sloe Gin.
We arrived nice and early in Savusavu, located on Vanua Levu, the northern island of Fiji, moored in the check-in area and awaited the officials. It was Friday and they were sporting colourful ‘Bula Friday’ shirts – lots of cheerful floral patterns. And what an absolutely lovely bunch of people they were. Bar the whopping £80 (US$130) for our health clearance which involved spraying some aerosol around the boat, they couldn’t have been nicer. Clearly they know yachts are well stocked but all they check is the amount you declare, acknowledge it and that’s that. When asked “Anything else we can help you with?” we asked them for their favourite restaurant and then off they left. Our halfway around the world toast was safe.
Savusavu has a deep, well-sheltered bay where you can sit on a mooring buoy in perfectly flat water – in fact it’s used as a cyclone hole. We grabbed our mooring buoy and headed off to explore. Not being unkind, but there is nothing to see in the town however people greet you with a loud ‘Bula’ and smile, giving it a nice feel. ‘Bula’ means ‘Hello’, it rings out cheerfully and we soon realised it is used regularly in Fiji.
Savusavu has a large Indian community and we headed off to the cheap and cheerful ‘Country Kitchen’ restaurant recommended by the customs officers. More smiles, curry and roti all for £1.50 – make that the cheapest yummiest meal we’ve had in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific has been murderously expensive at times and finally it’s starting to get cheaper; no more $4 a can of beer in a Tahitian supermarket.
Rain hadn’t been seen in these parts for 4 months but it’s approaching summer and the rainy season (and cyclone season too!) so with strong winds and large doses of rain forecast we opted to stay put. What to do on a rainy day? Get some Indian cooking lessons on your own boat! Mala took us to the market to source ingredients and then, with friends Paul and Monique from the yacht Full Circle, she demonstrated how to cook dhal, a chicken curry, tomato chutney and, after some pleading, roti bread too. The only challenge was keeping up with her and trying to write down the recipes! So Fijian curry with roti is now on the menu aboard Adina.
For us, part of being on an adventure is just exploring and trying the local way of life. We took a day trip on a local bus to Labasa, a town in the north of the island, to admire the gorgeous lush hills of Fiji along the route. Once in town, again lots of shouts of ‘Bula’, people happy to talk freely. Fiji was growing on us in a big way. They even have ‘tea’ cafes where you get a cup of tea and a bun for £1 – another Indian influence.
Then it was time to start getting serious about exploring some of Fiji’s islands and the challenges they represent. The waters here are scattered with dangerous lurking reefs that can bring a swift end to your dreams. The wind needs to be respected and in certain areas the water can be rough. Added to all that, charts are based on old surveys. Cue a local Aussie called Curly who has lived in Fiji for 35 plus years who offers seminars to help you plan your trip. He tells us our Navionics charts can be up to 0.6 nautical miles out – that’s 1111m! That’s a long way in confined waters and can have you in big trouble if you get it wrong. So Curly gives out recommended routes and a whole load of waypoints to help you on your travels. Some people leave a little shaken, altering plans to play it safe!
Curly also introduces us to the art of Sevusevu. Once you’ve popped down your anchor, you need to find the local village and ask the chief for his permission to stay, fish, take photographs etc. And you need to take him a gift of yaqona wrapped in some newspaper. Behind it all is a little ceremony. We’re used to ladies needing to wear skirts and not show exposed shoulders but this now also includes no sunglasses, no bags on backs. You sit cross legged and a village man introduces you to the chief. You place your yaqona on the floor. If all goes well, they pick it up, turn your gift around in their hands, talking away, three claps and you are now welcome members of the village. If they give it back, you best run for your life as that means you’re not welcome! The yaqona is taken away and ground before being returned to soak in water and make kava. Yes, kava. For the un-initiated, and not wanting to offend anyone, it tastes like muddy water mixed with pepper. A cup in the form of half a brown coconut shell is offered, you clap once, slurp it all up, give it back and clap three times. A few rounds and you make your excuses to leave!
So Adina is loaded with yaqona, curry spices, bar intact, lots of satellite images to avoid reefs and we’re all set to explore north-east Fiji before heading down to Northern Lau. Our stay has been firmly extended so we can enjoy a lot more of that cheerful ‘Bula’ greeting.