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Friday, September 6, 2013

2013, 08-02 Time in The Northern Lau, Fiji

Bavatu Bay, Vanua Balavu Island

A few days ago we arrived at Bavatu Harbor in the Northern Lau. The 57 islands that make up the Northern and Southern Lau Groups are by far the most remote in all of Fiji. Prior to 2010 visiting the Lau by private yacht was possible only with special permission and only after first clearing into the country at one of the Immigration offices on the big islands of Viti Levu or Vanua Levu, both of which are downwind of the Lau. In order to be allowed to visit even one village in the Lau you had to present Immigration with a letter from the chief of the island village you hoped to visit. But the only way to get a letter from a Chief was to know someone in the village preferably someone with status. Even if did know someone you then had to make arrangements to get a letter from there to wherever you were which would of course be miles of ocean and a world away. No more. Now all it took was a trip to Lautoka for a renewal of our original six month cruising permit, a three day passage from Viti Levu to Savusavu on Vanua Levu and a decent weather window conducive to making our way 125 miles to the Lau. It was definitely worth the upwind sail.

The northern end of the island of Vanua Balavu is made of uplifted coral (the southern end which we have not yet visited is mostly volcanic.) Uplifted coral means tall craggy islands covered in lush jungle with the occasional sheer rocky face peeking through. The bottom of the land masses here have been undercut by eon's of trade wind waves leaving the islands and bays with a beautiful sculpted look. Mushroom rocks sprout up on many points and there are beautiful pocket beaches filled with powdery white sand and tall swaying coconut palms. The afternoon we motored into Bavatu Harbor felt like we rounded a corner into wild Fiji.

Bavatu Harbor is part of a privately owned 800 acre plantation. It is "freehold land" which means there is no village, no chief and no need to plan a day around presenting a gift of sevu sevu kava in the hopes of having it accepted by said chief and thereafter having his permission to anchor, swim, fish, snorkel, dive, walk the beaches or get to know the locals. We are sitting nearly still at one of two moorings in front of the Explorer Islands Yacht Squadron which was originally the homestead of the patriarch of a family that owns among other Fiji holdings the Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu, the Vuda Points Marina and the only western style marine chandleries in all of Fiji (where incidentally one gallon of Interlux brand bottom paint is $1000.00 Fj.) After the father's death the family operation renovated the old homestead and transformed it into the Explorer Island Yacht Squadron at Bavatu Harbor.

There is a small settlement on the top of the island where two families live. They are the acting caretakers keeping a visitors book, mowing the grass, caring for a herd of cattle and sheep and maintaining the two yacht squadron mooring balls. Twice a day six days a week someone from the settlement walks down the 171 steps that cling to the jungle behind their small settlement and boards a small boat before crossing the bay to a small dock in front of the yacht squadron where they climb more steps and then unlock and open the doors and windows for the day. There is no store or book exchange, no restaurant or bar just an empty well taken care of dock and club house. When we arrived there were three other boats in the bay all three of which left by mid-day the following day.

Bavatu Harbor -Turquoise Harbor in Fijian- is one of the most beautiful places we have ever stayed. To enter the bay you must first thread your way through reefs and around coral bommies then through a small northward facing opening with a small islet in the center. The shallowest waters are a lovely shade of turquoise that deepens to teal as the bottom drops away. It is a nearly landlocked bay with no town, no village, no garbage, no noise other than the rhythmic sounds of the tide as it rises and falls along the steep sided islands edge.

During the day the air is filled with the sounds of many different types of birds. We saw soaring frigate birds, a mid-sized hawk and numerous times a pair of dazzling white long tailed tropic birds. There is another bird on the island -a barking dog dove- that confounded me for several days. Its call sounds like a deep throated dog bark -exactly like a big old mad dog. Its call is not just a single bark nope, instead it is a relentless ruff, ruff….ruff, ruff, ruff. Ruff, ruff……ruff, ruff, ruff all day long the sound echoed off the walls of the bay. I was sure the settlement had a dog, no a bunch of dogs who endlessly roamed the island barking back and forth to each other. The sound is so spot on that when we were hiking with new friends across the island to a birds' eye view overlook onto the Bay of Islands and we heard the doves I kept looking over my shoulder wondering where the dogs were. I honestly thought they were joking when they told me about the sounds I was hearing was a dove smaller than a Seattle pigeon. Curiously now that I know the noise is doves my mind apparently has assigned the noise to relax mode instead of endlessly wondering why no one is trying to shut up the damn dogs.

We spent four nights at Bavatu Harbor, two of them we had all to ourselves. There are no electric lights in the Bay and each night when the sun began to set the birds would begin their evening squawk and squabble good nights, the giant fruit bats would begin to spiral up and up and up on the evening thermals catching a lift to their favorite dinner spots and the night insects would begin their thrumming. In the clear night sky the stars began to peek out over the edge of the high island walls and by true nightfall the Milky Way appeared in a long arc overhead so thick and bright that we could see the reflection of their glow across the waters of the bay. Happy Sailing, Kat

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