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Suva to Kadavu

Written by Cathy Siegismund
June 2003

After several hours of the checking-in procedure, Ken decided to lay low on the boat while I went ashore to explore town. We were anchored out quite far from the Royal Suva Yacht Club, but with our new 8hp outboard, we could plane to shore together and make these longer dinghy rides much faster.

Felicity anchored in Suva Harbour

Ken dropped me off at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. I spent the afternoon getting the lay of the land and heading to town to buy some fresh food and send our overdue update email, so all of our friends and family would know we arrived safely.

The Royal Suva Yacht Club, which was founded over 40 years ago, has a limited number of stern tie dock berths in the small marina, but has quite a nice club house, restaurant, fuel, water and other facilities which cruisers desire after arriving from a passage. All overseas boats, even those anchored in the harbor, can join the yacht club by paying a daily rate, which gives you full use of the club facilities. I'm not sure how the rate is calculated, either by boat size or number of crew, but for us it worked out to be just under $5 Fijian per day, which seemed like quite a good deal. The club is very clean and professionally run, and is a short cab ride, about $2.00 Fijian, or bus ride, about $0.45 Fijian, into downtown Suva.

Royal Suva Yacht Club

The club has quite a good restaurant, a bar with TV, which of course played the rugby, pool tables, book exchange, a cash machine, phones, a fax machine, a lounge area, outdoor seating and a little bure bar with music on the weekends. It also apparently has an active race club, but not being racers we didn't investigate this.

Evening socializing at the Royal Suva Yacht Club

Your yacht club fee also entitles you to use the free showers, sometimes with hot water, one large washer and dryer for $3.50 Fijian each; tokens can be purchased at the bar. If you choose to send your laundry out to be done, Monday through Saturday you can drop it off at the office Monday through Saturday by 0830 and it will be back that same evening by around 1700. The laundry was nicely done, folded and secured in a large plastic bag. It is charged by weight, and although I'm not sure of the charge per kilo, when we arrived we dropped off two enormous duffle bags, which I could hardly lift, full of salty, soggy, heavy fleece, blankets and sheets and it cost $38.00 Fijian. I thought that was a heck of a good deal.

After joining the yacht club for the week, I took a cab into town and checked email and sent our arrival update. We had had some problems keeping a reliable connection via our SSB radio on passage, so we did go a few days without an update. We had always heard that Suva was a big dirty city, with a filthy harbor and really should be skipped if possible when entering Fiji. While some of these things are true (e.g. the harbor is quite dirty and we chose not to run our watermaker), overall we enjoyed our stay in Suva. The city is large, with a population of approximately 167,000, and bustling; the city has some nice parks, and a variety of architecture from the 1960 box-like office buildings, to mosques, to old colonial hotels. The people were helpful and friendly. There was a very large market and several decent grocery stores. There were a number of Internet cafes; Cafe Connect was the one we particularly liked with a fast connection and air conditioning. There was a very nice Village 6 cinema that was as nice as any we found in North America, Australia or New Zealand, and some nice cafe's and restaurants.

Downtown Suva

After a few hours of exploring Suva, I returned to the yacht club and had a celebratory arrival beer with some other recent arrivals from New Zealand while I waited for Ken to pick me up in the dink. After the usual adrenaline rush of making landfall, we crashed early on the boat having a quiet dinner and watching a DVD.

The next day, Ken joined me for further explorations of Suva. We dropped off our giant duffle bags of laundry, and first took a short cab ride over to the Tradewinds Hotel, where the Aggressor boat is berthed. It was Saturday, the turnover day for the liveaboard dive boat, and we decided to go see if we could get a look at the boat we would be joining at the end of the month. The Tradewinds was a nicely renovated older hotel, which will also let yachts moor off the hotel and use its facilities, space permitting. The Aggressor boat was being cleaned so we grabbed breakfast at the hotel, and then got a tour of the boat. It is quite nice and should be terrific for diving. The boat is about 100 feet long, only takes ten guests on each trip and has six crew and staff.

As it was a nice comfortable day, we headed into Suva to explore. We spent some more time in the Internet cafe, answering emails and checking the weather. We had a little cause for concern when we received an email from Bob McDavitt that a very late season tropical storm, Gina, was headed for Fiji. Our concerns were fortunately never realized, however, as the storm fizzled out and only caused some cool, rainy days in Suva. These days actually were a little hard to distinguish from most other days in Suva, as the eastern side of the Fijian Islands are very rainy, and it seemed to be squally and rainy almost every afternoon and night.

Since we had some boat projects to complete and the weather looked like it was going to be uncooperative for at least a week, I wanted to find a gym so I could work out. As we were looking for this, we were stopped by a nice elderly Fijian man, "Rocky" short for a Fijian name we couldn't pronounce or remember, with about four teeth. He asked where we were from, how long we had been in Suva, and if we had seen the parliament buildings. We of course hadn't, so he spent nearly the next hour giving us a walking tour. He showed us the statue commemorating Cokobau, Fiji's head chief, giving Fiji to Britain in 1874. This statue sits in front of the parliament buildings where the 1987 coup occurred. This coup was the culmination of civil unrest and tensions between the indigenous Fijians and the Indian populations who had been brought to Fiji nearly 100 years ago as indentured laborers to work the cotton, sugar and coconut plantations. The 1987 coup resulted in Fiji declaring itself a republic and it being dismissed from the Commonwealth. Fiji's politics are complex and have been somewhat volatile. Fiji is a truly a melting pot of cultures, with the large Indian and native Fijian populations, there are also other South Pacific islanders, Asians, and Europeans all living in relatively small urban centers with a mix of cultures and religions. It has caused Fiji problems, but also makes it such an interesting place. In 1997, General Rabuka, leader of the 1987 coup, apologized to Queen Elizabeth and Fiji was re-admitted to the Commonwealth. Since then, there have been two additional coups, one which resulted in several deaths in 2000.

Government House in Fiji with statue of Cokobau

After our history lesson from Rocky, he proceeded to show us Albert Park. This is a little known, but significant location in aviation history. Charles Kingsford Smith was the first aviator to fly across the Pacific from California to Australia in 1928. He first stopped in Hawaii. The next leg to Fiji was the longest, and there was some concern if he would even be able to find Fiji. As Fiji had no airport, after Kingsford Smith had left Hawaii, the Fijians were still cutting down trees in Albert Park to create a landing strip for Smith's Fokker, the Southern Cross. Rocky then walked us down to the corner of Thurston Gardens the location of the Fiji Museum and the new parliament complex protected by the impressively dressed Government House guard. After spending close to an hour with us, Rocky very sheepishly pulled some rough woodcarvings out of a plastic bag he was carrying. He seemed very embarrassed about presenting these for sale and made a point of showing us his government license to sell crafts. We quite consciously paid way too much for these carvings, but felt the Suva tour and Rocky's commentary were worth it.

We continued exploring Suva, checking out movie show times and exploring some of the tourist shops. Suva was all a buzz over the upcoming South Pacific Games (SPG) in late June and early July. The SPG, a sort of Olympic games for all of the South Pacific Islands, from Hawaii, to New Zealand, to Australia and everything in between. Ken had gotten a haircut, and the salon was selling tickets for a performance by a girls secondary school at the civic center to celebrate the upcoming SPG. We picked up a pair of tickets for the following Wednesday night.

Wednesday night, we took a cab to the civic center. The audience seemed to be devoid of tourists and mostly filled with the parents and friends of the secondary school girls. The performance was sponsored and had first rate costumes and was very well done. The theme was to celebrate the diverse cultures of Fiji, primarily native Fijian, Indian and Asian cultures through the telling of myths and legends with narrated stories and dance. There were also a series of acts telling significant stories of other countries taking part in the SPG, including stories from Hawaii, the Cook islands, New Zealand, Tonga, and Tahiti.





A first rate performance by a Suva all girls secondary school, celebrating the start of the 2003 South Pacific Games

We spent the next few days exploring Suva more and doing boat projects. Ken couldn't resist a visit to McDonalds, the inescapable US landmark at nearly every major town in the South Pacific.

Ken buying a less-than-traditional Fijian lunch

We attended several movies, figuring it may be a while until we could enjoy the cinema experience. We spent a couple of nights in the yacht club playing pool or enjoying a cool drink.

Ken in the Royal Suva Yacht Club

It's always fun to explore the large markets, which are filled with all sorts of fresh produce, fish, and in this case huge bags of exotic spices.

Women outside selling taro and other locally grown vegetables


Huge bags of various beans and colorful spices in the local market

Cath buying some potatoes from a market vendor

One of the items we needed to buy before heading out to the smaller islands was to purchase Yaqona, commonly called Kava. This was an important part of their old religion when it was only used by chiefs and priests. Today it is as much a social activity. Kava is the dried root of a type of pepper plant. The roots are dried, pounded into a powder and then mixed with water to make a mildly intoxicating drink as part of the Kava Ceremony.

All land, including the bays and reefs, in Fiji is owned by someone. When making landfall in a port city, there is no real concern, but when anchoring off a village, the first thing you do when you go ashore is to find the chief. In Michael Calder's book "A Yachtsman's Fiji" he does a good job of explaining the how and why of the presentation of Kava. It should not be viewed as a payment to use the land, but as a ceremonial presentation and a mark of respect to the chief. When you find the chief, the present, or sevusevu, is placed on the floor in front of the chief or person receiving it. You do not hand it to him. This gives him the chance to refuse the gift, if he picks up the gift he accepts it and welcomes you to his village and thus allows you to use his land, water, reef, and you become the guest of the village. You then may be invited to partake in a Kava ceremony.

Ken buying several bunches of Yaqona or Kava for gifts as we travel through Fiji

One of our favorite parts of cruising is collecting art and crafts from the different islands we visit. Since the Marquesas, we have amassed a fairly large collection of woodcarvings which I think we easily doubled after our visit to the Suva Craft Market. Jacks Handicrafts is the largest tourist shop and with t-shirts, sulus (AKA pareos or sarongs), and some nice woodcarvings. However, it has a rather sterile and mass produced feeling to it. We looked there first, then headed to the Handicraft Centre, which has row after row of vendor stalls selling tapas, basket work, woodcarvings and various trinkets and souvenirs.

After roaming all the stalls, we found four shops that had items we liked. After some bargaining, some more or less successful, we had bought a woven bamboo basket, a large cannibal fork, and one of the large weapons. We had saved the store, Shop 24, which had most of the items we liked for last. The owner of the shop was Hirdesh Prasad, the shop had been started by his father and he had then taken it over. The family had been selling carvings around for over 30 years. Prasad was helpful and had some really beautiful pieces. His carvings weren't the cheapest but we did do a bit of bargaining as we bought quite a few items. Prasad had a Fijian fellow helping in his shop, Max (which we later learned was his nickname for his Fijian name Mesake). By the time we had selected and paid for all of our carvings, the craft market was closing (it closes at 1pm on Saturdays), and in typical Suva fashion there was a torrential downpour outside. Prasad got his car and he and Mesake drove us back to the yacht club. We enjoyed a couple of beers and they told us about Fiji, the carvers in the Lau group (the eastern group of Fijian Islands) and life in Suva.

Prasad, Ken, Cath, and Mesake at the Suva Yacht Club after our big day of shopping

Mesake asked us if Ken and I had done the kava ceremony. We told him we had tasted it at a hotel when we had flown to Fiji the year before, but had not taken part in the entire ceremony. He invited us to his village, Suvavou (New Suva), which was only about a 10 minute taxi ride from the yacht club. We were to meet him at the village sign at 1630, "European time" which means be prompt as opposed to "Fiji time." Our taxi driver seemed to think we were being a bit foolish getting dropped off in outskirts of Suva after dark and told us to be careful of the youths. This seemed to be a completely unnecessary warning. We were soon met by Mesake and we walked down a dirt road into his village to his house. His house was modest but clean; it was basically two rooms, one being the kitchen area and the other having 3 beds and an open living room area with two chairs and a TV. The floor was covered with a large woven pandanus mat. We weren't sure how many people lived there, but we were given a warm welcome by Mesake's friends and family, including his mother and his girlfriend. Every side of the house has open windows and the sleeping areas can be curtained off for privacy and have mosquito netting knotted above them. Mesake told us they build the houses this way to take advantage of any breeze that may blow from any direction. With the open house the breeze keeps the house cooler on hot days. Of course, on this evening Max and his friends were somewhat bundled up due to the "cold" weather they were having.

Before we went to visit, we had read up in Lonely Planet about Fijian etiquette so as not to offend. During some of our shopping in Suva Ken had bought a sulu. I talked him into wearing this when we went to Mesake's. We took a bundle of Yaqona for a sevusevu and we both wore our sulus and collared shirts. We took our shoes off at the door, and then were somewhat embarrassed by being seated in the only two chairs in the room, while everyone else sat on the floor. We were introduced to everyone in the house though all of the friends, cousins, brothers, sisters, and children's names were a bit of a blur. All of the women, except me, and the smaller children sat in the kitchen, while the men started making the kava drink. The chief was not around, so Ken presented the sevusevu to the most senior man in the house, though we're not sure how this was determined. The guys were all dressed in board shorts or jeans and t-shirts, and trying their best to be incredibly polite (as we've found most Pacific Islanders to be) informed Ken that his sulu was a little formal for some casual Saturday night kava drinking. They told him it was a business sulu worn in the office or at church. Some Fijian is spoken as the kava is prepared, in the large distinctive-shaped kava bowl, or tanoa. After the kava is made, by pouring water into a cloth filled with the powdered Yaqona root and repeatedly stirred with two half coconut shell cups it is ready for drinking. The resulting concoction looks and somewhat tastes like muddy water. The chief, or most senior person in attendance, is the first to drink. The recipient claps once, and takes the cup from the person mixing the kava. Once you have taken the cup you cannot set it down, and once it is raised to your lips you must drink all the contents at once. There's no sipping or chatting once you've been given a cup of kava. After you finish the cup, you had it back to the person mixing kava and clap your hands three times with everyone else, and the mixer says maca! This is pronounced "Matha" and means empty. After the chief, Ken and I as guests drank next, then the rest of the group in attendance had a cup, with the fellow mixing the kava last. There are several other points of etiquette around the kava ceremony, which are very well described in Lonely Planet, Fiji. We then would sit and chat until someone decided it was time for another round.


Mesake on the left helping mixing the Kava

Ken drinking his cup of kava

More and more people kept stopping by Mesake's house and joining the party. A couple of the guys had guitars and were singing Fijian songs. We learned that one of the guys was in the navy and another had spent several years in and out of Seattle working on Alaskan fishing boats. Fijians have a very high literacy rate of about 87% (according to Lonely Planet). Everyone studies English in school so most Fijians are bilingual, and constantly flip between English and Fijian. Mesake told us an interesting fact. He said that sometimes a family member will go overseas to the US, NZ, or Australia for a long period of time to work, and often when he or she returns they no longer remember how to speak Fijian. In this case, the household will then speak English instead of Fijian.

Ken, in his office sulu, and the rest of the guys

Mesake, Cath & Ken

Using the excuse of taking pictures, we finally joined the party on the floor instead of being perched in the only two chairs. Yaqona is a mild narcotic, which gives you a mild buzz and slightly numbs the lips and mouth. Yaqona is actually exported for pharmaceutical uses as a stress reliever. After a couple hours of kava drinking on an empty stomach, Ken and I thanked Mesake and got ready to leave. He invited us to join him the following day to attend church in the village and he would give us a tour of the village. Ken was told by Mesake's mother, who was very cute, that his business sulu would be perfect for church the following day, and that he should wear it with a white shirt.

We took a cab back to the yacht club and returned to the boat. The following morning , we returned to Suvavou and met Mesake at his house at about 0930. He went out to the yard and cut down two coconuts for us and opened them for us to drink. At about 1000 we heard a drum which called the village to church.

Mesake showing us the drum

Mesake's mother, who was in the choir, lent us a Fijian hymn book, which we could just barely follow, let alone sing along. However, despite the entire church service being in Fijian we enjoyed the wonderful singing, and met the minister and chief as the only visitors to the village that day. As usual the village children were adorable and fascinated with Ken and I. Fijian kids are anything but shy and readily run up to you with huge smiles saying Bula! or Hello and wanting to shake your hand.

Ken, Cath, and Mesake touring the village after church

View of Suva harbour from Suvavou

After a walking tour of Suvavou, Mesake invited us back to his house where we were surprised by a large lunch. There was a large table cloth laid on the floor with place settings and several dishes including quite a good curry, rice and juice. We ate with Mesake, his girlfriend, his mother and brother, and a few of the children while watching the rugby.

We really had a wonderful experience, and were delighted to find the renowned Fijian hospitality just outside of Suva, which we had been warned was a place to skip if possible. After lunch we said goodbye with handshakes all around and a big wet kiss from Mesake's mother who was off for more choir practice before the afternoon church service. I think we would have been welcomed to stay the rest of the day, but we had to return to the boat as we were making a short overnight passage to Kadavu (pronounced Kandavu) that night.

Our short overnight passage from Suva to Kadavu

Ken returned to the boat and I went into town to buy some fresh food for our week's stay in Kadavu. Fiji is so large with so many wonderful places to see that you constantly feel like you're missing things. You could spend season after season exploring Fiji and probably still not see it all. Despite several great places to see in Kadavu and Ono with the Astrolabe reef, we decided based on a recommendation from the Aggressor captain to stop at the Dive Kadavu resort. We wanted to do some diving and practice with our new underwater video housing before we set off for a week aboard the Aggressor.

We left Suva at about 2100, with Ken watching radar and the charts and using the well marked range we safely passed through the reef entrance to Suva. We had a nice uneventful sail to Kadavu. As it was only about a 60 mile trip, we arrived before daybreak, so we hove to waiting for dawn so we could enter the pass in the reef. I had emailed the Dive Kadavu Resort with some diving questions. They had promptly replied that yachties were welcome to use the resort and dive with them. I was warned however, that we should expect a crowd as a rally from NZ was also expected to arrive over the next couple of days.

Once the sun started to rise we could see the mountainous island of Kadavu. We had planned to go somewhat out of the way to enter the main reef pass, but soon heard all sorts of discussion on the VHF channel 16 about boats from Dive Kadavu coming out to lead the arriving NZ rally boats in through the smaller and much more direct reef entrance. We soon were being led into the reef by a small fiberglass boat.

Cath on bow watch as we entered the reef in Kadavu

We were showed where to anchor in the small anchorage off the resort and soon were comfortably anchored and putting the boat in order after our short overnighter.

Felicity comfortably anchored off the Dive Kadavu Resort

After catching up on some sleep, we were looking forward to exploring Kadavu and enjoying some of its reportedly wonderful diving.

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