Sharks and Sunshine

Since being away on this trip, I’ve been to a lot of amazing places, all of which I have written about for all to read. I have loved every everywhere I have been and I have tried to describe them all as best I can. Since writing however I feel as if I have started to exhaust all adjectives possible and thus run out of ways to really explain where I was heading next. To give it’s real just deserves I wish I could create words which better the now mediocre ‘incredible’

Amidst the blues of the Pacific Ocean is an area known as the Polynesian Triangle. It stretches from Hawaii in the north to Tahiti in the east and then to a small group of islands in the west. These islands on the western tip of the triangle were my next destination. This was Fiji.

image

I planned Fiji as a holiday within a holiday. A perfect 10 day escape from the manic overgrown backpacker scene of Australia and it in a word it was perfect. It was only to be a short trip, but I planned on absorbing myself as much as possible in these wonderful island gems.

Feejee as it is known in its native tongue, is made up of over 300 islands, most of which look like the image in your head when I say the word ‘paradise’. So much so in fact that one of them is where Tom Hanks found himself stranded in the movie Castaway. In history the islands would be a frightening place to find yourself ship wrecked. To early European settlers the islands became known as the Cannibal Isles in reference to the islanders favourite dish. Many of the first landings in Fiji by European discoverers were given a hostile welcome before meeting their gruesome end on the dinner plates of chiefs and tribesmen. Cannibalism was a daily routine for many in Fiji. Ratu Udre Udre was known to have eaten as many as 872 people during his life. He placed stones outside his house to represent each of his victims. During our trip in Fiji we got to actually see where Ratu was buried. Cannibalism however fortunately hasn’t lasted into the 21st century and humans have thankfully been spared for coconuts instead. 

As soon as we arrived into Fiji, the spirit of Bula was upon us. Walking down of the plane we were met by singing, dancing and music and were presented with shells from some locals. It felt like something from Forgetting Sarah Marshal! Soon after we arrived were we would be staying for a couple nights just outside of Nadi and relaxed into the Fijian way of life.

As we were only in Fiji for a short time we decided to do a tour with Feejee Experience which would ensure we got the most out of our short time there, it proved to be a fantastic way to see the islands. Early the next morning we were picked up by our Feejee Experience crew, Jerry Bati Finan and Arvind Prasad along with the rest of our small group and we made our way out of Nadi and towards our first destination, Natadola Beach. The Feejee Experience would take us around the whole of the main island of Viti Levu, before we headed of after to other islands independently. Natadola beach was the perfect first stop on the trip and gave us a little idea into the kind of places we had waiting ahead for us during the next 10 days. The white sand stretched around the coast and was boarded by lush green forest and palm trees and the stunning blue waters of the pacific. A short walk further along the beach and around a bend we found a breath taking lagoon hidden away, the perfect place to start the trip. After Natadola we headed towards Malomalo village but not before a brilliant stop and a huge sand dune for some sand boarding. This was great fun and despite the tiring walk back up to the top each time, coming down was awesome. Having done it before back in New Zealand I thought I had the hang of it. I was quickly reminded however when I went a tad off course on one ride and ended up flying straight through some bushes and taking a mouthful of sand! 

image

For the first evening we stayed at the great Mango Bay resort. The backpacker hostels in Fiji proved to be some of the best I stayed at on the whole trip, it was more glam-packing than roughing like back in Australia. A very welcome change! After an evening spent relaxing by the pool, the next morning we were off again and onto one of my favourite points of the trip. The second day saw us do an amazing trek through the dense Fijian rain forest. The lush trees and vines rolled over the endless hills we walked amongst. We had to walk through various small rivers and streams in search for our final destination; Wainiyabia Waterfall. The waterfall was worth the hike. As we came through another section of trees the sight of the beautiful multi-layered waterfall cascading through the forest was stunning. It really felt as if it was a hidden secret, stashed away out of sight from other tourists. We walked up and around the it to another section of the falls in which we could get a well deserved swim and break from the relentless heat and humidity. The water was refreshing and icey cold. There was even a section where you could climb up the step rock face near the falls and jump back down into the falls which was brilliant. It made for some great video footage which I will add in a short film I hope to make once I return home. 

image

After an hour or so at the falls we begun our walk out of the rain forest eventually arriving at a small river where a little boat picked us all up and drove us through the forest and eventually ending in spectacular fashion at the beach. It was a brilliant walk, without a doubt one of my favourite days on the islands. 

Our third day offered quite the cultural experience. Following a short stop in Suva, Fiji’s capital we headed for the ting village of Nasautoka in the hills. Earlier on in the trip we had been briefed about the visit to the village in which we would meet the chief and also be involved in a traditional Fijian ceremony. To take part in the ceremony fully our ‘tribe’ needed to have a leader its self; a chief. Somehow I suddenly found myself being elected Chief of the Feejee Experience Tribe. I wasn’t completely sure what I had gotten myself into, still I was excited to see what lay ahead for me as chief!

image

We arrived at the small village and were met by some of the residents who welcomed us in with songs and dancing. Shortly after they gave us a run down of how the ceremony will work and how the day would go. To begin with we would be welcomed into the village officially by the chief and his family and would then take part in the traditional Kava ceremony. We approached the the main building in the village, everyone was told to go in one door which led to the back of the room and me, as chief was told to enter in by the front door and the head of the room. I was told to step up to the entrance step in and yell Bula! Once I did I walked up and took my seat on the floor alongside Chief Ratu Semi Seruvakula. We was an elderly man with a strong handshake. He sat me down, asked where I was from and was I enjoying his country. It felt amazing to be sitting next to the chief of the village, representing the visitors. 

image

From there the chiefs spokesmen made various Fijian speeches, welcoming us to his family before beginning to prepare the first of what turned out to be many Kava sessions for the day. As we had been driving around the island for the past couple days I noticed what appeared to be some dark plant roots wrapped in newspaper laying on the dashboard of the bus. Arvind would hold them up regularly showing them to people as we passed by, in fact even the odd cow! I later learned this was Kava. By showing it to passes by he was effectively saying, ‘we have Kava, come join the party!’. Kava is a plant, the roots from which are used to make a traditional Fijian drink. Back in the village, the head family begun to make the drink by crushing down the roofs of the plant in a huge beautiful Kava bowl. Water is then added from banana tree roots and the flavour is soaked into the water. As I was chief I would be first to take a drink, in fact I had the first two drinks! I was presented with a small wooden cup full of the brown muddy looking water. I had to clap twice before accepting and then as tradition dictates drink the Kava in one go. It is an interesting taste to say the least! Quite a peppery taste with a hint of dirt which stays with you. Kava isn’t an intoxicating drink however once drunk in large quantities it does make you feel very relaxed, a large reason for why it is so popular among locals. When you drink it down, it has a numbing feeling on your tongue and throat coupled with a tingling feeling as you swallow. It was quite a bizarre drink but it was great to experience it. 

Following the Kava ceremony we went to another part of the village where we would visit the local school, this was fantastic to see. The Nasautoka District School, lies just up the road and looks out over stunning lush valleys and the large river below. Once at the school the children performed a show of amazing Fijian dances for us and the teacher told us the history of the school and what the children there liked to learn. We all each as well make a little speech saying where we were from and what we did back home. It was great to see the kids light up when talking to us. It was a brilliant experience to meet them all, and offered the chance for some great photo opportunities. 

image

Before we headed back to the main hall, we went further up the road and then walked down to the hills towards the river. From here we got on rafts made from bamboo and rafted all the way back down the river to the village. It was brilliant, the scenery was stunning and people would shout Bula to us as we drifted by.

The day was ended in yet more Kava and we were played out with some wonderful Fijian music in which we all danced along with. It was a superb day, it was touching to be welcomed into the village and treated with such generosity and love from our hosts. It will certainly be an experience I will always remember. 

That evening we spent the night at the beautiful Voli Voli resort before departing the next day in the afternoon bound for the famous Sabeto hot springs and mud pools. The Sabeto springs are surrounded by beautiful mountains and the water in some of the pools was so hot it was boiling! Some however we a little cooler which meant we could get in and relax. That wasnt before however we had jumped in the natural mud pool and had mud lathered across every inch of skin on us! The mud is said to have healing powers, even through it felt incredibly slimy, it did in fact feel quite nice. 

image

The hot springs was the last stop with our Feejee Experience guides. From here we headed back to Nadi for one night before going our separate ways. I however was headed to a couple of the islands for 5 more days before leaving Fiji. Just so it happened a few of the others in our group had the same plan which was great. 

The first island we headed to was a 45 minute boat ride from Nadi. Our first sight of Beachcomber Island totally hit me for six. The little paradise island in my head actually did exist and I thought I may have found it. The island was literally just a small spec of sand with a few green trees in the middle of it! It doesn’t get more castaway than this! A small boat picked us up and took us to the beach where we were once again welcomed by locals singing and playing guitar on the beach. 

image

The island was stunning, you could walk around it in about 7 minutes and across it in about 2! It was paradise. We spent just two nights on the island, snorkelling, kayaking and relaxing, it was stunning. 

image

image

After beachcomber we again got on the boat and headed 3 hours north towards the Yasawa Group of islands. I fell asleep on the boat on the way there and suddenly felt Sophie shaking me to wake me up. Still half asleep she said, ‘I don’t want to alarm you, but I think the boat is on fire’. I woke up fully looked around and the whole bottom cabin was full of smoke, not what you want to see! Oddly the crew seemed to be acting calmly like there was no reason to panic. I on the other land was looking for which island looked closest and started to think ‘what would Tom Hanks do?’ Thankfully it was our time to get off the boat and onto a smaller on to take us to our Island. As we did step off the smoke was really getting thick. The boat however was still deemed sea worthy and continued on its journey. We learnt later that it was the AC unit which had actually caught fire. 

If beachcomber was paradise then Mantaray Island was a different gear all together. From the boat the beach looked beautiful, the resort itself was hidden away out of sight from the sea, it just looked perfect. Surrounded my hills and coconut trees, it seemed to offer a lot more than Beachcomber did. We spent 3 nights here exploring the island and taking up all the activities.

image

Mantaray was also to be where we wold do our final dive on the trip, and what a dive it would turn out to be. Unfortunately we were out of season for the amazing Manta’s which visit these shores but the diving was amazing none the less. I know from reading surfing stories that have come out of Fiji that the islands have a large population of sharks, namely Bull and Tiger Sharks. Apart from the White Pointer, a Tiger Shark is the last thing you want to see in the water. Because of this I was a little weary about diving in Fiji but excited none the less.

image

On the morning of the dive however I did have a strange feeling. Not a feeling of fear more a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. The spider sense was tingling! Despite that I carried on as normal, setting up all my gear and we headed out to our dive site. We which the drop point after about 15 minutes and the sea was quite choppy. We all suited up and bailed off the back of the boat into the incredible blue Pacific waters. It was immediately amazing. We were diving off a stunning fan coral wall which seemed to go down for miles. The fan coral was enormous, some of them over 4 or 5 metres long, they were beautiful. We were swimming along the wall and the guide was pointing out a colourful little Nudibranch on the wall. As he was doing so I noticed something move quickly out of the corner of my eye. 

On this trip while diving I have seen lots of sharks, namely just Black and White Tip Reef sharks. These are usually pretty small at a metre or so in length and are fairly harmless. However what moved just to the right of me seemed a little different. I turned around and saw a large 2 metre Grey Reef Shark cruising around just below us. At this point it was only myself and Sophie who had seen it and we were desperately trying to get the others attention so they could see and to be aware of it. I love sharks, I think they are amazing creatures however they do scare me, and this was a proper shark, one of which are well known for being curious about divers. The others eventually saw it and the shark began to display a very aggressive behaviour. It was going back and forth beneath us and repeating circles. the fins at its side we pointed backwards in an attacking stance and it kept making short and very quick darts towards us, it was beginning to get rather scary. Sophie thought that the best place to be would be next to the guide has he may know how to deal with the situation. Once she got next to him however she noticed that the guide was in fact holding a very large knife in his had. This was not looking good. I on the other hand thought the best place to be would be close to the wall with by back against it so I’d always be facing the shark. This started off being a good plan, before I got to close to the wall, bashed my foot on the wall and it cut it open. So now I was swimming around bleeding everywhere with a massive hungry shark swimming beneath me. This officially wasn’t going well. Luckily after a little while the shark seemed to get bored and eventually swam off. A few minutes later we begun to make our ascent back to the surface. Once on the surface waiting for the boat to arrive, everyone started enthusiastically talking about the amazing shark we had just seen and how close it it got. I remember saying ‘this is a great conversation and that was an amazing experience but we’re not out of the water yet and I’m bleeding all over the place, anyone fancy getting in the boat!’

It was a fantastic dive and although it was quite scary for a minute of too, it was brilliant to see a large shark like that up close and without bars. Quite the adrenaline rush.

image

image

After just 3 nights however our time on the island was up and we were headed back to Nadi for our last night before catching an early flight over to Melbourne. Fiji was absolutely perfect, everything I had imagined and more. The islands are breath taking and the people are some of the friendliest I have met on the trip. They welcome you as if you are their own family. As we left Mantaray they all sang us the song of Isa Lei, wishing us safe travels and hoping we don’t forget them when we are far away. That’s one thing I can promise. My time in Fiji will never be forgotten. 

image