Susan Young's "Dispatches from Fiji"
Island Dreams' dive travel specialist Susan Young reports on her familiarization trip to Fiji. A scuba instructor with her 100-ton ship captain's ticket, Susan lived for 15 years on the island of Grand Cayman, where she worked as a manager for Red Sail Sports. When she travels on behalf of Island Dreams, Susan stays in touch with the office via emails which describe her experiences along the way. A compilation of her messages are reproduced below. We hope that you will find Susan Young's unique insight and boundless enthusiasm helpful as you plan your own Fiji adventure.
Dispatches from Fiji 2008, Volume 1 - by Susan Young
Monday, May 26, 2008
Ni sa bula!
How lovely to be sipping a cup of chai tea in the corner cafe of the Nadi Airport! Thomas, our tour conductor from Fiji Department of Tourism, met us after clearing Fijian Immigration and Customs. Seems I just have time for a cup of chai before we all move en mass to Air Fiji for our flight to Kadavu. The Air Pacific flight made up time and we arrived at 445 AM rather than 515 AM. What a great cast of characters on that 747! I took an Ambien for sleep, but it didn't have the effects the propaganda touts ~ I didn't get much rest. But as soon as the sun starts rising and we're in the air again, I'm sure I'll rally. Can't wait to get in the water!!
Stay tuned! Susan
Dispatches from Fiji, Volume 2
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The window of the internet area at the Pearl Resort faces the ocean and Beqa Island. I want this view from my desk at Island Dreams.
Our gang left Kadavu yesterday after having three delightful nights at three different properties. I'm thoroughly captivated by Matava Resort: the owners, the resort itself, their "green" way of doing things and Maggie, the most fabulous ambassador for a resort I've ever met.
We first stayed at Matana and were well cared for by the Aussie owners, Rina and Bob. We had a lovely afternoon dive followed by freshly made appetizers and drinks while watching the sunset and talking. The resort did a lovo for us that evening. Lovo is the traditional Fijian feast of food that's been wrapped in banana leaves and put into a large pit in the ground over hot, hot rocks. The wrapped food is then covered by multiple layers of palm fronds, then a cloth-like tarp, and finally with dirt. Typically the food cooks for about two hours and it's a very ceremonial activity to watch the uncovering of the lovo. The food is beautifully arranged on Fijian wood platters. Your plate is a large breadfruit leaf, and you eat with your hands. They prepared tuna, chicken, a local vegetable combination, and crabs for us. We all ate until we were very full, and there was still plenty remaining for the staff to take home.
All but four of our group had individual bures. The four fellows shared two large bures. The bures are simple but more than adequate. The bed was comfy, there was no shortage of hot water for showering. There are open air lockers on each porch with a padlock so you can hang your dive equipment during the night.
On Sunday, our group split up into two merry bands of divers, with eight of us going to Matava, the other eight going a bit farther around the island. We traveled by boat to the airport, by truck to another cove where the boats from Matava were waiting, and organized our dives for the day from there. We zoomed right out to Manta Reef. It's the beginning of the manta season and Joe, our divemaster, was really hoping these giant underwater birds would be there. Alas, no one told the mantas we had come all the way from the States and New Zealand to visit, so they didn't show up. But we did get to do two dives on some of the most spectacular hard coral I've seen. We came around a bommy to the sight of a soccer-field size area of pristine, unbroken, colorful staghorn coral... it was absolutely stunning. Plus brain coral and other Pacific hard corals I will not pretend to know the names of. The area was speckled with anemones, large and small, with the resident clownfish, feisty little buggers charging out to defend their homes. I flooded my mask several times during a face-off with a blue, white and yellow clown who seemed to be particularly challenging.... his stance was, "you want a piece o' me??!!?" He actually pecked at the glass on my mask, which made me laugh even more. I also found a lovely yellow and orange nudibranch about 3 inches long and was delighted to share it with my dive buddy Scott. This was Sunday, and when we surfaced, my first words were, "this is my idea of worship."
After two fabulous dives, we finally got to see the resort. The tide was out, so we disembarked over the side of the longboats into about eight inches of water...200 yards out from the seawall! The two resident resort dogs were out lounging on the drying sand, soaking up the sun and barely lifted their heads at the new arrivals. Greeting us on the deck were Maggie, the resort's ambassador and person of many talents, Richard, one of the owners and Adrian, also one of the owners. Our bags had been taken to our bures already, and Maggie set about, sending a staff member off with each of us to our bures. He escorted me and two other guests up the hill, past the kitchen and office, to our homes for the night. Coming to a Y in the paved path, he directed Richard and Marcus up the stone steps to the left and he continued on with me. Stepping onto the porch of my bure, he apologized that the whole deck was not completed and said I was in the honeymoon bure, which they worked on feverishly to finish before our group arrived. We went inside and tears started rolling down my face ~ the simplistic beauty was breathtaking. No screens on the floor-to-ceiling louvered glass windows enable a clear view of the ocean and nearby uninhabited island; highly polished dark hardwood floor gleamed softly; two mahogany chairs with a small table were in a corner, and with the headboard against the back wall, the king bed, beautifully dressed in crisp white and royal blue, has a view that is dream-quality. A mosquito net was tied above the bed. Maggie instructed that I just let it down before going to sleep. He showed me the bathroom... not large, not small, but juuussst right, with a toilet, a lovely white bowl sink set onto a mahogany counter, and of course, the open shower that's so often seen in Fiji. The shower area has a stair-stepped wall for holding shampoo and soap, and the floor is sloped slightly to drain. Maggie gave me a great hug, said to freshen up and come down for lunch in about 15 minutes. I showered, brushed my hair, dressed and went to enjoy the gracious hospitality of Richard, Adrian, Jennie and Maggie.
Lunch was penne pasta tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and crisp bits of bacon, plus salad and jack bread, a local flat bread that looks much like Indian nan. We all visited over a relaxing lunch, then Maggie hops up and says, "come now, we're going to the Kadavu village waterfalls!"
See? It's not all work work work, dive dive dive. We sometimes squeeze in fun stuff like waterfall hikes. During which we messed around so much, it was almost dark by the time we started back (a 50-minute walk mostly through the mangrove swamps, plus the tide was coming in). Maggie saved the day by charming a friend in the village who has a longboat to take us back to the resort. But the waterfall afternoon is truly another dispatch.
Tidbits to keep you coming back for more: black & white nudibranchs. Kadavu parrots. Organic gardens that would knock your socks off. The Cliff notes-versions of how expats came to be here. Fire gobies. Luggage left behind on Kadavu (all of it). Kava (wicked stuff, that kava). Freshly opened coconuts, the liquid sipped through a straw... yummy!
Hugs and love from Fiji, Susan
Dispatches from Fiji 2008, Volume 3
Date: Fri, 30 May 2008
Ni sa bula!
Oh man, if I see another anemone with 6 clownfish, I'm just going to scream .... with delight!! Nemo and all his friends and cousins are here with resident porcelain crabs tucked into the protective "arms" of the anemones. It's sheer delight watching them. I could get used to this. Didn't have any of them charge me today ... good thing for divers that the general damsel family members don't weigh 40 pounds.
Six of us were at the Pearl Resort night before last. It's on the Coral Coast of Fiji, the southern side of Viti Levu, the main island. While the resort is not at all typical Fijian style, it's stunning. Open lobby and reception, a huge softly flowing water wall behind the lobby bar (about 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide) backed by a mirror. The effect is very dramatic. Comfy sofas, beautiful floor lamps that look similar to ones at Ikea... a fabric/paper shade, rectangular, about 3 feet tall, and the shades are red so when the bulb are on, it's a fabulous effect. One of the other women and myself were shown to our rooms ... tee hee, we got the best of the rooms, two of the three ocean view penthouses. Darcie's was decorated in Indian style, mine was Oriental. I took pictures of my rooms (plural!) ... stay tuned. It was the first resort we've stayed in that had tubs in addition to showers and after dinner, I indulged. It was deee-vine! Pure Fiji bath and hair products, king size bed, a luscious artfully done plate of hand-made chocolates to greet me, and a big bottle of Fiji water ... it's all good.
We arrived at the resort sans luggage but were promised by Air Fiji that it would be here the next morning. After breakfast, we walked over to Aqua Trek and met Brandon, the manager, who knew of our dilemma and kitted out the divers ... wetsuits over naked bodies, BCs, regs, masks, fins ... the whole kit and caboodle. Our group had the choice of doing the shark dive, which the Beqa area is famous for, or a soft coral dive ... four of the six wanted the shark dive, so majority rules. Rumor has it that in addition to the bull sharks skulking about, there was a 14-foot tiger that paid a courtesy call, swimming about a meter over the head of Marcus, our very-fun Kiwi participant. He was totally jazzed about it and will proudly tell you he must have gone through about 100 bar (1450 psi) in the minute it took for the tiger to approach him face to face then slowly ascend to avoid a head-on collision.
Yesterday had us traveling further east along the Coral Coast, distributing the group ducklings here and there, two here, four there. I and two others are at Hideaway Resort. The owners bought the resort 23 years ago as a 16-room property, and have expanded it to 115 rooms/bures with all kinds of water activities. We were shown to our bures .... (here I go, getting to be a princess again!) and I had the honeymoon bure. Huge. Totally glass shower big enough for four people. A shower door at the end opened to an enclosed but open air lovely deck area with a 3-foot deep tiled dipping pool/tub. I could get used to this. King size bed with framework floating above supporting sheer curtains that can drop down and be mosquito netting. Wooden floor to ceiling louvered windows (with screens) that let the breezes in as well as that put-you-to-sleep-with-sweet-dreams sound of the surf.
The husband and wife owners, and the wife of the couple who own the dive shop, hosted us for a magnificent dinner ... it was totally seafood. You name it, we had it. Lobster, prawns, oysters, scallops, freshly caught tuna and mahi mahi plus spicy wedges of oven roasted potato and a delicious stir fry noodle-veggie dish. Champagne accompanied the dinner as well as lively conversation, attempting to resolve the political situation in Fiji and pound out the agenda for the upcoming US presidential elections. The Aussie owners were perplexed at why the US elections take "so bloody long." Hmmm ... a thought not just one or two of us Yanks have contemplated.
And when I returned to my bure .... princess time again. There was a bottle of champagne sitting in a bucket of ice, a lovely fruit selection in a hand-woven palm frond basket (the basket's coming home with me) and a note of welcome. I could get used to this.
Had a deep sleep in a room cooled only by breezes, awakened with the sun, gathered my dive equipment and headed to breakfast. After yogurt and toast, met Alice at the dive shop who introduced me to her husband, Alex. Alex was organizing the dive this morning, a 1-tank so we could get back and do a site inspection. We had a 51-minute dive, and the final 10 minutes or so were the very best part. There was a carpet of many anemones with clowns, probably 15 anemones with perhaps 100 clownfish in total. There was a bit of surge on top of the bommie where the anemones were. It was fun to hover and watch the clownfish ducking in the tentacles of the anemones and peek out to see if the bubble blowing giants were gone.
On to Sonasali Thursday afternoon for the final two days and nights. Hey, what a concept, not having to move after just one night! Stayed tuned for more updates ...
Hugs from Fiji, Susan
Dispatches from Fiji 2008, Volume 4
Our tour bus ride from the Coral Coast to Nadi/Sonaisali was great fun, the noise level rather high, everyone visiting, as we had not all been together as a group since the first night. Dive lies were swapped, perspectives on resorts not visited were shared and the journey itself was fun. We crossed almost miniature railroad tracks that the sugarcane trains traverse, returned waves by the bus-load to each and every Fijian walking along the road, smiled at the groups of school-age children in their uniforms, happily waiting for the homeward-bound buses. Sonaisali Resort hosted us with their customary hospitality, each of us having our own bure, and arranged a sunset that was gorgeous. Our conference to meet with the dive operators who hosted us, plus other suppliers, occupied Friday, providing us a chance to meet new suppliers and renew friendships with those we already know. There was a delicious dinner Friday night, attended by the Minister of Tourism, who graciously thanked us for coming to Fiji and spreading the word about the underwater and topside delights. He also cut a mean rug when the band kicked in after desert!
Saturday was departure day for most of us, although for those of us coming back to the States, our flight time was not until 10:00 PM. Mike, who has been to Fiji many times, offered to take a group of us into downtown Nadi for shopping... it would have been rude to say no! Jack's, Prouds and Tappo department stores offer great selections of Pure Fiji bath and skincare products, wooden kava bowls in sizes ranging from a small beautiful bowl for sea salt to almost baby-bath large, tapa cloth placemats, ceremonial masks, and South Sea pearls (note to self: bring more money next time for these divine pearls). On the way into town, there is a beautiful, brightly colored Hindu temple open to the public ~ I recall reading that about 38% of the population is Hindu due to a great influx of Indians many years ago to work as indentured labourers on the sugar plantations. Generations later, Indians hold prominent positions as merchants and business leaders, as well as land-owners.
Leaving town, I asked the taxi driver if we could make a quick stop at the Hindu temple; he cheerfully obliged and said to take my time. After shedding my shoes at the entrance to the grounds, I walked toward the main temple and was awed at the beautiful designs and colours of the top. It was stunning, and to think it holds these gorgeous colours in the Fiji sunshine! A Hindu gentleman was walking close-by and offered to give me a tour but I regrettably declined because of the taxi waiting. He smilingly told me to please come back to the temple on my next visit... a promise I agreed to and will keep.
After packing and a yummy dinner, we were off to the airport, and were again greeted by Thomas Valentine, our gracious and always smiling host. Thomas stayed with us during the check-in process after which we all said vinaka vaka levu, gave and received hugs, and Thomas headed home for well-deserved rest. Our departing flight was on time, so, sadly, my time on Fiji was at an end ... but I have those images in my mind of the view from my bure at Matava, the recollection of the taste of the vegetables from the lovo, my face-off with the clownfish, and many more. All these wonderful memories will carry me along until I float, swim and dive in the Fijian water again.
Cheers, Susan Young - Island Dreams Travel
Follow this link for: Fiji Resort Info and Pricing
Enjoy Tina Robinette-Miller's Fiji Islands Update
For more details, read Ken Knezick's Fiji Resort Report
Websites for the resorts that generously hosted Susan:
|Dive Kadavu / Matana Resort||Matava Resort|
|Papageno Resort||The Pearl|
And a big vinaka vaka levu to the Fiji Visitor's Bureau, and especially Thomas Valentine for sharing the joy and pride of his homeland: bulafiji.com
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Following are notes from another of Susan's Fiji trips, accomplished in 2007
October 26 -- Getting There
"Greetings! I'm so tired I don't know which way is up. Had a Rubenesque woman sitting next to me on the Los Angeles to Fiji flight, who hogged the armrest and her corpulence invaded my space. Didn't get much rest, but I'm here and will check in for my flight to Taveuni in a few moments .... after a big cup of chai! It was dark when we landed ... 4:50 a.m. local time. When the dawn slowly came 'round, I could see the outline of jagged mountains just by the airport...very cool! Stay tuned..."
October 28 -- Fish Factory
"Well, do you wanna hear about my dives? Tee hee...first dive was at a site called Fish Factory, and it was indeed...schools and schools of brilliant orange fish, deep purple fish, Moorish Idols (or Irish Morals, as my dive buddy in Truk and I called them), anemones with resident clown fish -- Brooke, please tell Evan I saw Nemo, and all his cousins! -- lionfish, nudibranchs -- I was in heaven with the nudibranchs! Second dive was a site called Blue Ribbon Eel Reef, and it didn't let us down. I wanted to see nudibranchs and a blue ribbon eel this trip, and scored on the second dive...with more lionfish, an enormous bumphead wrasse, a 12-foot wide manta ray overhead and a sea snake thrown in for good measure! It was fabulous. Our dive guide finally figured out the noise he was hearing was me squealing with delight into my regulator. We were on the surface waiting for the boat to pick us up when he saw the sea snake, also on the surface. He swam over to it, gently stroked it, held it gently behind it's head and the other hand on it's body and brought it over for me to see. The snake was beautiful, and felt almost rubbery. They're actually very shy, the dive guide told us, although incredibly lethal, like 5 minutes from the bite and you're history ... but he claimed no one around Fiji has ever been bitten.
"I had dinner both evenings at Garden Island Resort with the Australian couple who are the new managers, and they're delightful. Learned lots about Fiji, Taveuni, the people. Food was wonderful, and plentiful. I slept completely through the nights although I awakened at 4:30 a.m., and didn't go back to sleep, as the sun rises about 5:00.
"Left Taveuni this morning about 10:00 a.m., arrived Nadi about 11:30, got a taxi to the resort from which I'm writing this, and where we actually begin the fam trip. The taxi ride was two hours, the roads are dreadful but I asked the taxi driver to pull over and I bought four huge mangos. Hope I don't have to share! We're scheduled for a group dinner tonight and diving tomorrow. Can't wait to get in the water again. OK, kids, must go for now. Stayed tuned for Chapter 3."
November 4 -- Bula from Fiji
"It's almost all over but the bag drag to the airport. Last night's farewell dinner was killer .... wonderful food, waaaay too much great Australian red wine and stories told on everybody by everybody at the table. Laughing until we were crying. The Minister of Tourism for Fiji was at my table and he's a sweet man with a positive vision for Fiji for the future. There are so very many aspects of Fiji 180 degrees different to Cayman, and I must say, all for the better. Expats comprise only a very small number of the dive community. The divemasters are all Fijian, love what they do, and are so beautiful to watch in the water. The head divemaster at Garden Island Resort has been diving 26 years! Has been an instructor for 20! You won't see that in Cayman, with the possible exception of Arthle Evans.
If someone were to ask me what I loved most about my trip, I'd hands down immediately say the friendliness, the authentic, warm openness of the Fijiian people. Everyone greets you with a smile and a "bula!" and they mean it.
The birds are fabulous, I even think the mongoose are cute! Beautiful, bountiful flowers -- ginger, heliconia, hibiscus, frangipani, mimosa, bougainvillea. The children are gorgeous and sweet.
I'm off for a few minutes on the beach, then a massage and manicure this afternoon, followed by final packing. This is probably the final note from this gentle island country, but it won't be the last one ever from here ... my heart has to return.
Susan's Note to Island Dreams' clients about Garden Island Resort
"I hope you'll love your time on Fiji as much as I did! My first and foremost impression is of the Fijian people ~ warm, friendly and very amenable to helping you any way they can. Wani from Garden Island Resort will pick you up at the airport and tell you about Taveuni on the 20-minute drive to the resort. He's so very sweet, and says "eh" at the end of his sentences, making me think there's some Canadian influence there somewhere. Most of the staff at the resort have logged at least 10-12 years there. Garry and Marce (pronounced Marcie) Cross are the new Aussie managers. That they have had a very positive influence on the staff is evident by the way the staff respond to them. They are fabulous! When I left, I felt like I was leaving old friends behind. They have years of hospitality experience in the Pacific, including Vanuatu ~ get them to tell you stories of diving on the USS President Coolidge.
"Garry and Marce are not typical resort managers in that they stay behind doors and never leave the resort. They greet guests at breakfast, lunch and dinner, ask if they might join you for dinner, and love being with their guests. Garry has already joined an organization on Taveuni working to preserve the coral reefs by educating residents and visitors alike and working toward economic growth for the island keeping the environment and well-being of the residents first and foremost. The goal of the committee is growth, but controlled growth with a definitive focus, not helter-skelter with no reins on outside influence.
"All rooms at Garden Island Resort are ocean view, as is the dining area. My room had a king size bed plus a twin-size day bed, plus 2 chairs, a small table between them, a water heating pot for making coffee or tea (plus the tea bags, instant coffee, sugar and such) and a small fridge, and are air-conditioned plus have a ceiling fan. There's tons of storage space on shelves and hanging area in addition to a small bureau with four drawers. Each room has a patio, if on the ground floor, or balcony, if on the second floor, with two chairs and a table. The bathrooms have a spacious tiled tub, good counter space and lots of room on the floor for tucking away toiletry bags, etc. Do remember the electricity is different: you'll need an adapter if taking hair dryers, shavers or the like (the rooms do not have hair dryers). The housekeepers put a nice bouquet of hibiscus and frangipani (plumeria) in a shell on the table, and will lay frangipani blossoms on your pillow.
"Breakfast is served beginning at 7:00 a.m., with a table bearing fruit from the island -- bananas, papaya and the very sweetest pineapple I have ever tasted -- cold cereals, bread for toasting and juices. The wait staff will come to your table, asking if you want something more substantial like eggs, hotcakes, etc. Please do not expect to lose weight on this segment of your trip...the reason being that the resort bakes their own bread. I knew I was in trouble. The dinner rolls are dee-vine and would have suited me fine to consume all by themselves with butter. There are little banana breads in muffin wrappers as well as other muffins at breakfast, and you'll have homemade cookies during the surface interval between dives. Lunch is at the usual lunch hours and can be as light or as substantial as you like ~ salads, sandwiches, special fried rice, Taveuni beef used for burgers, etc. You make your selection for dinner by 5:00 p.m., and dinner service begins at 7:00 p.m. The first night I chose a chicken breast that was stuffed with a coconut-sage dressing, one of those combinations that you think so odd, it has to be good. Didn't let me down...it was delicious. It was served with a half potato oven roasted, a half ear of corn and a local spinach-type green called rourou. Don't pass up the rourou, it's yummy. The dinner menu changes daily, and the second night I had Indonesian chicken ~ baked in coconut milk with spices.
"The dining area is lovely ~ all local hardwoods for the tables, chairs and support posts. They've done something fun on the support posts: palm fronds have been plaited together so they cover the supports completely. It gives a bit of color and a nice tropical feel to the dining area.
"There is a TV in the dining area where you can hook up your video equipment to watch the day's diving adventure, but no TV in the rooms. I neglected to ask about Internet for use by the guests, but will ask about it. The social area also has games available ~ Scrabble, etc.
"Aqua Trek was quite fun, and very safe and caring, all at the same time. Tawake, the dive shop manager, is a Fijian who has been diving 26 years and at the resort about 18 years. All the dive staff are Fijian, whether they are boat operators, in the shop, or divemasters. Go to the dive shop on the afternoon you arrive, do all the paperwork and set up your dives. You can store your gear there, they'll put it on the boat for you, take it off after the dives, rinse it and hang it up: all you need to do is collect it later and put it away. There were just six divers in the group my guide had, and they are very specific about how the dives will be conducted but not overbearing or strict. We had quite a bit of current on both dives, swam into it a bit on each, but mostly let it carry us along. A dive guide gets in the water with each group of divers and the boat moves along, following your bubbles and picks you up when you surface. They are very friendly to photographers, will point out eels, nudibranchs and get out of the way so you can take a photo.
During the few dives in the waters of Taveuni that I did, I saw a manta overhead, a huge bumphead wrasse, a turtle, nudibranchs, a blue ribbon eel and a sea snake...plus the brilliant clear colors of the legendary soft corals. The dive guides are very conscientious about keeping the reef healthy and advise guests to be mindful of their buoyancy, particularly if they're not used to swimming with current. One curious fact about all the dive operators I noted ~ all weights are 3-pounders, there are no 2 pound weights, no 4 pound weights. I usually use 6 pounds, which works well for 3-lb weights but they advise you to use 1-2 pounds more than you usually would to help stay down in the current. I ended up being a bit heavy, using 9 pounds but that was ok ... but what I didn't like about it was there was a weight on each hip, and one at my lower back. There was no other way to distribute the weights. And they may ask you how many "blocks" you want, so be aware that each block is going to be 3 pounds. Tanks are aluminum 80's, and if you use their regs, the pressure gauge is in bars, not pounds.
"The morning I was leaving, I was walking in the garden area and realized the air was faintly perfumed with frangipani. What a lovely parting memory.
Follow this link for: Fiji Resort Info and Pricing
Enjoy Tina Robinette-Miller's Fiji Islands Update
For more details, read Ken Knezick's Fiji Resort Report
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