Cruising the Yassawas - Part 1

Category: Ships Log
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September 29th - October 9th

Exploring Fiji's Yassawa islands and waiting out a strong blow in the Blue Lagoon.

 

It’s the morning of our fifth day in the “Blue Lagoon” of Fiji’s Yassawa islands. And yes, it is called this because of the movie they filmed here in the 1980s. The blue lagoon is surrounded by three islands and we’re anchored off the eastern most island called Nanuya Lailai. It’s one of the most protected anchorages in the Yassawa island chain and we are one of several boats anchored here waiting out some strong SE winds that blew in from New Caledonia. Our original plan was to spend the week cruising north up the 80-mile long island chain to the northern most village of Yassawa-i-rara, however the weather had different ideas for us and we are parked about 30 miles south of Yassawa-i-rara. We can’t really complain though, being anchored in front of a lovely tropical beach with aquamarine water and decent snorkeling!  

 

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Anchored in front of Nanuya Lailai in the blue lagoon.

 

We started our trip last week by heading a couple hours across the lagoon from Vuda to the island of Mololo Lailai and the Musket Cove Resort. The resort is quite well known in the cruising community because they are friendly to cruisers and are home to the longstanding Musket Cove Yacht Club. The lifelong membership fee is $5 for the captain and $10 for crew and this provides access to warm showers, the resort’s swimming pools, beaches, and discounted ferry rides. We spent two days here, exploring the island by bicycle and enjoying the swimming pool. Then we continued north in search of good snorkeling. We motor-sailed to Wayasewa island, but arrived fairly late in the evening, so didn’t do any snorkeling here. The next morning we continued north to the island of Drawaga where cruiser reports say manta rays are often sighted and there is a good anchorage. We didn’t see any manta rays, but we enjoyed a great day of snorkeling. The corals were lovely and the diversity incredible. There were far more types of hard corals than anyplace we’ve snorkeled over the last year. It would have been nice to stay another day here, but when we downloaded the weather files the next morning we saw the system from New Caledonia was due to start blowing about 20 kts from the SE during the night. The manta ray anchorage is known to get a lot of swells in rough weather, so we set our sights on reaching the blue lagoon, about 25 miles north. We reached the blue lagoon by afternoon and have been here ever since. It is amazing how well protected this anchorage is – if we hadn’t walked around the island of Nanuya Lailai, we would never have guessed a storm was blowing. Well, at least for the first couple days when the winds were only at 15 – 20kts. Yesterday the wind picked up a bit and we measured gusts up to 25 kts in our anchorage, but the wind chop is still minimal and we can dinghy to shore if we want to.

 

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Musket Cove resort. If you squint you can see the anchorage just outside the channel.

 

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Exploring the island of Mololo Lailai by bicycle.

 

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Although we didn't get to explore it, we had a beautiful evening anchored off of Wayasewa island.

 

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Snorkeling off of Drawaga island was great - lots of healthy coral!

 

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I've never seen so many different types of staghorn coral in one place.

 

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 Love these sixbar wrasses - they look rather psychedelic.

 

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The view of the surrounding islands from the blue lagoon anchorage.

 

Besides being well protected, the blue lagoon anchorage is lovely; the islands surrounding it have a bit more green than the islands further south (Western Fiji is experiencing a bad drought right now) and the water is that lovely tropical turquoise when the sun is out. At Nanuya Lailai, there is a small resort on the beach at the northeast end, two small houses next to the resort, and a nice beach with lounge chairs on the southeast end used by cruise ships (which we can use when the cruise ships are not there). The resort tolerates cruisers so we we’re able to walk on their beach and purchase a beer or internet from them (although we’re not allowed to sit in the hotel lounge or use any of the beach chairs – even if we’ve purchased a drink!). Despite being stuck here the last few days, we’ve managed to keep quite busy. We’ve snorkeled almost the entire eastern end of the island, which is just as nice as our previous stop at Drawaga island. The reef is so full of life – there are lots of fish, giant clams, crinoids, sponges, and of course lots of coral; it is easy to just hover over one small area for several minutes and watch all the goings on. One of my favorite spots to watch are the cleaning stations; this is where small blue striped wrasses hang out and clean any fish that decides to stop by (see earlier blogs for pics of cleaner wrasses). Sometime a wrasse can spend over 5 minutes cleaning a fish, while other times he is finished in just a few seconds. And it is also fun to harass the anemonefish (also known as clownfish) – these are the fish that live in anemones and are very protective of their home. Just like damselfishes (and they are actually a subfamily of damselfish), they will attack you if you get too close.

 

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If you snorkel by the cruise ship beach, you will literally get swarmed by scissortail sergeants. We think they might be feeding fish here...

 

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Chris snorkeling with his entourage of sergeants.

 

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The giant clams here are beautiful - most are like this one, a mottled brown and white.

 

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A criniod, or feather star.  These guys are in the same family as starfish and use their arms to sweep the water for food particles.

 

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Fiji anemonefish on the attack.

 

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One final snorkeling pic. The chromis schools that live in the corals are fun to watch too.

 

We also managed to get out of the water and explore the island. One day we spent a good 4 – 5 hours hiking around and over the island. On the opposite side of the island (west) there is a small settlement, a tea house, and a backpacker hostel. The high hills that span the middle of the island offer gorgeous views of the bay and are home to lots of mango trees – our favorite! It was almost like hiking in the Marquesas. Back on our side of the island, we got to know the inhabitants of one of the little houses by the resort. It belongs to Va who lives there with her daughter Itey and three grandkids Alfred, Sam and Peter. It is their tribe that owns the north end of the island and leases the land to the resort. Only a few members of the tribe live on Nanuya Lailai while the rest live in their main village on the island of Viti Levu (Va said her brother is the village chief). Va is very friendly and offered us the use of her water to do washing (she owns the spring-fed well on the island) and was always happy to chat. She told us about Toki, who runs an organic farm on a neighboring island. When we started to run low on veggies and eggs, she gave us his cell number and we gave him a call and put in an order. A few hours later he showed up with his family in a sailing dinghy, loaded down with produce. There are about ten boats in the anchorage so he went around to the other boats as well, but we got first pick! It was pretty great to have fresh eggs and veggies again. Even though we did want to explore more of the islands these last few days, it’s also been really nice to just stay put for a bit and get to know one place. Like the locals say, we are on Fiji time!

 

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As we were walking around the island, we noticed one of the rock benches had multiple channels worn into it, and the rocks filled them in, creating very artistic looking lines of stones.

 

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We found Lo's teashop on the other side of the island. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and Lo was gone.

 

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Hiking back across the top of the island.

 

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We had great views of both sides of the island. This is the west side of the island and you can see how windy it is.

 

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Contrast the above pic with this one of the east side of the island and our anchorage. You'd have no idea there were high winds!

 

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Va hanging out in front of her house.

 

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Doing some washing with Itey.

 

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Toki and his family in their sailing dinghy.

 

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Fiji Time. :)

 

From the weather files it looks like the storm will give one last strong blow later today and tonight, but then finally calm down by tomorrow morning. Although we are running short on time, our plan is to try and do a quick trip up to some caves on the southern tip of Yassawa island (about 10 miles further north) before heading back south to Vuda.

 

 

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