Posts Tagged ‘Yasawan Islands’

Matacawalevu is a small Yasawan village with a long name!

It’s pronounced mar-tar-tha-wa-lev-oo and it means long beach.

And it is a long beach on the shores of a clear blue channel between two islands.



P1050093  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

It’s the village that David and I know best in these islands because we spent a week in this area in 2003.

This was a great opportunity to revisit and catch up with the people.



P1130794  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

From the ship, we could see the small church tucked behind the palm trees.

Helping the village people to paint their church was the reason for our last visit here.

It was a wonderful way to get to know them.



P1050104   ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

We transferred  across the fairly narrow channel to the village from Reef Endeavour in the small boats.



P1050108  ©   DY  of  jtdytravels

As usual it was a wet landing on the beach.



P1050103  ©   DY  of  jtdytravels

It’s a delightful beach for walking along and the water was warm for swimming.  Many passengers chose to spend their time doing just that.

Traditionally, the main income for this village is fishing and, these days, fibreglass outboard motor boats line the beach.  As many of the young people find work in nearby island tourist resorts, they can now afford and need these more reliable newer boats not only for fishing but to get to and from work in the resorts and to get supplies.



P1050107  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Seeing the remains of some old style wooden boats tucked in the trees, reminded me of our time here in 2003 when we travelled between islands in the area in boats such as these  One particular day comes to mind. It was on the Sunday after the church painting was finished. We were going from our very rustic, sand between the toes  accommodation at Oarsman’s Bay Lodge on beautiful Nacula Island to Matacawalevu for the church service. When we were about halfway there, with not another village in sight, the fuel in the very small outboard motor ran out.  As we bobbed about on the waves, with very little freeboard and no life jackets, we wondered just how we could be rescued – no mobile phones here then!  It was Sunday.  Everyone in the nearby villages would be at their own church services. No one would be out fishing.

Our rescue came in the form of another small wooden boat carrying a family to a nearby village where a relative had just died.  They changed course to come to see why we were bobbing about and, in good Fijian fashion, gave us enough of their fuel for us to finish our journey.  I only hope they had enough fuel left to finish their journey! Fuel was ( and is ) expensive and the village people have little money. To share theirs with us was a great and timely gift.



P1050120  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Matacawalevu remains a traditional village in which visitors must first visit the chief person, the Ratu, and ask permission to visit his village before speaking with any of the village people or wandering around the village.

So those of us who wanted to visit in the village, first went to the Ratu’s home, to request that permission. Of course we were dressed appropriately with shoulders and knees covered and wearing no hats. Shoes were taken off at the door. Men entered first followed by the women. Unfortunately, it was not explained to us on this occasion that we should not sit with our feet pointing out towards the Ratu.  Being westerners used to sitting on chairs, it’s often difficult for us to sit on the floor, legs crossed in the Fijian way, especially as we get older. The Ratu overlooked this indiscretion on our part and gave his permission for the visit!  The ship pays the village for us to visit and that is another way the village earns some income. And of course, the women of the village have a shell and craft market.



P1130803  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

One of my priorities was to check out the church!  It still looked good.

The rusting iron roof on the main church had been replaced on another Rotary visit.

I noticed that the smaller roofs over the entry ways are still in need of renewal.

The church is a very important part of the life of this village



P1050105  ©   DY  of  jtdytravels

I spent my time whilst in the village chatting to people I had met here before.

As I walked through the village, I noticed several houses still not repaired after the cyclone.



P1130801  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

Paths between houses are mown strips of grass.

I didn’t realise until I got back to the ship, that my long sulu had gathered hundreds of grass seeds.

When back on the ship, I spent a good hour or so removing these stowaways from my sulu!



P1130805  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

As usual in a Fijian village, there’s a central field for Rugby!

People in these houses have a ‘grand stand’ view of the inter village matches.



P1050124  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

David found this little one bemused by the visitors.



P1050121  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

Greg enjoyed catching up with a young man he has mentored for many years.



P1050128  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

I spent quite some time chatting with an elder villager about the food problems after the cyclone.

While his wife was at the craft market, he was cooking lunch for the family

– fish he had just caught in these pristine waters.

He cooked it in a little coconut milk with a small amount of onion.

They would eat it with a little of the rice left from their emergency supplies.

Their vegetable of choice, taro, is still growing following the cyclone.



P1050130  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

The village people in these islands take great care of their reefs and fish resources.

They understand the need for careful conservation because fish is such an important staple in their food supply.

When snorkelling here, you don’t see as many large fish as you do on coral reefs in other countries.

But these reefs are full of young fish – it’s a natural form of farming fish.

After a cyclone,  fish is generally the only source of nutritional food.



P1050131  ©  DY of jtdytravels

We were sad when it was time to say goodbye again and return to our ship.


But that night, we had the fun of a crew meke, songs and dances enjoyed by all.

I’ve added a few videos of the night’s fun – I hope you enjoy them.

Please be patient if they take a little time to load up.







And from here, in the wee small hours of the morning, we set sail for the main island of Viti Levu.

We were to have sailed to Denarau to farewell some passengers and pick up others,

but the weather was not in our favour and we sailed instead for the port town of Lautoka.

More of that town in the next story in this Fijian saga.


All Photographs ©  JT and DY  of jtdytravels

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For many, the words ‘Blue Lagoon’ conjure up memories of a 1980 film of that name which starred Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins and Leo McKern. In the film, two children are shipwrecked on a tropical island in the South Pacific and, on this trip, we visited the location of that film – and it is blue!



P1130753  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

This was the northernmost part of our trip to the Yasawan Islands. Here,the waters are crystal clear.

We were certainly not the first to see this beautiful part of the Yasawan Islands of Fiji.  In a diary kept by Captain William Bligh, he of the Bounty mutiny fame, there’s an entry for Thursday 7th May 1779.  The Bounty mutineers had cast Bligh and nineteen of his men adrift in a small 23 foot boat. As they sailed by these islands, they were spotted by two sailing canoes manned by rather large, rather fierce looking Fijians. With good judgement, Bligh and his men immediately manned the oars, to add extra power to that provided by the small sails, in order to make a speedy exit from the encounter. The Fijian canoes soon lost interest in the chase and headed back to land. Bligh and his men went on to complete one of history’s most epic sea voyages – a distance of 3,618 miles from Tofua (in Tonga) to Timor.

Earlier, the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, made first European contact with some Fiji Islands in 1643. He reported hazardous reefs and so ships kept away from this area until 1774 when Captain James Cook arrived on the Lau group of islands, to the east of the main island. He reported fierce warriors. But it was Bligh’s notes of 1799 that were the only guides to sailing within the Fiji Islands until 1845, when the US Navy published a navigation chart of the islands.

Fortunately we didn’t have to worry about navigation. We had a very seaworthy ship, an experienced captain who had good navigation maps and instruments. Our only concern was to enjoy the adventure.



P1130760  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

While some of our group set off to snorkel, a few of us were landed on the small beaches within the lagoon to explore the rocky foreshore. The water was warm – just over 30 degrees – good for swimming.



P1050071  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

As the tide recedes, sand beaches are revealed under these rugged rock faces.


P1050072  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

The rocks are all part of Sawa-i-Lau,

a limestone mass rising 1,000 feet above the sea.


P1050073  ©   DY  of  jtdytravels

There are many myths and legends about Sawa-i-Lau. One tells of the death of a giant eagle that lived right on top of the rock. The eagles favourite food was virgins which it took from nearby villages. One time, the husband-to-be of the hapless virgin determined to free her before she was eaten by the eagle.  He climbed to the top of the rock. A fight ensued. As he grabbed the eagle around the wings, they both lost their balance and fell to the base of the rock where both man and eagle died. That’s one version of the story. Others believe that the eagle just ran out of virgins to eat and starved to death!



P1130761  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

Some of the group climbed up the steps to explore the Sawa-I-Lau caves.

It’s possible to swim in the caves, the first one being easily accessible.

But the inner caves are very dark and the pools there are extremely deep.



DSCF1332  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

David snorkelled with a group on the reef

but my very itchy bites prevented me from joining him in the water.

It was most frustrating as I do love to snorkel.

I had to settle for viewing the coral and the fish from the glass bottomed boat.

It’s not the same – but I did at least have that option! So not to grumble.



DSCF1276  ©  DY  of jtdytravels



DSCF1305  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels



P1130748  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

Beyond the reef, on the other side of the lagoon is Nabukeru ( pronounced Nambookeroo – the b is pronounced as mB). This is the home village of my young friend, Siti, whom you met in my first Fiji story. Unfortunately we didn’t go into his village this time. It had been hit very hard by the cyclone. Five houses were washed into the sea and those families now share a home with others.  This village is not ready to receive visiting tourists again yet.



P1130754  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Although we couldn’t visit this time, David’s sister and brother in law, were able to visit. They have become honorary members of this village over twenty odd years of visiting and helping the people here.  They discovered that the cyclone had devastated the vegetable gardens and torn the coconuts off the trees. The government had provided some initial food aid but that was now so depleted that the people were virtually living on the fish they caught in the lagoon. These village people will never ask for help but I’m glad we found out about their plight and were able to send some food to them when we got back to Lautoka. Then, with generous donations from several Rotarians in Melbourne, another lot of food was sent soon afterwards which will be shared amongst these northern isolated villages, all of them hit hard by the cyclone.  These villages are many hours by boat from Lautoka on the main island and have little money to buy food anyway. It will be a couple more months before their vegetables grow and are ready for harvest.

We really don’t know how lucky we are in Australia. Even after devastating floods, cyclones, fires and drought, there are community aid groups to provide immediate and ongoing help and support, shops are not too far from home or a plane drops of food to those who live in the isolation of the outback.



P1130757  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Another result of isolation is the fact that medical help is so far away.  To ease this situation, a group of Rotarians and friends have joined together to build a nurse’s centre here on this beach at Nabukeru. Nothing is there as yet, but we hope that it will be built and operational by the end of the year.  The government of Fiji have agreed to supply the nurse and some supplies, if the village people build the clinic and support and aid the nurse. It’s an exciting venture and much needed. I’m glad to be involved.

We are building this nurse’s outpost with the help of Australian Rotarians and a group called ”Spirit of Sharing’. The aim of SOS is to share goods from Australia like beds and mattresses, school needs and desks, and sporting equipment with our Fijian neighbours. So often what is no longer needed in a more wealthy country like ours can be of immense help to others. It’s a matter of sharing.

The Australian-based charity ‘Spirit of Sharing” was founded by Peter Cole, from Victoria. The idea came to him while he was visiting FijI in 2000 and saw children kicking a coconut for a football.  Surely, he thought, in this day and age, that was not good enough. What else did they need?

The SOS website is  www.spiritofsharing.com.au

Not all projects of SOS are up on this website but some completed in 2010 are.  Since that time, much has been done to develop this concept of sharing.  If you want to know more and think you can help with monetary donations or donations of goods, new or in very good condition, Peter can be contacted on:

Peter Cole – Founder, The Spirit Of Sharing
PO BOX 139, Ferntree Gully, Victoria,
Australia, Vic, 3156
Email: petercole99@hotmail.com




P1130756  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

A little further along the shores of the island is the Ratu Namasi Memorial School, established in 1949. It serves both Nabukeru village and another nearby village. The school motto is a good one:

Learn to Love, Love to Learn



P1130768  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Here groups of children sang traditional songs for us to enjoy.



P1050052  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

Once again David took some delightful portraits, this time of the boys.



P1050061  ©  DY  of jtdytravels



P1050062  ©  DY  of jtdytravels



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P1050065  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

After the concert the pupils showed us around the school and we left our gifts of pencils, pens, books etc. Some of the younger ones had waited on the verandah to meet with us and have some fun.


P1050069  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the children and head back to the ship

The ‘MV Reef Endeavour’ lay waiting for us in the waters of the “Blue Lagoon”.



P1130785  ©  JT of jtdytravels

We had a good view of the other side of Sawa-i-Lau as we left the lagoon.

Our next destination was the village of Matacawa Levu.

And that’s where we’ll be in the next episode.


All photography ©  JT and DY  of jtdytravels




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 Gunu Village, tucked away in a wide bay at the top of Naviti Island, was the first of the isolated island villages that we visited on this trip.   Like most Yasawan villages, it is only accessible by boat.


P1130680  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Backed by a line of steep hills, the village is almost invisible on the shoreline.


P1130681  ©  Jt of jtdytravels

As we sailed closer, the village seemed to emerge from the trees.


P1130720  ©  JT of jtdytravels

On shore, our crew prepared the lovu for our evening meal –

a traditional Fijian ‘feast’ of  fish, pork and vegetables cooked on hot rocks covered by sand.


P1130682  ©  JT of jtdytravels

While they did that, we made our way through the village.


P1130688  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Nothing is wasted when it comes to building shelters.

The cooking area is outside on the left behind the small boy.

I wondered about the old wheelchair by the front door.

The terrain of sand and grass paths is not very conducive to wheelchair mobility.


P1130687  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This was an innovated use of clam shells as building material.


P1040974  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This little fellow’s extended tummy was a reminder to me that too many little ones die too young in these isolated villages, far from medical help and often from nutritious food.


P1130705   ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Some very old trees on the shore line framed our ship, the MV Reef Endeavour.



P1130689   ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The left side branches from this gnarled and twisted tree had not survived the wrath of Cyclone Evan which hit these islands of Fiji in December 2012.  Note that David is wearing a sulu, a material wrap, as he enters the village. Fijian village culture requires that the shoulders and knees are to be covered and no hats are to be worn.  It’s always so important to respect the wishes of the hosts when we are guests.


P1040992  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The foreshore of the village with a rainbow was very picturesque. But you can see how the whole top section of this old tree has been broken off by the winds.


P1130704  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

While many island homes are now built of concrete blocks with tin roofs, this is one of the traditional houses using coconut as the main building material and thatching for the roof.  But there is a modern touch with the solar panel on a pole (right) that provides electricity – a very new addition in the village.


P1130700  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Church is a very important part of the life of these villagers. Many are Methodist.


P1130714  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

While most of the dead are buried in a village cemetery outside the village, Pastors and Village Chiefs are sometimes buried in a place of honour in front of the church.


P1130710  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

There are not many flowers grown in a village like this, but these adorned the special graves.


P1040971  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

This is a typical view in this village –

a small tin roofed dwelling, a new solar panel and trees that have been broken by the cyclone.


P1130712  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Another view of dwellings that have been restored after the cyclone.

These houses are beside an open area that is used as the rugby field… rugby is the sport of choice!

Note again, that each house has a solar energy panel. These were provided by AusAID.


P1130702  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Gunu village was given support after the cyclone through the  Pacific Community-focused Integrated Disaster Risk Reduction or PCIDRR for short!  According to its web site PCIDRR is “a community based disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiative, funded by theAustralian Government Aid program, AusAID, and implemented through the National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA) and the church networks in the four countries in which it is implemented – Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga. Its goal is to create safer Pacific island communities, more resilient  to disasters, so that people may achieve sustainable livelihoods and have more control over their lives.”


P1130697  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Apart from the church, the village also has a community hall where the villagers can get together and where they can entertain guests like us.

The ‘shell and craft’ market is always a feature of a village visit.

And the smiles are free!

David took some beautiful portraits of some of the younger members of the village community.


P1040987  ©  DY  of jtdytravels



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P1050007  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

As the light began to fade, the crew unwrapped the lovu and prepared our dinner to be eaten in the community hall. Personally I have a real issue with this way of ship’s passengers being fed in the village. The meal is not shared with the village people. Although the food is provided by the ship and cooked and served by the crew, and the village is paid for our visit, to me there is something wrong about eating in front of others, especially when the village people are poor and when food is so scarce on these islands.


P1130731  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Inside the hall, before we ate, there was the traditional Kava welcoming ceremony with the men of the village. Later the floor was cleared and the village people sang and performed traditional dances for our enjoyment – always a lot of fun.  They then invited the visitors to join them on the dance floor before we wended our way back through the village to the beach to be taken back to the ship.

These village visits are indeed a highlight of a Captain Cook Fiji cruise.





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