Vanua Balavu, Lau, Fiji
Dear Mrs. Bender and
The Lau province of Fiji is a group of islands stretching south to north across two hundred thirty miles of ocean. It is considered a protected province and requires a special permit from the Lau Provincial Council to visit. We were fortunate two months ago to learn that a village elder named Joeli from the village of Daliconi (pronounced "nd ahl ee tho nee") on the island of Vanua Balavu in the northern part of the group was welcoming yachts and was willing to expedite permit applications through the Suva office. Permit in hand, we visited over the last week and a half. Coincidentally, this village's lands include the gorgeous cruising ground of the Bay of Islands, known locally as Qilaquila (pronounced "ng illa ng illa"). On some charts the lagoon surrounding Vanua Balavu and many smaller islands is called the Exploring Islands. The attached photo of Gnomad is taken at the mouth of one of the Bay of Islands many limestone caves. Above the shelf on which he's propped is the cave and below the shelf the limestone cliff has been eroded by the slapping of waves over eons. High above this cave was another with a nesting brace of raptors whose calls echoed throughout the bay.
Homes in the island's many villages are small and simple, many built on platforms shored up by logs. The people produce in their plantations staple crops of taro, kumala (sweet potatoes), cassava, coconuts, pineapple, and consume fresh fish caught in the surrounding waters. Supplies from outside are extremely limited but include tinned meat, flour, rice, soap, crackers, etc. A supply ship visits once per month at the port of Lomaloma. The villages are quiet and safe. Daliconi's primary school is simple; two small wooden buildings overlooking a grass playing field but it is well run and has an impressive little collection of books. There is limited cell phone coverage in Daliconi, two hours of electricity per day and no computers or internet. Cyclone Tomas, the worst to affect the Lau in about 60 years, which struck in March of this year, destroyed fragile crops such as papaya, stripped bare breadfruit and mango trees and shredded coconut palms throughout the islands. This at the time when many villages were learning methods to add-value to their coconut crop by producing, in their own homes, virgin coconut oil for market.
The people of the Lau province are a mixture of ethnic Fijian and Tongan peoples, with only a smattering of Indo-Fijians working mostly on island plantations. On Vanua Balavu, the village of Sawana is the site of the conquest of Fijian "heathens" by Tongan Christians, led by Ma'afu who became the first Roko Tui Lau (King of Lau). Tongan art and language are prevalent throughout the Lau.
This province is beautiful and wild and we spotted many heron, tropic birds, sea turtles and even a whale within the lagoon. Pelagic fish roam widely. There is a strange bird that makes a barking sound that reverberates amongst the limestone sea stacks and cliffs. They are called "soqe" (pronounced "song gay") in the local Fijian dialect. Unfortunately our descriptions do not adequately describe this unique corner of the world...our website has many photos and we're still working on uploading more.
Leslie & Philip with Jake the cat
traveling aboard SV Carina