Kayak and paddle
Rock gardening
Sea kayaking off Rottnest Island
Sunset on the beach
Ningaloo, August 2020
Kayak and paddle
Rock gardening
Les in Surf Zone
Sunset on the beach
Ningaloo, August 2020

Anyone for Watermelon in the Middle of a Rough Crossing?

Yasawa Islands, North-West Fiji, 13 – 21 July 2012

Yasawa Islands, North-West Fiji, 13 – 21 July 2012

 Sue Harrington

South Sea Islands Resort, one of the first ports of call on the Yasawa Flyer. Photo Sue Harrington

Wolfgang and Pel on the shuttle from the Yasawa Flyer to Tavewa. Photo Sue Harrington

At Tavewa, Zoe, Wolfgang and Simon try out boats and gear, while Sandy distributes the whoopie cushions. Photo Russ Hobbs

Steve, Martin, Wolfgang, Chundi and Sue at the Dreaming Tree. Photo Russ Hobbs

Eamon helps the villagers uncover the cooked Lovo. Photo Russ Hobbs

Morning tea at the southern end of Nacula Island. Photo Sue Harrington

Our guides, Sandy, Eamon and Sam preparing lunch at Nacula Island. Photo Sue Harrington

Preparing to launch after lunch at Nacula Island. Photo Sue Harrington

Village ‘Meke’ at Navotua. Photo Sue Harrington

Martin downing one of many cups of kava, cheered on by Chundi. Photo Sue Harrington

Paddling across to Sawai Lau –  Wolfgang and Chundi in the big double, and Steve. Photo Sue Harrington

Day 5 lunch spot at Yaqueta Island. Photo Sandy Robson

Chundi (Judy) and Wolfgang in a big double on the crossing to Naviti Island. Photo Sue Harrington

Camp on the west side of Naviti Island. Photo Sue Harrington

Steve, Chundi, Martin and Jo enjoy pina coladas at Botera Resort, Naviti Island, Day 6. Photo Sandy Robson

Martin and Chundi into the rum punch on  Nanuya Balavu Island, Day 6. Photo Sue Harrington

Sandy on the big crossing to Waya Island, Day 7. Photo Sue Harrington

Eamon offer Russ watermelon on the big rough crossing to Waya Island, Day 7. Photo Sue Harrington

Russ and Sue crossing to Wayasewa Island, Day 7. Photo Martin Burgoyne

Martin Burgoyne being Martin, can’t help looking for the next adventure possibility even when he and Val are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. So when they were spending a few romantic days last year on Yaqueta Island in the Yasewa Islands, north-west Fiji, the idea of a sea kayaking expedition started to take shape.

After researching the options, he circulated the proposal for a trip along the Yasawa Island chain amongst club members. He expected a few members might be interested, but in no time the trip was booked out by Martin, Neesha Copley, Judy ‘Chundy’ Blight, Steve Foreman, Pel Turner, Wolfgang Weitzig, Jo Foley, Zoe Thiele, Simon Wilkes, Russ Hobbs and Sue Harrington. The trip proposed was the “Yasawas Ultimate Tropical Expedition” offered by company Southern Sea Ventures (SSV) with the name for our trip being the appropriate “Sandgropers’ Pacific Paddle”. The trip was a total of eight days, including six paddling days and a travelling day at either end.

On Friday 13th July our group of travel-weary paddlers arrived at the Mercure Hotel in Nadi. Most had flown in from Perth, but Zoe and Simon arrived from Tonga raving about their marvellous 6-day paddle. Neesha was to join us at our base camp as she was doing some diving for the couple of days before our trip. We gathered for drinks and dinner prior to a briefing with one of our guides, Eamon Larkin, who probably wondered what he was in for with our group of strong personalities asking endless questions. The other guides were to be club member and paddler of renown, Sandy Robson (‘Voli Voli’), and local Fijian, Sam.

Day 1 – The morning was sunny and typical tropical humidity. After an early breakfast we piled our gear into the hotel lobby to wait for the bus to take us to Denarau Marina to catch the Yasawa Flyer ferry. As we motored north up the Yasawa Islands we stopped to load and unload holiday-makers at numerous island resorts. Eamon plied us with the first of the endless snacks that were to be a feature of this trip, as well as a healthy picnic lunch and people dozed in the sun or sat in the breeze on the upper deck.

We arrived at SSV’s base on Tavewa Island at about 2pm to hugs on the beach from Sandy and were soon given an introduction to the gear and facilities, as well as the need for frequent hand washing and hygiene throughout the trip. Neesha arrived full of excitement having been diving with sharks. We were shown the large area of grass to pitch tents under shady trees, an open-sided bure or kitchen shelter, a pit toilet and a cold water shower. Above the strip of beach rock and sand beach there was a spreading ‘dreaming’ tree and bench seat, much used by the local family and by us. Our tall, handsome Fijian guide, Sam, is from the family which owns the land.

And of course, there was a line-up of sea kayaks and piles of spray decks, PFDs, paddles and dry bags. We all chose gear and pondered about squeezing the large dry bags into small hatches, something which became a daily pain. We needed to take three double kayaks in order to carry the cooking stove and other bulky gear. Sue and Russ had elected to paddle a double for the whole trip, with the other two doubles to be paddled by others on rotation. Martin and Chundi started out in one of the doubles but divorce ended this arrangement after one day.

That night we were treated to a lovo (similar to the Maori hangi) cooked by the local family. The pork, beef, chicken, taro, cassava, sweet potato, potatoes, and palusami (taro leaves cooked with onion, tomato and coconut milk) were delicious! This was followed by big chunks of duty free Toblerone. Sam’s friendly dog, Rocky, hung around and was finally given the leftovers. We discussed the forecast for SE winds of 15-20 knots and the paddling plan for the next day before heading off to bed.

Day 2 – We rose in the dark to pull down tents, pack boats and eat a hearty breakfast prepared by our guides. Some of us had slept poorly due to the excitement and new surroundings, as well as the cacophony from the camp snorers. There seemed to be a lot of gear, but eventually we squeezed personal gear, food, cooking gear and water bladders into the boats and teams of us carried them over the beach rock and down to the water. A support boat carried additional food and water for the first couple of days.

We departed camp at 8:45am in overcast conditions, heading east into a strong head wind and then dog-legging north to land on a sand spit on the south of Nacula Island where we had morning tea. We then paddled northwards along the western shore of Nacula Island, past villages nestled amongst lines of coconut palms with cleared hills above. There were many gusts of strong wind funnelling over the island that made for hard paddling. When the wind abated we were treated to gardens of colourful coral below the water surface.

We landed on a beach on the north-west corner of Nacula Island for lunch and pulled on cags to avoid the wind. The plan had been to camp on Vawa Island several kilometres to the north, but as some paddlers were tired we opted to head for Navotua village just around the peninsula from the lunch spot. Although the distance to the village was only 2km, a strong head-wind of 20-24 knots made for slow progress and challenging paddling. After a hard day of 18km we were grateful for the welcome from the villagers and to set up camp on a grassed area. Our guides produced excellent meals in SSV’s bure next to the beach. There were a number of village dogs that hung around our bure, including ‘Snarly’ who unintentionally bared his teeth while trying to be friendly.

The villagers are devout Methodists and proudly promote their traditional culture. As much as possible we tried to conform to expectations by wearing trousers or lofos (sarongs) and not wearing hats around the village.

Navotua. Photo Russ Hobbs

Day 3 – With high winds forecast and some of our group unwell with colds, we opted for a rest day. The teachers in our group, Chundi (Judy) and Neesha, assisted by Jo, spent the morning at the school instructing the 6-9 year olds in making origami animals, telling stories and reading. Others of us walked over the ridge to the beach where we had lunch the previous day for a snorkel and then amused ourselves by throwing rocks at a target and by breaking open and consuming a coconut. Some caught up on sleep and had a gentle day. Neesha befriended the locals and was invited to share their meals, not that it stopped her eating ours as well!

Neesha grating coconuts. Photo Sandy Robson

In the afternoon we were treated to a tour of the village, a demonstration of weaving and a wonderful afternoon tea made by one of the village ladies. Later we purchased jewellery and fabrics at the village shell market. That night our dinner included local crabs and then we enjoyed a ‘Meke’ welcome concert, followed by a kava ceremony. Most of us had one or two small cups of kava, but others enjoyed the relaxed sensation that it gave them and had too many cups to remember!

Day 4 – We awoke to drizzle and reluctantly dragged ourselves out of our tents before dawn. The sea was less foreboding than when we arrived. After filling in time doing exercises while waiting for the local roti and smoked fish to be delivered for our lunch, we paddled east to the striking limestone island of Sawai Lau. Most of us went into the cave and dived underwater to reach the magnificent inner cave. Sandy saved the day by diving down several metres to retrieve Simon’s dropped camera. Hot drinks being sold by local villagers were extremely popular as we emerged cold from the cave.

For the remainder of the day we paddled back to the base on Tavewa Island, but in much calmer conditions (10-12 knots) than those experienced on the outward journey. The distance paddled this day was 22 km.

We lined up for showers and then relaxed with drinks and dinner. Everyone quickly departed for bed when Sandy suggested that we play ‘two truths and one lie’. As more of us were succumbing to the dreaded lurgy, the snoring around the camp was supplemented with hacking coughs.

Launch Day 5. Photo Sue Harrington

Day 5 – We loaded the kayaks with everything we would need for the following three days as there would be no support boat. There were grey skies for our departure from Tavewa, but the sun came out as we paddled down the western side of Matacawalevu, passing over patches of colourful reef in a following sea. We lunched at a derelict resort on the south-west corner of Yaqueta Island and enjoyed a fabulous snorkel. Crossing the 4 km strait to Naviti Island we paddled into the wind (13 knots) and then turned to drift across to the north-west corner of the island, making a distance of 9 km for the crossing and a total distance for the day of 27 km.

We set up camp on a deserted beach near the north-west corner of Naviti. After having refreshing swims we enjoyed Martin and Sandy’s rum punch while watching the sunset. Our guides had dug toilet trenches for males and females and Eamon had us in hysterics as he acted out the possible techniques for using them – these included Mr Whippy, the surfer, Grandpa and the cartwheel – all highly practical!

Hermit crab races at camp in Naviti. Photo Sue Harrington

Day 6 – After a slightly late start on a sunny morning, we paddled south along the west side of Naviti Island in 13 knot E-NE winds. The scenery was pleasant, with lots of shallow reef, pretty coves with coconut palms and interesting tilted rock strata on the hills behind. Crusty pock-marked basalt, the result of ancient lava flows, lined the edge of beaches and headlands. We landed at Botero Resort at lunch time and some of us went snorkelling while others drank pina coladas, beers or coffee on the deck above the beach. We re-launched for a lazy paddle to Mantaray Resort on Nanuya Balavu Island. While the guides refilled the water containers, some of us went for a snorkel seeing lots of big fish, where on previous snorkels there had been mainly invertebrates and some small fish.

We finished the 15km day by paddling around to the east side of the island where we pulled in to a steep beach to camp. We were met by a French man, Christopher, who had been camped for a month and was spending his time spear fishing using his inflatable kayak as a float. The kayak walls had lost strength and bloated in such a way that it was no longer paddleable. Again we enjoyed rum punch while watching Neesha, Zoe and Sue grating fresh coconut and the tropical sunset. Christopher joined us for bean and vegetable curry, no doubt glad to be eating something other than fish and split coconuts!

We had set up our tents on the back of the sand beach, judging that we were above the high tide mark. Our guides had put their tents higher up the slope and Christopher had commented that the tide might come up fairly high, but the danger failed to register. Around 5am the breaking waves were sounding rather close and we started to emerge to check on the situation and to move our tents to higher ground. Zoe had to wake Jo who was sleeping soundly as the water crept into her tent vestibule.

Day 7 – After the drama of having to move the tents, we got up and moving earlier than planned. We were pushed in off the sloped beach and started out on a long paddling day. We pulled up for a snack break and to look at the charts, then began the long and difficult crossing to Waya Island. We paddled up wind into the 17 knot easterly in seas to 1.5m and then angled back to reach our destination. Partway across the difficult crossing Eamon called us in for morning tea and delivered around a tray of watermelon slices. While stopped in difficult conditions, Pel and Wolfgang were swept together and Pel capsized but managed a wet entry with help from Sandy and Eamon.

We pulled into Octopus Resort on the western side of Waya Island for lunch. Some people had pre-lunch drinks and then we had a picnic along the beach, with a family of pigs appearing periodically to check on us. We continued south past Wayasewa Island to Kuata Resort, glad to finish our 31 km day as we landed to the musical welcome from the resort staff.

This was the end of the paddle and we emptied the gear from our kayaks and settled into our bures for showers and to sort out our gear. After dinner a group of young locals performed some strange dance moves to painfully loud music and then got us up to chant ‘bongana bonga’ and to join in the dance. We were then invited to join in another kava ceremony, but only Sam consumed more than the required cup full.

Day 8 – We all gathered on the beach to see Sandy and Sam set off on local motorised boats with the kayaks stacked high. It took them over 6 hours to reach Tavewa Island in fairly rough conditions. We spent the day resting, reading, chatting, having massages and packing up in time for the 3:30pm ferry back to Nadi. Back in civilisation, we donned our best clothes and met for a delicious Japanese dinner and to reminisce about an amazing week.

All-in-all it was a terrific experience with a great group of people. The guides worked long hours, took us to wonderful locations and kept producing great meals. Thanks Martin for coming up with the idea and making it happen. We’ll remember this trip fondly for many years to come!

Martin and Steve waiting for the boat back to civilisation. Photo Sue Harrington