Viani Bay and Taveuni

Viani Bay is undoubtedly my favorite spot in Fiji. A large and well-protected anchorage, world class diving, great fishing, beautiful scenery, nearby provisioning and very welcoming locals are just a few of the reasons.

Viani Bay is situated about 50 miles to the east of the town of Savusavu, the port of entry for Vanua Levu. It is also just a 9 mile hop across the Somosomo strait to Fiji’s spectacular “Garden Island” of Taveuni. Taveuni’s high profile protects Viani Bay from the full force of the southeast trade winds, while the off lying Rainbow Reef intercepts most of the large sea swell that finds its way to Fiji from the big winter storms down south.

We visited Viani Bay twice during our 2000 cruise of Fiji and I’ve just returned from my second weeklong visit again this year.

Shortly after you anchor in Viani Bay, Jack Fisher will greet you. He is Viani Bay’s self-appointed goodwill ambassador to cruisers and a wonderful example of Fijian hospitality. Jack has lived at Viani Bay most of his 49 years. His grandfather, a Scottish planter came to Viani Bay in the last century and developed a coconut plantation. Over the years, much of the original plantation has been sold, but Jack and his extended family still live on the edge of the bay, and make their living by cutting copra, farming, fishing and catering to the yachties. Jack and his wife Sophie have a way of making everyone feel at home and are able to accommodate many of the cruiser’s needs.

There are no roads to Viani Bay. You can only get there on foot or by boat. There are no resorts with screaming kids, loud music, paragliding or personal watercraft. Just lots of beautiful peace and quiet, only occasionally broken by the sound of a local long boat or a jumping fish. Only a few families share the beautiful, mostly sand and palm tree lined shore. The surrounding hills aren’t scarred by development, and the locals keep their land very tidy. On a calm day, the water is so clear you can easily see the bottom of the bay more than sixty feet below the surface.

Some of the best SCUBA diving in the world can be had on the Rainbow Reef, about 20 minutes by dinghy from the anchorage. Jack Fisher is an excellent guide and for a very reasonable fee, will look after the dinghy(s) while we enjoy some exciting and spectacular drift dives along the reef. He’s also happy to accommodate snorkelers and spear fishers

On our visits we’ve had a chance to dive sites like the “White Wall,” “Fish Factories #1 and #2,” “The Zoo,” “Viani Pass” and “Cabbage Patch.” In more than 500 dives all over the world, I have never seen more varieties of fish on a single dive than at the “Fish Factories” and “the Zoo.” The “White Wall” is a spectacular dive starting with a swim through a 60 degree angled cave, which exits at about the 80-foot level along an underwater wall covered with beautiful white soft corals. The white wall is frequently visited by big fish such as trevally, walu, tuna, wahoo, maori wrasse and reef sharks who are waiting for the Sea Gods to send a meal their way. Drift diving along the “White Wall” in 3-4 knots of current with arms outstretched is what I imagine an eagle might feel like when it is soaring along the rim of the Grand Canyon. It just doesn’t get much better than this with your wetsuit on!

Yachties are typically social animals, and Viani Bay is a great spot to enjoy one of our favorite pastimes. Jack Fisher has built an excellent barbeque pit on the beach on one lobe of the bay. He and Sophie love to host potluck barbeques whenever there is a group of yachties in the bay. They’ve done this at least once a week every time I have been around, with as many as 21 people attending on one occasion. Jack is superb on the barbeque, Sophie usually offers up some excellent Fijian dishes, and the yachties always bring in some of their interesting specialties to share with the group. Add a little beer, wine and music, and you have the makings of a perfect island evening, Viani Bay style.

On a recent visit, I was running a bit low on fresh provisions, so I popped across to Somosomo, a small town on the island of Taveuni, to stock up. While provisioning in Somosomo is “not exactly” like Suva, Nadi or Savusavu, one can get gasoline and some very basic food items. On the other hand, Taveuni is probably one of the most beautiful islands in the Fijian chain. If you can imagine what the Hawaiian island of Kauai would have been like about 100 years ago, you would be pretty close to picturing Taveuni with its canyons, lush vegetation, waterfalls and rugged, unspoiled geography. Taveuni sits right on the 180th meridian, also known as the International Date Line. The Fijians have conveniently doglegged it to the east to keep the entire country on one time zone.

In Somosomo, I caught up with friend Peter, who was visiting from California. Peter recently “punched out” of corporate America and was looking for a bit of adventure. While on passage from Sydney to Noumea on Bossanova, the rig came down and cut the voyage short. Unphased by the “gravity storm,” Peter decided to continue his adventure on Moonshadow. We took a short sail north from Somosomo to the more comfortable anchorage at Matei and enjoyed a nice meal with a spectacular view at the Taveuni Island Resort.

The following day, we made a short hop over to Matangi Island to spend a few relaxing days anchored in the beautiful horseshoe shaped anchorage on it’s north side. We enjoyed some snorkelling in the blue waters and walking around Matangi’s rugged and scenic shoreline.

We were ready for a change of scenery, so headed back to Taveuni to pick up some fresh provisions and do some more hiking.

The following morning was overcast and breezy-perfect weather for exercise in the tropics. Peter and I loaded our knapsacks with rain gear, swimsuits, snacks, water and cameras then headed ashore, intent on some hiking. We hopped into a minivan and took a half-hour ride to the other side of the island. Along the drive were numerous large coconut plantations, small villages and a few gorgeous ex-pat’s homes, all with great vistas to the sea.

The paved road ends at the north tip of the island by the airport. From there it becomes a narrow and winding dirt road, with no shortage of potholes. The dirt road ends at Lavena Point where there is a small native village. From there it becomes a single-track trail and the only way around the rest of the island is by foot.

We hopped out of the van and began heading south on the beautifully maintained and well-marked trail, which follows the coastline for about 5 kilometres (3 miles). This is known as the Lavena Coastal Walk, which is the most scenic of any that I have taken in all of Fiji. The sea views along the rugged windward coast are magnificent, the vegetation is lush and beautiful, and there are native settlements scattered along the trail. The further away from the road we got, the fewer modern materials (cinder block and corrugated tin) that were used in the construction homes. Near the end of the trail, the homes were traditional Fijian thatched bures.

Towards the end, the trail meets a rather large creek, turns inland and begins to ascend into a narrow valley. After a few smaller cascades, one finally comes to the end of the trail at Wainihau Falls.

At the falls we changed into our swimsuits, jumped in the refreshingly cool water and swam up to the gorgeous pool into which pours two magnificent waterfalls. The taller of the falls appears to drop at least 100 feet into the jagged rock rimmed pool at the bottom. This spot is nothing short of pure paradise. After an invigorating swim and some lunch, we retraced our steps back to Lavena Point.

We headed back across the Somosomo Strait to Viani Bay for a few more days of diving before returning to “civilization” in Savusavu. After a crew change, I’ll be heading south through the Koro Sea to Suva, the capital of Fiji, on the main island of Viti Levu.

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