Nukubati (pronounced Nukumbati) is a small free-hold island with a shallow, but murky anchorage. The air has that wonderful tropical flower fragrance that I have come to love so much. We anchored near the Nukubati Island Resort, which was convenient for going ashore, although the boats bringing the staff into work make a lot of noise in the morning. Cruisers aren't known for spending huge amounts of cash and perhaps this is why some resorts are not all that friendly to visiting yachties. However, we were treated extremely well here. When we asked about getting our dive tanks filled, we were told to go check with the manager, Lyn. While we did this our tanks were carried up to the dive shop for us, filled while we wandered around the resort, and carried back to our dinghy. When we asked about payment we were told to just make a donation to the staff Christmas fund. Nice! In our wanderings, we were tickled to find a small yellow catamaran called Banana Split, which made us nostalgic for our first sailboat by the same name. The dining/lounging area was stunning, with lots of attention to detail throughout the large open (no walls) room. There was beautiful weaving work around the pillars in all different designs. Some of the patterns were sea critters and we especially liked the octopus, with its 8 legs protruding from the rest of the weaving. The walls had reproductions of old photos and drawings from when Europeans first came to Fiji, and the ceiling had woven mats. The bases of the lamps were either shell-covered, or had detailed wood-carving, and there were lovely plants scattered on the wooden floor between the comfy chairs and couches, and on the end tables.
Lynn invited us to come in back in the evening for a drink and to see the meke. The staff were very friendly; they set up a couple of comfy chairs for us to watch the dancing, and brought a little table, complete with a bowl of peanuts, for us to put our drinks on. The meke is performed on evenings when new guests arrive or leave. Additionally, when folks first get to the resort and step off onto the beach the staff all come out and sing a welcome. We enjoyed the show a great deal; it was more professional than the meke we'd seen at Daku village and there were more participants. Those staff who weren't performing, or who were in between performances, sat in a group around a kava bowl. Most of these sang along with the dancers. When the formal dancing was over, the dancing continued, with the staff pulling the guests up to dance. One fun conga line (like the locomotion) had the leader of the line doing a movement and everyone else copying it. We had a lot of fun dancing, chatting with some of the folks, and just being in a luxurious setting. If you are wanting to take a vacation at an exclusive upscale resort, we'd highly recommend this one.
The average cost is about $700 Fijian per night for 2 people, which includes most of everything, except diving – or you can rent the whole resort for about $5000 per night. Thus, the currency on the resort is mostly plastic; they aren't well set up to deal with cash. The bartender didn't know what the cost of our drinks were and when Bjarne went in the next morning to pay, Lynn suggested a trade. No problem, I was baking anyway. Some banana bread and cookies took care of that bar tab. Hmm, should've had a second pina colada :-). When we brought the baked goods in that afternoon, Lynn very kindly brought us each a bowl of ice cream. What a lovely treat! We had asked the previous day if they sold ice cream but she said they had stopped doing so because the staff were blowing all of their wages on ice cream bars.
Cookie Cutter arrived the day after we did, so we spent some time together, and took the Cookie out to a reef for some snorkeling. The water was murky but we saw a squid, a big clam, lots of sea pearls, and a lobster, so that was all fun. Shearwater arrived soon after, impressing us all with her new spinnaker. One evening we joined Peter and Connie for drinks, and had some fun singing along as Peter played guitar.
We invited Lynn to visit Freya; she wasn't able to go but some of the staff were interested. As I have noted before, an invitation to a Fijian takes on a life of its own; thus, pretty much all of the staff came out over two different visits. To thank us they gave us some drinking coconuts and papaya. Lynn showed us a book she was in the process of getting published, which consisted of Fijian recipes along with Lynn's memories of growing up in Fiji as the daughter of missionaries. To thank her for the hospitality we copied out one of our favourite recipes (Spicy Pirate Soup), and gave her some maple syrup (the supply is definitely running low now). As we and Cookie Cutter said our goodbyes, Lynn gave us a huge hunk of Walu (Spanish Mackerel) for each boat. We were eating fish for the next three days and were still able to give some away when we met up with Tamarak II.
Upon sailing away from this friendly resort we were presented with 15-20 knots behind us. We left about the same time as Cookie Cutter (Shearwater started earlier) and we did our best to keep the distance between from growing too much. The Cookie is larger than us (as are most boats out here) so moves faster. As we neared our destination (Yaqaga Island) the winds lightened just long enough for us to put up more canvass. It then picked up again, but we kept all the sail flying since it was getting late and we didn't want to arrive after dark. The ride was pretty exciting but we did start to close the gap on the Cookie. We dropped sails when we reached the long, fairly narrow pass between two reefs that we had to negotiate to reach our anchorage. We dropped the hook in 44 feet of water, which is a lot of chain to haul up and explains why Bjarne's muscles are bigger than we we left Victoria [that, and hoisting all those rum drinks :^]. We were all tired, so everyone stayed on the own boats for the evening. Before we left the next morning Bjarne and I checked out the snorkeling, which we'd heard was good here; we concluded that perhaps it was a seasonal thing, since our water was kind of murky.
The sail today was rather fun. The wind ranged from 1 to 23 kts and and came from almost every direction. Naturally, these shifts occurred at inconvenient times, like when the spinnaker was up. At one point the wind died off, leaving The Great Pumpkin as a deflated orange mass, and then spun around to come on the nose! The spinnaker is not that easy to get down in these circumstances. Fortunately, Cookie Cutter were well behind us so didn't see the tangled mess we were dealing with (botched spinnaker = loss of cool points). We went through quite a few sail combinations, which some days would drive us crazy, but the weather was nice and we had fun trying to keep up with the changes and stay ahead of the Cookie, who passed us as we neared the blustery anchorage at Yadua. Our route took us through Monkey Face Passage, so named for the image in the huge basalt rock on the top of a hill. Bjarne couldn't see it, although later grudgingly admitted that there was some indication of a monkey's face when he looked at the photo I took. No wise cracks here - the photo was of the rock.
We ended up spending a week here, instead of the few days we'd planned, as we were having a fabulous time. There was a wonderful combination of socializing, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, good scenery, and awesome diving. All the while we were back and forth about whether or not to stay in Fiji, but decided to enjoy ourselves here and make our final decision when we got back to Savusavu.
As soon as we pulled into Cukuvou Harbour we saw that our pals Tamarak II and Carpe Diem were happily nestled in the bay. John came over as we finished anchoring and whisked us away to join him and Sue on Tamarak II for a cold one. We don't mind not having a fridge, but have to admit we really like it when our friends have one :-) Supper had already been arranged: we were to join our Canadian friends on the Cookie for a Thanksgiving dinner. We had a fine meal of Spanish mackerel, garlic bread, and coleslaw topped off with chocolate pudding and fresh papaya for dessert (oh yes, and a bit of wine). We talked about how we spent Thanksgivings at home and thought about friends and family. It wasn't the traditional meal but we all acknowledged we had a lot to be thankful for, including good friends, present and absent.
Our first full day at Yadua was indeed a full day. In a joint effort with Peter and Connie, we took the dinghies and after carefully scoping out a likely spot, found a great place to dive. I had a bit of a scare when we were snorkeling before our dive because a shark seemed a bit more interested in me than usual. I quickly swam to the shallower part of the reef and tried not to look like a jelly fish. Sharks can easily swim in shallow water but I figured there was less space for it to move around there. I then made my way toward my companions who, I was hoping, looked tastier... umm... I mean, who could help me scare it away. That reminds me, Bjarne saw a t-shirt recently that had two sharks eying a couple of scuba divers. One shark said to another, “They're tasty, but don't eat the hard thing on the back. It'll give you farts.” Fortunately, the shark seemed to lose interest; it didn't follow me for too long and maybe had just coincidently been going my way. These white tipped reef sharks are generally pretty harmless to humans and the ones we saw later on the dive were just lazily cruising around. We were really excited to see two large green eels, one of which was well extended from its hole and sitting upright getting cleaned by a little wrasse. The second one didn't like company and withdrew, but Bjarne reports that watching it go by the opening in the rock was like watching a long train go by the station. There were lobsters (one was gargantuan), sea fans, wonderful colours, and lots of blue ringed angel fish. We all emerged from the water talking excitedly about the great sights, and how we wished we could stay down longer. We had lunch on the nearby beach then dinghied back upwind, spray flying, to our bay where Tamarak II and Carpe Diem had arranged a beach get-together. This provided us with a nice chance to catch up with them before they left the next morning. Seven boats were represented at this sunset affair. Nibblies were shared around and we all watched the sun sink into the water, hoping to see a green flash. There might have been a slight green smudge, but we don't think it counted. The sky did gradually turn to a nice shade of orange and we got a good photo of two yachts leaving the anchorage, silhouetted against the huge orange ball of the sun. A lovely day, all around.
We had three more dives, all of them with Shearwater (Bob and Laurie) and Cookie Cutter. In fact, Shearwater made these terrific dives possible by filling our dive tanks. The dive compressors are noisy and are expensive to run, not just for the fuel, but because the pricey filters need to be changed regularly. At the high pressures below the sea, the effects of contaminants in the air (e.g. carbon monoxide) are exacerbated and can cause serious medical consequences, death being only one of them. A few cookies found their way over to Shearwater, and Bjarne helped them scrub their bottom as thanks for the air. He even learned a new trick: credit cards are quite useful for scraping growth off the hull. Don't know what Mastercard would think of that. On all three dives we saw great colours with an amazing diversity of sea life, including a few sharks and lobster. At one point I was looking at some oddly shaped coral, when I noticed it had eyes! This poisonous scorpion fish was red and lumpy and blended in very well with the background. One of our dive spots we dubbed the yellow wall, as there was a whole section of soft yellow coral, yellow fish, yellow bulby things (that's the scientific term), and sea fans with shades of green, rust, and yellow. I even saw a yellow puffer fish. In a different bay, the coral formed big caverns and alley ways. Here we spotted a stingray and a fish we hadn't seen before called an Oriental Sweetlips, which had thick black horizontal stripes on a white body and large black polka dots on its yellow tail. This dive spot had more purples than yellows, including some long purple sea whips spiraling toward the surface.
There is a village on Yadua, but it is on the other side of the island, and the anchorage there is more exposed. It takes about two hours to hike from our anchorage to the village so only a few cruisers make the trek across to do the sevusevu. The hike took us along a narrow trail, which was not too rugged but had a good amount of up and down (enough to feel it in our legs the next day). The views were awesome (a reward for all the uphill parts). The only problem was the heat, although the breeze on the hill tops gave us some respite. Just before we arrived at the large village of about 175 people Connie and I stopped to don our sulus (wrap around skirts), so as not to offend the conservative community. There were a lot of traditional bures here, more than we've seen elsewhere. There were two types: one made with bamboo brought over from Vanua Levu; and the other type made from the long grass that grows on the island. The grass bures last up to 20 years, their roofs about 15 years. The bamboo houses don't last quite as long and the material is more expensive; they do, however, look nice so perhaps that is the appeal. The villagers greeted us in a friendly manner and some asked where we were from. The Chief, however, seemed pretty bored with the sevusevu routine: he kept checking his watch and there was a radio playing loudly in the room. The Chief asked us a few questions but did not talk to us as much as at other villages. The village spokesperson was more attentive and even translated some of what the chief said during the sevusevu ceremony. We then had a visit with Pita, who manages the Iguana Nature Reserve. He gave us some tea and yummy bread balls that had been cooked in a coconut sauce, sort of like large sweet dumplings [big Timbits. ed.], and we all shared some of the lunch we had brought (we had cookies and the Cookies had banana bread). Pita told us about the rare Red-Crested Iguana. He used to be able to take people to see them, but one time some yahoo sneaked 7 into his bag and tried to smuggle them out of the country. He was observed emailing to a buyer so was caught at the airport. One of the iguanas had already died and the smuggler received only the tiniest slap on the wrist. Since then, the reserve has been closed to visitors, except for scientists who come to evaluate how the critters are doing. There wasn't a shortcut back from the village but we did make better time because we didn't stop as much to admire the views. Upon our return we quickly immersed ourselves in the bay to cool down.
We were very excited one morning to see Spanish Stroll arrive. They'd had an overnight passage so we didn't get together until the evening, when they'd caught up on their sleep. They also had an adventure during the day: Jim was airing out their V-berth cushions and with wind caught one before he could tie it down. He leaped into the water to rescue it but, since the ladder wasn't deployed, he couldn't get back aboard. Barb was having a good sleep below and didn't hear him pounding on the hull for 20 minutes. We aren't the only ones to toss our cushions into the drink at least. After our supper of mahi mahi, provided by Jim and Barb, we went over to Spanish Stroll and made ourselves popular by bringing some beer, as they were out, and had a good time catching up. Spanish Stroll left a couple of days later and we were sad to see them go. Cruising brings wonderful surprises sometimes when you see friends unexpectedly, but it also means another goodbye, with the chances that your paths might not cross again.
The weather became blustery for a couple of days, so folks mostly stayed on their boats listening to the wind howl, and catching up on boat chores. I was going to make something with rice one night and hauled out the 10 kg bag we'd purchased in Levuka. Much to my displeasure, we had extra protein in the rice: these numerous black bugs were about 2 mm long and had what looked like little pincers. I tried to filter them out but there were too many. They probably wouldn't have killed us but since we weren't very far from a place to re-provision, I gave into my Western squeamishness and tossed about $10 of rice overboard. The pasta for supper was quite good. We worked on the website and emails, baked, and cleaned the bottom of the boat, testing out the new credit card trick. It is a bit hard on the card so I recommend using an expired or borrowed one.
It was time for us and Cookie Cutter to get a move on. We'd had a great dive on that last day and were all a bit tuckered out. Since the Cookies and the Shearwaters had hosted some evening get-togethers (potlucks, sing-a-longs, and rum) they were not inclined to do so again, especially since Bob and Laurie were busy filling our tanks, and the Cookie wanted an early start the next day (as did we). However, after spending all that time together it seemed we needed something to wrap it all up. I said this to Bjarne, and he noted that it was the social worker in me wanting closure. Clever boy. We decided that we could manage a dinner if we kept it simple, so we invited the others over and told them not to bring any food. I think the idea of another potluck would have been too much. Bjarne cleaned up Freya and got us ready to leave, and I made us some dinner with the fish that Spanish Stroll gave us before they left. The spaghetti albarbo a la poisson (how many languages can we butcher at one time?) was a big hit, and the Cookie surprised us all with a bottle of bubbly. It was a good way to say goodbye.
We had fairly strong head winds when we left Yadua early the next morning, which meant a lot of tacking up a channel, so we stopped a little earlier than planned. When a squall whipped through as we neared Nabouwalu Village, we grabbed the shampoo and had a quick scrub in the rain. We'd been running quite low on water, although Bob and Laurie had helped us out with this before we left Yadua. The anchorage was nice and calm, and we were treated to a large rainbow on the hillside once the rain had expended itself. We didn't go ashore and hoped that, since it was a government town of a fair size, we weren't expected to do the sevusevu. No one came out to put us in the cooking pot so I guess we were OK. It was nice to simply stay on the boat for a restful evening and an early night. A thunderstorm provided a nice light show but didn't come close enough to bother us, and the nearly full moon reflected prettily on the water. The next morning there was another rainbow, making a pleasant target to steer for as we headed out of the anchorage. We motored through the light winds to Savusavu in the drizzly weather, glad that the strong head winds had forsaken us. Much to our surprise, it was sunny in Savusavu, and remained very hot and sunny for most of our time there.
By now, we had decided that we would not spend the cyclone season in Fiji. One of the most convincing factors was that leaving now would break the trip up more. The pace for getting to New Zealand had been challenging and if we stayed in Fiji, we would have a similarly rushed trip to get home. Still, there is lots of Fiji that we didn't see, and it is easy to understand how the Kiwis can return here every season and not get tired of it. Leaving meant that we now had to prepare for the passages and for being at remote islands. At least we didn't know as many people in Savusavu this time so it was easier to get our tasks accomplished. We did socialize a bit, of course. We were surprised to meet up with a boat from Montreal which we had seen in the Marquesas. It's a small world, until you try to sail all over it, that is. I spent some time consulting with a doctor, and limped around town (see Medical Mishaps) while getting some shopping done. We did our best to catch up on emails and send off some mail for folks back home, used up our phone cards, got cooking gas, diesel, water, food, souvenirs, and most importantly, made sure we had some ice cream. One dinner out we tried palasami, which is taro leaves with coconut cream. The coconut cream is good but the leaves have a strong taste. If it is not cooked properly it can cause the throat to feel scratchy, which I got to experience first hand. I stopped eating it as soon as I noticed, so the reaction was mild but unpleasant. It was at this restaurant that Bjarne was asked the puzzling question: do you want hot iced-tea or cold iced-tea? On the last day we scurried around town, spending all but our last $0.42 Fijian, which we gave to another cruiser. We had a pleasant surprise when we paid the bill for the moorings: there was a reduced rate because it was now off-season. We had a last lunch out before braving the seas, thanks to the Copra Shed Marina.
Our departure day began in an unusual way - we went searching for worms! The balolo worms spawn only a couple of times a year: a week after the October full moon and sometimes after the November full moon. To do so they rise to the surface before dawn, and apparently can be so numerous that the colour of the water changes to red. The worms, which are about 6 inches long, are considered a delicacy and so in the wee hours of the morning folks walk out onto the reef searching for the tasty treats. There are only a few places in the world where the balolo are so we decided this would be worth getting up at 0315h for. We had no intention of eating these things but thought it would be fun to see. We piled into the back of a covered truck with some other sleepy cruisers and drove for about 20 minutes where we waited for a half hour until some locals indicated it was time to head out. [this bore much resemblance to a military operation. ed.] We walked out on the reef in the dark, feeling bad about squishing things. The worms, however, did not make an appearance. A few had come out the night before, and they came out in full force at Namena Island, about 25 miles south. Oh well, it was worth a try and we got to see a very pretty dawn and a short eel getting an early breakfast. We also had an easier time sleeping on passage that night thanks to getting up so early.