Archive for the ‘Fiji’ Category

Return to OzFor the last time I am flying back into Australia. I had hoped for a straight forward journey back, but rather like the film Return to Oz I was in the realms of fantasy. At the airport in Sydney I end up getting collared by the Australian Immigration department, who take me off to a little room to quiz me on why I have been entering and exiting their country so much. When I ask what the problem is, the response is a very aggressive “Why do you have a problem with us asking you a few questions?” My reply that, “I don’t, but I didn’t check my intelligence in with my bags and surely have a right to ask what is going on” is not at all well received.

Apparently the terms of the only visa they were willing to give me upon entering Australia insisting that I do exactly that, because I can only stay for ninety consecutive days each time I visit within the year my visa covers, is not sufficient grounds for them to let me into the country. The result being that I have to show them my blog which strongly suggests I have not been working previously, but I am still forced to sign into my bank accounts online to demonstrate that I have the ability to finance the rest of my stay in the country if I want to be let in. I am also warned about undertaking any TV or Radio interviews in relation to my travels, because that would result in deportation! What a lovely welcome!

BayswaterI receive a far more pleasant greeting from Kathleen who is waiting for me on the other side of customs, after flying down from Lismore to join me for a few days.

The next hurdle is paying for the hire car I have arranged through Bayswater Car Rental for the next ten days. I have done so in order to get to beaches and help get anything I don’t need to the post office so it can be sent home. My extortionate Long Island Ice Tea tab in Fiji has created a cash flow problem (that didn’t look too helpful at immigration), which can only be resolved by waking my sister up in the middle of a school night back in the UK to ask her to transfer funds into one of my accounts. Thankfully she is willing to help despite the hour of day and we can collect the car, which was very cheap deal but absolutely stinks of cigarettes. Groucho Marx must have been the last person to hire it!

Sydney southern beachesThe airport in Sydney is south of the city so to maximise fun time and minimise travel time we are basing ourselves around the southern beaches while Kathleen is in town. There are many breaks that I haven’t surfed in that area too.

We are booked into a room at the Coogee Bay Hotel right on the sea front in Coogee. (By the way when you see hotel in Australia think pub, many do not even have rooms, but almost all will have a bookmakers on site.) The Coogee Bay Hotel is quite a famous venue for seeing gigs and comedians, but we are not going to catch anything while we are here, preferring to just take advantage of the seven bars and two bottle shops which the hotel operates.

Share

WP_20130917_011After my session at Cloudbreak I get to enjoy one more glorious sunset by the pool bar at Sonaisali before I get up early in order to catch my early morning flight back to Sydney. I don’t however enjoy my bar tab which I have to settle upon checking out. I was only here for four nights but have to stump up nearly 900 Fijian dollars, which is nearly 300 pounds! It included my surf trips and a bit of internet access, but that is taking the piss!

It is a shame because the spirit and friendly welcome you get everywhere in Fiji is without comparison the best I have received anywhere on my travels. The ‘Bula’ spirit is like nothing I have seen anywhere in the world. The locals won’t be pocketing any of that money, and it taints so much of their great hospitality upon departure. Shame.

Share

Ramon NavarroThe Volcom Pro at Cloudbreak is another of the annual stops on the ASP tour. This wave was my primary reason for wanting to visit Fiji.

The surf here can sometimes be massive too, as this entrant from the Billabong XXL competition can testify to. As a consequence I know I am going to have to be at the top of my game to surf well here.

TavaruaThe rights to surf the waves here used to be owned exclusively by the nearby heart-shaped private island resort of Tavarua. It kept crowds down in the water but inevitably meant that far too many waves went unridden.

However a recent change in the law by the Fijian government has opened up the waves to anybody who can get out to them. Even enthusiastic amateurs like myself.

Cloudbreak Wave 2The waves at Cloudbreak are absolutely cranking upon our arrival with guys dropping into waves that are well overhead, and the standard of surfing is set by two guys landing 360 airs on consecutive waves whilst we secure the boat to an anchor bouy.

On this day I have already surfed twice so take a moment to read the action of the break before getting in. Whilst waiting I am not over the moon to see another one of the sea snakes that had caused so much havoc at Waidroka swimming through the water between me and the line up. I decide to add a rash vest for protection from it and the sun before leaping over the side of the boat, but sadly it was no help at all with all the sea lice that seemed to be stinging me for fun as I paddled through a patch of water they were hanging out in.

DCIM103GOPROOnce past the lice ridden water I decided the only way to go at this break was to paddle straight into the line up and go for it. However when I dug deep for the first wave coming my way, I got to my feet but could not get the board down the face of it. Instead I bobbled along the top of the crest trying to stamp on the nose to get it to drop in.

It didn’t work though and turning round to paddle back out my heart sinks when I see it was the first wave of a monster set and I am about to get a flogging. I am completely caught inside and any efforts at paddling towards the unbroken section will just result in a collision with guys charging the subsequent waves, as you see here. I have no choice but to just take getting hit on the head by the whole set.

UnderwaterThe first wave rips the board out of my arms and drags me bodily backwards towards the reef. The second will only do the same thing so I leave the board trailing behind me and try to dive under the white water.

As this picture demonstrates I am immediately clear on how close to the reef I am when I try to do this. The crystal clear space between the reef and the bottom of the white water is little more than a foot deep so I adopt a Superman pose and try to swim through the available keyhole! I actually manage the manoeuvre quite effectively, and am unharmed despite overhead Cloudbreak washing over me with my face inches from the reef. The success is short lived though because after three waves the surfboard leash is ripped right off my leg by the power of the wave pulling on the board, sending it careering over the reef behind me with the camera still attached to the nose.

Cloudbreak TowerI know I am very unlikely to see either the board or the camera in the same state again but have bigger concerns at the moment because I now have to swim my own way out of trouble and back to the boat, acutely aware that my route will take me back through the last known spot where the Banded Sea Krait was seen. I didn’t panic though and cutting out sideways to the direction the waves are breaking I am quickly through the worst of it. Thankfully one of the Aussies in the water paddles over to allow me a breather hanging off the front of his board and I am soon back on the Fijian Surf boat.

Now we have to take the big boat around the back of the reef and the observation tower on top of it, to try and collect my board which appears to have been washed off the back. All aboard are spread out to minimise the draft of the boat and this video should give you some idea of how little water we had to work with! Amazingly after an hour of manually dragging the boat across the reef we get the board back and there is not a scratch on it or the camera and even more importantly, me! The time to collect the board did cost me the rest of my opportunity to surf here though.

DCIM100GOPROI had really wanted to surf well here, so despite all of the above decide straight away to go back for a second bite at the break the next day. 

After all the fun I had with the reef the day before I opted for wearing my helmet and boots for the second session which is admittedly a tad smaller than the day before.

As you can see I did much better, but the wave itself is unbelievably fast. I dropped into a hand full of waves but couldn’t keep up with the breaking shoulder. Charging it on an 8 foot fun board was a unique experience I’m sure!

DCIM102GOPROCloudbreak is sometimes known as Crowd-break because it can be so busy, but there was little more than a dozen people in the water for this session, and making sure I chose my waves carefully I picked off a few screamers.

However everyone wants a great wave here and somebody couldn’t resist one of the waves I was riding, dropping in right in front of me. I tried to turn up the face and punch through the lip, but only succeeded in falling off when the board was above my head and already going over the falls, soon to be followed by my good self getting rolled over the top. This resulted in the leash getting wrapped around my throat and then being pulled tight as the board got dragged in towards the reef. Getting garrotted by your own surfboard is not an experience I would recommend!

DCIM100GOPROThe result of this was getting caught inside once again and the rest of the set clobbering me in turn. After my previous experience here there was no way I was going to let go of my surfboard today. As a result I had to put up with each wave washing me further across the reef, with me trying to skip across the top of it in my booties.

The Aussies who had earlier christened me ‘The Reef Whisperer’ felt that a new name was in order as a consequence, so for the rest of the session I was known as ‘The Reef Dancer’. You can see my fancy footwork here.

DCIM102GOPROAfter one major flogging I decided to quit while I was ahead. I figured having surfed overhead cloudbreak on a 8 foot board without snapping it, or putting a scratch on myself I had done well enough to be satisfied with the sessions I had enjoyed.

Despite all the issues listed above I can’t believe I have bagged Cloudbreak on my travels. I was so chuffed about it as you can see.

Share

WilkesA short trip across a deep water channel from Namotu is Wilkes Pass. The right hand reef break there can be world class, and again there were some awesome shoulder high sets peeling off the reef.

Nobody needed any persuasion to jump over the side here because the waves were so good. I haven’t surfed a decent right in ages so I was itching to catch my share of forehand fun.

DCIM101GOPROWe were warned however that the reef high was quite a bit sharper and closer to the surface by the Fijian Surf guides.

I can confirm this by riding a little too long on the first wave I caught. The water is so clear that you can see every contour of the reef below you as you skim across the face of the waves. The reef gets ever closer to the surface with every turn you make along the line of the wave.

DCIM100GOPROI got so close to one wave that a group of Aussie surfers I have met at Sonaisali who were out on the other Fijian Surf boat nicknamed me ‘The Reef Whisperer’. That particular episode cost me a chunk out of one of the fins!

You see me here after surfacing and grabbing the board, paddling like a man possessed to avoid ending up washed right on top of the reef by the following wave.

Nobody wanted to stay in long here though because we were all more interested in Cloudbreak a few miles away.

Share

Namotu AirAfter my skin-full of Long Island Iced Teas you can imagine how special I was feeling getting up at 7am to meet the surf boat run by Fijian Surf. However after signing a disclaimer saying that I knew I was taking my life in my hands, myself and a number of others set out into the Pacific in search of waves.

Despite being several miles out to sea from the mainland free WiFi was available on the little boat which took us to the break, through which we were able to watch live coverage of the Huxley Pro taking places at Trestles in California. (Airports, hotels, hostels, etc of the world please take note!)

Namotu LeftsNamotu is the boutique island resort which you see above and our skipper suggested that we try a few waves there to warm up.

The lefts breaking off the islands coral reef were amazing and there were only a handful of surfers in the water. Although two of them were on Stand Up Paddle boards and were being rather too greedy about how many waves they were catching.

DCIM101GOPRODespite feeling pretty rough I went straight over the side of the boat and was soon sobering up by osmosis in the tropical water, which was warm enough for surfing in shorts once more. Aside from a strong current along the reef there was nothing else to be worried about.

The take offs were surprisingly mellow and I had quickly dropped down the face of some fun waves which were about shoulder high before snaking all the way along the line.

I had decided to catch one more before returning to the boat and keen to make the most of it, kept riding the wave for far too long. There was coral sticking out of the water around me by the time I bailed off, thankfully managing to hit a spot where there was a slightly deeper pool to fall into. I managed to scrape the board off the reef without any significant damage and paddle back to the boat where everybody soon joined me before we all moved on to the next break.

Share

Fiji TimeI am itching to go and surf some of the world class waves breaking on the outlying islands that are close by, but my efforts to sort out a surf trip are falling foul of the Sonaisali staff adopting ‘Fiji Time’.

There has been an equivalent phrase for the apathetic approach to anything in almost every country I have visited in the tropics. It must be something to do with being far too hot to be rushing anything.

StressedI MUST get out to the waves though and am not really in the mood for it today. I spend about four hours chasing my tail being denied at every turn only to end up back with the first person I spoke to who said they do in fact arrange surf trips for guests, even though that is the exact opposite of what they told me at the start of my quest. #$%&!!!!

All of which means a whole day was wasted getting hot under the collar when I should have been enjoying myself on the beach or at the pool bar.

Long-Island-Ice-TeaI eventually roll up at the pool bar more than a tad wound up. Tiana serving me there, says she has just the drink for me to take the edge off. A Long Island Iced Tea mixes equal measures of vodka, gin, tequila, rum, and triple sec with one and a half measures of sour mix and a splash of cola. The drink has the same amber hue as iced tea, and my first one disappears before I have realised it.

“Of course I will have another” is my answer for far too long at the bar whilst I am getting to know all the other families and couples staying here. I had a fantastic evening but only realise I have had too many when I nearly fall off my stool at the bar on my way to the toilet. I also appear to have lost to ability to speak without slurring badly. Later investigation of my hotel bill show I had imbibed at least six of these bad boys, which explains a lot!

Apart from learning that my name would be Roverte in Fijian it is no surprise that I didn’t manage to get much done during this evening.

Share

Aerial IslandFor the rest of my time in Fiji I am staying at Sonaisali. It is a private resort on the island of Naisali a few hundred metres off the western coast of Viti Levu.

Two thirds of the island is Mangrove swamp and the rest is utilised by this exclusive holiday destination.

WP_20130916_012Thanks to the Surf Travel Company back in Australia I have a fantastic room waiting for me there.

Apart from choosing which of the double beds in my room I will sleep in each night, I am particularly impressed with having my own bath. I haven’t been able to have a long soak in about ten months, and that it is sufficiently big that I can wallow in it for ages without causing a Tsunami like moment in the room downstairs is an added bonus.

Pool BarI am on a deal in which all my meals are included. Most are enjoyed in the restaurant looking out over the pool.

The food is fantastic and there is always so much to eat. As if the three huge meals per day were not enough, I can also enjoy afternoon tea every day should I so desire.

WP_20130919_056My bar tab is my own problem though and this picture of me taken one evening by the pool bar, enjoying the fantastic sunsets that occur on this western facing coast was taken before it caught up on me.

More on that to follow.

WP_20130919_059In addition to extorting more money from me for wanting to take advantage of the slow internet access that is only available in the lobby, the gift shop in the resort also sells these dolls.

They are based on the locals, who put on shows every night in the resort dressed in similar traditional outfits.

Should they be offensive or not? I can’t decide. Fiji is so laid back I don’t think they would think it at all patronising, but I don’t think carrying one on a bus in Peckham would be wise.

Share

Going CannibalIt is time for me to travel back across to the western side of Viti Levu. My journey is broken up by a stop at a shop selling Fijian crafts items. However I cant resist buying a couple of traditional war clubs as souvenirs of my time in the islands.

The one on the right is called a neck breaker and the one on the left is a skull smasher. Both would be used to kill and then break up conquered foes before sticking them in the cooking pot. Either may come in handy for my next run in with a telecoms or airline company.

Share

WP_20130915_004All trips out to sea from Waidroka start with a tentative cruise out through this shallow channel in the reef in front of the resort. The space around the boat at low tide is staggeringly small.

Today I am heading out to the break known as Pipe, but discover that I missed some entertainment on the boat that had gone out to Frigates when I was chilling out on shore the day before, because the waters around Fiji are home to a great number of sea snakes. A Banded Sea Krait which you see here is amphibious but likes to find a cosy spot to curl up and digest their food. 

Banded KraitAmusingly a favourite hideaway for them here is the life jacket locker on the boat, and one of the aussies got the fright of his life when retrieving the jackets to pad the boards for the journey out to sea, because he was met by two of them not pleased to see him.

These snakes are very docile and have small mouths, making it very difficult to bite the largeness that is a human being. However even a small amount of their venom contains neurotoxins & myotoxins that cause paralysis and muscle tissue breakdown that will drop a man dead in 6-12 hours, so they are no laughing matter. Despite this I am a little disappointed to have missed the mania which entailed some people trying to catch them by their tails and throw them overboard whilst everybody else scattered around the boat and attempted to climb up on the roof!

WP_20130915_017I am joined for the short boat ride out to Pipe by a group of Hawaiians who have arrived at the resort. Everybody checks under their seat before sitting down for the journey out to the local reef.

They are a good crowd and I have lots of fun chatting to them about their favourite breaks back home, many of which I have surfed earlier on this trip.

PipeWe have a few delays getting out to the reef, and the wind is really on the shoulder high waves rolling around it. This puts me off diving over the side with everybody else to get in amongst the swell.

I can’t really explain why, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a surf today. Despite that I still enjoyed being out on the water for a few hours watching some of the guys snag a few brief barrels and charge down the line. 

Share

WP_20130914_040Saturday night is Lovo Night at Waidroka. It starts with a traditional Sevusevu ceremony, where protocol dictates you sit cross legged facing the chief and the large wooden bowl called the Tanoa in which the Kava is prepared.

Kava is a mild analgesic, diuretic and stress reliever, the consumption of which makes your tongue tingly, your body lethargic and your head fuzzy! It is made from the root of a plant in the pepper family. It is part of the way of life in Fiji in much the same way a cup of tea would be back in the UK and always involved in any island diplomacy.

Mixing-kava-in-the-tanoaTraditionally it is prepared by young virgins chewing the root into a pulpy mass and then spitting it into the Tanoa. However things have moved on a bit and you now buy it in powdered form from the supermarket! The powder is placed in a cloth and then dipped in the Tanoa’s water where it is massaged and squeezed until the beverage is ready, much like a tea bag.

When you are presented with the Bilo (a coconut shell cup) it is expected that you clap once with cupped hands, say “Bula” (which is a word with many meaning in Fijian e.g. hello, cheers and have a good day?) as a statement of gratitude and then quaff the whole lot down in one go like a very large tequila shot. It genuinely tastes like spiced soil, but it is incredibly impolite to behave in any way other than you have just enjoyed the nectar of the gods! Once finished you hand the Bilo back you clap three times in the same way saying “Bula” once more, shortly before your lips go numb.

WP_20130914_031It would seem that this goes on until all the Kava is consumed or everybody passes out, but after a bucket full of it I make my excuses and wander, a tad uneasily, over to see what is going on at the Lovo Pit.

The Fijian staff have built a fire around coral rock so that the pumice stones will retain all the heat once the fire is removed. The pyromaniac in me wants to get involved but I first have to shore up all the windows to my bungalow which happens to be next to the pit, and results in it smelling like November 5th in there for the rest of my stay.

WP_20130914_045Once the fire is removed all the food that is going to go into this form of earth oven is wrapped in banana and palm leaves.

These parcels are placed on top of the hot stones in the pit and everything is then buried in soil. The food is left to bake there for an hour.

WP_20130914_050A Bilo or two of Kava later I staggered into the main area where all the food was presented as a glorious banquet.

As usual I had eyes bigger than my stomach but couldn’t resist all the pork, chicken, fish and baked vegetables. I did revert back to the local beers to enjoy with my meal for a number of hours though.

Safe to say I slept well this night!

Share
css.php