Monday, October 7, 2019

The Northern Lau Islands : Vanua Balavu . Part One

20th –25th June 2019

The red arrow on the right side of map is Vanua Balavu

Pretty much this remote eastern group of Fiji Islands is so far off the beaten track that the people who live here rarely see white people like us. And when they do they are usually from yachts like us during the cruising season.

As there is no port of entry anywhere close by and it is forbidden to stop anywhere in Fiji before clearing in with customs and Immigration, sailing back here from either the west or the north is usually hard yakka beating into the prevailing east-southeast trade winds. Luckily for us the day we chose to head over the weather gods and King Neptune were on a day off, so we became “turn key” sailors and motored the 70 miles east without a drop of saltwater landing on our decks.
Our first anchorage in Vanua Balavu

Vanua Balavu is the third largest island of  the Lau group and the largest of the Northern Lau. Encircled by 130 miles of reef, there are only three navigable openings into the lagoon and we entered via the north western entrance anchoring for the evening in a well sheltered bay on the northern tip.

The island is volcanic by nature with rich dark soil, thermal springs and limestone undercut cliffs which reminded us of our time spent cruising the scenic islands of Phang Na Bay, Phuket, Thailand.
In company with friends from S/V Rewa we decided to scope out the eastern side of the island before returning to the beautiful Bay of Islands on the western side.

Our first stop was to Bavatu Harbour which is more of a fiord like bay rather than a harbour. There is no village here or shoreside dwellings, only two homes perched way up high on the ridge. The water here, is as it is in most of Fiji is deep, 50 –70 feet being the norm.  It was a pretty aqua colour and the bay rich in flora and fauna. In years gone by a coconut plantation surrounded the bay but after the ravages of cyclone Winston in 2016 most of the coconut trees and the plantation were destroyed. 

So what is the attraction for stopping here I hear you say? Absolute tranquility and a thriving bird population including the endemic Fijian Barking Pigeon, which actually does sound like man’s best friend woofing, and the striking Orange Dove with its olive green head and dayglow orange body feathers.
The Barking Pigeon

We had never seen or heard of either until our avid bird watcher Vandy from S/V Scoots told us about them. We stayed here for 3 days and soaked up the beauty of the bay. 

'The Sometimes Shop' was an apt name for this shop no longer in use

Liam went out diving with a few other cruisers and we hiked up the 271 purpose built steps to reach the relatively flat area of the former plantation which is now home to grazing cattle, pigs, sheep and horses. 

A small settlement sits in the midst the former plantation and three or four locals live here to tend to the animals.

We certainly didn't make it to the top in 56 seconds

The long way up, it was hard on the knees

Who you looking at?

There are quite a few trails to follow up here and we took the one which led  to the west side of the island.

The birds eye view from high up on the cliff face of the extensive reef and the pretty Bay of Islands below was nothing short of spectacular. 

The view out over the Bay of Islands

The lone grave of Kenneth James Allardyce sits towards the end of this trail. This gentleman was the retired former Secretary of Native Affairs for Fiji who, after many years of service took up a slower pace of life as a plantation owner. 

He became suddenly gravely ill and sadly died before medical help arrived, and is buried at a spot he had previously requested overlooking his beloved plantation.

Lomalomo, the main village on the island was our next destination.The course to get to the village from our previous anchorage zig zags across waters littered with numerous reefs lurking just below the surface. These reefs are like sharks just waiting to take chunks of your fiberglass from any sailor who doesn’t have a keen lookout on the bow and accurate charting.  Luckily we had both and arrived at the anchorage fully intact.

Just as we dropped anchor the cargo ship which services the island every two months arrived. Our veggie supply was getting low so the chief cook and bottlewasher was looking forward to perusing the shelves of the local store later that afternoon. 

On the dock was a long line of ute’s, fuel drums, propane cylinders, boxes and people. The ship carries everything from new cars to building supplies and everything in between. It was quite the sight.

After settling GWTW down we headed in for a walk around the village. Not knowing what to expect in relation to attire we donned our most respectful clothing. Liam in shirt and sulu, a traditional style sarong worn by most men in Fiji and yours truly wearing a long dress reaching below the knees and covered shoulders. We were greeted by happy faces and laughter from small children. One woman came up to me and said she loved my hair, in particularly the colour. I guess I really stood out in the crowd with my white locks when everyone else’s is black.
One of the two stores in the village, this was the best one behind the church

The tour of town didn’t take long and nor did my visit to the two supermarkets. I use that term loosely I might add. Most of the  produce was already gone and there was no lettuce, salad greens or fruit at all which did disappoint me.

I did manage to purchase potatoes, onions, eggs and bok choy which appears to be a real staple in the Fijian diet. If you can’t get what you want rest assured there is always an abundance of bok choy available.
Liam & Dave strolling down the main street

Happy kids in the back of the truck

One of the main reasons for coming to this village was that we were part of the Sea Mercy group from NZ delivering donated supplies from various companies back there. 

Our group brought dozens of reading glasses, an assortment of  various types of clothing  for men, woman, children and babies including a few hundred bras of all sizes, toothbrushes and toothpaste and the list went on.
A bag full of bras

Loading up a passerby's truck with the donation bags

Our side the health clinic with the staff and crew from Rewa

We delivered it all to the local health clinic where the items were warmly received and would be distributed to the needy of the community. It felt  really good to be able to help these people in such remote islands.
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