Paddling Fiji – Kadavu Island, May 2016
Our paddling adventure to Kadavu Island, Fiji, didn’t start too smoothly.
First, the islands were hammered in February by Cyclone Winston and it was quite some time before Tamarillo Active Travel verified that all was well with our trip to Kadavu. Then just 3 weeks before departure our President David and his partner, who together had done all the research and organising, had to withdraw due to David’s illness. A blow to the group but we were now 6 couples who flew into Nadi to meet the New Zealand guide Nick, be briefed and learn the basic rule of Fiji – one must relax and adapt to Fiji time!
Next morning five flew south on Fiji Link and the rest totally filled the chartered Island Hopper. The landing strip on Kadavu had water at either end of a very narrow island isthmus. It was then an interesting exercise to see our luggage shuffle from a smaller motorboat to the larger one (due to low tide) as the local guides and boatmen sorted us for a half hour ride to our first accommodation at Papageno Resort . The young men were at first very shy but they did a better job of learning our names than we did of them. The bures had no air conditioning but were roomy with homely touches and comfortable. The resort had its own spring water, grew most of their own vegetables and ran on solar power. Right out front was the beach where we chose kayaks and gear and went for a short paddle in perfect calm conditions. Sighted were tail-standing garfish skipping across the water surface and striped sea snakes disappearing down holes. Some then tried snorkelling from the boat just beyond the tidal variances.
This northern side of the island does not have a solid exterior reef but instead the seas are tamed by pods of random coral formations that protect the beaches. We were mostly using double kayaks but our veteran members, Margaret and David, each had a husky Fijian seated in the rear.
Three days we paddled the NE side of the island. The last stretch was a particularly long day (27+kms). We had lunches and comfort stops on the beaches (amid much hooting from our guides as an alert to our presence) and travelled mostly from land point to land point. There was one session of snorkelling on a deep channel edge (where an ocean finger reached right into the lagoon) where lovely coral formations overhung and beautiful coloured fish hovered. It was crossing some of these deep channels
that we experienced some wave surges due to a high pressure system sitting above Fiji. Some of us saw a pod of dolphins in a lagoon and six large tuna jumping about 2m above the water. The excitement one morning was a garfish just beginning his tail-flight when he jumped straight into Steve’s pod and madly flapped around. Steve vacated his seat rather quickly with a lot of noise to sit on the pod rim and one of the guides rescued the fish.
Once we passed Ono Is. we had a run south and were protected by the third largest continuous reef in the world – the Great Astrolabe Barrier Reef – where the breakers and mist were continually present.
We then moved accommodation to Matava Resort for another 3 nights. These bures were perched on the side of a hill with the dinning area closest to the tidal mudflats. This didn’t have the cosy atmosphere of the previous resort but was popular with scuba divers. Like many things in Fiji, not everything works and Rob was itching to put his handyman skills to finishing off small jobs which were obviously not important to the locals. Solar power here was regulated and our meals were by lantern light. However the staff at these places was eager to please and with a happy smile.
Mornings were always beautiful with flat calm seas, birds and the sound of gentle wavelets lapping. Temperatures were in the low 20s with a mix of cloud and sun and very little rain. We did a lot of wading to reach kayaks or motorboats in the shallows. There were also pockets of mangrove swamps where we explored a few channels for a change of scenery. We also snooped around a deserted resort that had been idle for 10yrs and now probably past any chance
Our four paddling guides were from a village perched on a nearby ridge and we were invited to meet the headman then be fed lunch by ladies of the village. First we were warned to cover our knees with a sulu (sarong) and not wear a hat in the village. The lunch was excellent and we sat cross-legged on the floor (or tried to) of the new meetinghouse. After, we relaxed laying on the floor to digest lunch, then had a walk around the village noting the five church denominations, the water project to bring fresh water from a valley 3kms away, the drying of various kava plant parts and sea slugs, and growing of various fruit and herbal plants.
We did some more snorkelling but boat & anchor damage could be seen in these soft corals. While there, a group of American (mostly) girls arrived to also snorkel and to stay overnight at the boy’s village. Some of the boys bid us farewell as they were returning to their village to assist with the students. We gave them heaps about deserting us for these pretty young things in bikinis.
On the final afternoon most of us took a guided walk from the resort, up the hill, through private property of kava trees, cassava (tapioca) shrubs, sugar cane and mango trees. Rob, Bernard, the Walkers, Nick and a guide took kayaks for a last fling on the water. From the top of the hill our walking guide pointed them far in the distant lagoon as tiny specks. It certainly tested our eyesight yet he could make out their coloured boats.
The final morning was a 40min boat ride to the airstrip and a flight back to Nadi. The Walkers stayed on at Matava to do some scuba diving. Nadi was a disappointingly bustling metropolis compared to the natural beauty, tranquillity and freshness of Kadavu.