South from Savusavu.

Thursday 22st June 2017

Undoubtably one of the loveliest parts of our life is waking continually to a different view. This morning we are anchored off Makogai Island in the middle of the Koro sea to the northeast of the main island of Fiji, Vitu Levu. My view is limited by the low cloud that is bringing us showers, but brightened by the arch of a complete bright rainbow bridging the main island and a small rocky outcrop.

Last weekends view was very different, we sat just east of the Cousteau resort, about 3 miles out of Savusavu. A road lay between the narrow beach and the hills behind. Buses, trucks and taxis ran frequently out to the resort, the newly surfaced road crunching under their tyres. About three times a day we were surprised to see a small tanker that drove slowly past and, with what seemed like the Fijian equivalent to salting, sprayed the new surface with water. Dotted through the hill above the road were upmarket western style villas, with large verandas, cultivated gardens and four wheel drive cars tucked in the garages, above them, was woodland. One patch particularly fascinated us, a group of large trees were swamped with vines, these seem to have completely taken over the crowns and were draped and running off the branches. It made us think of bright greeen, melting ice cream cones

Vine covered trees looked like they were melting in the heat

Once we had sat out the high winds, Tuesday we ventured outside Savusavu Bay and sailed the 20nm to Namena island. Namena is a tiny island in the middle of a oblong lagoon edged with reef, it is a marine reserve and one of Fiji’s top diving spots. It was a fast broad reach, in a beam sea and we we’re looking forward to a smoother time once we got inside the pass but we were to be disappointed. The Fijian reefs systems all seem to be a couple of meters lower than the similar structures we encountered in French Polynesia, the consequence of which is that the ocean swell enters much more easily over top.  The lea of the island gave us some protection but with breaking waves, snorkelling and diving on the passes or reef walls was not going to be feasible.

We were relieved when we spotted the one mooring buoy in the bay, anchoring in the windy conditions with choppy waters in a sea bed littered with coral heads was not inviting. Just over a year ago this area of Fiji was right in the eye of Cyclone Winston and Namena Island was hit by winds of up to 145mph. Many trees were lost and still litter the island and the resort that perched on the hill above the beach was completely destroyed. The Island is now derserted, but our friends on Blowin Bubbles who are very keen divers were here a couple of weeks ago, had checked the mooring out, added new floats and given us its coordinates. 

The view from the cockpit was again different, a craggy limestone headland sits at the end of the otherwise palm covered island. There are reportedly 600 breeding red footed boobies nesting on Namena and we had a great time watching all the avian activity. We assumed the main flocks of birds were the boobies although we never spotted their red feet or their characteristic fish catching method of formation diving. In fact they didn’t seem to be feeding at all, all their time was spent with dramatic inflight dancing (flirting?) or protecting their nests from flocks of frigatebirds and a couple of very determined hawks.

Loved the dead tree, looking like it had been splattered onto the rock

In search of calmer waters we sailed on towards Makogai Island, with lessening winds our crossing was slower but very pleasant as we gently pushed further south. Makogai Island was also hit hard by Cyclone Winston and is still trying to recover. For nearly seventy years the island was used as a leper colony and people from all over the Pacific were sent here to be cared for by the nuns and priests that ran the hospital. The ruins of an obviously sophisticated settlement are scattered everywhere across the island, along with, we are told, an extremely poignant grave yard. More recently this bay at Dalice on the western side of the island has been taken over by the Fisheries Dept as a research and conservation centre. A lookout post was positioned on one of the highest hills for counting and cataloguing passing whales and in the bay was a large turtle and giant clam hatchery. Since Clyclone Winston these activities have been reduced to just one family, slowly, trying to restart the program. They kindly showed us the tanks containing hundreds of half inch long baby clams. In about six months time they will be big enough to be transferred to cages and put out into the bay and then eventually transplanted to marine reserves all around Fiji.

Sadly for now the only giant clam we saw was an empty shell, a meter across, sitting on the beach. The four clams that were reportedly on the bommie in the bay have all gone. They are a delicacy in Fiji and a giant clam can be worth thousands of dollars and in the hunger that followed the cyclone anything edible was no doubt fair game. The Goverment is beginning to rebuild the infrastructure at the site, so the tiny clams we saw today should have a more protected future.

We may not of seen clams when we snorkelled in the bay but there was plenty of colourful reef fish including this clutch of anemone fish. 

Anemone fish off Makogai Island

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