Fiji, Fiji, Fiji! Bula!!!

FIJI…..IT JUST KEEPS GIVING!

All packed and ready to head from Waidroka to Lalati Resort and Spa on Beqa Island. Waidroka arranged everything for me and my car was waiting for me as soon as I checked out and said my good byes!

The company was Crusoe Tours and my driver was Zaheed. He was fantastic and very knowledgeable as well as entertaining. Both Waidroka and Lalati are using them for them their transfers. They have all size cars, mini vans and 20+ seater buses to get you from Nadi to Pacific Harbor or Suva plus offer an array of tour opportunities as well. I definitely will be using them for any clients that want a personal transfer. All cars and vans are fully air conditioned and are very well kept.

My transfer point to Lalati was Oceanus Resort. I did a quick site inspection and the rooms were clean, comfortable and quite simple. There was a pool, bar, restaurant as well as is the dive shop base camp for Aqua Trek.

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I was quickly met by Lalati staff who collected my bags and loaded them on to the boat for our 40 minute boat transfer to Beqa Island. To no surprise I was met at the dock at Lalati Resort with huge smiles and loud Bula’s Terri. Yes, they called me by name before my feet even touched the dock!

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In no time I was checked in, bags delivered to my room, dive gear in the shop and set up, a quick lunch and Krista and I were in the water doing a shore dive from the Jetty.

Before I get to the diving, I was assigned Oceanfront Villa 4. Very nice 2 bedroom Villa with AC , fan, a couch, ample space, a large bathroom with a shower, and large veranda overlooking the water with palm trees lining the shore. You can take all of the scenery right from your porch in your hammock.

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My Villa had louver shades and screens so at times during the day, even with the AC on, it was hard to keep the room cool. At night it did not seem to be a problem.

There were a few other bures with plate glass windows that could not be open so they were a bit cooler with the AC on. Some of the bures had private outdoor showers too.

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The diving from the dock was a typical critter hunt shore dive. There were all kinds of macro life living in the sand and small coral heads. Plenty of anemones housing the ever playful clownfish.   The tube worms had all kinds of small shrimps living on their stalks and were the pink or white variety.

Gobies and blennies hiding about the coral heads and we also found a Boxing Mantis Shrimp that was hiding out in the sand. There were also grass beds in which to poke around and find nudi’s, shrimps, crabs and there is a resident sea horse but we did not find it.

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We had a very pleasant 78 minute dive poking about!

Back at the resort with a quick shower and it was time for Happy Hour and dinner shortly there after. At lunch, you will be asked your dinner choice. There were 2 mains offered but if you didn’t want either, they were much obliged to make you anything you wanted.

The food was plentiful, fresh, tastefully plated and presented. They have a new chef that is continually looking to improve the meals which I thought were already at a high standard!

For those who know me, I usually do not eat dessert but for the 2 nights I was there, I couldn’t pass up either! The first was a flourless chocolate cake so I thought, what the heck, less carbs….HAHAHA! it was more like a light fudge texture with a creamy, almost pudding like finish to every bite with a spoonful of homemade whipped cream on the side!

Yes, I did indulge because I knew I was going diving the next day and could possibly work it off!

The bar area is open until around 11 but if there are people still around after that, they will keep it open.

Time for bed to get a good night’s sleep for another anticipated day of diving!

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Awoke to an amazingly still morning with bright blue skies and we could feel that we were going to have some great dives today and that we did! There was only 1 other guest diving so it was only the 4 of us! Krista and Lars the DM”s and my new friend Steve from the UK who has lived in Australia for nearly 30 years.

Our first dive was a site called Blue Wall. As the name implies, it was a wall but a sloping wall. There were turtles, sharks, amazing schools of Blue Runners, Anthias, Pyramid Butterfly fish, and colorful reef fish of all sizes and colors. The corals were in immaculate condition even at the top of the reef where at times takes a beating from the surf. This is why there is not a lot of soft corals in this area. However, there were some beautiful swim throughs with lots of gorgonians of all sizes and colors.

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The top of the reef was all Elk Horn corals with barely a an empty space! The amount of tropical fish that called the corals home were an endless array of Anthias, juveniles of all species, Fusiliers, anemones and anemone fish. The images and videos really does not do it justice!

Our second dive was….which was equally as enjoyable with more sharks, turtles, and beautiful shallow coral gardens.  We were greeted by yet another pod of Pacific Common Dolphin who brought their young to play in the bow and let us get in the water with them!

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Back at the resort, we ran for a hot shower and lunch so we could join the Village visit to experience and watch the World Famous Beqa Fire Walkers.

A short ride from Lalati is the Village of …..There are several Villages on Beqa that perform the Fire Walking. The Chief at this particular village is the son of one of the staff from Lalati.

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Again, as soon as our feet hit the sand, we were greeted with huge smiles and Blula’s! We were told that the fire had been going since early morning and the stones were ready to be walked across! The stones cover the flames and embers which are moved in a traditional way just before the ceremony begins. The elders and chosen ones are dressed in dried palm frond skirts and necklaces. The Firewalkers are summoned by one of the elders and they appear with long, skinny, branches and work together chanting and singing to move the heavy rocks around to a more flat surface.

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The Elder then summons 3 – 4 Firewalkers at time and they proceed to walk and STAND on the rocks. At first I was sitting there thinking those rocks cannot be that hot as they just kept smiling and chanting without so much as the slightest grimace on their face! But, just as that thought entered my mind, it was quickly erased by flames shooting up through the cracks of the rocks. The fire walkers douse the flames with soaking wet seaweed and you immediately hear the sizzle on the rocks!

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After they finished, everybody took pictures with them and they loved it. We were then shown to the ladies that make the Fijian Handicrafts. The village is very poor and most people in the village do not have jobs and this is their way of making a little cash so it’s always a treat to go and buy some local handicrafts from the Villagers to help contribute.

Be sure to bring Fijian Dollars if you plan to buy anything. If you are short, the resort staff will add it to your bill and make sure that the money gets back to the ladies at the village.

Now, the really fun part began!!! We were invited into the Chief’s house for Kava, singing, dancing and hearing stories. There were several Elders, the Chief, ladies and some other men from the Village present. We heard the story of Kava and Kava drinking etiquette. As soon as 1 round of Kava was passed around, the guitar playing and singing began. As soon as the music and singing started, the villagers came to ask us to dance with them. The whole process started again, passing of the Kava, songs and dancing….more Kava, more dancing and singing! Then the monsoon hit so of course, more Kava singing and dancing until the rain let up.

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It was time to leave so course, the Fijian goodbye song was sung to us which I will never get tired of hearing! The only bad part is that when you hear it, you realize that it’s time to go ;-(.

Back to Lalati in time for cocktails and dinner.  Dinner was amazing and I choose to eat with the dive and hotel staff at the bar. Again, I had tuna with a wonderful wasabi sauce, mashed potatoes and a beautiful salad!

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After dinner, several more people stuck around including my new friends, Steve and Ann. They were from the UK but lived in Australia for the past 30 years! Steve and Ann were loads of fun and laughs! Also joining us was Joe who was named Chief at our village visit and the ladies seem to always choose Joe to dance! Joe resembled the actor that played in Couple Retreat 😉 but he was a LaCross Scout / Coach and had traveled to NC, PA and a few other east coast states!

Several of us sat us and told travel and dive stories and the bar tender and my long lost friend Lyn from Palau stuck around and joined in the fun!

Of course, I had to call it a night as I had a early morning departure time back to Pacific Harbor for my transfer to Suva to catch my flight to Taveuni.

Lyn and her husband, the newly employed chef were accompanying me back to Pacific Harbor as well as catching a ride to Suva with me.

It was a bit of a rough ride back to Club Oceanus as the winds had not died down and there was a bit of rain but we all made it safe and sound! Much to my surprise, Zahid was there waiting to transfer us back to Suva! He was our driver from Nadi to Pacific Harbor. He is such a wonderful guy! He shared stories about the culture, what we were looking at and then we started talking about food! As many of you   know, I am huge FOODIE! He was telling me how to prepare a Lovo Feast, make amazing BBQ and curries! He asked for my email address and said he was going to email me instructions!!!

Not only did he have a passion for food, he very much loved his job and wanted to make his customer’s happy even though the company was not his!   Before I had left Lalati, I asked the front desk staff if it was possible to leave 1 bag behind in Suva because I surely would not need both bags for only 2 nights! I was sitting with Krista for lunch and literally less than 5 minutes later the front office staff appeared and let me know that all was arranged!!!!

They told me, don’t worry, all is set up!!! Little did I know they were also working with Zahid!!

By the time we reached Club Oceanus Zahid was standing there ready for us! The ride from Pacific Harbor to Suva was just over an hour. Lalati staff contacted Marita from the trekking company on my behalf as they were going to hold one of bags for me while I popped over to Paradise Taveuni for a couple of nights. We reached the airport with plenty of time to spare. I checked in for my flight and my bag was still overweight by about 15 lbs so was charged 65.00FJD for the extra weight (approximately 35.00US).

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Beware that your carry on is as close to 7KG as possible as they are very strict on the cabin bags. This is very odd to me as this was one of the small planes and there is no cargo hold in the belly of the plane and the bags are literally placed in the hold behind the passenger cabin….anyway, they did make take stuff out of the hand carry and put it in my checked bag but didn’t charge me anymore…..go figure! All I can say is be nice, smile and ask if there is anything they can do for you.

So, off to Taveuni for the short 40 minute, low flying, scenic flight to Taveuni. I was met immediately by a staff member from Paradise Taveuni who took my bags and handed out water ;-). The ride from the airport to Paradise is about an hour long. The road is only paved about half way and is a bit bumpy after the pavement ends but nothing to terribly bad!

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Arriving at Paradise, I was met and greeted by staff as well as Alan and Terri, the owners. The property is absolutely stunning and west facing affording guests unbelievable sunsets from their rooms, poolside, the hammocks hanging out, or chaise lounges.

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under the palm fronds by the waters edge. Soon after my arrival there was a 2PM dive so I rushed through lunch (yum! Condonda) , threw my dive gear together and jumped on the boat! That is what I was there for right? Did a close local dive called Coral Gardens. It started out as pretty much a critter, muck dive but towards the end of the dive were large coral heads, sea fans and soft corals of all colors. There were schools of brilliantly colored reef fish included schools of Anthias and Fusliers. Nudibranchs, crabs, gobies, blennies were abundant. As the current picked up a little, the soft corals were opening in their glory. Of course, looking down and hunting for small stuff, I heard the dive master bang, bang on the tank and I looked up to where she was pointing and didn’t see anything so kept poking around. To my surprise, back on the boat she says, did you see the Manta??!?!?!!? Several other people that were closer to her did see it so I know it did exist. The day before the same group had a large hammerhead.

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As soon as I came back from the dive, I heard that the masseuse was fantastic so Terri one of the owners of Taveuni rushed to find out if I could squeeze in a massage before Fiji Night began at the resort. Oh yeah, she could take me now! She was fantastic and the spa is set right along the sea wall overlooking the water. It is of course private and has walls on 3 sides. When I got to the resort, I saw a “Spa in Progress” sign and was disappointed thinking the spa was being “Built” and I wouldn’t be able to get any treatments! But, it was pointed out to me that when the sign is on the left, the spa is in “use” and when it’s on the on the right, there is nobody having a treatment! Whew!   I immediately felt much better!!!

Well, she was indeed wonderful and one of the best massages that I have had to date! I could have laid there all night just listening to the waves and far off distant rumbles of thunder.

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I lucked out in my arrival date as I was once again treated to Fiji Night with a Meke Dance, traditional Fijian food, and of course, more Kava ;-). By the end of the trip I had more Kava than I had on previous trips and it was actually starting to taste pretty good! NOT! 😉

Stayed up way too late drinking Kava with the staff but it was worth it to hear their stories and them wanting to know everything about you.

Woke the next morning to a bit of overcast but it cleared up by the time we were ready to dive. We were headed to the outside reef not far from the resort. When we got to the dive site, there was quite a large swell which would have made for a pretty treacherous dive as the even the top of the reef was exposed in between swells. DM decided the inside would be better. I was disappointed to see the devastation that Typhoon Tomas (2011) caused to what should have been a totally spectacular wall and shallows. There were some critters about and some schooling fish in the blue but the hard corals and vegetation are damaged beyond us ever seeing them coming back in our life time and probably our children’s life time.

Bringing this up later at happy hour with Alan, the owner, he told us that the outside of the reef and wall is in outstanding shape, with hard and soft corals as well as pelagics.   We had 2 DM’s with 2 very small groups and my group went first. At the end of the dive, I was just about to stay with group 2 as I had plenty of air and time left but decided an hour was enough. Low and behold, once again I was a day late and a dollar short as the group 2 had an encounter with a hammerhead! That surely would have made the dive.

Because of the water conditions (very large swell and strong surge) we asked to move to a more protective site which we did. Our second site was just south of my first dive, Coral Gardens. This was much better but you could still see Typhoon damage. There was intact coral heads with soft corals, gorgonians, nudi’s, crabs, tons of fire dart fish, crinoids, garden eels and loads of other colorful reef fish.

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There was even the magic coral 😉 that changed color when it’s touched!

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Back to the resort for lunch and then a quick house reef dive that was very good.  Alan personally took Tony and I on the escorted dive to make sure that we got the most out of our short dive (we were scheduled for the land tour so our dive was shortened).  3 Blue Ribbon Eels, there is a resident Green Leaf Scorpionfish but eluded us on this dive.  Lot’s of macro life, some soft corals and loads of hard corals.  There is a coral head that houses several different species of Anemones and Anemone Fish.  This particular coral head is very large and there is an Anemone in every crack and crevice!

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The shore dive has an easy entrance and exit with steps from the dock down into the water.  Shore diving is unlimited however the first shore dive is a lead dive so the DM’s can show you around and the turn around point.  Alan had also mentioned that people that are really good on air can be dropped off further up from the resort and  do a mild drift back to the resort.  If I had had time, I surely would have tried that!

A quick shower off and a change of clothes and we were headed off for our Village Visit and land tour of the southern part of Taveuni.  There were several of us so we had 2 guides.  One in the truck cab and one in the bed of the pick up truck.

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We were led to the village where our guide was born and raised.  We presented our gift of Kava to one of the elders of the village for permission to walk around.  The villagers are not told ahead of time that they are going to have visitors in order for the guests to see a “normal” day in the life of a Fijian Village.

We were shown around and told about the history of the village, a normal “day in the life”, we were able to buy some handicrafts that the ladies of the village made as well as watched another lady begin to make a large straw mat that goes on the floor inside their homes.  Only the women of the village weave the mats, not them men.  We were also told a story about a fierce battle between the ancestors of the next village over and the Tongans.  It was a horrible story about torture, war, and a battle over land.  We were also allowed to enter a Catholic Church and have a look around.

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This was a very informative village tour as well as had some great opportunities for photography as the village is right on the ocean.  Back in the truck, our next stop was the Blow Holes.  This area is a volcanic shoreline that most likely existed 100’s of year ago.

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Well, my last night in Paradise is quickly coming to end.  One more awesome dinner, sunset, and back to the airport to catch my flight back to Suva for my next quick adventure before my return to reality!

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Sorry for how long winded this entry is but I lost it and had to redo.  Then the next couple of days I was off the grid with little internet access.

I will be posting the last installment of the blog shortly which includes my incredible trek into the interior, a quick visit to Voli Voli, my overnight in Stone Bowl Lodge in the mountains and my newly found oasis in Nadi to spend time before your flight home or waiting on connecting flights.

Hope you are enjoying the posts and pics.  Sorry that the still underwater shots are not that great but I only had the GoPro and have been taking screen shots from the video!

Have a great weekend and I hope that you will get to experience for yourself!

Terri

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