Tuesday, Ocotober 4, 2016 : Off the Nai’a and on to Wananavu
We didn’t have long to wait to start our final Fijian adventure. After disembarking the Nai’a and taking leave of the crew and our travel companions, we were dropped 5 minutes away to await our transfer to Wananavu. I had just dug out the sheaf of papers to confirm that there wasn’t a specific time for pick-up, when our driver presented himself to us and we were off for the 2-hour drive to Wananavu, on the northernmost tip of the island. I’m told wananavu means beautiful or wonderful in Fijian, and we were primed for some additional diving, with time to process images, write, read and relax.
The drive north is along the same perimeter road which encircles the island, although known as the King’s Road north of Nadi. If the largest of Fiji’s islands is a clock, with the airport at Nadi being roughly at 9 o’clock, we were heading for high noon. Our driver was from Rakiraki, at the foot of the peninsula at the tip of which lies Wananavu, a beach resort with a dock and dive operation.
Our friend Skip and his dive travel expert, Lynn Morton of Hangtown Travel, strongly endorsed Wananavu as worthy of adding on to our bull shark and Nai’a live-aboard Fijian diving extravaganza. We were celebrating after all!-30 years together (including 27 years married) and Steve’s 59th birthday, spent on board the Nai’a.
I plunged into active relaxation by having a massage and then a swim in the delightfully refreshing pool before dinner. When we returned from dinner, the footbath outside our beachfront bure had attracted a conclave of frogs.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
We started our day with a drone flight, a ritual we would repeat each morning as we refined our skills.
Wananavu has a well-organized dive operation. The dive managers, James Begeman and Mindy Huston, were formerly with the Aggressor on Kona. The afternoon of our arrival, divemaster Jese materialized at our beachfront bungalow, helping to transport our gear down to the dive locker at the dock. Paperwork was signed, and Nitrox tanks were analyzed the afternoon before, streamlining preparations for our morning departure. Our gear was set up for us on the boat, we just had to show up and pick up our wetsuits and booties (which were rinsed and hung for us after diving). Quite painless for a land-based operation. I was surprised to see one of the Nai’a skiffs appear at Wananavu’s dock, apparently picking up a crew member. It would have been nice if they could have dropped us off when the boat was passing this way before!
The morning’s dives were at Vatu-i-Ra Reef in Bligh Waters, led by dive guide Masi, the same area where we left off diving from the Nai’a. Our first dive was a return to Mellow Yellow, which we had loved from the Nai’a, so it was wonderful to have a chance to see and reshoot it.
Our second dive was a drift dive to Vatu Express; we swapped cameras (I shot 60 mm macro and Steve wide angle). There was a school of barracudas on entry.
I had a prolonged encounter with an unusually approachable juvenile batfish, which was just as frustrating and cooperative as batfish usually are as subjects: not close enough, suddenly too close, wrong angle, up, down, duck under a fan, blocked by soft coral.
We had lunch so late, Steve skipped dinner, while I shot stars and the milky way from the beach.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
I flew my first completely solo drone flight (including assembly), from the jetty in the soft morning light before breakfast.
The morning was occupied with two good dives, first to Instant Replay and the second to Black Magic Mountain, this time led by Jese. Steve shot wide angle and I macro on the first dive, then we swapped for the second. Today we were grouped with a nice foursome from Maui, with Arleene and Cathy paired with 3 young women divers from China.
Black Magic Mountain was enveloped in fish, with a huge school of yellow and blue fusiliers sweeping around and over the pinnacle.
Steve managed to format the macro card before giving me a chance to download, but later redeemed himself by recovering the images.
Wandering over to reception to sort out our departure for the following day, we were astounded to learn we had lost track what day it was, and we had still one more full day before leaving! Fiji time, indeed!
Alas, there was no room on the boats for us to go diving again. The big boat, Nami (Japanese for wave) was completely full, and the other boat was staying local with open water students doing their checkout dives. James thought we wouldn’t find much to like, especially having been immersed in the best of Bligh Waters diving for 2 weeks already.
Friday, October 7, 2016
Awakening without an alarm clock for the first time in 2 weeks, with no need to be at breakfast when the restaurant opened at 7 am in order to make the dive boat departure by 8:30 am (or even earlier on the Nai’a, with the first dive at 7 am), I was startled to awake naturally at 6:42 am to find glowing red streaks articulating the wooden walls of our bure. Something burning outside the bungalow? Nothing smelled like smoke, no unusual smells in the air. From one large slash of a red glowing streak, I noticed scattered, smaller, similar dashes on our wall, which wavered in intensity. The shades were pulled, so it didn’t seem likely something in the room was being reflected onto the wall. Investigating closer, I saw that these sections of wood planks were dotted with sap, somehow forming a lens-like effect, which was quite magical.
Continuing our new tradition of a pre-breakfast drone flight, I did my second completely solo flight, with Steve hovering in the shade on the beach for backup, which proved unnecessary.
The consolation prize, there being no room for us to go diving an additional day, was this opened up an opportunity for an excursion. The only one on offer sounded potentially a little cheesy: a waterfall slide into a heart-shaped pool. James from the dive shop reassured me, so we signed on. At reception, we were the second pair to sign on, prompting the lady at the front desk to say: “Oh, those girls will be so happy!”, referring to two young ladies from Shanghai who had signed up without a guarantee of the trip going, 4 being the necessary minimum.
The village was a short drive beyond Rakiraki. Going through town enabled us to replenish our dangerously low gin and tonic stocks.
Our guide pointed out the ravages of Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, which tore through Fiji in February, killed 44 people and wrought wide-spread devastation. We saw roofless schools and homes, with random scattered and mangled shards of sheet metal which formerly roofed buildings. Forty thousand homes were lost or severely damaged in by the storm, including hundreds in this area. Blue tents, provided by the Chinese, could be spotted in yards of damaged homes, still providing temporary shelter to residents.
We had been surprised that among the guests at Wananavu were camouflage attired US military personnel. They reportedly were Seabees, deployed to rebuild an area school. They were always attired in warm-looking long sleeves, pants and boots, much in contrast to the beachwear of the other guests. The name Seabees derives from CB, or construction battalion, a division of the Navy. Seabees also were featured in the musical “South Pacific”, a reference which came to mind frequently at this picture perfect tropical idyll.
The Nayara village visit was perfunctory compared with our visit to Somosomo while on the Nai’a, consisting of a welcome song and a kava ceremony, but we really enjoyed the hike to the waterfall.
The way there was covered, through jungle, and led to a series of cascading pools.
The “heart-shaped pool”, which had summoned images of Las Vegas-style horrors, proved to be naturally formed. The natural water slide was fun as well. Solo, the village guide, went first to show us the technique. Feet up, lean forward, arms up, a whoop of “Bula!” on the descent and splash, he was in the natural plunge pool 12 feet below. Steve went next, while I shot him from below. I inched my way into the takeoff position, succeeding in blocking up the water flow.
“Lean forward!”, the others encouraged me.
The built-up pressure of the water behind me inched me forward further and further, to the point where gravity took over…whoosh!
It was so quick I didn’t even have time to hold my breath, receiving a vigorous nasal enema. The cool of the water was refreshing.
We took turns plunging into the pool, with our driver and resort guide even joining in, egging each other on to jump into the pool from above.
Steve flew the drone, hovering it a few feet above the water, and threading it skillfully along the narrow river corridor.
The hike out was along a ridge, with a gorgeous view of the sugarcane fields, the village, and mountains beyond. We had seen the two Chinese girls head up this way, on horseback, their first equestrian experience.
We had seen the two Chinese girls head up this way, on horseback, their first equestrian experience.
Back at the village, the village women had arrayed their wares for sale on woven mats in the meeting house where earlier we had the kava welcome.
Somehow Steve is always more enthusiastic about buying from “individuals” rather than “stores” and so we added a few larger pieces to our tapa collection, as well as a miniature kava bowl, which we’ll redeploy as a salt cellar.
Saturday, October 8, 2016, our actual departure day, arrived with a sky-articulating splatter of clouds, propelling us out with the drone to the point. Steve flew it to new heights, 1000 feet, and I guided it back from its lofty perch with increased confidence and speed. Back in the room, I was initially disappointed not to see the glowing red boards in the wall. Maybe the conditions weren’t the same? I drew the curtains shut and the glow began…feebly at first, then with increasing intensity. I had been struck by its resemblance to a reversed dive flag. For reference, here’s what a dive flag looks like ( deployed on the water’s surface to signal to boats the presence of divers in the water):
I had been struck by its resemblance to a reversed dive flag. For reference, here’s what a dive flag looks like ( deployed on the water’s surface to signal to boats the presence of divers in the water):
All too soon, it was on to the Endless Day-a 2 hour drive back to Nadi, 11 hour flight to LAX and 2 hour drive to San Diego. I had a surprising interaction at the airport with Customs. I had bought a leather thong necklace with Fijian pearls early in the trip, and had been wearing it since. At the store, they warned me to keep the box, tags, and receipt together to collect my tax rebate at the airport. The official frowned at my wearing the necklace and proffered supporting documents, turning over the receipt and pointing at miniscule type on the back, which apparently indicated tax could only be rebated if the tags were still attached and the necklace still in the box! I protested (mildly but firmly) and offered to reattach the tags and put the necklace into the box. I didn’t think he was going to yield, but I continued to stand there (fortunately, no one else was waiting) and eventually…he caved, grumbling.
On landing, our pilot summed up perfectly the Endless Day: “And now, we’ll have another go at Saturday.”
As for us, we’d like another go at Fiji, sooner than later…it was wananavu!
If you missed Part 1 (bull sharks) and Part 2 (Nai’a), here are links:
Future Philippines trip ideas from James & Mindy at Wananavu: Malapascua Sea Explorers (guide Tongi) and Thresher Shark Divers (Andy and Diane from Maui), future Fijian trip destination, also from James & Mindy: Nakia Eco Resort, Taveuni Ocean Sports, Julie Kelly