Friday, July 6, 2018

Taveuni Island

For our wedding anniversary last year, Richard asked what I wanted. I said go to a Fijian Pearl farm, snorkel the farm site, and pick myself out the perfect colored pearl. Given how unique Fijian Pearls are (think greens, blues, golds, reds, etc), Richard was agreeable to this. There are two islands that have pearl farms - JH Hunter on Savusavu and Civa Pearls on Taveuni. Unfortunately, both were hit pretty hard by TC Winston and were still in recovery mode and not offering farm tours. So we I kept holding out hoping they would restart them. Eventually, we heard the ticking of the 'times up' clock on our Fiji Time and I found deal on the airfare....even got the direct Suva to Matei flight! So we were booked for our last hurray to the third largest island in Fiji.

After the kids term ended, we headed out a few days later over the Easter holiday weekend. At the same time, a slightly menacing TC Josie was also heading towards Fiji!

TC Josie track from:
We debated whether to go or not, but it looked like weather would actually be better in Taveuni than staying in Suva with an empty house. We just had our suitcases worth of stuff and barely any food in the house....Taveuni was out of the cone of danger, where as all of Viti Levu (marked with Nadi) was likely to be off we flew! In a one of Fiji Airways smallest planes!

This little gem held 21 passengers plus the flight crew. We were so close to the Pilot and Co-Pilot, we almost felt like we should give them a high-five when we landed.....

The flight was nearly all over water. Which gave us the chance to see the islands up close from a different perspective. When we initially left Viti Levu, you could see a lot of run off in the water (ie brown mucky looking water).

Neat view of how village homes will cluster together in spots along the coast. We also spotted an atoll, but that photo didn't turn out. My inner scientist wanted to jump out of the plane and dive in right there!!

As we are on our approach, Taveuni island is the big island you see. The small little spit of land is Korolevu Island. Look at all the beautiful coral reef!! A lot less runoff here....beautiful bright blue colors back.

Here's a short little video of our flight:

We opted to stay at the Garden Island Resort. Taveuni Island's nickname is the garden island due how lush and green it is. The resort was located very centrally to a number of things we wanted to do while on the island.

By the time, we landed at the end of the island, found some transportation (not as many cabs as in Suva), and arrived at the resort it was mid-afternoon. We checked in and had a late lunch. The kids wanted to go swimming - though that didn't last long. Sadly, the weather had followed us (at least the outer bands of rain had). I spoke with the dive shop about going out the next dependent.  For dinner, we partook in some adult beverages with fun Fijian location names.

The next morning, sadly, it was very windy and the seas were quite it was a no-go for me & diving (Richard was fighting this lingering cough illness and not feeling up for the dive). We watched the storm....even filmed a bit of it for something to you can watch too! (And though our resort cancelled dives for the day due to weather, we saw another resort went ahead and took divers out - they were really getting tossed around as we watched them head back).

Being the garden island, it was a very lush island and resort. So whenever our room was made up they always decorated the beds, bathroom, and counters with fresh flower arrangements. Some resorts we've been to will but A flower here or there....but GIR would put big bunches of flowers all over. Clarissa and I loved it (and took photos). Mason and Richard really didn't express much one way or another. Here is a little collage of some of the flower arrangements.

In the afternoon, the rain stopped for a bit. So we borrowed some umbrellas from the resort and got directions to the International Date Line/180° longitude. This was one of the exciting highlights for us that we really wanted to see. There are only two countries that the 180° longitude passes over land - Fiji and Russia. There are several other Pacific Island countries that straddle the 180° longitude, but it is over water there (for this reason the International Date Line actually zig zags close to but not exactly down the 180° longitude so that a country can all be in the same day zone). We missed one of the turns and wandered aimlessly down some muddy roads...oops. We got some more directions and headed back. Eventually, we did see the sign and make it over....only one major - I walked down an embankment and slipped....I got down!

So Fiji has a sign located on the line where you can be standing in today and yesterday (and appear to have islands as arms!). Or if really annoyed at them, you can put one kid in today and one in yesterday.....they shouldn't be able to fight then?!?

Or if your teen has done something really naughty, you can kick his behind back to yesterday! (Note all the mud on my

In true Fiji style, in a little church to side of this sign, there was a wedding going on. A gentleman from the wedding came over, invited us to join them.....we felt a little too muddy and politely declined. He had brought some wedding cake with him, so Richard and I both had a small piece. Afterwards, we went to get a photo from the behind the sign at a top of the island vantage point. To balance the beautiful Fijian sunset yin I regularly post, here is some annoyed Clarissa yang because we were chatting and taking too long.

On a sunny day, it is probably beautiful from up here. The land in the distance is Savusavu Island. There is a typically blue Somosomo Strait in between, but due to TC Josie it is all shades of gray.

It was starting to rain during our walk back down to the resort, but at least we had gotten out of our room and done something besides play Uno, go fish, reading a book, or iPad games!!!

We had a good chuckle everyday at high tide. There was some sort of hard marker/statue type object a little way out into the water, but at high tide only the top of it was exposed. In our opinion, it looked like a 'poop emoji' (#LifeWithKids). Here is my artistic photo of it. I title it "Bird on a Turd".

The next morning, we woke to rain and wind.....alas another bust for diving for me. As I had to dive, 24 hours before our flight, this only left one more morning to possibly go out.....fingers crossed for the next day. After we ate breakfast, we noticed that the weather started to clear a bit. We took advantage and called the front desk to see if they could arrange us a driver to take us to the waterfalls. Given it was Easter Monday, they weren't sure if they could find one as technically it was a holiday. We lucked out though and 20 minutes later, we were bouncing down the road and then off road! Once past Matei (the town where we landed), the paved road ends as we drove to the eastern side of the island. Bouma National Heritage Park is located on the very rainy eastern side of the island. The park was established between four villages, each offers a different tour to the park - hiking, ocean kayaking, cultural (I think), and the most popular waterfalls. The park protects a large portion of the island against development which is awesome and provides the villages with income. So we rode in a 4-wheel drive truck to the waterfalls park, it should be noted that one of the concrete low water bridges already had water from all the rain starting to get to wash over the base. As luck would have it, google helped me find a photo of the bridge on a dry day (it is the 6th picture down)!!!

With it already raining, the kids and decided to go ahead and put on our swimsuits before walking to waterfall. As I mentioned before Richard was fighting some sort of cough/cold fun and opted to not get soaked and then jump in mountain chilled water. So he used our lone umbrella (we are moving to the desert, no use wasting precious luggage space on multiple umbrellas). So while Richard paid our entrance fees, the kids and I got changed. We then headed down the trail. It was about a 10 minute walk. Here's a video of the highlights from the walk and waterfall. Sorry for the occasionally drops on the GoPro lens - with the rain coming down, TC Josie wind blowing it sideways, splashing from the was bound to get droplets on

So when headed down the trail, we were the only ones. I guess some people were hoping the weather would improve but gave up. Then suddenly we were surrounded by people as soon as we got to the waterfall. Someone from another group placed a stick on the shoreline at the waters edge (I circled it). By the time we left, this stick was completely submerged.

Obligatory waterfall selfie....

Clarissa played in the water a bit - it was very chilly! On a hot day I think it would have felt wonderful.

Mason ventured closer to the waterfall. I didn't get much on video - partially because Clarissa and I were laughing so hard and partially because the mom-danger-alert was going off - but Mason was attempting to swim right up to the waterfall. He hit a spot where he was literally not moving at all. Eventually, he swam sideways to the rock, but the current of the fall plus all the rain was strong!

So past this waterfall, there are two more waterfalls. Each another 10-30 minutes of hiking further from the last one. Given poor Richard was standing under an umbrella and how quickly that shoreline stick had gone underwater, we opted to not venture any further and head back. This was the best decision ever! When we were heading back over the concrete low water bridge, the water level was now at least a half meter (~2 feet) of water flowing OVER the bridge! Our driver's truck was able to handle the water depth and he knew the bridge well enough, he just gunned it and went (eeekkkk- 'don't do this during flash flooding' videos were flashing through my mind at all). We had run into another family from our resort when we where heading out to the waterfall. We all joked, had we known we could of shared a driver! When leaving, they were probably 20 minutes behind us. When we got back to the resort, we heard they had gotten stuck! Their driver had a van and for him the bridge was impassible and someone with a bigger truck was sent to retrieve them!! We were quite happy with our decision to leave when we did at that point, as we hadn't packed a bunch of snacks and would have had a lot of hangry people!

On our drive back, we made two stops (totally taking advantage of having a driver). The first stop was to the coveted Civa Pearl shop. Since the farm hasn't recovered enough since TC Winston (and were in TC Josie) our only option was to visit their retail shop. We had hoped to get some loose pearls, sadly being a smaller operation they only had ones that had only been set. So I finally got my Fijian pearl! It is a lovely blueish-purple color. I just recently got a chain for it, so I don't have any photos yet. The kids were a little disappointed they didn't get anything....tough luck buttercups (I did end up getting some loose less than perfect pearls later at local handicraft market).

Our second stop on the drive back, was at Restaurant Tramonto - the lone pizza place on the island. We had heard good things. It sat above some lava rocks, as well as have some wonderful views in 270°. In our minds, we set the bar for it to be as good as was different, so we were a little bummed. Though, we ate it all it wasn't too shabby!!

Some blue sky was starting to peek through between the clouds and it was raining less. It was starting to look like the majority of TC Josie had passed over...maybe a dive would be in the cards after all! We even got a bit of sunset that evening!!

The next morning, diving was a go! Hip hip hooray! In fact, on our way out to the reef, a rainbow appeared! A rainbow over Rainbow Reef!

I took mostly video and it was color correcting was tricky...but the diversity and size of the coral blew my mind! Seriously, while diving I thought to myself 'Wow! I have only ever seen stuff like this in textbooks....but it is real and amazing!'

I mean seriously, look at the size of the coral mount compared to size of the diver! WOW! Which continued the whole dive, both dives - what an awesome reef! The video/photo really don't do it justice.

Some other exciting things I saw were a white tip reef shark at a cleaning station. It was super cool watching, the shark just sat there on the bottom with its mouth open and a little fish moving in between its teeth. You can see the shark, but not the cleaner fish. The other most awesome thing I saw was a blue ribbon eel! Just as its name implies, it is a type of eel that is thin, ribbon like and bright blue. Unfortunately, when I was geeking out, I failed to get it on video. During the surface interval, a huge (as in 1.5 meters/4-5 feet long and big enough I could see the scales) sea krait swam past the boat. Given all the rain, I wanted to make sure it was a snake before saying anything. By the time it was close enough/I confirmed it and everyone else on dive boat saw it too, it dove back no photo of that either! Here's the dive video.

I felt some guilt for diving without Richard or Mason (but with sickness and rough seas they both passed). Though Richard had fun....he ended up buying another hand carved mask! The ones hung in each room of the resort were very unique (plain with large foreheads) compared to those found on Viti Levu. The man that carved them had passed away a few years ago, but Richard kept chatting the general manager and wore her down. She had an extra one tucked away and sold it to him! So we both had great mornings.

That afternoon, we had hoped to go to the natural waterslides. It was about a 10 minute walk from where we were staying, though we would need a guide. Unfortunately, due to all the rain the water level was high and the water was moving too fast. So it was deemed to be too unsafe to slide down. So we had a little photo shoot with some of the beautiful frangipani flowers that had been knocked off the trees (as it was raining a bit again as well).

They do smell lovely!

The other thing we had wanted to do while out on Taveuni was kayak out to Korolevu Island and snorkel around the uninhabited island (it would have been another island for our tally too!!). Sadly, weather conditions never cooperated (you can see it in the background to the right of the flower). We finally opted to just take a taxi to the nearby village and visit a local handicraft market.

As one would expect, on the date of our departure it was sunny, the wind was calm, and the rain was gone!!
Oh Fiji!!!

We had a late morning flight as well, so not a whole lot time do much. We did walk down the street a bit to the local beach (the resort waterfront was all rocky) and get a little black sand for the kids collections. On our way back, we picked up three colors of frangipanis! So Clarissa and I played with the wonderful lighting and made flower crowns. (Photo overload warning....couldn't pick a favorite....and you know the grandparents love them!).

It is pretty funny when your flowers fall out and mom just keeps taking photos!

Clarissa took photos of mommy too!

Seriously! Look at the beautiful weather behind me! What's the deal, Fiji! That wasn't very nice of you!!

Oh....and in case you are wondering, no one was safe from flower crowns!!!

Mason, Daddy, or our new carved mask....nobody or nothing was safe from the Frangipanis!!!!

We all got showered, packed up, and checked out. Though Richard's new acquisition was too big to fit into either of the suitcases we had brought. We hoped they would let us hand carry it on the plane. When we went downstairs the general manager saw the unwrapped masked and got it bundled up in some cardboard for us. The staff sang us 'Isa Lei' for the final time (I'll post it soon). They sang it in Fijian and English....after 2+ years, we heard it sung in English for the first time.

The airport waiting area is beautiful. Taveuni earns its title as 'Garden Island'. We checked in at the airport, we were told to hand carry our mask to the here are the kids and I chilling with our buddy!

Our little jet setter heading to the plane. She's got no clue how lucky she really is!

The water was beautiful on the flight back!! Having traveled the area a bit, we tried to identify islands from the sky. We think this is Leleuvia!

We saw the airstrip and though this might be where Mason had just been Ovalau....nope. Research shows this is a private, 2,200 acre/eight square mile island called Wakaya Island....which was apparently purchased by some Americans (possible fugitives) while we've been living in Fiji. Read the gossip here! Interesting!! Still pretty from the air!!

Every time we came out the mouth of the Rewa River, we would pass Bau Island (and everyone on the boat must remove their hat when passing). This is due to the fact, Bau Island is the chiefly island of the area. According to wiki, the official Fijian language is based on the Bau Island dialect. So it is a very special tiny little spec of land!

A few moments later, we were back on the ground (if you look up, I think that is some landing action occurring on the wing). Taveuni was a beautiful island with a phenomenal reef. Though we were not able to do everything thing we had wanted to do, we did get to have some neat experiences and we ate some delicious meals!

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