Day 65, Year 2: Bay of Islands to Bavatu (Nabavatu) Bay–Another World
Date: Thursday, June 28, 2007
Weather: Cooler, Drier, Sunnier Weather; Temps in the mid-70’s
Location: Bavatu (Nabavatu) Harbor, Vanua Balavu, Northern Lau Group

We awoke this morning to a gloriously sunny, cooler morning. The humidity was only 70 per cent today, and that made it feel even cooler. What a nice relief from humid, hot weather. We had one little shower during the night and another this morning that left us with a beautiful rainbow. From then on through the day, however, we have had not one little sprinkle. Finally we can open the boat and let the fresh air flow through.

We spent the first part of our morning reviewing notes on cruising in Vanuatu that we have from friends in New Zealand. We wrote notes as people gave us information, but not until this morning have we had time to go back and read those notes to see if they make sense to us. Just as we were finishing that job, Gavin from Chaotic Harmony came over for a visit. He has cruised Vanuatu, and he was able to give us even more information. We have so much more to learn about Fiji that it seems a little premature to be looking ahead to Vanuatu, but with Mark’s brother Steve coming to visit, it is my guess that we won’t look at Vanuatu information again until we are on our way there. So it was good to take a couple of hours to familiarize ourselves with the names of the islands there. Gavin left just before noon, and it was then time for us to pull up anchor and move around to the north side of Vanua Balavu. Leaving “fairyland” was not easy, but then leaving any of the beautiful places we have visited is never easy for me.

It took us close to two hours to make the move around. I think we are either getting braver, or we are getting better at reef sailing, because this trip was not nearly as intense as others we have made recently. We pulled into Balavu Bay and spotted the two mooring balls that Gavin had told us about right away. We also saw a couple of people who looked like they were snorkeling between the mooring balls. We moved in slowly and snagged the line on one of the mooring balls. The bay here is very beautiful, but the first big shock was the building on the shore just next to the moorings. It is a very modern building and at first glance it was obvious that this is the Royal Exploring Isles Yacht Club. There was a proper mast head, a little Hobie Cat type boat on the well manicured lawn, and racks with racing dinghies. But there is no one there. A couple of times a year, the plantation owner, Tony Phip comes here in his 90-foot yacht and the yacht club comes alive. Otherwise, it is just like a figure-head. The two young men in the water come over to the boat and introduced themselves as Iliesa and Sudari. They were spear-fishing and had a nice little catch of about five coral trout, a thick-lipped something or another, and yet another fish that I can’t identify. They asked if they could get in the dinghy to take a rest while we talked, so they climbed in and I handed them a bucket for their fish. They were headed back to the plantation settlement where they live, and since that is where we were going, we all went together. We learned that Fane, the woman we were told we must see in order to obtain permission to use the mooring here and to come ashore, is Iliesa’s wife. Fane’s father was the coconut plantation manager for Tony Philp’s father. The Philps are from Australia and brought this freehold land. At some point, Fane’s father asked Iliesa to come here from another island and work on the plantation. He did and he ended up marrying Fane. When Tony’s father died, he inherited the plantation and now Fane manages the business here for Tony. Her two brothers, Sudari and Nako, and their families, also live in the settlement. We learned all of this while we were riding in the dinghy to shore, and then while we were climbing the 273 steps basically straight up the side of a mountain to the settlement. The steps were done in “switch back” fashion and I was totally breathless by the time we reached the top. We then walked through what looked like an orchard and came to a fenced-in settlement. Everything is trimmed and neatly arranged. There are three homes built of wood with corrugated iron roofing that are painted a light green and curved out nicely to form the roof of a porch on the front of each house. These homes were obviously built to look like original Fijian bures, but have all been done with modern materials. There was a community building that also serves as the church, and the “Sometime Store.” Sudari explained that it should be called the “Most Times Not a Store.” We got a good laugh out of that. We met Fane and asked for permission to use the plantation mooring and visit the settlement. She looked at our paperwork, and asked if we had an invitation to visit the plantation. We did not, so she explained that even though we have permission to visit anywhere in Vanua Balavu, we must have a special invitation to visit private land. She said that she would call Toni to ask for permission, but the settlement generator is not working and her cell phone was not charged. She thought that if she came to the boat, we might be able to charge her phone which would allow her to call Toni. But first, we were invited to have tea and Fijian pancakes and meet Fane and Iliesa’s two boys, Temo and Naibuka. Temo is five and Naibuka is almost three. Naibuka was most curious and he ended up coming back to Windbird with his mother. He is so cute, and Mark and I both really enjoyed having him aboard. We brought Fane’s Nokia cell phone charger with a US plug, but it is obviously faulty. We could get no power to that phone. So we used our SAT phone to have Fane call Toni. He reluctantly gave us permission to visit, but he told Fane that no other cruisers are to be allowed to visit without the proper invitation from him through his Savusavu office. Whew! We made it though on that one.

Tomorrow morning we will walk back up those 273 steps to visit the settlement. Fane will then take us on a tour of Toni’s plantation home that is evidently kept immaculately as it would have been 100 years ago. She will also take us on a walk along the top of the ridge to an overlook where we can see all of the Exploring Isles of the Lau Group. Iliesa invited us to dinner on Sunday. We hesitated slightly as we have told Sam and Lako that we would return to Daliconi for the singing competition on Sunday morning. These are two lovely invitations and it is going to be hard to make a decision. We’ll put off making that decision until tomorrow. For now, we are just glad to be here and look forward to enjoying a bit of history tomorrow morning.

070628 Day 65 Vanua Balavu, Fiji–Bay of Islands to Nabavatu Bay