Fiji so good they name things twice. 332 islands and 6 weeks to see them. With Hugh’s brother Ian and wife Heather onboard we visited the remote Lau group of islands. Vanua Balavu was destroyed by Hurricane Winston in Feb 16. Most houses have now been rebuilt but the countryside remains bereft of trees and the coconut trees have yet to bear fruit. In Daliconi Village we took ‘Sevusevu’ - in Fijian villages all visitors bring a gift to a welcome ceremony with the village chief and share Kava a relaxing drink.
Daliconi resident Sam sold us cabbages, papaya and homemade bread. He also took us to Lomaloma where we heard how in the hurricane they ran from house to house as the rooves blew off. Sam’s nephew Lenudo guided us on a glorious walk across the island. Needing a ride back our driver siphoned enough fuel from an oil drum to make the journey. Next we anchored in the Bay of Islands. Stunning light blue waters with cupcake islands popping out. Lots of amazing pulsating soft coral.
Sailing north to Taveuni we took a trip. Soni the guide had been up till 3.30am drinking strong Kava and could only lie down on the floor of the minibus and barely speak. At a natural water slide we scrambled up the riverbed, watched locals jump in to the top pool and gush through the rock channel riding the water on their feet to splosh into the bottom pool. We sat down and slid.
Friends Fiona and Andy flew into Savusavu and we headed to Rainbow Reef to dive one of the best soft coral sites in the world passing pilot whales and dolphins on the way. ‘The Great White Wall’ a luminescent, snowy wall of soft coral and the eponymous ‘Cabbage Patch’ were highlights but our dives revealed vibrant yellow, orange and purple soft coral, aquarium fish and bull sharks. Onwards to Volivoli this time diving and swimming through caves. Harriet returned to the boat until New Zealand.
38% of the Fijian population are of Indian origin. Lucky for Andy who found an authentic curry house to celebrate his birthday. We donned sari fabric to visit the blindingly colourful Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Hindu Temple in Nadi with amazing ceiling frescos covering the stories of Lord Shiva. Plates of banana, coconut and flowers were at the entrance ready for worshippers to smash as offerings.
Provisioning throughout this trip has required adaptability. Lemons have been green, orange, round, knarled or just not available. So when we arrived at Port Denerau and found avocados, rocket, beetroot and sherbet yellow lemons there was great excitement and feasting.
The Yasawas group of islands offered plentiful supplies of turquoise sea and sandy beaches. A boat trip which raced through the reefs passing Spinner dolphins enroute to caves featured in the Brooke Shields film Blue Lagoon was fun but the overriding memory was in Somosomo. 3 boats Oyster Reach, Miss Tiggy and Meteorite set off to snorkel the shallow wreck of a WW2 plane on the opposite side of the island. Hugh led the itchy scratchy trek to find the path with motivational talk. Eventually we abandoned in favour of a beach BBQ. The expedition was successfully resumed next morning. The submerged plane was ok but the snorkelling, islands and bay were spectacular. Seagrapes, Rays and Pufferfish tick.
Fijians are warm involving people. Literally everyone greets you with one word ‘Bula’ (boo-la) which means hello and welcome. It feels great to shout Bula!
So to Tonga the 'friendly isles' they stopped eating people in 1906 !! 1,300 miles, six days, usual mix of great following trade and lighter frustrating winds plus one huge Wahoo (fish) and we are here.
Tonga, many islands, few people. Surviving on what it can grow, aid and a little tourism based on the migrating whales.
We are delighted however to break from the norm and welcome Matt as guest editor the following words are therefore mainly his.
“Like most of you, I assume I have been reading the blog, seething with jealousy, updates of sandy beaches, exotic locals, more tan than a leather shop, So I with the kids, Harriet, Ellie and Jake, did something about it and visited. But aren't Tongans big angry rugby players what's this about the Friendly Islands!! After 30 hours, 4 continents, emotional hellos (except Andy) we are here, ready to explore.
Even from the plane we could see just how beautiful these islands are, this continued in the taxi, glorious greens, sandy beaches and pigs so many pigs, Janice loves pigs!!
You quickly realise how important religion and education is. The houses may be a bit run down but the churches and schools are pristine. The different colours uniforms depict the different religions and schools.
An unturndownable invitation to a church showed us why the Friendly Islands. Warm welcome, bursts of song, sense of community, even if all in Tongan which we didn't quite master.
Off to explore and snorkel around the Vava'u islands - paradise. And the 'traditional' beach bar b. After an island wide hunt for wood the fire was set. Something Neanderthal about making fire, discussing it, poking it, but what a fantastic feast under the stars on a deserted beach.
Then the highlight of the trip. Something I don't think any of us will experience any thing close to again, the opportunity to swim with whales.
I assumed they meant watch from a boat, but no!! Once we had spotted a mother and calf it was flippers, snorkels on and over the side we went. It was an incredible sight, emotional, to see a humpbacks, the mother alone was over 20 mts long, swimming, diving, surfacing, with the calf floating around right next to you was something else, words can't really describe it.
Tough act to follow but we certainly tried with a double header of Tongan feasts. The first a school fund raiser, enough food for the 50, the second, the fella had 11 children so the proceeds were for his family, with enough food for 50 so lucky we were 10. The family cooked and really showed us the meaning of Friendly.
The people, the ocean, the landscape, the snorkelling. An absolute unforgettable experience that will take some beating though I expect the parents will give it a good go (the lucky b....... s).
Note from parents, thank you wonderful kids for coming and making this adventure even more special .. special thanks Matt for the blog.
The Society Islands saw the arrival of our first guests since we began our Oyster World Rally adventure wayback in January. Sitting at the heart of French Polynesia the Society Islands include the famous (Bora Bora and Tahiti) and the unknown (Huahine, Raiatea, Moorea and Tahaa). Our first guests were Tilly, Hugh and Janice's daughter and her boyfriend Matt, followed closely by our friends Sally and Jeff McGeachie. Our starting point was Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and whilst the name conjures up images of deserted palm fringed beaches and grass skirted locals, Tahiti, like most of the islands is a reef encircled volcanic island with high verdant mountains surrounded by a single road running around the perimeter. In fact the beaches are few and far between, but as we discovered what all the islands have in spades are stunning views, amazing hikes, abundant sealife, friendly locals and absolutely heaps of culture. Here are our guests Top 5 Society Island highlights.
Hiking to the waterfall in Tahiti...which went from a leisurely walk along the river bank to a rock scramble, an unexpected swim through a canyon, finishing with a breathtaking dip in the waterfall. Snorkelling with sharks and stingrays in Moorea...literally standing amongst dozens of sharks and rays as they swam around us
Discovering Hinano on tap...at your table - serve yourself!!
Watching the breathtaking Heiva (festival)...a visual feast as hundreds of dancers wiggled their hips and waggled their knees to the rhythmic sounds of the Polynesian drums in outrageously gorgeous costumes
Taking part in the Oyster Polynesian Games...banana carrying, outrigger canoe racing, coconut breaking, boulder lifting, Polynesian dancing and a tug of war - just some of the days activities!
The picture perfect views of Bora Bora...the glinting turquoise waters against the backdrop of soaring tree covered volcanic peaks – just jaw-droppingly beautiful.
A river trip with a fruitful end...after a peaceful dingy jaunt up the river in Raitatea we were met by Andre who runs the farm at the river head. We sampled the delights of the local fruit and veg as he gave us a guided tour of the farm and then left with a basketful of delicious goodies in exchange for a 6 pack of Hinano Beer!
Staying in the slightly bonkers Fenua Mata'i'oa Hotel...run by the lovely, exotic, effervescent and positively eccentric Eileen, the hotel was a hidden haven packed full of eclectic French artefacts and furniture and although the room arrangements in our Presidential Suite were more dormitory than hotel, the view, the service and the food made our stay an experience we’ll never forget.
It’s been lovely having people to share our amazing adventure with and we’re looking forward to our next stop, Tonga, where we pick up “the kids” - Matt, Harriet, Ellie and Jake.
We've just spent the last month touring remote atolls we'd hardly heard of let alone knew how to pronounce - Kauehi, Fakarava, Rangiroa - sparsely populated from deserted to 4 to 400! Atolls are sunken volcanoes, whose edges have been built up with coral to create inner lagoons. Some can be entered through narrow passages but only at specific times, as the in/outgoing water can create huge waves and super fast currents making them dangerous. As a result they are rarely visited. Top navigating Andy!!
But oh what unbelievable gems, crystal clear water, combined with abundant marine life creating aquarium swimming opportunities. Made extra special by the incredible people who readily share their basis of life, coconuts, fish and pearls 'almost' freely with such warm openness you instantly fall into a dream like state of chilled ness. Mathieu, Agnes and baby Honey Hanavee fed us, toured us and simply shared their life on Fakarava. Gaston on Toau took us fishing, well, running full pelt, thigh deep, across coral reefs chasing parrot fish into nets, exhilaratingly bizarre. Cooked and served that night by his wife the indomitable Valentina, overlooking the lagoon, quite exceptional. Her parents settled on uninhabited Toau some forty years earlier to escape parental pressures, now with Gaston and two relatives she feeds sailors and trades fish.
We dived the Kauehi pass with live aboard dive master Gary. Big big Napoleon fish. Then tackled the Fakarava South Passage, facing the famous wall of sharks, with Eric the inattentive ever so French dive leader! Hundreds of black tip sharks thankfully just resting and cleaning their gills pointing into the current, spectacular, scary and sensually unique. Snorkelling doesn't normally make a highlight but this was one 'of a life time', flying without wings through the Rangiroa pass travelling 3 miles in almost as many minutes, across wonderful coral, huge grins, wide eyes, totally exhilarating.
So the Tuamotus, unexpected adventures, some relaxing, BBQs on deserted atolls shared with hermit crabs and a friendly chicken well just unique and unforgettable.
Now in Tahiti, soon to be joined by Tilly and boyfriend Matt to explore the Leeward Islands .... thank you for sticking with us and hope you are all well .....
We left Galapagos on 16th April and after 17 days and 3,300 miles we arrived in Fatu Hiva, one of the Marquesas islands, joining our fellow Puddle Jumpers, (the affectionate name for sailors who travel across the Pacific). The Bay of Virgins anchorage at Fatu Hiva was a stunning arrival to the Marquesas with enormous volcanic peaks soaring above us - interestingly enough the bay was originally called the Bay of Penis's but the early French catholic priests were not impressed and by adding an "I" to Verge (Penis) the more appropriate name was found (Vierge -Virgin)! The volcanic Marquesas Islands are the most easterly part of the French Polynesian archipelago.
The islands are pretty remote and the climate is very hot with lots of rain which accounts for the majestic greenery that covers the mountains. They are sparsely populated, in fact the people are often outnumbered by the chickens but the Polynesians were hugely welcoming, even inviting us to their home for lunch! After visiting a few islands the whole Oyster fleet met in Nuku Hiva, the largest island, for a major party with local dancing and food with an enthusiastic speech from the Mayor. There is no doubt that the arrival of the Oyster Fleet is a big occasion for the Islands.
Of the many highlights - having lunch with a Polynesian family, yomping up the many mountains, swimming with huge Manta Ray's, mooring in stunning anchorages (check out the photo of Ua Poh!), oh and having to queue at 5:30am to get fresh food from the market - will be the standout memories from our time in Marquesas.
So we're now over half way on our journey from The Galapagos to The Marquesas, the most Easterly of the French Polynesian Islands. In total a passage of just over 3000 miles and 18 days across the Pacific Ocean. We've had good winds and are bowling along at about 9 knots with a poled out genoa (for the sailors amongst you). We get asked a lot whether long passages are boring...weirdly enough they aren't. The first few days take a bit of settling in and everyone is a bit quiet and sleepy/grumpy as they get used to the motion of the boat and the night watches but once you're in the groove there is a gentle rhythm to the day and you'd be surprised how quickly the time goes. We fill the day with a host of activities - boat checks, reading, cooking (at a 40 degree angle), podcasts, films, crosswords, drawing (Hugh - after we confiscated his guitar), passage planning (Andy - he loves maps), exercises, night watches, Desert Island Discs and of course the obligatory daily sundowner. There's also the daily radio calls with the other Oyster World Rally yachts where news and updates are shared...from weather and fishing reports to how to fix a watermaker!
Added to all that it's just wonderful being out on the ocean, contemplating life with beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
That all said we're really looking forward to reaching the Marquesas, a remote group of islands known for their dramatic landscapes- waterfalls, canyons and towering cliffs. Lots of exploring to do after our sedentary few weeks.