Fiji is abundant with beautiful tropical islands, 332 islands (of which 106 are inhabited) and 522 smaller islets. They are all unique in their own way. Our recent trips out to the Lau group however certainly had me captivated, having many little pinch myself moments. It’s not just the voyage or scenery that makes these remote islands so special, it’s the incredible local people, and empty beaches with no footprint but our own.
Many people sail from all over the world to Fiji season after season and don’t make it out to the far Eastern and Northern Lau group. Fulaga ( far east ) consists of jungle-covered hills, and raised coral around a lagoon about 6 miles by 5 miles. Inside the lagoon are countless mushroom like islets, and some larger islands. It may be half way to Tonga and for us a bumpy upwind sail into the trade winds, but I can honestly say this place is one of the most unique and spectacular locations I have visited. If remote is what you are searching for, this crescent shaped island offers an escape from the rat race, offers a true taste of living a more simple life and a reminder that it is the small things in life that matter.
The Voyage from Denarau
From Denarau we sailed up wind on into ESE breeze, around the southern side of Vatulele. Conditions were comfortable and we caught a nice big yellow fin tuna which filled the freezer. Andy managed to reel it successfully despite a good fight. Overnight we put a tack in on the northern side of Kadavu and another before sun rise, the sea state by this point is quite undesirable but that’s sailing up wind. We were seeing wind speeds between 15-25 knots, with the staysail, two reefs in the main through the day, three in overnight (for more comfortable sleeping). Roam was averaging boat speeds between 5-10 knots. The weather forecast had similar stats for our three-night passage. In total we put in twelve tacks and averaged around 6-7 knots. Morning of day four, Monday the 29th September, we had been sailing for three days straight. The last ten hours of which spent trying to slow down so we could time our entrance through the reef pass.
The Lagoon entrance and anchoring
There is one 50m-wide pass into the lagoon, straight but challenging and dangerous in bad weather or strong tides. Coming in through the reef pass into the Fulaga lagoon is best on slack tide, 2 – 2.5 hours after low water Suva, Slack water high is about the same as Suva high water. The electronic charts for the area are surprisingly better than in some parts of Fiji. We also use Open CPN with google maps overlay and visual checks. We got through with no issues, after waiting on the outside for a few hours until the tide was right. Roam only draws 0.9 meters to the rudders, boats with deeper draft may have to take a little more care. Once in the lagoon care must be taken as there is shallow bottom between all the small rocky islets. The clear blue waters make it reasonably easy to see when it is shallowing up with sand spits and the occasional reef patches. Anchoring here is as good as it gets, with calm protected bays at the plenty. We anchored in two locations in the lagoon in around 3 meters of water and sandy bottom although finding 5 meters would not be hard. The first couple of nights we anchored directly out the front of the little bay that has access to the main Village Muanaicake, Muanaira and Naividamu. We were told by TAI (one of the locals) about a great spot to anchor across the other side where there is a sand spit, sandy beaches and lots of coconuts. The locals call it picnic beach. Both spots have sandy bottom and good holding. In addition to the customary ¼ to ½ kg of Kava for Sevusevu, there is a $50 anchoring fee which is a donation to help support the village. A small price to pay for being able to call the lagoon home for ten days.
The extreme generosity and hospitality of the Fulaga Village
We have visited various villages around Fiji and in general the Fijian way is to welcome everyone with open doors and arms. The Fulaga Village was next level. On our first visit to the island we were prepared with our kava offering for sevusevu and a huge Giant Trevally we had caught in the lagoon the night before. ( see epidsode 14 in the film section ) Not long after stepping foot on the beach we were warmly welcomed by a group of locals. We gave the fish to group of men who were working on some repairs and maintenance to some buildings on the shore. They were so grateful for the GT, they said they will be cooking it in a Lovo ( traditional cooking oven dough into the ground) while they work and will enjoy it for their lunch.
We met TAI ( the village guide) he was fabulous, very friendly and chatty. Ty took us on a village tour as well as a walk up a steep rocky hill to show us a cave full of human remains believed to be from the cannibalism days, collected us some coconuts to drink and took us to meet our host family.
The village has a family host system in place for visitors. It is a great idea and really gives you a chance to get to know your host family as well as get a feel for village life and interact with the community. Our Host family were Simon (the chief’s son), and his wife Senna. It was great getting to know Simon and Senna and they could not be more welcoming. Every time we went into village for a visit, Senna would put on a pot of tea and make us a delicious lunch with their local produce. At every attempt we made to give something to our host family or the village, flour, rice, pencils and coloring books for the school, we couldn’t get away with not receiving something back, such as bananas or left overs from lunch. This is just their way, showing kindness to all. We discovered and as Simon explained it is their way, they accept people from all walks of life into their village, treat them as family and look after them while they stay. It was obvious that it was important to make sure that we had a wonderful experience and felt welcome.
Self-sustainability, abundance of food source and simple village living
I don’t believe the there are many places in the world that are in check, meaning they could be cut off from the outside world and still survive without too much disturbances to their lives. Fulaga is one of them. The population is around 400 and consists of three small villages, Muanaicake, Muanaira and Naividamu. With an abundance of sea life there is plenty of fresh fish, crabs, lobster, clams and sea cucumber to feed the population of the island. Vegetable crops are grown and the island gets regular tropical rain, enough to fill tanks with fresh drinking water and water the crops. The common and staple fruits and vegetables grown on the island are cassava, potato, pumpkin, cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, bananas, papaya and bread fruit. The other staple that is used for many different uses is the coconut palm which is also plentiful. Roaming freely around the well-manicured village are free range chickens laying plenty of eggs. Pigs and goats are also kept and bread on the island, although these meats are saved for special occasions.
A supply boat comes once a month to Fulaga, bringing dry food stores, flour rice, noodles, spices, sugar, medical supplies and various other items. Whilst we were in Fulaga the supply boat was two weeks late and they had run out of flour in the village store. Although this can be an inconvenience Simon proudly explained that although they may go without these extras, no one goes hungry and they are lucky they can live on the plentiful produce they have on the island. I would be too if what we have been enjoying with them is anything to go by.
The simple laid back village living was a refreshing reminder that you don’t need much to be happy. With open doors on their homes, no fences and smiling faces there is a strong community vibe. The Chief is 90 years old and is a very happy, with quite a sense of humour. I believe although Simon appears to have taken on much of the chiefs role, his welcoming and happy vibes still set the pace for the rest of the village. Everyone in has their role, and daily chores and although there is still a “Fiji time” feel, it is obvious that plenty of work around the village gets done. The only source of income the village has is from their wooden carvings, rope made from the coconut palm fibres, and weaved mats, bags, baskets, of which are taken to the markets on the main island once a month to be sold. Living simply here means, no fridge, freezer, dining table ( meals are had seated on the floor), social media, mobile phones attached to everyone’s hands or fancy appliances. However, the government has given funding to supply the island with solar for house hold lighting and school laptops. Each house hold with solar power pay something like $20 a month. There is also a couple of televisions (mainly for the patriotic rugby fans), radios and a telephone at the school ( 2.50 a minute).
For the children there is one small school that goes from kindergarten up to year 10. Ongoing education involves traveling to the mainland to usually Suva. Many board in family or friends, returning to the island for their breaks and usually go on with their careers with a low percentage returning to the island to live. The children speak excellent English as it is taught both in English and Fijian.
"Tens days in remote paradise which we made home, the only thing missing was a surf break" ( quote Michael )
We had heard and read that Fulaga was a cool place to visit. But I still don’t think we were prepared for just how much we would fall in love with the place. The Roam crew settled in and relaxed, Roam was safe and sound in calm anchorages and the surrounding were picturesque.
Days are spent exploring the white sandy beaches, foraging for coconuts, snorkeling on the reef or swimming in the water holes. The sand spit and large lagoon was also perfect for kite surfing, particularly me learning. A safe place to launch the kite and body drag from one side of the lagoon to the other with no worry of a kite collision. Other than a couple of other cruisers that came through who we befriended, and the locals who we rarely saw unless we went for a village visit, we had this island paradise to ourselves. I don’t think I have ever consumed so many coconuts.
When the time came for us to make our way back to Suva, we were sad to say good bye. We took a couple of locals with us to Suva, Alfreidi and Bale, who were going to stay with family and sell some of their carvings in the markets. It was a pleasure having them on board with us. Bale teaching us how to master making rotti and sharing some cooking secrets with us. Alfreidi who had taught me the art of catching clams in the lagoon, carved us the most beautiful kava bowel on our passage to Suva. Without out going on forever, I think it’s fair to say Roam will return to Fulaga… sota tale ( see you again ).