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Friday, September 6, 2013

2013, 07-27 Viani Bay, Taveuni Island and the Legendary Jack Fisher

After an easy one day trip from Savusavu we arrived at Viani Bay. The bay lies on the southern-most tip of the island of Vanua Levu directly across Somosomo Strait from the island of Taveuni. Thankfully the heavy winds and big swell that had been pouring into the bay for the last few days seemed to have subsided by the time we dropped our anchor amidst the corral bommies in 95 feet of water. Already in the bay were the sailing vessels Kahia, Black Jack, Slip Away, Mariposa and Kailani.

Viani Bay is a favorite with many cruisers in Fiji. It is beautiful large bay with plenty of anchoring room, is close enough to Taveuni island to make re-provisioning easy if you stay for long periods, is close to a number of top dive spots and is the home of the legendary Jack Fisher. Jack is a long time institution in Viani Bay. He makes his living here at the sight of his family homestead guiding cruisers on day-trips. His specialty is to gather up a gaggle of cruisers on one boat and for a $10 pp fee stays with the mother ship while the cruisers dive or snorkel the best nearby reefs and passes. He also arranges shopping trips to Taveuni, trips to island sights like the slip and slide water fall or the National Park at Bouma where there is a grand trail through the woods and up to a series of three waterfalls. He expertise lies in knowing the right tides to ride the passes and reefs, expertly piloting the mother boat and staying aboard to handle any problems while the cruisers play. He holds his captains license here in Fiji and is a retired dive master and takes the helm with both pride and expertise.

Our first day in Viani we went exploring in our dingy. The head of the bay is home to Jacks family homestead as well as a primary school that serves the families who live here. Unlike most of Fiji there is no village in Viani just the families who live here so there is no need for the usual village sevu sevu gifting of kava.
Just outside of Viani Bay we rounded a corner to take a look at a group of buildings we passed as we were first coming in. There is a large home there as well as a line of burres along the beach and high on the hill over the house is a tiny sparkling white church. Now from the water we could see the primary building -large, also sparkling white and made up of three connected pavilions and and a beautifully designed dock that reached invitingly out into the bay.

At the head of the dock is a sigh saying Navodo Bay nothing more. We could see into the main building of the house and it looked like a lobby or great room but we couldn't quite tell if it was a resort or if we would be welcomed in. We motored closer hesitant but wondering to ourselves if we might find an icy cold diet Coke ashore. As we got closer a man walked out of the main building and came down the dock to say hello. It turns out that it was not a resort but a private home owned by Bob and Debbie from California.

Bob invited us up while telling us a bit about his island home. He and and his wife Debbie bought 128 acres sort of on a whim twenty years ago. Ten years ago they began building the house and then decided to add the burres so family and friends would have a place to stay if they chose. They added the chapel next after feeling the property was "missing something" and needed something to "give the place soul." The home and out-buildings have been completed for several years now but amazingly his family has only spent a few one weeks stays here. He offered us tea and fruit and a place at his table to meet his family and the group of people they had brought along for a private yoga retreat. There were maybe ten people sitting around he massive dinning table that sat under the front porch running along the entire front of the three pavilion home.

It is hard to adequately describe the opulence of the home behind the massive dining table. The interior was filled with gorgeous but casual furnishings and backed by a restaurant sized kitchen filled with staff busy cleaning up breakfast and beginning preparations for lunch. We sat at the table for some time learning about his family and how he arrived in Fiji. He owns some forty jewelry stores in California where he and Debbie raised seven children and now enjoy their ten grandchildren. He is old enough to retire but can't seem to break away from is business affairs but they enjoy traveling the world and hope to spend even more time here in their private compound. After tea and conversation he offered us a tour of the house.

Calling the place grand is an understatement. The wide steps leading to the dining table are protected by two massive iron lions. The great room and kitchen complex -the middle pavilion- has high ceilings and plantation fans and is lush with heavy carved and upholstered furniture. Numerous portraits filled with generations of family grace the walls and uncountable picture frames covered table tops and credenzas. The kitchen at the back of the room was filled with four or five locals cooking and preparing the coming meal. Off to the right and into another pavilion are two huge bedrooms both with separate baths and private decks. The rooms focus on the views but the ornately carved antique four poster beds and matching dressers and night stands steal the show. These rooms too are filled with family portraits.

Back through the great room we moved on to the third pavilion which houses the master suite and adjoining office. The carved four poster bed in this room was jaw dropping: carved leather headboard, posters the size of a grown mans thigh and lush and romantic gossamer fabrics swathing each corner. There were two matching fainting couches sitting in front of the doors that open onto the front deck all again graced with thirty foot high ceilings and great slowly rotating fans. Off the bedroom behind perfectly placed screens was an open bathroom with a huge claw footed tub. Through one last doorway we stepped into Bobs office. The round shape of the office and the round woven wool carpet with its center sitting desk reminded me of the oval office -if the oval office where in Fiji.

The amazing thing about our visit wasn't in finding this wondrous family compound or the half-a-dozen reportedly $350,000 each luxurious burres along the beach or even in the gorgeous chapel built high on the hill here in this remote bay but in having Bob welcome us in and treat us like guests when he could have simply sent someone down to the dock to send us away. The home exuded wealth but Debbie and Bob with his pure white full flowing beard and long hair looked and acted like a California hippies who would have fit right in stepping into an old VW microbus. We said good bye amid an offer for any help they could offer during our stay, permission to snorkel their reef and an offer of a sailing trip if they were interested. Hats off to Bob and Debbie.

The next day we set off with Jack to Taveuni. Our host ship for the day would be Kailani with Harley, Jennifer and five year old Sophia aboard. All told we had 16 aboard including the crews from Black Jack, Mariposa and Slip away. With Jack at the wheel of S/v Kailani a Deerfoot 63 expertly winding us safely through the reefs we set off for a trip to Bouma National Park about an hours drive from the town of Somosomo. When we arrived at the anchoring spot off the end of the town of Somosomo we were ferried to shore on Blackjacks dinghy Daisy. Three trips and we were ashore and ready to climb into two vans for our trip to the park.

But first a stop at the neighborhood restaurant for roti parcels -a fresh made roti wrapped around mutton and potato curry all wrapped in plastic wrap for our lunch at the falls. We wound our way NE along the shoreline of Taveuni through five our six separate villages to our stop at the National Park. Fifteen dollars each bought our entrance and we were off to the first falls. The day was cloudy and cool but perfect for hiking into the rain forest. A easy and near flat fifteen minute walk brought us to the first falls. There were bathrooms and changing buildings and an easy path to the pool at the base of the roaring falls. The water plunged 100 feet out of the lush jungle into a large deep pool.

The second leg of the hike was steep and had us all sweating and huffing along. Near the top was great vista with a view down and back over Somosomo straight with the island of Vanua Levu off in the distance. After a short break to catch our breath and we were off to waterfall number two. Again up, up and more up then a drop-off trail winding deeper into the rain forest. At the bottom of this drop was a river that needed to be traversed but someone had kindly strung a guide rope to help us across. Quick thinking on Bills part got the smart phone out of his shirts pocket and into the top of his pack in time to avert a disaster when he ended up nearly waist deep in a pool he didn't quite successfully navigate. I was pleased to make it not only across the river twice but all the way up and back without a single fall in the damp rain forest despite the touch going and the damp and slippery footing and wet wood that had been placed to help footing and hand holds. The second waterfall was much tougher to enter but stunningly beautiful. The area around the pool was a jumble of boulder sized rocks that were slippery and made it tough to work your way to the pool so Bill and I opted to watch the tourists play and save our swimming for our lunch break back at waterfall number one.

With a group of fifteen -Jack stayed back aboard Kailani for safety and security- we were running short of time so we missed waterfall number three but since we were all hot and sweaty even in the cloudy cool for Fiji day and number three was reported to be another forty five minutes away we all decided to head back down to waterfall number one. The roti parcels were delicious and the water at the bottom waterfall was cool and refreshing.

Our two taxi vans were waiting for us back at the park buildings and we were soon all gathered for our trip back to town with a stop for grocery shopping at the MH and the produce market in Somosomo. Bill and I had fully provisioned before we left Savusavu but we managed to find we needed a few luxuries. We went for the ones we usually pass by in favor of staples and left the MH with brownie mix, a packet of Triple chocolate cookie mix, old fashioned oats for molasses oatmeal cookie baking and a litter bottle of diet coke. : ) By the time we had all been ferried back to Kailani we were quite a cohesive group and everyone spent the short trip across Somosomo strait on the large foredeck of Kailani talking and making plans for our next outing. A hike through the rain forest, new friends, luxury grocery items and a sunset trip back to Island Bound made for a great day. Kat

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