The Hobart

South Pacific Dreaming

by Marie Barbieri
South Pacific Dreaming

Imagine hiking to view a volcanic archipelago; plunging into the chilly waters of a limestone cave; and dining with locals in remote island villages. That’s a nirvana found in Fiji.

I recently enjoyed a 4-day voyage through the Mamanuca and Northern Yasawa Islands aboard Captain Cook Cruises’ boutique ship. The MV Reef Endeavour journeyed 130 of us northwest of Viti Levu in search of narrow, shallow passageways inaccessible to larger liners.

Tivua Island had me snorkelling alongside juvenile blacktip reef sharks just weeks old. Paddleboards and kayaks slid off the beach while tanks led divers down to the MV Raiyawa wreck—a decommissioned government ship reincarnated as a thriving artificial reef.

While gazing through a glass bottom boat, marine biologist, Amos Daniel, pointed out digitate coral, fire coral, cauliflower coral, blue devil damselfish and scissortail sergeants, who were not shy in shining. And when back on board, Amos led a reef-talk on why Picasso triggerfish nibble you when breeding and why sea cucumbers vomit their guts up when threatened (before sucking them back in). Lovely.

We visited subsistence-farming families in remote Gunu village. Ladies offered handmade ornaments and jewellery from mats on the lawn before we presented to the island’s chief the customary wrapped sevusevu gift of yaqona root. From it, a traditional kava-drinking ceremony was performed for passengers (let’s just say kava is an acquired tipple!).

Canapés arrived in time for happy hour, before the nightly buffet or à la carte meal brought the colours and flavours of Fiji to the table.

One night, we shared a traditional lovo feast with the islanders. This Fijian-style subterranean earth oven is lined with stones heated by firewood. Food wrapped in banana leaves is then placed in the pit in the order in which they cook. Lidded by cloth and sand, dinner slow-cooked for 90 minutes, until pork, chicken, fish, kumara and coconut cream-marinated taro leaves were unearthed and devoured beneath the stars. The locals then danced their traditional meke and sang in those famous Fijian harmonies.

One misty dawn, we climbed Yasawa Island’s Mt Tamasua before visiting Ratu Namasi Memorial School at its foot. After presenting our gifts and donations to the teachers, tiny hands fervently led us around classrooms, fiercely proud of their rudimentary resources—these are moments that remain with me.

That afternoon we plunged into the neighbouring island’s Sawa-i-Lau caves, where Brooke Shields famously frolicked in the movie, The Blue Lagoon. The waters in and around Sawa-i-Lau effervesce in iridescent aquamarines.

Then came Drawaqa Island, and a drift snorkel that led us into the path of manta rays filter-feeding on plankton. Your life changes when you sway before these sublime creatures. And if they barrel-roll before you, your heart skips a beat. Mine certainly did. ■

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July 2022

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