Cruising the Yasawa Islands in Fiji

websizedDSCN0112It was in the Yasawa Islands that the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon was filmed and we visited the site after swimming in the Sawa-i-Lau caves. I didn’t like being in the cave, felt very apprehensive, and only stayed in the first cave for a few minutes – later I even forgot to ask the brave ones who dived through and under the rock that joined the two caves. Sounded even more scary to me!

Tourism is growing in importance and apparently permission is required to visit all, or at least many of the islands in the group.

As one of the outer island chains, options to get to the Yasawa Islands is more limited than to islands near Nadi or Denarau; the Yasawa Flyer connects Port Denarau with the Yasawa Islands and is ideal for free independent travellers while The Fiji Princess that I was cruising on is an ideal and easy way to cruise these remote islands.

my first view of the Fiji Princess
my first view of the Fiji Princess

I was very fortunate to be a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises.

The Yasawa Group is an archipelago of about 20 volcanic islands in the Western Division of Fiji, with an approximate total area of 135 square kilometres. It stretches in a north-easterly direction for more than 80 kilometres from a point 40 kilometres north-west of Lautoka on Viti Levu (the 2nd largest town in Fiji).

Apparently British navigator William Bligh was the first European to sight the Yasawa’s in 1789 following the mutiny on the HMS Bounty, but they were not charted until 1840. The islands were largely ignored by the wider world until World War II, when the United States military used them as communications outposts.

My father was part of a small Fiji Defence Force that had been sent in the last quarter of 1939 and some 3,053 men where there late 1940 and began fortifying Viti Levu. His time there made an impression in him in that Isa Lei (Fijian farewell song -see video below) was one of his party songs  and I he refused to eat the ‘terrible bananas’ we got in New Zealand ‘they are picked green and sent here – they are so much tastier when fresh and ripened on the plant’ he would say. And he’s right, the local fruit tastes great.

Dad bought this home for  his fiancee: they married 1944 after he was invalided out of the army
Dad bought this home for his fiancée: they married 1944 after he was medically discharged from the NZ army

Another family connection to Fiji was recalled by M when she knew I was going there:

“Hi Heather, The Yasawa Islands are where we spent some time way back in 1978 or 79 with S and G. We visited a village on Waya Island and spent a week camping on an uninhabited island which I think must be among the ‘Sacred Islands’ mentioned in your itinerary. I think the Blue Lagoon Cruises may have just been starting up then, though we didn’t see them. Things were very basic back then. I remember G gave some aspirin to a poor woman suffering from tooth ache on Waya. She was so grateful. Have a great trip! I hope the cruises are beneficial to the villager.

 We were on S and G’s little yacht, Spirit of Breaker Bay and the 45 foot yacht, Wayward Wind. Wayward’s crew were (future) Home Port friends and a new friend who worked at the Uni of the South Pacific. We were taking him around looking for a certain type of seaweed which produces heaps of agar jelly. At the time the University was trying to find a location where the seaweed could be commercially harvested. There was also a young Fijian man who said he knew where to find this seaweed near his village on Waya. It turned out he had no idea, he just wanted a free ride home to his village. We never did find a big quantity, but we got to taste the delicious jelly salad the villagers made with the seaweed and coconut milk.- it been fun to remember that time!” M

 

Morning tea on the beach after visiting the cave
Morning tea on the beach after visiting the cave – home-baked goodies for all morning and afternoon teas

Here is a video of the crew sing the farewell song to us as we prepare to disembark at Port Denarau

 

 

Fijian feast is cooked underground

 

websizedIMG_9138

Our catamaran, the Fiji Princess, gets tied to a coconut tree: the Yasawa Islands setting idyllic, and we are to have a Fijian feast onshore, followed by a concert by the local village.

Coconut has a special place in the Fijian diet and, grown in most coastal areas, it’s not only for food, but plays an important role in the economy. It is also used in many ways in the lovo (earth oven); as a basket, as the steam producer then to cover the food.

These photos are of the demonstration we saw of a food basket being made.

Some of the foods cooked in the lovo were Taro (dry starchy root crop), Kumala (sweet potato) whole chicken and a large leg of pork. After the burning wood was removed the meat, and vegetables placed in the hole in top of the hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and cooked for about 3.5 hours. It’s considered a healthy meal because of the lack of oil – it is quite similar to the (Māori) hangi or the (Hawaiian) luau or (Samoan) umu and has a smoky flavour.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After showering, washing off the salt water we had played in, we return to the island, where a kava ceremony was being held, and before long we watch our dinner being dug up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While the pork was dry, the crackling on the pig was fabulous (I think it had been grilled somehow after being cooked in the lovo) and my favourite dish was the entre. It’s a ‘raw fish’ dish made up of Walu (sometimes called Spanish mackerel) with ‘miti’ – a coconut-based sauce. The fresh fish is marinated in lemon juice and left to “cook” for several hours. The thick coconut milk is added after it is “cooked” together with finely diced tomatoes, chillies and salt – this is the ‘miti’.

the pork is carved
the pork is carved
Raw fish (kokoda)
Raw fish entree (kokoda)

Dinner over, we move to seats in a clearing among the coconut palms – by now it’s very dark and before long we are entertained by beautiful singing and dancing at the ‘meke’. I often feel uncomfortable joining in traditional dancing anywhere, but the Fijians seem to love a conga line, making it easy for all, including me, to join in!

 

NOTE: Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific.  In Fiji a kava ceremony often goes together with social event and while on ‘the Princess’ it happened three times – including a ritual presentation of the bundled roots as a gift and drinking the ‘grog’ is accompanied by hand-clapping before and after drinking from the coconut shell. It is made by pounding the sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water.

Apparently the effects of a kava drink vary widely depending on the kava plant used, and amount drunk. Most on board didn’t drink it but for those who did their eyes became droopy or sleepy looking it seem the active ingredients have a half-life of about 9 hours.

New Zealand is concerned about the risk of driving after mixing of alcohol and kava. On the other hand, it seems a national league team uses it after games to unwind.

Note: the KiwiTravelWriter was a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises

 

50 shades of green and blue in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji

‘They’ say, one picture is a thousand words: if this is so, sit back relax and enjoy this 2,800 word slideshow about the 50 shades of green and blue in the northern Fijian waters and the Yasawa islands.

Recently I was invited to cruise, for 4 nights, five days on the Fiji Princess – a boutique catamaran that can host a max of 64 guests – I loved the days of relaxing, sailing, eating, beach visits, snorkeling, visiting a village for dinner then the next day the only High School in the islands, eating Fijian food, and enjoying an eclectic group of fellow travellers from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Belgium, UK, Germany – and maybe others.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To see more of my travels and lifestyles of the people of these remote island sign up to follow my blog (top right – no spam ever, only an email when I publish a new blog)

 

Packing for a cruise – keep it to a minimum

Revisiting this post …and reposting.. as I’m off on another small cruise. This time a river cruise on the Mekong – China’s longest river

So will re-read this to remind myself to keep its light – my goal is carry on luggage only: that means 7kg (15lb) for most of the worlds airlines.

————

One of the great things about cruising is that you unpack just once. The only cruising I have done is on a river cruise in Europe, and sailing on private yachts in the Mediterranean and along the Great Barrier Reef. However, in four or five days I will be on the Fiji Princess, a Blue Lagoon catamaran, sailing around some of Fiji’s (mainly Yasawa) islands.

So what to take? Firstly, for the Captains dinner a colourful long dress (although it’s not a need to dress for dinner each night) and swimwear, including sarong & aqua shoes, and I have the basics covered (nightwear and undies too of course). Add a pair of trousers, 2 shorts and 4 tops to mix and match and that’s it.

The extras are what takes up space and weight – toiletries, flip-flops (or jandals as we Kiwi call them) my trusty Teva’s for hiking, sunglasses, a necklace and couple of earrings – plus an umbrella for the sun.

Add my camera gear (spare batteries and charger) my tablet and keyboard for writing blogs and posting photos on Facebook and Instagram, a book, e-reader, sun protection, hat, notebook and pens: that should be it.

Now all I have to do is count the sleeps until I leave New Zealand’s cool autumn for the warmth of Fiji and some boutique sailing. Fiji Princess can host up to 68 passengers; it’s 55 metres and can get into bays and islands that are impossible for large ships. Seems they can get so close to shore, that they can tie to a coconut tree and we could swim to the beach. Sound pretty darn good!

Did I mention, swimming with manta rays? Exploring water caves? Sign-up to have my blogs sent to you by email (above right) and get my blog (s) about this boutique cruise that I’ve been invited to join in the warm Fiji waters.

More packing tips

Cruise ships in Wellington … a walk along the waterfront

Wellington Writers Walkway . . . spread along the Wellington waterfront, a stroll along it is a great artistic, historical, and literary way to spend an enjoyable couple of hours in New Zealand’s capital city.

Brochures that lead you around them are available at the local iSite in Civic Square – the link above has a map and here’s link to the Writers Walkway FaceBook Page

With ‘quotations from 23 authors, past and contemporary, including poets, novelists, and playwrights the walk celebrates the place of Wellington in these writers’ lives’.  and their place in the life of Wellington. It also introduces New Zealand literature to a wider public, and in particular, tourists and visitors. I heard cruise ship passengers discussing buying a NZ book and I’m sure without this great addition to our public art they would not have known about the author whose quote they were  photographing.

See an earlier blog I wrote about the opening of some new quotes.  (All in a different  form, ie not concrete)

DSCF46513 Digit Serial Number web

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

Solace in the Wind – public art Wellington Waterfront

Backpackers, cruise ship passengers, and especially us locals all love Solace In the Wind.

He is  often dressed with all sorts of clothes according to the season or event

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Otago Peninsula: ‘finest example of eco-tourism’

Dunedin, New Zealand: setting the scene for a series of blogs about attractions in the area including ‘the peninsula’, the ‘ finest example of eco-tourism.’

dunedin rainbow IMG_20140123_163041

Otago Peninsula was a volcano some 10 or 13 million years ago – give or take a week or two.

65 thousand years ago it became an island when sea levels rose and, more recently, now a  peninsula, Captain Cook and the hardy self-sufficient pioneers fought battles along  the notorious 2000 kilometres coastline which is now scattered with shipwrecks.

With an annual rainfall of 700/800 millimetres and mists that roll in from the sea it now has 5% of the area covered in bush: mainly broadleaf trees and kanaka.

  • Neville Peat a local nature writer based in Broad Bay says the area is a ‘kind of supermarket for marine life, souped up by currents and adjacent deep-water canyons. The accolades continue.
  • Botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy said the peninsula is ‘the finest example of ecotourism in the world’   while Mark Carwardine,  zoologist and outspoken conservationist, writer, TV and radio presenter, wildlife photographer, columnist,  best-selling author, a wildlife tour operator calls New Zealand a “wildlife hotspot”.

He says it’s one of the best places in the world to see great wildlife and recently he was on a whirlwind tour, searching for our equivalent to Africa’s ‘big five’, the New Zealand ‘small five’ endangered species: hector’s dolphinkeakiwituatarayellow-eyed penguin .. all found on or around this amazing outcrop of land.

This area is not just a day trip from Dunedin but a place to base yourself – a destination in its own right.

So watch this space (make it easy by signing up for email updates on the top right-hand corner of this page) for stories about albatross, penguins, castle,  boat trips, fur seals, settlers museum, bus stops, birds, gardens, fabulous cottage accommodation, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardens, butterfly house and the Orokonui ecosanctuary and more!

The New Zealand rental car company I used in Dunedin  was the  New Zealand Rent A Car  (branches all over NZ)

NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the sables
NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the Stables, Larnach Castle

 

Cruise, explore, moan!

Some individuals are just not people you want to travel with, well, not for long anyway as they seem to just cruise, explore and moan. I met some of them on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest: fortunately they were not part of the small I was with as their tour leader.

A virgin-cruiser, I was looking forward to two weeks on a longboat. I could see me unpacking, shoving the bag under my bed until it was time to leave, then lying on the sundeck. I imagined watching life pass by as we leisurely sailed through five European countries; exploring old cities; world heritage sites, and watching water pour into, or gush out of, locks. It’s not often a dream trip exceeds expectations but this one did.

I join the Njord in Amsterdam

I loved this ‘Grand European Tour’ with all the connotations the name suggests, luxury, leisure and indulgence, such as the traditional tours of Europe undertaken by rich, upper-class young men. Their grand tour served as an educational rite of passage, precursors to the “Cook’s Tour” that later allowed people of lessor status and money to travel. Those grand tours could last from many months to several years and was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.

Our Cicerone came in the form of Darinka, a constant ball of energy who, as programme director, co-ordinated all excursions and our on-board activities. When anyone lagged she reminded us, ‘this is a cruise, not a holiday’ – we had places to see, things to do!

Perhaps Torstein Hagen (CEO, Viking Cruises) was right when, earlier in the year (April 2012) at the blessing of this longboat, he defined ocean cruises as ‘a drinking man’s cruise’ and river cruises as ‘a thinking man’s cruise’. Our lectures and demonstrations put old and current Europe in context. Many of the moaners did not attend these talks, or else talked throughout them.

The Viking Njord, named for the Norse god of the wind, was on its 5th trip and I savoured life on this fabulous 5-star floating hotel. Early each morning I joined a few others on deck where, with our cameras, coffee and straight-from-the-oven, pre-breakfast pastries, we watched Europe come to life: fishermen on the banks; cyclists using riverside trails and birdsong welcoming the new day. Others on board were doing the same from the balcony in their cabins.

We had walking tours daily with local guides, while others came on board to give talks, demonstrations or concerts. Some did not value them ‘We live near Las Vegas and can see better shows than this any night of the week’ one couple told me.

So, it seems river cruising is not for everyone, and some passengers who take regular ocean cruises told me will not do another river cruise. It’s personality-driven. If you like to be entertained all the time with movies, dances, casino, and 24 hour food, river cruising may not be for you. I also heard complaints about ‘no beauty-shop or hairdresser’ and even, ‘too many cobblestones’ on our excursion and, ‘too many locks’. Perhaps they had not read the website, or didn’t realise that water cannot flow uphill.

Travelling up or down about sixty locks was for most of us, fascinating. I often heard someone say ‘there’s a boat going down ahead of us’. Luckily it was merely being lowered into the next part of a river or canal – not sinking! The trip was some 1600 kilometres up the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers, and along the Main-Danube Canal. Over the 600 kilometres that needed locks we climbed over 400 metres.

As communities grew around rivers, and the dock was the heartbeat of the area, Europe is perfect for cruising as we usually stopped right in the centre of the old city or town. This meant as we crossed the gangplank our guided walk started immediately; sometimes we travelled by buses to fairy-tale castles perched on hills overlooking the river.

On tours and with our guide equipped with a microphone that bought their voices right into our ears meant we did not need to stay very close to hear the history, stories, and cultural or personal anecdotes along the route. Some of the fabulous places we stopped at included Würzburg’s Bishops’ Residenz, one of Germany’s largest and most ornate baroque palaces, and Bamberg with its medieval city centre and picturesque city hall on a tiny island.

It’s easy to get overloaded with history but with the past balanced with other activities it’s not over-whelming and in Passau, with its narrow streets and Italianate architecture we listened to a concert on Europe’s largest pipe organ. And Vienna – well what can I say – it’s a fabulous city: the Opera House, a concert, and of course a coffee with the famous Austrian chocolate cake, sachertorte at Hotel Sacher are on all must-do lists.

Nightly, just before dinner, Darinka tells us about the next day’s excursion. She peppers her language with words like ‘most appealing, delightful, delicious, divine, scrumptious, yummy, gorgeous, delectable,’ I used the same words for the food!

The evening meal was fine dining at its finest and always started with a tasty appetiser such as a carpaccio of salmon and caviar – daily these unexpected little treats whetted our appetites for the three courses that followed, and unlike ocean cruises, wine is included with all meals. Tables seat four to eight and we were free to sit where we wanted – the moaners on the trip didn’t like that either.

Food is essential to culture and the choice of a more informal lunch setting on the front deck appealed to me: these meals specifically focused on the local regions food: sausage, kraut, and beer featured one day and of course on other days, strudel or black forest cake appeared mid-afternoon. We’re told ‘Hungarians, Austrians and Germans do not count calories. Butter and full-fat milk rules.’

On these eco-friendly vessels, as well as the chess set and sun loungers on the upper deck, there are solar panels and an organic herb garden where I often met one of the chefs cutting a few herbs for our next meal. The little group of grouches were also very upset that this sundeck was lowered for a few days so the boat could sail under low bridges.

As a nosey writer, just as I’d asked fellow travellers about their cruising preferences, I also ask the crew. Not one favoured the sea-cruise. With low passenger numbers on the longships they get to know their guests better. They also tell me ‘at sea there are queues for everything. You never get to talk to passengers; we just deal with an issue and onto next person in the long line.’

The flat-bottomed ship was amazingly quiet and most of us did not read as much as we’d expected as we were always watching life along the river. There’s a saying that ‘it’s the journey not the arrival that matters’ and river cruising epitomises that. This is life in the slow lane, sailing along at a gentle pace, soaking up the scenery, and learning as you go, seeing the highlights of places and meeting, mostly, great people.

So, if you fancy dawdling down the Danube, relaxing on the Rhine, or meandering along the snake-like Main, I can well-recommend this way of exploring. Perfect.

Fast facts:

Viking River Cruises: www.vikingrivercruises.com.au

Cruises available in Europe, Russia, Asia.