s/y Nine of Cups
Fiji Islands
June - August 2011
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Republic of Fiji Islands

Population: 918,675 (2007 est.)  
Currency:  Fijian $  (F$1 = US$.58)
Language: English, Fijian, Hindustani
Area: 7,140 sq miles (slightly smaller than New Jersey )
High point: Tomanivi  (Mt. Victoria), 4,303'
Time Zone: +12 GMT
More to come as we move south to
the island of Viti Levu and
Fiji's capital city. Come along...
there's always an adventure
with Nine of Cups
The word Fiji is actually the Tongan
name for the islands, adopted and made
prevalent by the Europeans. In actuality,
the inhabitants called their islands Viti.
If you counted every single island (including coral
outcrops) that belongs to the Fijian archipelago, this
number would be in the thousands. However, only
about 322 are seen as big enough to support human
habitation. Of these 322 islands, only 106 are inhabited.
Brief History:
Fiji became independent in 1970, after nearly a century
as a British colony. There have been several recent
military coups usually related to poor Indian-Fijian
relations which has left the country in political upheaval
for decades. That said, Fiji is one of the most
progressive and developed countries in the South Pacific.
We left Opua, Bay of Islands, New
Zealand at the end of May 2011,
heading almost directly north to Fiji. It
had been getting very chilly in New
Zealand and each day heading north
became a little bit warmer and we
were able to trade our warm, layered
clothing for lightweight shirts and
shorts. By the time we reached the
Koro Sea, we were in shorts and tank
tops and almost (not quite)
complaining about the heat. The nights
were mild and the breezes warm. We
weren't the fastest boat on the ocean,
the ~1220 nm passage took us 11
The last documented act of cannibalism in Fiji occurred in 1867. Reverend Baker and
his colleagues came to the village of Nabutautau to civilize the natives and to convert
them to Christianity. The initial interactions between Baker and the Fijian villagers were
positive, but then in an attempt to retrieve a comb (or hat), Baker touched the head of
the village chief. This was a forbidden act (tabu) and a gesture that to the villagers was
tantamount to declaring war. They cannibalized Baker and his fellow missionaries.

Reverend Baker’s boot, with teeth marks on it, is on display in the Fiji Museum, bearing
testimony to the history of the islands and the effects of cultural misunderstandings.

Repeat after me...We will NOT touch the chief's head!
Not much bird or marine wildlife until we entered the Koro Sea. We were welcomed by a pod of
dolphins and a flying fish found his way into our scupper. There were scads of birds...diving brown
boobies, streaming tails of white tropic birds and soaring great frigate birds. Bula Fiji!
Learning the Lingo
A new language is a challenge. Pronunciation is
difficult  when letters are not pronounced the
way they are in English. Fijian is no different.
We always try to learn some basic starter
b = mb               d = nd           q = ngg
n = ng                 c = th
Bula - Fijian greeting/hello
Vinaka - thank you
How are you? - Ni sa bula?
Well, thanks.   - An sa bula, vinaka
Please - yalo vinaka
Goodbye - moce (moh-thay)
Yes - Io                   No - sega (sen-ga)
Excuse me - tulou
No worries - sega na lega (senga na lenga)
We watched a magnificent sunrise over
Vanua Levu...as if the island was ablaze.
Entering the bay, we passed the ferry taking
passengers to Suva. One less obstacle to
worry about in the narrow Nakama Creek.
Anchorage  view of Nawi Island
opposite Savusavu town.
Entering Nakama Creek, we could see lots
of masts ahead. Passage nearly complete.
You can barely see Cups in the anchorage,
but it's a short dinghy ride to marina.
We're moored at the Waitui Marina. Like its
sign above, it's a bit dilapidated
Waitui is managed by long time e-mail
friends and SSCA Cruising Station hosts,
Michael & Kendra. It's friendly, cheap and
has all the basics we need.
An interesting phenomenon...we thought
there was a fire ashore, but no it's the steam
from hot springs boiling out of the coral in
the cool morning area. A vivid reminder that
the whole area was once a caldera.
Savusavu, Fiji - Nakama Creek - 16S46.64 /179E20.19
Kendra, Gavin (who is 3.5 years old, he
informed us) and Michael. We finally got to
meet them and put faces with names.
Main Street, Savusavu. Lots of little shops,
groceries and the marketplace.
The market is open 6 days a week.
Above, men selling taro root.
Sign in the marketplace. We heeded the
notice and kept our spit to ourselves.
The fresh fruit is excellent here and cheap.
We especially like the sweet, little pine-
apples. Above, David buys a watermelon
for FJ$2/each.
Despite attempts of some anti-colonialists to change the look of Fijian currency in 1970,
the coins and banknotes of the country still bear the image of the Queen of England.
A blue starfish caught my eye as we were
tying up the dinghy to go to the market.
Lots of sunshine with lots of tropical
showers make for lots of rainbows.
They let just anyone into this anchorage...
including seaplanes. In case you're
interested, they moor or anchor the same
way we do. He tied up to a mooring ball.
A full moon shining, but it wasn't dark
yet, so we got a good view of Cups
soaking up the moonshine.
Road Trip to Labasa (Lahm-BAH-sa)
We needed a day off from boat work and
rented a van with two other cruiser couples
and headed north across Vanua Levu
island to the largest Indian market town in
Fiji, Labasa (pronounced Lahm-BAH-sa).
From lush tropical rain forest in the
south, we crossed over the high ridge of
the island and found ourselves in the
hot, dry north surrounded by sugar
cane fields. Above, the sugar cane mill
above was not operational until harvest
time in another few weeks.
With such a large Indian population
here, we were interested in viewing
several Hindu temples in the area.
Above the Sangam Temple in Labasa
was bright, colorful, interesting and
well maintained.
A priest at the Sangam temple
welcomed us.
More interesting was the Snake Temple
or Naag Mandir about 12 km east of
The Naag Mandir temple contains a
rock that is shaped like a rising cobra
and Hindus in the area swear fervently
that the rock is growing. They've even
had to heighten the roof of the temple to
accommodate its growth over the years.
The views from Palmlea were stunning.
They've built a large jetty and the anchorage,
protected by a reef, is most inviting.
We love these mileage signs!
This eco-lodge is absolutely gorgeous with
several bures (burr-rays), thatched huts, as
guest accommodations, spacious gardens, a
lap pool and beautiful open-air restaurant.
On the way back to Savusavu, we stopped
at the
Palmlea Eco-Lodge for a cold
drink. Built and owned by Joe & Julie, ex
cruisers, we were welcomed warmly.
Fawn Harbour/ Bagasau - 16S43.48 / 179E43.64 - 35'
We have a penchant lately for going around things. We left Savusavu to head the 40nm east along the south coast of Vanua Levu to Fawn Harbour.  Using Calder's "A Yachtsman's Fiji"
cruising guide proved most helpful. Above center is Calder's aerial photo of the entrance. Center right, the green route shows our chartplotter's waypoints through the reef opening. The
red line was our actual course. Coastal navigation and eyeballs ruled the day. The chartplotter was definitely off. The "beacons" shown are really no more than large stakes sticking up
out of the water, hard to spot, but definitely good markers once they're in view. Note the village of Bagasau is written on the map as "Mbangasau", as it is pronounced.
Vanua Levu translates to "Big Island".
We stayed about 2nm off the coast to avoid
reefs, but could see dense foliage and wisps
of wood smoke rising from the villages.
The reef as we were entering is slowly
being claimed by mangrove which fringes
the entire bay.
Thick mangrove nearly hides the entrance to
shore by the Pickering settlement. The water
is murky and muddy.
A view of Cups taken from shore.
Along the dirt road to Bagasau
village, we saw a polka dot crab.
Fijian cultural tradition dictates that visitors present a gift of
yaqona (also known as kava) to the village mayor or chief when
first arriving in a village or inhabited island. Our Fijian Cruising
Permit (written totally in Fijian) required this compliance of
yachties when visiting traditional villages. The presentation is 1/2
kg of unpounded kava root. A village man acts as the
spokesperson for the villagers. The gift is set on the ground
between the giver and the recipient. If it is picked up, then the
sevusevu (gift) is accepted.

After accepting the sevusevu, the guest is  invited into the chief's
home to sit with the men of the village on the floor. Once the
roots have been pounded, the master of ceremonies mixes the
pounded Yaqona roots with water in a wooden bowl known as
a tanoa. This ceremony is always performed in the middle of the
room, the master of ceremonies facing the guest of honor.
Speeches and thanks for the sevusevu are made after which a
half coconut or bilo is filled with the mix and given by a bearer
to the guest with outstretched hands. The guest is expected to
accept the bilo with a clap of the hands and drink the contents
in a continuous gulp. Having finished the bilo, he returns it to the
bearer and claps his hands three times and says
expressing satisfaction. This same ritual is then performed in a
strict hierarchical order until every person in the room has
drunk. Sometimes the first bilo in the ceremonial round is
poured outside. This is an ancient custom of offering the yaqona
to the gods. Once this ceremonial round has been completed,
the guest has formally been accepted into the village as an
eternal friend.  The chief  welcomes the visitors to the village
and offers his protection and reasonable assistance within the
village boundaries. At this time, the visitors also ask permission
to anchor, fish, swim, wander in the village, take photos or
whatever they plan to do. It would be very disrespectful to
anchor in the bay and not go into the village to make sevusevu.
Like parking in someone's driveway overnight and not going
into the house to ask permission or say hello!
Kava or kava-kava (Piper methysticum - "piper": Latin for
'pepper'; methysticum: Latinized Greek for 'intoxicating') is a
crop of the western Pacific. The name kava(-kava) is from
Tongan and Marquesan. Other names for kava include awa
(Hawaii), 'ava (Samoa), yaqona (Fiji), and sakau (Pohnpei).

The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative
and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the
Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia (including Hawaii), Vanuatu,
Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. It is sedating and  
primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. Its
active ingredients are called kavalactones.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Unlike the present day drink, only high priests and chiefs
traditionally drank Yaqona as a mediator between the world of
humans and spirits. The roots were chewed by young virgin
women who brought purity to the drink and the resin was spat
out into a special dish to be consumed in a highly ceremonious
affair. Today, the roots are ground by mortar and pestle or you
can buy powdered kava in the markeplace for casual drinking  

Fijians commonly share a drink called grog made by pounding
sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it
with cold water. Traditionally, grog is drunk from the shorn
half-shell of a coconut, called a bilo. Grog is very popular in Fiji,
especially among young men, and often brings people together
for storytelling and socializing. Drinking grog for a few hours
brings a numbing and relaxing effect to the drinker, grog also
numbs the tongue and it is typical that grog drinking be followed
by a "chaser" or sweet or spicy snack to follow a bilo.

Because the village of Bagasau is primarily a Seventh Day
Adventist village, neither the chief nor his son consumes kava.
They accepted the gift as tradition, but the rest of the ceremony
was not performed.
We made our first sevusevu in Fiji in the village of
Bagasau. Tai, the son's chief and spokesman for
the village, welcomed us, chatted with us a bit,
accepted our gift of kava and brought us to the
chief's house to do the formal ceremony.
Dried kava root is bundled in 1/2 kg packages
wrapped in news print and tied with rafia.
Butterflies are abundant and this
particular one was common and most
Low tide with local boats aground
and the island of Taveuni in the
Low tide revealed  volcanic lava and rocks
rather than coral reef.
Typical Fijian houses
On Saturday, the local schools participated in
an intramural rugby tournament. People came
from surrounding villages on early morning
buses to watch the games.
We sat on the bank above the field and watched
while  two games ran simultaneously. A total of
10+ teams competed ranging in age and size from
little peewees to teens.
Parents and relatives were keen to watch
their kids compete and the party-like
atmosphere was contagious. Boys played
rugby; girls played net ball.
Fijian Dress Code
Fijians, at least since the mission-
aries arrived, are very modest
dressers. We're keen to follow
the rules, so we pay particular
attention to the way we dress
when we go into the villages. No
knees or shoulders must be
visible. Women must wear either
dresses or sulus. Men must wear
long pants or sulus. Hats are not
usually worn in the villages
although at the game, it was
allowed. Sunglasses are removed
when addressing someone.
Buca Bay - 16S40.47 / 179E49.69 - 40'
From Fawn Harbour, we moved
around the southeast corner of
Vanua Levu, through the
Somosomo Strait to a protected
anchorage at Buca (Boo-tha) Bay
just off the village of Loa. Our
timing during the short trip had
been excellent with an ebb tide
giving us a push through the Straits
and sun to read the waters en
route. Our luck held as the rain
started just as we finished
anchoring and tidying up Cups for
the night.
A heavy morning mist shrouded the hills
above Loa village and clung till
Cups sat calmly in the anchorage and when the
rain stopped and the mist began clearing, we
ventured into the village.
Loa village is home to about 60 people.
It's small, but extremely friendly and we
met several people in our short stay.
The town is simple with few amenities.
Above the bus stop.
Three buses per day run along the unpaved
coast road for the 2-1/2 trip to Savusavu.
Limited hours at the gas station above which
offered diesel, gasoline and kerosene.
Had we not been walking, we would have
missed this 1924 gravestone in the forest.
The next town of Natuvu was a Seventh
Day Adventist village. Above the SDA
primary school was tidy and well-kept.
There was a small mini-mart in Natuvu.
We replenished our peanut supply, but
there was little else available...but you
could buy phone cards for your cell phone.
This clever t-shirt design caught our
attention, but when we moved the shirt
to get a better look....
This 3-inch+ wolf spider crawled out
from beneath it. Yikes! Big spid!
The unpaved coastal road offered lots to
see although it was a bit slippery with mud
after morning showers.
Between huge palms in this grove, we
could barely see fishermen working their
nets in the bay.
Seine and her son and husband rowed out
to the boat to bring us a huge supply of
pawpaw (papaya) and bananas.
Marcie's new sulu needed constant
adjustment...an acquired skill.
Katherine Bay, Rabi (Rahm-bee) Island - 16S31-64 / 179W59.44 - 42'
It would have been easy to stay in Buca
Bay. We had numerous invitations for
dinners and the people were interested in
learning more about us and vice versa.
But as always, time was an issue and we
moved on. We had planned to go to
Fiji's 3rd largest island, Taveuni, but the
winds were inexplicably from the west
making anchorage there inadvisable.
Instead, we took short trip past Kioa
Island to Katherine Bay on Rabi Island.
We had been told the beaches of Kioa
were rich with chambered nautilus shells,
but we were unable to find any.
A pearl farm at the south end of Kioa. We
looked for sand beaches on Kioa's
northwest side, but found they'd been taken
over by mangroves...no shells.
Our chartplotter for Katherine Bay was off
by nearly 1/2 mile here. The "X" shows the
area we plotted for the anchorage. The
"boat" shows the actual anchorage location.
Little Kioa Island is populated by about 300
Polynesians from Vaitupu Island in Tuvalu
(formerly the Ellice Island group). In 1946, they
purchased the island to overcome
overpopulation issues in the Ellice Islands.  
Although they are Fijian citizens, they maintain
many of their own traditions and no sevusevu
was necessary here. Tuvalu is one of the world
island groups that is in danger of disappearing
because of rising ocean waters attributed to
global warming. There are no safe overnight
anchorages there and we opted to give it a pass.
Like its neighbor Kioa, Rabi Island
is home to a resettlement group only
this time it's the Banabans, formerly
of Ocean Island (Banaba), a 6-sq
km raised atoll in Kiribati
(Keer-ah-bas) aka the Gilbert
Islands. Banaba was a tiny  They
were relocated in 1945 at the end of
WWII  by the British because their
island was being exploited for
phosphate mining by the BPC
(British Phosphate Commission).
Most noticeable when entering Katherine
Bay is the huge church which dominates
hillside above the village.
We landed on a sand beach near a large copra
shed which is still in use.
The Banbans maintain many of their own
traditions including use of outrigger canoes for
handline fishing. Note the ubiquitous blue tarp sail.
The small village here is called Buakonikai.
There was one main dirt road which ran
through town, lined with small tin-roofed,
cement block houses. There was one tiny
store which sold only the very basics.
The magnificence of the Methodist church
was much diminished on closer inspection.
Built in the 1960's, it lost its roof and ceiling
two years ago in a cyclone and the village
has been working to repair it ever since.
From the vantage point of the church, we
could see Taveuni in the far distance, the
reef which runs along the coastline and the
tin roofs of the village homes below.
Tethered pigs could be heard grunting and
snuffling before we spotted them. There
seemed to be one oinker per family.
The flora was lush and abundant here. Huge
hisbiscus, red flowering flambuoyant trees
and these beautiful orchids (spathoglottis
pacifica), one of 170 species found in Fiji.
The beach was teeming with small
yellow-clawed fiddler-type crabs
scuttling away from our footfalls.
Our young host was Maravea (center) who
led us around and answered questions. She
was later joined by her friend and little brother.
Everyone greeted us with "Mauri", the
Banaban/Gilbertese greeting. Children sitting
on doorsteps waved and shouted to us.
The dateline (180 long) passes right through
this area and we're teetering back and forth.
Be sure to check our blog for daily
updates of our travels.
Somosomo, Taveuni Island - 16S46.16 / 179W58.37 - 80' (yikes!)
Cups was all alone in the anchorage just off
the Fijian village of Somosomo and the
IndoFijian village of Naqara situated at the
mouth of the Somosomo River.
We landed the dinghy on a black sand and
gravel beach near a school. We watched the
young boys dressed in sulus play a game of
rugby, a big sport in the area.
Our bow pulpit was a magnet for Pacific
swallows who loves congregating for bird
chitchat. They left a mess on the stainless,
deck and caprails.
At Waiyevo, a 3km walk south along the
coast, we hunted for a well-hidden sign
marking the 180°  meridian. A unique
opportunity to stand in the eastern and
western hemispheres and more
importantly, straddle yesterday and
tomorrow simultaneously with no chance
of experiencing today.
Palmlea Farms Eco-Lodge, Yalava - 16S24.50 / 179E14.07 - 22'
An overnight trip brought us to the entrance of the
Great Sea Reef by mid-morning. The green areas
above represent the reef area, + are rocks and coral
heads, tan is land. The chartplotter was off as were
the paper charts, so we took bearings on islands and
points ashore to wend our way through to Palmlea.
We had expected to be quite alone in this remote
part of northern Vanua Levu, but there were three
boats at anchor when we arrived. Word about
good places travels quickly. Above, Palmlea's 50'
wooden pier makes easy dinghy access. A
well-worn path leads from the pier to the lodge.
We're now inside the
Great Sea Reef which
we'd never heard of prior
to checking out the
charts for the area. This
reef is the third longest
continuous barrier reef in
the world and recent
exploration of the reef
revealed an amazing
biodiversity never before
realized including several
rare, threatened and
newly recorded species
in Fiji. Read more about
Great Sea Reef  by
clicking here.
Besides being an eco-lodge, Palmlea also
operates as an oceanside farm encompassing 40
acres of meadows and mountain land. This
organic farm specializes in breeding and
development of Boer goats.
The 10-minute walk up the path from the pier to the lodge is always good for at least a few photos. Above, a colorful dragonfly; Fiji's only kingfisher species (collared kingfisher); a
mudskipper, unique out of water fish species; and  a huge yellow spider whose web hung a few feet above the pathway.
Vanua Levu
Circumnavigating Vanua Levu
Our hosts and owners of Palmlea were
Joe & Julie Smelser. As ex-cruisers,
they're very attuned to cruisers' needs
and provide lots of amenities to visitors.
Julie travels several times a week into Labasa and usually takes a load of cruisers with her.
Labasa has several of the same supermarket chains as New Zealand, but they're not quite the
same. Above is New World, an upscale supermarket...grocery delivery to your car  via
wheelbarrow. Right is the busy main street of Labasa, Fiji's largest Indo-Fijian city.
View of Kia, an island about 17 miles away
and located inside the Great Sea Reef.
Marcie & David celebrate their 20-something
anniversary at Palmlea.    
Photo: Stephen Harrington
The spacious anchorage got crowded fast
when 13 ICA rally boats arrived one day.

At right...Palmlea palms in the moonlight
We could have stayed a Palmlea for
weeks, but as usual it was time to move
on. We took 4 days and just as many
anchorages to make it back to Savusavu.
Spinner dolphins gave us a show en route.
We passed Monkey Face Rock while
transiting Monkey Face Passage...whoever
named it had lots of imagination and very little
experience with monkeys.
We passed lots of scenic little villages
along the coast, but tended toward
solitary anchorages.
The reefs were all around us with colors
ranging pale turquoise to nearly white.
The Cannibal Islands...that's what early European explorers called Fiji and
with justification. Fiji and neighboring Pacific islands like Samoa, Tonga,
Vanuatu and the Solomons practiced cannibalism for centuries. Even the
Maori in New Zealand were known to have folks for dinner... as the main

According to Wikipedia, the word
cannibalism is derived from Caníbales,
the Spanish name for the Caribs, a West Indies tribe for which the Caribbean
Sea was named and formerly well known for their practice of  eating humans.

According to some, Fijians were extremely hospitable to any strangers they
didn't choose to eat. Shipwrecked sailors were eaten because they were
considered cursed and abandoned by the gods. Special vegetable leaves were
used to wrap the human meat and then they were cooked in a lovo
(underground oven). One chief on the main island of Viti Levu supposedly had
eaten more than 800 people and had a pile of stones erected to document his
great feat.

The last "documented" cannibalistic event in Fiji took place in 1867 and
stemmed from a grievous misunderstanding. When the Reverend Thomas
Baker and his group of eight Fijian missionary helpers made a laborious inland
trek to the isolated village of Nabutautau to bring  Christianity to the natives,
he committed a major faux pas. Actually, the village  folks made their visitors
welcome, but when Baker tried to retrieve his hat from the chief's head, all hell
broke loose. Touching the chief's head was tabu...in fact, it was a declaration
of war. It didn't take much to overcome Baker and his small troop and before
long, they were dinner. Nothing remained of Baker except his boots which
were too tough to chew evidently. They're supposedly on display at the Fiji
Museum in Suva, bite marks and all. We'll check it out when we're there.

This is the last "documented" event of cannibalism. Some locals claim that it
still occurred well into the 20th century. David met an old Indian fellow at a
machine shop in Labasa whose father had arrived in Fiji as an indentured
laborer in 1920. As he and his fellow laborers disembarked from the ship,
armed guards accompanied them, not to prevent them from escaping, but to
protect them from the locals. It seems the prior shipload of laborers which had
arrived in 1918 were totally consumed!
Tribal officials would bring out their best untensils for
special people, not to serve them, but to eat them.
The cannibal fork, or iculanibokola, was used during
ritual cannibal feasts held in the village spirit house.
Since the chief's usual attendants were not allowed in
the spirit house, chiefs and holy men had to feed
themselves and used these special forks since it was
tabu for their lips or fingers to touch food. Our
collection  is pictured above...dinner guests beware!
The avifauna (bird life) of Fiji is one of the
richest in the western Pacific. This is the
furthest range east for several species and it is
home to several endemic and native species
as well. Unfortunately, several species are
now extinct due primarily to the arrival of
humans and several more are globally
threatened.  We've added our limited number
of Fiji bird pics to the
Birds of South
Pacific page. For more information on Fiji
birds, try
Fiji Birds on Wikipedia.
The carver's shop had several implements
of destruction including neck breakers,
belly slashers and head bashers.
Carved bowls, scenic plates and turtles at the carver's
shop didn't interest us half as much as the flesh forks.
The Pacific Pearl anchored in Savusavu
Bay one morning, disgorging hundreds of
passengers into overwhelmed, laid-back
Savusavu town.
More exciting than the cruise ship was the carnival
that came to town. The school kids paraded along
the main street and headed en masse to the
carnival grounds.Background is the MH (Morris
Hedstrom), largest supermarket chain in Fiji.
Evening at the carnival was crowded with
people from all over the island enjoying
food, amusement rides and entertainment.
The usually innocuous ferris wheel seemed
to be the thrill ride of the evening thanks to
its rickety construction, slight heel and the
fact that the operator was intent on making
it go round as fast it possibly could...which
was very, very fast.
"Grog", the local kava drink, is a very
important form of social entertainment here.
At 3.6 yrs old, Gavin is pretty
precocious and proudly displays
his find: 9 Cups
A spectacular Savusavu sunset from the deck
of Nine of Cups.
We enjoyed wandering through this interesting
temple and experiencing a bit of culture with
which we are unfamiliar.