Sailing to Suva

We left Falaga on August 12 in route to Suva, the most populous city in Fiji and the South Pacific. We really, really didn’t want to leave Falaga, but the ice box and the wine cellar were empty. So when the winds turned a favorable direction, we dove the pass one last time and weighed anchor. The winds were blowing a steady 15 knots from the southeast, making our 200 mile passage to Suva the first downwind sailing we’ve seen since leaving New Zealand in May. It was paradise: an effortless 6.5 knots of boat speed, a gentle rocking motion as a brilliant three-quarter moon outshone most the stars in the sky.

We were going so fast we stopped at Mutuku, an island almost perfectly between Suva and Fulaga, to take heavenly naps, have lunch, and time our arrival in Suva during daylight the following morning. Mutuku was a beautiful place for a picnic, her rising peaks and thick forests a contrast to Falaga’s low, limestone bluffs and palm-lined beaches. Already missing Falaga, we were glad we had brought a part of the village with us, Mary.

Mary is a kindergarten teacher in Moana-i-Cake, the largest village in Falaga, and had been planning to take the supply ship in to Suva to attend a training conference and visit her parents and daughter living outside the big city. Then the stormy weather rolled through, the supply ship was delayed, and Mary needed a lift. We were happy to comply as kindergarten teachers tend to be some of the kindest people on Earth. So Mary, chipper and positive, was with us enjoying the perfect conditions, sharing the details of teaching in Fiji and village life, and happily lounging aboard Helios with a novel.

As much as we wanted to spend more time in Mutuku, another series of fronts was forecasted to roll through. We were back underway six hours after arrival. Underway, the conditions were similarly idyllic; it felt like we were somewhere between running down a dream and surfing on a cloud.

We dropped anchor in Suva’s industrial harbor at 1000 on August 14. There was definitely some culture shock—we were dodging wrecks in the harbor, rafted fishing boats rusting to death, a gargantuan Australian aircraft carrier that dwarfed the 25 foot fishing boat the Fijian navy used to monitor the harbor. Mary was easily the most popular person in the anchorage. Our friend Craig aboard Il Sogno gave her a lift in his dinghy ashore, but first had to take her to visit friends she had aboard another yacht in the anchorage. Dominic and I, on the other hand, spent the day taking long naps after our second night underway.

Around the Lagoon

image.jpg

As we hang out on Helios on another rainy day, I thought I'd share a few photos we took while exploring Falaga's lagoon.

The great crested terns were our most frequent companions.

image.jpg

One of the signature limestone formations, teetering on its narrow base. That's Evviva's helicopter in the upper right. 

image.jpg
image.jpg

Plenty of thriving palm trees! 

image.jpg

One of the inside-out caves, stalagmites and stalactites almost touching. 

image.jpg

And that's Dominic's helicopter in the upper

left ; ) 

image.jpg

Moana-i-Cake

image.jpg

Moana-i-Cake is the main village on Fulaga, and its inhabitants quickly adopted us as one of their own. After presenting our sevusevu to the 93 year old chief, we were assigned Tai as a host. 

Tai is one of the older men in the village, and like many who retired there he spent about 20 years working in Viti Levu. He worked at Musket Cove Resort, driving boats as he taught tourists to waterski and windsurf. A Japanese cruising boat anchored with us overnight—the first yacht from Japan we've seen out cruising—and Tai impressed all the pelangi (white people) around by conversing with them in Japanese.

Tai was a dutiful and gracious host, giving us a tour of his garden, and Dominic a tutorial on how to use the village phone at the local school. 

image.jpg

Tai did not speak Spanish, however, so we all had a good laugh when I explained that the writing on the back of his rugby shirt translated to 'I am beautiful.' He took us into his home, offered us lemon grass tea and papaya, and showed off the panadus mat being woven.

image.jpg

Tai explained that the primary trade for men in the village was carving and they are considered masters. Many of the kava bowls and sea life souvenirs for sale in Fiji's tourist centers come from Moana-i-Cake.

image.jpg

Below is Alfreddi, the senior carver, in the process of making a turtle we commissioned for Helios.

image.jpg

Tai invited us to services as the village church on Sunday morning. We haven't yet attended services in the South Pacific, but Tai was so generous with his hospitality and looked at use so imploringly we couldn't say no. He fitted Dominic for his sulu at 0930 on Sunday morning.

image.jpg

Then we heard the sound of the summoning drums and made our way into the church for a Methodist service. 

image.jpg
image.jpg

The church had a linoleum floor and tall windows on either side of the building. The altar was a simple series of tables covered in green damask with a white lace overlay. The children occupied the first rows of pews on the left side of the main aisle and were closely monitored by a village elder roaming the aisle with a four foot twitch, keeping the young ones in line.  There was a panadus mat behind the final pew so toddlers and infants could nap. Adults seem to come and go from the service on Fiji time; our host mom, Witey (who was a good friend of Tai's, he being a devout bachelor) was present for about the central 20 minutes of the service. 

The service was entirely in Fijian, but even if it had been in English we probably wouldn't have understood much as the speakers seemed to have little concept of enunciation and vocal projection. The singing, though, was sublime. The core group of female sopranos were accompanied by a deep baritone, Simon, the chief's nephew. All were seated in the pews across from the children, and Simon passed around a triangle to provide some instrumental accompaniment. 

And after church, a feast. Witey and her husband Suka (which means 'sweet' in Fijian) fed us fried fish in coconut milk, greens in coconut milk, and a variety of cassava and other root vegetables prepared lomolomo style: barbecue pit in the ground. 

Feasting was a theme throughout our stay; if Tai even heard a rumor that we might be cruising through town, he prepared a feast for us. Anytime we crossed paths with a villager on the beach, coconuts and papayas emerged and filled our pockets. That is Solote in the lead photo, jubilant after gifting Dominic a coconut she had husked and hacked open with her machete. Check out the vessel behind her: it is the traditional outrigger the village uses to cruise around the lagoon; they usually pole themselves gondalier style through the shallows and sail downwind back to the village. 

On one of our final walks to the village we met up with Joe (who had likened me to the male soccer player) on his way home from working in his garden. He opened coconuts for us and spent much time convincing us that we were leaving much too soon. "Why leave at all when you are already home?" he wanted to know.

Dog Tooth

image.jpg

The clouds lifted enough by Wednesday evening for us to enjoy some final adventures in Falaga. We went for a dive on the reef outside the pass Thursday morning, spotting two-foot spade fish, an eight-foot grey reef shark, a tornado of four-foot barracuda, and a school of snapper 100 deep. It was magnificent, even if we were racing against squalls looming on the horizon.

On our second dive in through the pass, I towed the dinghy so Dominic could do some spearfishing—he caught his first tuna! This beauty was swimming some eight or ten feet from us when Dominic pulled the trigger. It took a few minutes for us to get ourselves and the fish into the dinghy. We were grateful that the only fish around who seemed curious about the kill was another dog tooth; none of the swarming reef sharks notorious for taxing a catch at the first scent of fish blood in the water.

As we had been bereft of any protein on board since our walu in Munia, we gladly feasted on sashimi for lunch and pan fried tuna for dinner. Delicious!

 

Adventures in Falaga

We’re going on eleven days in Falaga, and the adventures keep coming, rain or shine. After our initial few days in the village, we moved Helios to an anchorage on the eastern end of the lagoon to be near the pass. From there, we could monitor conditions to go diving. Given the geography of the lagoon, the ebbing current can flow as high as four knots, yielding standing waves and dangerous conditions. Timing our dive with the current was critical.

Waiting two hours after low tide, the pass was calm enough to explore. We spent one day riding the current in through the pass, flying fast over vast expanses of coral. We spent another day on the outer reef, diving a bommie surrounded by turtles and spotted eagle rays, exploring a coral wall teeming with hump-head parrot fish and the most curious white tip reef sharks we’ve seen.

The coral here is in pristine condition. It’s tempting to describe Fulaga as an oasis in the middle of nowhere; but it is in the middle of somewhere, directly between Viti Levu and Tonga to be specific. Because it is upwind from all of Fiji’s ports of entry and has no tourist infrastructure, it is rarely visited by anyone other than a handful of cruising yachts and a supply ship that visits once a month. Free from pollution, the underwater ecosystems are vibrant and thriving.

From the eastern anchorage, we also had easy access to the beaches in the lagoon. We went for long, meandering walks, and Dominic finally had the chance to bring his quadcopter ashore to see how it flies. We definitely had some helicopter envy—Evviva, a 165-foot Westport motor yacht, had been out cruising in their chopper that morning.

With rougher weather in the forecast, we moved Helios back to the protected anchorage near the village. We went in for a village visit, hiked to the look-out point at the top of the island (that’s Helios on the right in the photo), and had the chance to meet Evviva’s crew. Ken, Evviva’s captain, and two younger deck hands stopped by to share their updated tide tables. We had a lot to chat about. They seemed as curious about life as two aboard a 38-foot sloop as we were about life as crew aboard mega-yacht.

Then I shamelessly inquired if there were any girls onboard within a decade or two of my age (such is my desperation for some girl talk these days…), and was thrilled to find out Evviva’s chief stewardess, Kaveen, was born in the exact same year as me. Ken was kind enough to bring her by Helios the next day on her break to introduce us, and we spent a glorious hour sunbathing in the sand and chatting about the differences in our lives at sea.

That night the weather hit. Though Helios was completely comfortable and protected from wind and chop, we woke on Sunday to a gloomy, wet morning and felt that sinking feeling that comes from knowing we were going to be cooped up for a day (or three) on the boat.

But you know what my favorite part of cruising is? Never knowing the direction day’s current will flow.

Ken hailed us on the VHF inviting us to lunch aboard Evviva. We spent the day touring our dream boat—hot tubs, helicopter, panoramic windows surrounding a three-tiered climate controlled living space, an engine room larger than Helios with dual 3800 horsepower diesel beauties. We had a barbecue feast, buffalo wings and the most succulent pulled pork I’ve ever tasted. The atmosphere was festive. We listened to dance jams of the 90s and everybody got presents, commemorative photo albums for the crew, Evviva swag for the two of us. Dominic talked boat design with Orin, Evviva’s owner, who worked in the industry. I talked with Charlene, his wife, about the last 20 summers they spent cruising Alaska and what it felt like to fly the helicopter (one of her favorite hobbies).

I’d be lying to say I didn’t consider defecting to Evviva. When we returned to Helios, she felt…small. But then we had a cozy night making vegetable pizza (Kaveen had put a goodie bag of veggies in our dinghy before we left—heavenly fresh bell peppers and tomatoes), watching movies, and drinking hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. Helios quickly worked her way back into our hearts.

Fulaga

Last Thursday, we sailed south from Munia to Fulaga, a remote island in the southeastern corner of Fiji. It was one of my favorite sails yet: 16 knots of wind on our beam, the Milky Way hanging low and swollen in the sky, so many shooting stars they were practically falling on the deck until the moon rose blindingly bright around 0300. The seas were mild, and the movement of the boat felt like the gentle rocking of a cradle as we navigated between dozens of islands and reefs that compose the Lau group of Fiji.

Around 0400, we turned eastward toward Fulaga’s pass (Fijian pronunciation is a little counterintuitive: there is an assumed ’n’ sound before many consonants, so Fulaga is pronounced Fulanga, Nadi is Nandi, and so on). This change in course turned us directly into the wind, so we motored the last 40 nautical miles and ventured through a narrow yet calm pass with waves breaking on either side around 1000, dropping the hook in 10 feet of white sand at 1100.

Remember that beautiful anchorage we hung out when we first arrived in the Lau called the Bay of Islands? We’ve heard the beauty of Fulaga described as the Bay of Islands on steroids, but even such a description doesn't to do this place justice. Dominic has wondered aloud, a few times, if we’ve actually found the most beautiful place on Earth. We’re surrounded by intricate limestone rock formations, caves, expansive swaths of white sand, and fluffy palm trees far enough south to have avoided the wrath of Cyclone Winston.

Our first adventures were in the village—presenting our sevusevu, going to church where they asked me to play videographer and Dominic to give an impromptu speech, and feasting with our host family. These have been the most sincere, thoughtful, caring Fijians we’ve met yet. They’re honest, too. While meeting a few guys in their early 30’s, they told Dominic he looked just like a movie star; they told me I look just like Ronaldo, the (male) Brazilian soccer player. We all had a good laugh, and they assured me the likeness was "just in the face."

More details to come when we have data coverage and can share more photos; meanwhile, we’re going to linger and pretend like we never have to leave.

Happy 40th!

image.jpg

My parents are raising a glass to 40 years of marriage this July 31. I remember their 30th, when my dad gave my mom a pair of gorgeous sapphire earrings, and she and I went to Zebra's in Berkeley to have a second piercing put in her ears. The woman with the needle against her ear lobe was amazed that a marriage could last so long.

So glad we are still celebrating ten years later, and it still makes me so, so, so happy that you two came to Fiji so Helios and her crew could partake in the occasion. Congratulations! Vakanuinui vinaka! 

image.jpg

Fruit Bats

image.jpg

Dominic and I spent a long afternoon exploring the abandoned village in Munia. There were frangipani trees in blossom, a lonely dog sleeping in a doorway, a single pig in a pen. There was an old Morris Commercial lightweight truck close to being fully reclaimed by the jungle. Dominic examined a rusted-through leaf spring, dropping it on the pile of other parts with a loud clang. The clanging caused an eruption of eerily human baby-like wails from the tree tops above us.

image.jpg

I'm still not used to seeing bats in the daylight, particularly the huge, vampiric-looking kind. We've seen a lot of flying foxes since arriving in Fiji. Some are soloists gliding between islands in the late afternoon, others flock by the thousands, streaming past the mountains surrounding Viani Bay at dusk.

image.jpg

But this clan gave us our best viewing yet. There were at least a hundred dangling in the not-too-high-to-see canopy. They were napping in the noon heat, restless siblings squabbling, occasionly circling in search of the best branch or a spot in the breeze. 

image.jpg

A Crusade of Kingfishers

image.jpg

Last Sunday, Dominic and I cruised from Susui to nearby Munia Island. Recently abandoned, the villagers that lived here sold the island to a Japanese development firm and moved to a nearby island, Avea. They left two people behind, an older couple, to maintain a presence on the island, preventing other villages from claiming it. In the wake of Cyclone Winston, the structures were destroyed and the couple moved to Avea.

As we were hoping, the wildlife is thriving in the absence of people. Huge turtles fill the lagoon, and beaches are stocked with fantastic shells. On our first stroll, we spotted kingfisher after kingfisher. Our first kingfishers in Fiji, these squat birds are usually solo hunters, so to see three or four in sequence was a huge treat. We heard enough noise (kingfishers have an indelicate screech) to suggest that they're nesting nearby. At one point we saw five together, but we were never able to find a rookery.

image.jpg

The highlight of the viewing was seeing one of the kingfishers capture a praying mantis. We watched as it thwacked the insect against the branch it was standing on—the mantis arcing over its head before being slammed down again on the opposite side—until the mantis was sufficiently subdued, or broken down, to be swallowed.

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

After watching Mother Nature at work, we spent a fair amount of time debating the appropriate collective known for this teal beauties: a legion of kingfishers? A squadron? A round table? A court of kingfishers, or a crown, or a realm? Are there castles of kingfishers hidden in the cliffs of this basaltic paradise? Excited to keep looking...

image.jpg

Susui Beach

image.jpg

Our other favorite part of Susui: the beach on the far side of the island. The sand was white and soft like sifted flour; sand the likes of which I haven't seen since the last time I dug my toes into a Florida beach; endless sand punctuated by volcanic rocks, impossibly huge trees and collections of driftwood, nautilus and cowry shells, and the occasional rainbow.

Here are our favorite photos: 

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

Walu

image.jpg

Dominic caught this beauty trolling in the dinghy between Susui and neighboring Munia Island. Not having much luck in the Lau, Dominic did some lure reconfiguration before heading out: heat-shrinking two double hooks together and hiding the new quad hook beneath a skirt of a large  orange and pink squid lure. 

It worked! He had this three-foot fish on the line in under five minutes of trolling. It was about the same size as the mahi we caught last season, but markedly heavier.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to get creative with all this delicious protein in the ice box (no buddies or villagers nearby to share with, at the moment)—sushi last night, coated in sesame seeds and seared for lunch, and fish tacos tonight.

Frutti di Mare

image.jpg

We have spent the last five days exploring Susui, a small village just off the southern coast of Vanua Balavu. The fun began with a traditional sevusevu ceremony—we presented the waka root when we first arrived and were invited to drink kava with them the following evening. 

We went ashore around six, and found most of the adult men under a tarp drinking kava, playing the guitar, and singing. There was another yacht there, Viandante, a young couple with two friends visiting. Not only did these four turn out to be kindred spirits, but we soon found out that the Viandante crew hail from Trinity County, where Dominic is from. When not sailing, they live just outside Burnt Ranch. These are some of the least populated areas in California, so to meet these two drinking kava in one of the least populated areas of Fiji felt like a fated traveling wonder. 

So with our new best friends from home, and our new best friends from Fiji, Save and Jacob—the son of the chief and the spokesman, respectively, who had been dispatched to show us around—we spent the next few days eating our way around the island.

We spent four hours walking the perfect white sand beach with Save, which was super fun because the beach was gorgeous and he named the plants for us and pointed out turtle tracks. He is the first Fijian who is our age that we really got to get to know. He was as generous in sharing his life stories as he was his island—trading seafood between villages to make a living, a few wild nights, unable to find a wife, excited to be a first time father, soon—all amplified by village gossip and having to move back in with his dad, the chief, after the cyclone destroyed two of the walls of his home four months ago.

We had a quick picnic on the beach, but Save took us to his 'crab bank,' a log about 50 meters up a dry river bed that houses many coconut crabs. So he gathered some, brought them back to the boat, and gave us a lesson in crabbing and feasting.

image.jpg

The bounty: 

image.jpg

Subduing the crab: 

image.jpg

Cracking the claws: 

image.jpg

The next day we picked up Save in the morning to go diving. He and Dominic brought their spear guns and caught parrot fish and grouper for dinner. Then we met up with Viandante, who had spent the morning gathering oysters growing on the mangrove roots with Jacob. We found a beach, lit a fire, feasted on barbecued oysters and celebrated the bounty of the sea.

image.jpg

At Anchor in Bavatu Bay

image.jpg

Bavatu Bay is on the eastern edge of Vanua Balavu and the first place in the Lau where we got to do some on-land exploring. Bavatu is a well protected bay with a tiny wharf and fresh water spring, and a steep stair case winding up the hill to a ranch atop the limestone cliffs. 

We met CT, a man in his 50s managing the ranch for the Australian owners (who also own marinas in Latoka and Savusavu). CT pointed us in the direction of the hike with views of the Bay of Islands where we had just been, and hung out with us on the patio of the owner's home overlooking our anchorage in Bavatu Bay. He told us about his twin daughters in college in Suva, his son working his way up through the ranks of the container ships cruising the Pacific, his wife who worked in Savusavu, and his girlfriend who stayed with him working on the ranch. CT seemed to be living the dream, Fiji style.

A few more photos we took along the way: 

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

Good Morning!

Popped my head into the cockpit at 0630 earlier this week and found this gorgeous sunrise waiting for me. It made for an excellent start to a spectacular day—after four days in blissfully empty anchorages, we were bound for Susui, a village on a small island of the southern coast of Vanua Balavu. We had an easy afternoon of motoring into nonexistent winds and have spent the last few days exploring the beaches, reefs, and bountiful seafood with other cruisers and the most generous Fijians we’ve met yet.

Viani Bay

Leaving Savusavu, we cruised east along the southern edge of Vanua Levu. Motoring upwind (in an unexpected two meter swell, oy!), we spent one night in Fawn Harbor before arriving at Viani Bay, a common cruiser hangout from which to explore the Somosomo Strait and the neighboring island, Taveuni.

In Viani Bay we were surrounded by grassy hills, sloping jungle, and black sand beaches that made the shells shine brilliant white. We spent an easy week paddle boarding, relaxing, and enjoying the underwater delights.

Viani Bay's main attractions bloom below the surface—corals the color plums and limes, thriving and throbbing, endlessly, with fish. 

Peregrine Takes Flight

Cruising from the Marquesas to New Zealand last season felt like going back to freshman year of college. You arrive in Nuku Hiva after 23 days at sea, brimming with excitement for new adventures, anchored next to strangers who rapidly become your cherished friends.

You hike together and snorkel, talk on the radio underway, share notes on shore-side restaurants and local market hacks. You brave windstorms and celebrate sunsets. You yacht race, dinghy race, share paddle boards and any catch of the day. You build bonfires, snacking on popcorn as the flames lick at canopies of stars.

And you say goodbye.

You say goodbye over and over again, because Arbutus and Oceanna are staying New Zealand to work this season, because Wairua is settling there and continuing their travels by plane, because so many yachts in the Pacific Class of 2015 sailed on to Australia, because Sabir is cruising to Tonga before Fiji this season, because the answer to those two most important island questions—Where have you been? Where are you going?—is a kaleidoscope, and the same crystals reflect differently for all of us.

If you've followed our travels, you've met our friends Dirk and Gretchen of s/v Peregrine. Together, we dove reefs in Tonga and hiked volcanoes and glaciers in New Zealand. Peregrine sails north to spend the rest of this season in Indonesia, before cruising around South Africa and  up the eastern coast of South America before returning to their home in the eastern coast of the US sometime near the end of 2017.

We had one last farewell dinner onboard Peregrine, lounging in her teak cockpit, admiring her varnished spars and oil lamps, taking tandem trips to the head with one of their two cats, Queequeg. We take from them their curry recipes and waypoints for the Lau group. We send them with our surplus popcorn provisions and a million wishes for excellent adventures and safe travels ahead.

Another adieu; another sail approaching another vanishing point. It's hard to spend too much time nursing the tenderness in a paradise like Fiji, hard to imagine so many adventurous wakes never crossing again, hard to spend too much time thinking of life as anything other than quintessentially beautiful.

Ps. Both photos are of Peregrine as she anchors near us in the Ha'apai group of Tonga. In the bottom photo, Arbutus is in the background.

Savusavu

We had a perfect day of sailing as we left Namena reef: 18 knots of wind, flat seas, and an easy, three hour jaunt north toward Savusavu, the second largest town on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji.

In town to do some heavy provisioning (the next few stops on our itinerary offer very little by way groceries, carrots and bok choy if we are lucky), and to amuse ourselves in town as the weather promised rain, we came to think of Savusavu as the most charming town we have visited in Fiji yet.

Savusavu is a small town with a large ex-pat community. There are a handful of resorts nearby, but nothing of the tourist fervor we found in and around the Mamanucas. The restaurants were excellent (seared yellow fin tuna wrapped in bacon, home made rum-raisin ice cream, yes please!), the groceries stores abundant, and the butcher was even open the last day we left.

We also had a first and favorite cultural sighting for our time in the South Pacific—a local youth sailing club. Dominic and I were shuttling groceries from the farmer's market to Helios, when we saw 20 kids between ten and 14 putting on life jackets and  rigging Opti dinghies on shore. Later, as we motored up the coast and out of town, we saw them again, tacking backing and forth at the edge of the mooring field.

We cruised through the fleet without collision, despite one kiddo who did a few 360's twenty feet off our port bow, did lots of waving, and said many "bula!"-s, happy to see so many locals enjoying sailing. Aside from a documented fleet of traditional Polynesian catamarans that tour the Pacific rim—we were docked next to one in Samoa, and watched their documentary in Tonga—this is the first community of kindred sailors we have found, despite the legacy of sailing in the local traditions of all the islands we've visited.

Red-footed Boobies

image.jpg

Went went to Namena for the reef, but we stayed for the birds. Namenalala is home to a rookery for some thousands of boobies that spend their days circling and squawking, preening and roosting. 

Even better, the boobies aren't alone. Frigate birds circled by the hundreds, forming tornadoes around the small island whenever the sun started to think about setting. Anywhere between three and 15 tropic birds fluttered through the scene; black-naked terns nested on the rocks; white reef herons patrolled the rocky beach.

We were relieved to see so many birds. Cruising the Mamanucas and Yasawas, all of us on board were surprised by the dirth of avian life (I think we saw all of four birds in four weeks). We assumed this was due to the cyclone, and I'm not sure how this colony survived. We assume that any bird able flew to sea on the leading winds of the system and rebuilt their nest in the trees in the last four months. But we were seeing a lot of adolescent birds that seemed to be just learning to fly; have they incubated, hatched, and fledged since Cyclone Winston? An impressive thought in the face of such habitat destruction.

image.jpg

Ps. The bird on the lead photo is a red-footed booby; above is a juvenile great frigate bird. 

Diving Namena Reef

Namenalala was our primary destination in the Lomaivitis because the diving in the reef surrounding the islet is famously colorful.

It was some of the more challenging diving we've seen. The reef is large, two miles from the anchorage near the center, and deep, making for sloppy surface chop and unpredictable swell. The conditions we met made for a bumpy 20 minute dinghy ride to each dive site. The water is clear and the sights are deep, and when combined with free-diving through the turbulence of the surface chop, seeing the sights was a vertiginous experience to say the least.

The spins were worth it. The coral spires we dove were covered in electric violet and lime green corals, sea fans, and spectacular swirls of technicolor fish.

Lomaiviti Islands

We spent a week cruising the Lomaiviti Islands as we day-sailed our way between Fiji's two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The group is small and infrequently visited; there are only a handful of backpacking style hostels slung across the ten or so islands. Our first stop was Naigani. There was a horse-shoe shaped anchorage on the western edge of the island, protected by the land on one side and projecting reefs on the other two.

The islands were beautiful, but most dramatic here was the havoc caused by last season's Cyclone Winston. Blowing through the Fiji's islands were winds upward of 200 knots. The islands were stripped bare of all greenery and reduced to dirt, sand, and sticks. Four months later when we visited, the palm trees still looked like poorly treated dandelion stems. Some were topped with bright green tufts of newly cropped fronds, and there were plenty of vines and shrubs returning to life.

After two nights in Naigani, we spent one night in Makogai and then three days anchored off Namenalala, the island closest to Vanua Levu. We snorkeled the bay in front of a resort that had been swept clean off the island. We swam over a cement staircase that had been tossed to the center of the bay. It was an awe inspiring sight, and made us both feel like the sail two and from New Zealand was worth avoided such forces of nature.

A few bright barnacles (I think they're barnacles....) we found on coral off the beach in Naigani: