Fiji and the Netherlands
Arrival in Fiji
We find that this is the most beautiful trip in a long while. The trip from Wallis to Fiji takes three days and the wind force is convenient and coming from the right direction. The sea is calm, the sun is shining, not a cloud to be seen, everything is perfect. Well, not everything: Hans is lying flat on the couch because he cricked his back just before we left Wallis. He pulled the anchor chain a little too hard. Why? Heaven only knows. During the first 24 hours, Dory does all the work, including during the night.
Fiji has a military regime and there are all sorts of rumours about complicated regulations. One of these is the "nine months" rule: a ship is not allowed to sail to Fiji for a second time within nine months without risking fines. We sail to Savu Savu and after chatting back and forth over the VHF, we can pick up a buoy at a local marina. Someone from the marina, a nice man in a small boat, is waiting for us and he makes sure we can safely tie up our boat to a mooring. He also arranges for people from customs and immigration to come on board. An hour later it appears that both the customs and the immigration procedures are handled by a most charming girl and there are no problems whatsoever. She too thinks it's very annoying that sailors cannot return within nine months after their departure.
Hans' back is not better yet, so we stay on board for a few days and all this time we are wondering about the steam rising on the waterfront. It looks mysterious and it seems as if local people are boiling a pig or something like that. At last we go on shore and we explore Savu Savu, a small and pleasant town. At the market, we buy four bundles of kava, the roots of a plant which the local people use to make a beverage which is supposed to pass for the local alcoholic drink. We have tried it before in Tonga and the first few glasses taste absolutely disgusting: it's like mud with a taste of iron. But by then your taste buds are numb, so it doesn't really matter any more. It leaves you slightly stunned and it really helps you sleep. On the way back, the steam mystery is solved. There are thermal springs nearby and the water flows across the beach into the sea. It cools off in the sea, generating steam which can be used to easily unhair the pigs.
Makogai and Nananu
It's time to move on and we plan a route through the islands of Fiji using waypoints and routes which have already been used by other sailors. All around Fiji the waters are rife with coral reefs, so it is particularly important to plan the trip well. After a stop-over on a beautiful island full of birds, we arrive on Makogai, an almost deserted island where there used to be a leprosy colony in the old days. We are welcomed by the manager of the island, which was once home to several thousands of leprosy patients. This is where we do our first sevu-sevu, a tradition which is still being preserved and which involves offering a bunch of kava as a way of asking permission to visit the island. After the ceremony, the manager shows us the remains of the buildings in which the leprosy patients used to live. The remains of the cinema and the toilets are impressive. The French, who took care of the leprosy patients from all over the Pacific on this island, have gone to a lot of trouble to make something out of it. It's a full day's work for the manager to make sure nature doesn't overgrow everything.
After a couple of nights, we leave for the island of Yandua with a good wind, but on our way there we stop at Nananu, since it turns out to be too far to sail to Yandua in one day. We drop the anchor off a lonely coast with just one other sailing boat and the next day we wake up to a strong wind howling around our little boat. We don't even dare to inflate our Mini Monster, because it would simply be blown off our deck. So we decide not to go on shore and we entertain ourselves for two days watching films, reading and creating a new photo page for our website to the roaring sound of Willy, our wind generator which easily keeps the batteries charged.
Next we leave for Yandua and after a beautiful journey we arrive in a bay in which several other sailing boats are anchored, among them the Grace owned by Sally and Geoffrey, whom we met earlier in Samoa. They want to do the sevu-sevu in the village on the other side of the island and we decide to accompany them the next day. A nice one-hour hike to the village, we thought, but it turned out to be a lot longer than that. At last, after two and a half hours, we arrive at the village, tired and thirsty. The chief is not there, but his wife receives us. We wait and chat for at least an hour and then Dory asks if we can have a look around the village without having met her husband. All of a sudden, there is a lot of activity and soon after the chief enters. We present our kava and are served a cassava lunch. Fortunately, we were also served tea to wash down these dry roots. After having exchanged a few more courtesies, we are given some bananas and we set off on our journey back. Stumbling and limping and with sore feet, ankles and knees we finally arrive back at our little beach. We have done our duty and we are proud of it. We spend our days snorkelling on a particularly beautiful reef in the bay and having drinks at the beach with the other sailors.
The paradise called Yasawas
After Yandua we head for the Yasawas, a group of islands in the western division of Fiji, where the films "Blue Lagoon" and "Castaway" were shot. The journey there is very suspenseful. There are a lot of coral reefs between the islands and while Dory is steering, Hans is usually on the bow to make sure we don't run aground on shallow coral. Fortunately, the water is crystal clear, so all the reefs are clearly visible. We arrive on Sawa-I-Lau and drop the anchor in a beautiful spot where there is only one other boat. It is a little bit touristy because of a salt lake in a beautiful cave and we had expected the place to be teeming with boats, but nothing is further from the truth. The next day, we have the bay all to ourselves, the view is stunning and we spend three days here enjoying everything there is to enjoy.
We then move on, manoeuvring between the coral reefs, to the next place in paradise: the island of Blue Lagoon. It is named after the film "Blue Lagoon", starring Brooke Shields, which was shot here. We are not allowed to anchor at the first beach we pass, because it contains a resort where people pay about $2500 for one night. So we anchor at the next beach, which contains a simpler resort and where we are even welcome to have dinner. We end up spending 50 euros, but we really enjoy the dinner.
On the other side, there's a village where we do the sevu-sevu together with Michael and JoAnne from the sailing boat Destiny. In the village, people still live their lives in the traditional way, some of them even still living in reed huts, but there are surprising contrasts: the chief's son has studied political science in Auckland and is now Fiji's representative at the United Nations in New York.
As soon as the weather allows, we raise the anchor and make the crossing to Vunda Point Marina, a small marina near the city of Lautoka. It is swelteringly hot and there is hardly any wind at all when we suddenly receive word that good weather to sail to New Zealand is expected. It is earlier than we had planned, but with last year's tough journey in mind we decide not to miss this opportunity. We spend another day in Lautoka to buy cheap clothes ($3 for a pair of trousers or a sweater) and to stock up on fresh vegetables for the crossing, which will take about ten days.
To New Zealand
There is hardly any wind at all when we leave Vunda Point using the engine to start our crossing to New Zealand. Hans checks the engine one last time and notices drip, drip, drip... a bit of cooling water leaking from a hose. We switch off the engine and sail on; we are, after all, sailors and it's only a small leak. But an hour later it starts to gnaw at us: undertaking a trip of at least ten days with a leaking engine!? By then, there was a good breeze and we had been sailing for a while when we decide to try and start the engine again and our fears are confirmed: the water squirts out and it looks as if our engine is on the verge of dying from an arterial bleed. We aim our bow at Muscet Cove and after about an hour of sailing, during which we have to top up the water many times, we pick up a mooring. Fortunately, we have a spare hose to replace the leaking one, but the engine is boiling hot, so we have no other option than to wait until the next morning and to treat ourselves to dinner in a restaurant at the pool.
The next morning we get up early to carry out the repairs and at eleven we are on our way again. For ten days, we sail mostly close to the wind with at least twenty knots of wind; the seasickness lasts for a long time but we make good progress. We pull through and arrive safely in the marina in Opua. By then, it is half past five on a Friday night and we have to wait until the next morning to go through customs and immigration. But Friday night means there is a sailing race. On nearly every boat which passes us there are people we know and who welcome us back in Opua; it's like coming home.
Finding a job
Last year we had already decided to return to New Zealand and work there for a while to line our purse. Now the time has come and since Hans as a website developer has the best chances we aim for the IT business. As soon as he finds a job, we will both get a work permit. We send out at least fifteen emails, but the result is very disappointing: we receive only one reply. We need a different approach, Hans has to show his face, so we pack up our Happy Bussy and set off for Auckland. Supervised by Dory, Hans buys a smart pair of black trousers, a white shirt, a matching tie and shoes which are so uncomfortable that he can't walk on them any longer than ten minutes. But it's all for a good cause. We visit all the recruitment agencies and IT companies we emailed, but everywhere it's the same story: no, we don't have any vacancies at the moment, but we'll keep your application on file. After a few days, we return to Opua, slightly disappointed. But at least we tried and after the holidays we will continue. Then Dory sends an email to Bay Audiology to ask about a job as an audiologist and she immediately receives a reply. She has an interview in the nearest shop, which is soon followed by a second interview.
To the Netherlands
But then we receive an email from Dory's brother informing us that their mother is not doing very well. The decision is easy: we book a flight to the Netherlands. Of course we are sad about the news at first, but later we are also happy to be able to meet all our friends again after three and a half years. Everything goes really fast: we pack a backpack and an overnight bag, arrange a lift to the shore so we can leave Mini on the deck and we drive our Bussy to Auckland. We spend the night at a motel where we can leave our bus. We are taken to the airport and start our 27-hour journey of flying, sitting, waiting during the stop-over in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, more sitting, flying and then we arrive at Schiphol Airport. Dory's brother is there to pick us up and it's great to see each other again.
Snow and cold
During the month we spend in the Netherlands, we visit Dory's mother every day. We rent a Fiat Panda (our Happy Pinda) and we drive all around the country to visit friends and family. Hans meets all the musicians he used to make music with and goes crazy a couple of times, we drive to The Hague, Lisse, Arkel, Soest, Soest and Soest again, back to Arkel and to Arkel again, we finally eat "frikadellen" (minced-meat hot dogs) and real Dobbe croquettes (or was it Kwekkeboom?) again and use the opportunity to renew our passports. Dory manages to arrange a permanent place in the nursing home for her mother, who is getting better every day, and after exactly a month we return our Happy Pinda and fly back to New Zealand's summer, where we continue our job hunting adventure.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)