By: Carol Fleetwood
Some of us, as we get older, collect experiences like shiny pennies. Pretty soon we have a jar full of these useless relics that we put on a shelf and neglect. Although their value has diminished, we tell ourselves we should not take the mental or physical energy needed to locate and collect more because it’s too much effort. The shiny pennies turn dull with the passing of time and we smile at the memory of what they once were.
The previous month in Fiji has caused me to reopen my collection of shiny pennies and add a few new ones! New experiences have bombarded me to the point I can’t seem to wipe this silly grin off my face! It has been a month of “firsts”!
Many “pennies” were added on the island of Taveruni but before we get to the “shiny part of the trip”, let me tell you about a few obstacles we encountered along the way.
We set sail (mid August) from Copra Shed Marina on the island of Venua Levu. We wanted to anchor on the lee side of Taveuni Island which is approximately 40 miles away. With a good weather forecast we set sail early in the morning.
What should have been an easy day trip, turned into a roller coaster ride which led to several rigging issues!
The day started out with sunny skies, calm seas and light wind, but by mid morning the winds and seas (to the beam) picked up and dark clouds loomed overhead ( 8-10 feet and 30 knots). Suddenly, the end splice on the main sail came loose and pulled away from the cleat that held it! The sail flapped violently in the wind until we climbed on deck and retrieved it (dodging the steel cleat line that swung at us like a baseball bat)! Once the main was furled, we attempted to hoist the stay sail but the rigging jammed! Thankfully, the head sail worked and kept us moving but did nothing to stabilize the rolling motion! Now, WindCutter was bobbing like a seahorse! It wasn’t much fun but may I say, “It was worth the effort”! The days to come would be magical!
First “Shiny Penny”:
Taveruni Island, Fiji
Sheltered from the wind, we grabbed a buoy (in the lee of the island) close to the rugged shore in front of “Paradise Resort” . This resort is well known for diving expeditions to Rainbow Reef which is listed as one of the top dive spots in the world! Naturally, I had to learn to dive (Craig already dives).
Owners Allan and Terri put me in the confident hands of dive master Michelle LeFrancois. Under Michelle’s careful instruction (amazingly calm and precise), I was able to obtain a “Padi Open Water Dive Certificate” in four days . Michelle said it was unusual to pass all the skills and tests so quickly but I was motivated..we were only staying a week!
By day five, I was diving Rainbow Reef! Words can not describe the brilliant underwater colors of this reef and the abundant sea life (diving in front of Paradise Resort is also good)! Some of the sea animals I saw over the week during five ocean dives were: sea turtles, blue ribbon eels, parrotfish, frog fish, octopus, spiny lobsters , trumpet, trigger, lion, butterfly and angel fish as well as a a moorish idol ( and those are just the ones I recognized)!
We hired a driver who took us hiking on Mount Uluiqulau! This island lives up to it’s name which means “Garden Island” ! Lush and dense with many hues of green, the forest is breathtaking! But the real gems on Taveruni are the waterfalls! We hiked to two! I couldn’t resist jumping from the first one..a large rock ledge that protruded under the waterfall. I landed in a deep, clear pool of water! Since Craig was pretty sure this was not on the list of “things you can do after hip surgery”, I talked our driver into jumping with me! Afterwards, we hiked to another waterfall that we could all swim under.
Third “Shiny Penny”
Not far from the “Correction Facility” (yea, that’s what I said, ‘what is that here for?’) there is a natural water slide! A few meters from the road, it is an easy hike and extremely fun! The water “slide” is made of long, slippery rocks that line a river bed. It has a good amount of water that “push you” down the rocks which flow into a small pool of water! Poor Craig, he couldn’t do this one either so I recruited our very cool driver (his grandfather is a chief) to play on the slide with me. We had a great time and Craig was a good sport saying, “Someone has to drive the ambulance”!
The sail to Vanua Balavu in Northern lau was interesting! Sun shining, and calm seas, we took our time leaving (Taveruni is a hard place to leave)! Thinking we would approach the reef that encircles Vanua Balava well before dark. Wrong! Winds picked up (on our nose) , weather changed (again) and the current pushed us in the wrong direction . This made our progress very, very slow! At dusk, we tried to take a break on Naitaura Island but could not find an opening in the reef. So we pushed on to Vanua Balavu! We arrived after dark, did a“180” turn and spent the night retracing our path until the sun came up (yawn)! We talked about “going for it”, but knew the danger so reluntantly decided against it (better to be tired than shipwrecked)!
The charts in the Lau are mostly inaccurate. Many reefs, and surface rocks are uncharted and unmarked! Several ships have ended their journey here..on a reef! Waiting until morning to maneuver the narrow passage was the right thing to do and once inside, we were thankful we waited! Inside the reef, dozens of rocks and balmies littered our path! Exhausted, we tucked Windcutter in a bay near a “Coconut Plantation” and dove into bed!
Just as we were nodding off, we got a call (via vhf radio) from our good friend, Bruce on Skabanga! He is here too! Would we like to dive a shipwreck (a sailboat that went down a while ago)? This could have been “shiny penny number four” but I was too exhausted to move!
Shiny Penny #4
We woke up to unidentifiable “ape and bird sounds”! Scampering to the deck, we were stunned to see lush jungles all around, stunning cliff formations, and tropical sounds we had never heard before! While marveling at our overflowing senses, a beautiful butterfly landed on my arm and fluttered it’s brilliant wings! I told Craig, “Look, even the butterflies are friendly in Fiji!” While I stared in awe at the butterfly still hanging out on my arm, two blue footed boobies danced around our boat while the ape and bird” cacophony sounds continued to echo off caves nearby ! Schools of silver fish happily splashed next to the boat scattering sun beams that sparkled in the crystal blue water (wait- was that a barracuda chasing them?)
We spent a magical week alone here (Skabanga and Eleutheria partner sailed to another island). There was as much to explore on land as there was in the water! We hiked the beautifully groomed “plantation” (owned by Mr Phillips who visits a few times a year). We fished, explored caves and water trails hidden in the mangroves. We kayaked, and even skinny dipped until we noticed higher than usual shark activity! Paradise found, we saturated our senses with nature!
We never figured out what made the ape sounds but it added to the prehistoric ambiance of the place! We think possibly it was the exotic birds flying around, or maybe it was the bats hiding in the caves? We do know apes do not live in fiji, but if you heard the sounds we heard, you would think they did!
Shiny Penny #5
If you hike to the top of the hill , the plantation boasts an incredible view of “The Bay of Islands”. We knew when we saw the view that we had to visit!
A short sail away, Bay of Islands is a chain of very small, very lush, very remote (uninhabited) islands! Most are surrounded by steep , colorful cliffs and sea caves; but some are accessible by sandy beaches (although pretty dense and hard to hike through without a machete). We have never seen islands with rock formations as beautiful as this! Definitely another shiny penny!!! We had a great time having this place to ourselves! The days were relaxing and warm. The water was so clear that snorkeling was a dream ( island cliffs are abundant with sea life). I saw a couple of reef sharks but they didn’t bother me.
The only scare we had was the sting Craig received when he lifted the swim step and touched a ‘stone’ that had attached to the step. It was painful, and we worried it might be a stone fish ! Our medical book said, “seek immediate medical attention” ( which was impossible)! He survived (hot water, and meds) and learned not to touch sea life with his hands!
One day, we took our dinghy 5 miles to visit a nearby village (too many reefs to take WindCutter). We presented Kava to the chief. The village ladies were busy weaving a mat from tree bark when we arrived. We left them with gifts of laundry soap, rice, dish soap, and bubbles for the kids!
Originally, we planned to sail from Northern Lau, to Southern Lau (which we hear is even more remote) but with our rigging problems, we decided it best to head back to Vanua Levu where we could get parts we needed to make repairs.
So, with five shiny pennies in our hands, we made our way back to the beautiful Copra Shed Marina (Vanua levu) where we re-provisioned and completed all rigging repairs! Many thanks to Mary on “HotSpur” who helped us add a new end- splice on the main line (we call her the sail goo-roo)!
Sadly, we have decided to exit Fiji for the cyclone season! Our “tentative” plan is to leave this week and head for Tonga, then possibly back to French Polynesia before crossing the ocean towards Hawaii or Mexico .Weather will determine the timing and our direction ..if winds are not favorable, we will head back or maybe to New Zealand? We plan to go ‘slow’, taking our time to enjoy the countries we enter (I am hoping to get another shiny penny or two in Tonga where you can swim with the whales!) We know we have to be out of the South Pacific by November when the cyclone season officially begins here and ends in the North Pacific.
Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we venture out into the unknown! We regret having to leave Fiji but WindCutter’s visa is almost expired and it’s necessary to take her out of the country! We hope to visit again in the near future! Maybe one day we can make Fiji “our home away from home”! Wouldn’t that be a pretty penny? There are so many shiny experiences here! I might have to get another jar….
Until next time,
Carol and Craig