Bats noisily chirping to each other as they suck the nectar from the flowering trees behind us, Irie, Guava Jelly and Bodhran lie rafted together in a sweet little anchorage while a low pressure system rolls overhead. Doris, Hannah, Riki and I had skiffed through this little hole 3 weeks ago. Awed by the steep walls, clear water and beautiful coral, we idly chatted about trying to squeeze one of the big boats back in here. The arrival of Christian and V on Irie turned idyl chat into a mission.
Shallow, clear water combined with dramatic rock formations and caves make the Bay of Islands in Vanua Balavu one of the top anchorages that I’ve visited. Irie had taken a detour to Namuka-I-Lau when Guava and I sailed up here, so Riki and I had a week to explore the bay and get to know the good people of the head village on the island, Dalaconi, before he got here.
Classic shot of the Bay of Islands from our first anchorage
Guava in the Bay of Islands at Sunrise
Fruit bats regularly fly past at sunset and sunrise
Sweet first anchorag from Bodhran's mast
Riki had been here last year and we warmly welcomed into the village. Not that we aren’t always warmly welcomed into Fijian villages, but it’s special when the people already know you. Few cruisers go back and retrace their steps. We didn’t spend too much time in town, but we did make the trip to Loma Loma to pick up some meager groceries. Of course we also spent a few nights drinking kava and playing music and we came back to the village again when Irie came in to do their sevusevu. I’m afraid that I’m going to give Dalaconi short shrift here. I did get some great pics and had some good times there, but we’ve got to get back to that mission.
Laca and Sam's bure or "pub"
Sam and Laca, our hosts in Dalaconi
Love the girls jumping each other in the surf
How to capture that kind of joy?
House on the beach in Dalaconi
My little shadows on thier jungle gym
The fellas building a new house
Irie anchored off Dalaconi
Welcome dinner on Irie with all thier seafood from Namuka I Lau
The three boats made their way back up to the Bay of Islands 5 miles to the north. The next day Christian, V and I went out fishing/dinghy exploring. We went through that same little hole that Doris, Hannah, Riki and I had gone through a week before. This time Christian pretty much decided that he was going to get Irie in there. I’ve been thinking about staying in Fiji during cyclone season this year and it’d be valuable to scout this place out as a hurricane hole.
This is the pass that we'll take Irie through tomorrow. Notice all the coral through the reflection
Geza and Eva with a coral grouper
Exploring all the nooks and crannies by dinghy
Beautiful lighting as the sun goes down
Irie beneath that dramatic sunset
Riki fishing on his way back to the boats
The next day at high tide, we made it happen. Armed with a hand held depth sounder and my camera, V and I took off in the skiff to scout/document the way in. Riki climbed aboard Irie and started playing guitar. For some reason that didn’t seem to help, so he climbed up Irie’s mast to help spot coarl heads.
It should be mentioned here that Irie is not a particularly maneuverable vessel. She’s a 33′ steel bath tub with a big keel running her entire length. She draws a moderate 5′, but if we needed to turn sharply, it’d be all over. Prior planning was the key. Too bad I was busy taking pictures instead of measuring depths. Actually we’d scouted the route ahead of time. It all looks very tight, but there were only two spots where the passage underwater was really cramped. Christian has been at sea for many years now and calmly navigated these constrictions like they were wide channels.
Christian decided on a nice sandy patch after the second constriction to drop the anchor. Once it was set, Riki looped a stern line around a tree and brought it back to Irie. The anchor wasn’t quite in the right place, so Christian and Riki worked as a team snorkeling down the 15 feet to the bottom to shift the anchor and chain to just the right spot. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a 45lb anchor set by hand! Once everything was set and a few celebratory beers were drunk, it was Guava’s turn to come over.
Hey Riki, shouldn't you be up the mast?
Hmmm? that looks a little close
Irie running the coral gauntlet
A surprisingly calm Christian
Through the worst of it now
The right side of this pic was the short route that Guava and Bodhran would take
There’s no pics of Guava or Bodhran coming in, but we scouted a shorter route to the anchorage for the other boats. It looked like there was more coral on this route, but it was deeper and much shorter. I climbed Guava’s ratlines while Christian hung out in the water with his mask to mark the shallow points. Just like that Guava was in and rafted up along Irie. The tide had come in, so Bodhran anchored outside for the night. The next morning Riki came out to help me in. The wind was blowing and it was pouring rain, but by now this was old hat. All three boats came in without incident and no coral was harmed in the making of our raft.
We spent a week rafted up in that sweet little anchorage. Bodhran was only 10 feet off the rocks, but we were surrounded by hill on all 4 sides and the wind barely touched us. Derrick and Allison off Kalida and Geza and Eva off Rotor were still anchored outside, but came over for a potluck. We all went snorkeling together through a cave in one of the islets that had a large air pocket in it. Geza and Eva donated their longboard so we could tow it behind Christian’s dinghy. I can’t believe that I didn’t get any “skurfing” (skiff surfing) pics, but good fun was had by all.
Bodhran's a bit close to the rocks
Nice and snug up in the little bay
Christian firing up the BBQ
V drawing on the foredeck
Bats feeding on nectar high above our raft
Geza and I providing some entertainment
Only decent pic from snorkeling the cave
One day we decided to bushwhack up the hill behind us. The rock all along the bay is very sharp and jagged and the jungle is dense and foreboding, but Christian thought that he spied a mango tree up there. If one of us was going to be here during cyclone season, it’d be valuable to know if there was fruit in the neighborhood. So V dropped us off on the shore at the head of our little bay and Riki, Christian and I set off with our machetes and cane knife to scout the hillside.
V picking us up from our expedition
Me with my trusty cane knife
Lagoon on the left, Bay of Islands on the right
Christian taking out some agression with the machete
We immediately found a sweet little cave on shore, so I had to climb in and take pictures from it. From there we ascended up to the base of the “mango” tree. The consensus is that it’s not a mango tree, but looks like a mango tree and still could be a mango tree. By this time we were already ¾ of the way to the top, so we pushed on and were rewarded by a view looking out over the outside lagoon with a distinctly good looking wall for snorkeling.
So the next day was snorkeling outside on that wall, which was indeed pretty spectacular. In total Riki and I spent over three weeks in Vanua Balavu. The fishing was good. The scenery was great. The people are as good as anywhere in Fiji. Huge fruit bats greeted us at the end of each day and chirped us to sleep at night. All that would have been great on it’s own, but a big thanks to Christian for having the drive to try and get us back into that spot. Finding a spot like that made Vanua Balavu truly special.
Christian checking out what he though was a slug, but ended up being coral
Christian and some colorful tube worms
Closer view of those tube worms