Fiji and Tonga: PLACES                                      

Last Updated: May 15, 2002 

"This is your captain speaking. We are over weight, so we have had to leave your luggage behind, and I've also asked my copilot to not come on this flight." With that, the pilot of our Island BN2A twin-engine airplane turned around to start to taxi. Roswitha, sitting in the seat directly behind the empty co-pilot's, was able to see the full instrument panel as we took off from Fiji's Nadi International Airport bound for Taveuni, Fiji's third largest island.


Our luggage (left front) did not make it onto our plane (right in distance) due to weight problems  The co-pilot stayed back, too 

We'd anticipated this problem, and had packed accordingly. We had essentials in the carry-on, and had packed the island luggage to be as light as possible. It was due to arrive on the next flight…maybe. We had also made sure that we went to the bathroom before they weighed us and our carry-ons at check in.

The flight over Fiji was gorgeous. A mostly clear day with dramatic clouds (which the pilot deftly dodged, at one time flying through the tiniest of holes between high towers of Cumulonimbus clouds), we could see to the bottom of the turquoise waters. Tiny islands were scattered among the larger ones, and almost all of them were fringed with coral reefs. Although Fiji diving is well developed, one can imagine all of the dramatic sites which have not been discovered. Jacques Cousteau's son runs an exclusive (and very expensive) dive resort, and there are dive operators on almost every island. We were heading to Fiji's third-largest island, Taveuni, which lies to the East on the windward side, just two over from Malcolm Forbes' private resort. The small 8-seater plane flew over the peaks of Taveuni's dormant volcano and approached the island's one airstrip at Matei from the East.


Two of the islands we passed  Looking back towards Nadi after leaving the island of Viti Levu behind  Looking toward Vanua Levu  Another reef  Looking ahead towards Savusavu on Vanua Levu 

After a while, one expects the hubbub airports in undeveloped countries, with taxi drivers, hotel hacks, and vendors clamoring for attention. That was not the case here - it was too relaxed (only two to three tiny, weight-challenged planes land and take off per day). We were met by the taxi driver associated with our guesthouse, the Coconut Grove . He drove us, almost literally, across the street, where we were met by the staff and given a welcoming glass of cold water. They showed us to our room, the Papaya Bure (cabin), named for the four Papaya trees which surround it on all sides. From within, it almost looked like a treehouse with views of the tropical vegetation, and what we came to think of as our islands - a string of five piles of rocks with trees stretching northward into the sea.


Welcome to Coconut Grove ! 
Scott relaxing on the terrace, with the garden in back  Roswitha enjoying the view  Fisherman just off our beach  Small islands in front of Coconut Grove were in easy kayak distance. One of the islands had one goat, another a lonely sandy beach 
Sunrise from our room 

We noticed that there were speedy orange ants exploring the floor of our room, but also learned that they were not much of a nuisance. As we opened the curtains (which allowed a constant cooling breeze to float from one side of the room to the other), we also recognized that we shared the room with several small lizards. Lest we give the impression that it was too rustic, it was not. It was charming and comfortable, with a big bed facing the sunrise, an adequate bathroom, refrigerator, porch, and lazy ceiling fan. We had both an indoor shower and an outdoor stone shower for rinsing off the sand from the beach, only 30 feet from our room. Ronna, the American owner, was away, but had left us in the capable paws of her pet Doberman Gracie and her Indian/Fijian crew. Gracie had the run of Coconut grove; the screen doors in the public areas had been modified to allow her to open them, she was encouraged to accompany guests onto the beach, and she tortured the three resident cats. Also, once you started to scratch her head, she would not let you stop. One day while lazing on the beach drinking iced coffee, we watched Gracie start digging to catch one of the numerous beach crabs. She eventually dug a hole deep enough to bury herself (and if she had gone further, might have reached America), and found the crab, which gave her nose a smart pinch. She ran into the surf to try to soothe the pain, but then went back in after it. She eventually killed it, but, to our surprise, did not eat it.


Gracie digging a hole her size to find the crab  Voila! But now how to get to it without being pinched? 

Coconut grove was a hive of activity compared to Billy's Place on the Tongan island of Lifuka. Tongan Billy met Californian Sandy in Hawaii, and they eventually came to develop a "resort" on land owned by Billy's family. They cleared an area of beachfront bush. Importing most materials in cargo containers from the States, they built several cabins (or fales), shared bathrooms (with showers), and a dining room/kitchen/patio, all connected by a wooden boardwalk. They had electricity until a few months ago when their generator failed; they've been waiting for a new one to arrive. The lack of power did not detract at all - we had Coleman lanterns at night (good for reading or playing a challenging game of dominoes), and the constant cooling wind from the sea (40 feet from our fale) made it so that we did not need the ceiling fan. Roswitha had brought flashlights, making it easy to walk around in the middle of the night. The kitchen had a huge ice chest for keeping things refrigerated, and they had gas power for cooking pretty good breakfasts. If anyone needed to go into the small town of Pangai for anything, Sandy could drive them, or call one of the island's two or three taxis (depending on whether the driver of the red one was drunk or not). Billy's Place attracted an interesting mix of people, including a German family living in Sydney, two British nurses doing an internship in Tonga's capital, a Portuguese couple who had been traveling for 2 months (and played killer dominoes), and a German/Belgian couple who were on the sixth month of a nine-month travel, and who planned to open the only dive outfit on the Greek island of Lesbos. Breakfast conversation drifted from English to German to French. Sandy and Billy planned to continue improving the place, including tiling the floors of the fales. They are just waiting for stuff to arrive from civilization to their end of the Earth.


Royal Tongan Airline will fulfill all needs within Tonga. Unfortunately, one has to go through Tongatapu (per the king's decree)  Rush forthe luggage at the baggage claim area  Some Tongan islands with a reef  And another island  Roland's dive shed  Roland's place  The Lang Sisters 

 

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