For many, the words ‘Blue Lagoon’ conjure up memories of a 1980 film of that name which starred Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins and Leo McKern. In the film, two children are shipwrecked on a tropical island in the South Pacific and, on this trip, we visited the location of that film – and it is blue!
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This was the northernmost part of our trip to the Yasawan Islands. Here,the waters are crystal clear.
We were certainly not the first to see this beautiful part of the Yasawan Islands of Fiji. In a diary kept by Captain William Bligh, he of the Bounty mutiny fame, there’s an entry for Thursday 7th May 1779. The Bounty mutineers had cast Bligh and nineteen of his men adrift in a small 23 foot boat. As they sailed by these islands, they were spotted by two sailing canoes manned by rather large, rather fierce looking Fijians. With good judgement, Bligh and his men immediately manned the oars, to add extra power to that provided by the small sails, in order to make a speedy exit from the encounter. The Fijian canoes soon lost interest in the chase and headed back to land. Bligh and his men went on to complete one of history’s most epic sea voyages – a distance of 3,618 miles from Tofua (in Tonga) to Timor.
Earlier, the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, made first European contact with some Fiji Islands in 1643. He reported hazardous reefs and so ships kept away from this area until 1774 when Captain James Cook arrived on the Lau group of islands, to the east of the main island. He reported fierce warriors. But it was Bligh’s notes of 1799 that were the only guides to sailing within the Fiji Islands until 1845, when the US Navy published a navigation chart of the islands.
Fortunately we didn’t have to worry about navigation. We had a very seaworthy ship, an experienced captain who had good navigation maps and instruments. Our only concern was to enjoy the adventure.
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While some of our group set off to snorkel, a few of us were landed on the small beaches within the lagoon to explore the rocky foreshore. The water was warm – just over 30 degrees – good for swimming.
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As the tide recedes, sand beaches are revealed under these rugged rock faces.
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The rocks are all part of Sawa-i-Lau,
a limestone mass rising 1,000 feet above the sea.
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There are many myths and legends about Sawa-i-Lau. One tells of the death of a giant eagle that lived right on top of the rock. The eagles favourite food was virgins which it took from nearby villages. One time, the husband-to-be of the hapless virgin determined to free her before she was eaten by the eagle. He climbed to the top of the rock. A fight ensued. As he grabbed the eagle around the wings, they both lost their balance and fell to the base of the rock where both man and eagle died. That’s one version of the story. Others believe that the eagle just ran out of virgins to eat and starved to death!
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Some of the group climbed up the steps to explore the Sawa-I-Lau caves.
It’s possible to swim in the caves, the first one being easily accessible.
But the inner caves are very dark and the pools there are extremely deep.
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David snorkelled with a group on the reef
but my very itchy bites prevented me from joining him in the water.
It was most frustrating as I do love to snorkel.
I had to settle for viewing the coral and the fish from the glass bottomed boat.
It’s not the same – but I did at least have that option! So not to grumble.
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Beyond the reef, on the other side of the lagoon is Nabukeru ( pronounced Nambookeroo – the b is pronounced as mB). This is the home village of my young friend, Siti, whom you met in my first Fiji story. Unfortunately we didn’t go into his village this time. It had been hit very hard by the cyclone. Five houses were washed into the sea and those families now share a home with others. This village is not ready to receive visiting tourists again yet.
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Although we couldn’t visit this time, David’s sister and brother in law, were able to visit. They have become honorary members of this village over twenty odd years of visiting and helping the people here. They discovered that the cyclone had devastated the vegetable gardens and torn the coconuts off the trees. The government had provided some initial food aid but that was now so depleted that the people were virtually living on the fish they caught in the lagoon. These village people will never ask for help but I’m glad we found out about their plight and were able to send some food to them when we got back to Lautoka. Then, with generous donations from several Rotarians in Melbourne, another lot of food was sent soon afterwards which will be shared amongst these northern isolated villages, all of them hit hard by the cyclone. These villages are many hours by boat from Lautoka on the main island and have little money to buy food anyway. It will be a couple more months before their vegetables grow and are ready for harvest.
We really don’t know how lucky we are in Australia. Even after devastating floods, cyclones, fires and drought, there are community aid groups to provide immediate and ongoing help and support, shops are not too far from home or a plane drops of food to those who live in the isolation of the outback.
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Another result of isolation is the fact that medical help is so far away. To ease this situation, a group of Rotarians and friends have joined together to build a nurse’s centre here on this beach at Nabukeru. Nothing is there as yet, but we hope that it will be built and operational by the end of the year. The government of Fiji have agreed to supply the nurse and some supplies, if the village people build the clinic and support and aid the nurse. It’s an exciting venture and much needed. I’m glad to be involved.
We are building this nurse’s outpost with the help of Australian Rotarians and a group called ”Spirit of Sharing’. The aim of SOS is to share goods from Australia like beds and mattresses, school needs and desks, and sporting equipment with our Fijian neighbours. So often what is no longer needed in a more wealthy country like ours can be of immense help to others. It’s a matter of sharing.
The Australian-based charity ‘Spirit of Sharing” was founded by Peter Cole, from Victoria. The idea came to him while he was visiting FijI in 2000 and saw children kicking a coconut for a football. Surely, he thought, in this day and age, that was not good enough. What else did they need?
The SOS website is www.spiritofsharing.com.au
Not all projects of SOS are up on this website but some completed in 2010 are. Since that time, much has been done to develop this concept of sharing. If you want to know more and think you can help with monetary donations or donations of goods, new or in very good condition, Peter can be contacted on:
Peter Cole – Founder, The Spirit Of Sharing
PO BOX 139, Ferntree Gully, Victoria,
Australia, Vic, 3156
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A little further along the shores of the island is the Ratu Namasi Memorial School, established in 1949. It serves both Nabukeru village and another nearby village. The school motto is a good one:
“Learn to Love, Love to Learn“
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Here groups of children sang traditional songs for us to enjoy.
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Once again David took some delightful portraits, this time of the boys.
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After the concert the pupils showed us around the school and we left our gifts of pencils, pens, books etc. Some of the younger ones had waited on the verandah to meet with us and have some fun.
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All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the children and head back to the ship
The ‘MV Reef Endeavour’ lay waiting for us in the waters of the “Blue Lagoon”.
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We had a good view of the other side of Sawa-i-Lau as we left the lagoon.
Our next destination was the village of Matacawa Levu.
And that’s where we’ll be in the next episode.
All photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels