If any country conjures up images of the exotic South Pacific, Fiji is it! We left New Zealand at the end of May 2011, heading almost directly north to Fiji. It was late autumn in New Zealand and chilly. Each day heading north became a little bit warmer and we traded our layered clothing for lightweight shirts and shorts. By the time we reached the Koro Sea, we were in shorts and tank tops. The nights were mild and the breezes warm. We’ve never claimed to be the fastest boat on the ocean … the ~1220 nm passage took us 11 days. We headed directly for the village of Savusavu and the Waitui Marina where we picked up a mooring and officially checked into the country.
We met up with long-time e-mail friends and American ex-pats, Michael & Kendra, who managed the marina, owned and operated Bebi Electronics with their Fijian partners and were also SSCA cruising hosts. We spent lots of time visiting and getting to know them in person while they provided lots of insight into Fijian life and customs.
Fiji has many laws that are significantly different from any other country we’d visited, the most unusual of which is the strict requirement to provide kava root to the Fijian chiefs in the villages we intended to visit. There was no dearth of kava root for sale at the local market and we stocked up just before leaving Savusavu. We’d decided to circumnavigate Vanua Levu, Fiji’s largest north island, and wanted to be prepared.
Kava is the root of a local pepper plant (Piper methysticum) that is used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. The roots are ground by mortar and pestle or powdered kava is available in the marketplace for casual drinking as well. We bought several ½ kg bundles of the root that came wrapped in newsprint and tied with rafia.
In a traditional cultural ceremony known as sevusevu, we offered the kava root to the chief at our first stop in the tiny village of Bagasau. Traditionally, his acceptance of our gift afforded us his protection in the village while we were visiting.
We coast-hopped from village to village, making sure to provide kava to each village’s chief as proscribed. Every village was friendly, welcoming and just as curious about us as we were about them. We spent lots of time exploring on foot, interested in the flora and fauna of the area as well as the local folks.
Though Fiji was known by European visitors as the Cannibal Islands, there’s been no recorded acts of cannibalism in Fiji since 1867 when the missionary Reverend Baker inadvertently touched the village chief’s head to retrieve his hat. This was a forbidden act (tabu) and was tantamount to declaring war. They cannibalized Baker and his fellow missionaries. There are still references to cannibalism like the tongue-and-cheek Cannibal Cafe.
Flesh forks were also readily available at the souvenir shops. We were careful to keep our hands to ourselves.
One notable stop was at Tavenuni Island in the little village of Waiyevo, where a well-hidden sign confirmed we were standing on the 180° longitude or the international dateline. We stood in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time, but more importantly, we straddled yesterday and tomorrow simultaneously with no chance of experiencing today.
Fijians are very modest dressers. When in Rome … we felt compelled to follow the rules, especially in the small villages. Women must not expose their shoulders or knees and either dresses or traditional sulus (wraparound skirts or kilts) must be worn. Men wear long pants or sulus (no shorts). Hats are not usually worn and sunglasses must be removed when addressing someone. Women’s sulus are brightly colored fabrics and fun to wear. Men’s sulus are usually of a worsted wool fabric, like a business suit, and have pockets. For Marcie, a sulu was easy though it needed constant adjustment. David found, however, that maneuvering the dinghy while wearing a sulu presented a challenge. Note that our son, Brennan, still wears his sulu when gardening because of its air circulation properties.
We stopped at Palmlea Eco-Lodge on Vanua Levu’s north coast. Owned and operated by American ex-pats, Joe & Julie, we enjoyed the lodge’s hospitality for several days. Incidentally, we met an Aussie couple during our visit whom we met once again once we arrived in Adelaide, Australia. It definitely fell under the auspices of the 90-day rule.
We ended our circumnavigation of Vanua Levu at Savusavu, bid goodbye to our friends and headed to Fiji’s capital city, Suva on the island of Viti Levu.
Anchored off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, we made the most of visiting Fiji’s “big smoke”. We visited the Fijian National Museum, strolled through spacious Albert Park and past the Presidential Palace.
We took a bus one day to Kula Eco-Park, home to several rare, endemic species of Fijian birds and iguanas as well as flying foxes, aka fruit bats, Fiji's only endemic mammal.
The most exciting, adrenaline-inducing incident, however, occurred right in the anchorage when a huge ship dragged anchor during the middle of the night and nearly wiped out the entire sailboat anchorage, including Nine of Cups. Read about it here.
Next port of call? Get out your world map for this one. Previously known as the New Hebrides and considered the most culturally diverse country in the South Pacific … we’re heading to Vanuatu.