– Taveuni, Vanua Levu, and Oavlau
Our ship passed right through the middle of a tropical depression and as a consequence, we missed all of our stops in Nuie and Tonga. However, I was lucky enough to visit three of Fiji’s gorgeous islands. Perhaps signaling a change in the weather, bottlenose dolphins joined us to bow ride as we came closer to the densely vegetated island of Taveuni on our first day in Fiji. Fiji is part of Melanesia and not Polynesia, and this is reflected in the wildlife with terrestrial creatures like fruit bats appearing, and in the culture and appearance of the people here. Taveuni is a volcanic island that is still considered active. The last eruption was in 1550, but there have been 58 major eruptions there over the past 1,000 years.
I had the opportunity to hike in the Bouma Heritage Park and by the time we set foot on the island in the morning, it was already very hot and humid. Local kids were swimming to cool down near where we landed our zodiacs. After an hour-long drive in an old bus along a coastal road through pretty villages, over small streams and past big, old hardwood trees and mangroves – always with a view of the tall, jagged green mountains in the distance – our group of hikers arrived at the Bouma National Park. This is home to the three waterfalls of the Tavoro River. It was an easy walk to the first waterfall with its large fresh water pool for swimming and playing in the falls. Local families were splashing around in the falls and even fishing in the pools. I continued on to the second waterfall up some steep steps and through the thick forest to a plateau overlooking the forest and facing out to sea far below. Eventually I could hear the waterfall thundering away in the background and went for a swim in the second pool as the water tumbled down from above, beating me clean of the sweat and dust of the day.
In the afternoon we snorkeled off the tiny island of Korolevu. The corals weren’t as healthy as some we’ve seen over the previous days, but we spotted colourful soft corals, anemones, clownfish and sea snakes. As you move to the west throughout the South Pacific Ocean you come closer to an area known as the Coral Triangle. This loose geographic regional, around most of northern Papua New Guinea and much of Indonesia, has the most astounding biodiversity of reef fish, invertebrates and corals on the planet. True to form, the further west we’ve come on our voyage, the better the biodiversity and variety of life on the reef have become.
Overnight we cruised 56 nautical miles to the biggest island in Fiji; Vanua Levu. The Caledonian Sky anchored just outside the pretty port town of Savusavu where several yachts were anchored at the local yacht club along with a small seaplane.
Savusavu is a bustling town populated by both Fijians and some of the many Indians living in Fiji. The town is full of general stores with names like, “Pots and Things” and market stalls selling fresh produce and delicious smelling Indian spices. In addition to Savusavu, we visited a traditional Fijian village called Naidi Village. Almost 300 people live in the village and they welcomed us with warm smiles and Fijian equivalents of lei made with large leaves and pretty flowers woven together.
The people of Naidi live a traditional life with their own village chief, a Turaga ni Koro (village headman) and a number of elders. After a formal welcome and prayer from the chief, a few of us took part in the customary Kava ceremony before we were invited to explore the village. The villagers had set up small demonstration areas where they showed us how they husk coconuts and use dried palm leaves to weaves mats, fans and roofing. We also enjoyed some impromptu singing of Sunday school songs in the church by the village children and discovered one small home that was busily preparing a feast in an underground oven.
Overnight we sailed a short distance to the town of Levuka on Ovalau Island; once the capital of Fiji. Established by European colonists in the early 1800s, Levuka was built at the foot of steep tropical hills around a small harbour. The town became a stopping off point for whalers in the South Pacific and eventually the quaint colonial streets became crowded with cheap hotels and bars. Consequently it lost status as the country’s capital in 1882 and is now a sleepy town that seems trapped in the past. One of my favorite things in Levuka was to see the local library/museum still using an old-fashioned card-filing system. The remains of a Masonic temple were another interesting feature of the town. The building was the casualty of an arson attack by local people who were suspicious of what took place there.
For our last afternoon in Fiji and the South Pacific, we snorkeled on a fringing reef encircling the island. We saw several white-tipped reef sharks and a school of small reef squid gliding along near the surface. Both are signs of a healthy reef and good biodiversity.
I will miss the warmth of the South Pacific waters and its people. I would like to learn more about how climate change is affecting these islands. Through a few brief conversations I had with a islanders here and there, it sounds like the dry seasons are colder and drier, and the wet seasons are hotter than they’ve ever been in the last couple of decades. Cycles of rain and extremes in temperature appear to be changing and evidence of sea level rise is everywhere, especially on the low atolls of places like the Tuamotus. I hope to return here in 2014 to learn more and talk with more people throughout Oceania.
Thanks to Judith Black for some great information about Fiji.