After a brief, but always fun, catch up with friends in Savusavu we took advantage of a weather window to head south east to Fulaga in the remote Lau group. Although these islands belong to Fiji, many of the islanders’ descendants hail from Tonga and are culturally quite separate from other Fijian islanders.
The Lau group is often missed out because it is illegal to make landfall there before clearing in at one of Fiji’s official ports further west, and getting back there involves sailing/ motoring against the prevailing winds or waiting for one of the elusive, and often inaccurate, weather windows.
Our weather window proved to be inaccurate, so rather than beat and motor our way almost 200 miles into unpleasant seas, we did what we have become accustomed to doing (whenever feasible) and we sailed where the wind took us. This is no hardship as it simply means we get to explore other places and enjoy Fiji’s islands in a different order!
So where did the wind take us…..? We initially considered stopping off at Koro, but with darkness falling before we had a chance to find a suitable anchorage we continued west to Makogai, an island we had been wanting to visit for some time. This region was hit particularly badly by Cyclone Winston in February 2016 and, between Sea Mercy and a group of cruisers, including friends of ours, the villages are gradually being rebuilt and islands replanted.
Here is a video taken a year after the cyclone. Credit David and Fiona of www.travelboatinglifestyle.com
Makogai’s main claim to fame is that it was set up as a leper colony during the British era and around 4000 lepers from around the whole region were brought here whilst it was operational, between 1911 and 1969. The island’s caretaker and his 2 sons showed us around the ruins of the colony and explained the history. More recently a Mariculture centre for cultivating giant clams has been established. The clams, once they reach a certain age, are transported to reefs around Fiji. Unfortunately, work at the Mariculture centre has been on hold since the cyclone passed through as most of the guest/ volunteer accommodation was destroyed.
Many of Fiji’s islands are surrounded by reefs with narrow passes through which to enter, and the diving, especially at the passes is superb. Unfortunately though, during our couple of days at Makogai we were unable to dive due to the strong winds, so we sailed further west to anchor off the stunningly beautiful island, Naigani, where we had one of our best dives in Fiji yet. Stunning colours of soft corals and tiny reef fish, in abundance!
We anchored off the north west tip of the island and went ashore to discover a beautiful beach with a lush tropical backdrop reminiscent of some of the islands we visited 10 years ago in Madagascar. We had seen smoke in the distance and thought we might come across a fishing camp, but the jungle was so dense we couldn’t find a way through.
On the south east point of the island was a resort, but it was also destroyed in TC Winston. We checked their website and were interested to read in the history section about the links to East Africa. We have often commented that the language here has some similarities to KiSwahili, the language spoken in East Africa, and we had been told by Russ in the Yasawas that Fijians’ heritage has been linked with Lake Tanganyika, but this was the first time we had seen anything written about it.
“The history of modern iTaukei Melanesian Fijians, as recorded by the 19th centuary colonial missionaries from the oral histories and traditional dances (meke) of that era, tell of one of three forebears, Lutunasobasoba, arriving near Vuda (between Nadi and Lautoka) aboard the great ocean canoe Kaunitoni, after journeying across the Indian and Pacific oceans from Lake Taganyika (in Tanzania) c.1000 CE, almost two millenia after the Lapita settlements.” taken from Naigani resort’s website
Although we would love to have spent more time exploring the island and reefs, we decided to push on to Levuka before the weather closed in and the southerly winds picked up. More to come soon…….