Ocean Dream / Red Dirt Road

Humpback calf Vava'u

Gathering ammo for articles in Vava’u was spectacularly fruitful. Unlike in Tongatapu, the main island, people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote the region. As a result I was hosted on a fantastic array of different activities. On day 3 I found myself in a go-cart whizzing around the mainland and on day 4 I was out on the waves of the open sea in a boat all day.

The carting was very novel – the very rough terrain in places really epitomised ‘off-roading’. There was also a surprising amount of variety in terms of the terrain/flora/fauna. Up on the north coast, the rich brown/red mud and luscious greens transformed to sweeping yellow fields dotted with pandan trees. I’ll do a ‘photo story’ to try and recreate the impression of the trip:

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First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

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Flying fox den with a view

Flying fox den with a view

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Picked up a straggler in the cart

Picked up a straggler in the cart

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The following day, the excursion couldn’t have been a bigger contrast from that adrenaline filled mud-fest. A reasonably small motor boat, with me, the crew and three underwater photographers on, headed out of the bay, out through the islands to the open sea. We spent from 8am-4pm getting sea sick on the waves, spotting the odd breech or the odd fin but getting frustrated as all of the whales where moving. Tonga is renowned for providing perfect conditions for whales to hang around in. As a result you get many mothers with their calves sitting around in the warm water. If the whales are moving, however, there’s not much you can do about it as they’re far faster than you could ever be!

On our way back in we eventually saw an out spurt of water belonging to a resting mother and we jumped in the water with our snorkels on. The mother was very relaxed and sleepy and dozed away whilst her calf came to play with us near the surface – it was within a couple of metres of us! Every now and then the sleepy mother would rise up to breath and perhaps move along a little, still with her eyes shut! My favourite moment was swimming along side both of them, almost at arms length whilst they slowly moved along. We were in there for over an hour but it certainly eclipsed all of the morning’s sickness and frustration!

My pathetic little underwater camera did not fare well, particularly with the excitement of the situation, but I’ve fiddled around with a couple of the photos a little to try and reclaim a semblance of a whale from them! With any luck, the underwater photographer who got a shot of me with the whales with come through with his promise to send me the picture! I’ll include a low-quality version of his shot of the calf as well – Daniel Norwood photography, is where to go if anyone wants to look further into him.

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As usual, i've failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

As usual, i’ve failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

The mum with her eyes shut!

The mum with her eyes shut!

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Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

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The Little Clownfish From The Reef

clown fish fiji

Yesterday, I decided to spend my only full day here in Nadi by heading out to one of the little islands off the coast. I booked a trip through the hostel then eventually headed on an incredibly bumpy little motor boat, arriving absolutely drenched 45 minutes later. Nearly all of the little islands have each been claimed by a ‘resort’ or hotel. This one was ‘Beachcomber’ Island.

Beachcomber Island fiji

white heron fiji

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The people were hilariously friendly. In fact the welcoming through guitar playing and singing seems to happen everywhere: walking into the airport to a small group made me giggle but watching them serenade the boat as we approached the island was even more entertaining. The three of us that were visiting for the day got a further 5 minute session of ‘goodbye song’ before we left, through which we were told to sit about a metre away from them and were not really sure where to look! A few other cultural things were put on such as a kava ceremony.  This is something which I’m sure I’ll become more familiar with when I return so I’ll leave a description until then…As you can see, despite the wind and clouds, the islands are very Maldives-esque. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that it was overcast so I didn’t get fried whilst spending so much time in the water!

The island lived up to it’s name: within the first few yards I’d already found four sea beans and a couple of cowries. I counted 17 of these lovely little things after the day was done! The tide sank pretty low after lunch so I headed out for a couple more laps of the island – I was delighted to find a little black and blue nudibranch swimming about in one of the little pools! So beautiful.

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This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

The island provided the opportunity for me to test out the relatively cheap underwater case I bought for my small camera. It worked perfectly well so fingers crossed that continues! Although the visibility was poor due to the wind, and recent bad weather, it was lovely to be out with a few old favourites: parrot, trigger, angel fish etc. There’s a reason why a chose a song from the ‘Finding Nemo’ soundtrack for the title of this post: All of the clown fish seem to current have eggs or young. They all, consequently, posed beautifully for me above their anemone nests. My underwater accuracy wasn’t adequate enough to get the adorably tiny little nemo specks in the pictures but here’s a compilation of some protective parents!

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Back on land, they had a turtle nursery on the island where they help the little ones to survive the initial stages of life so that they can then be released back into the ocean. So cute!

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I also enjoyed stalking this beautiful little heron about the place as it looked for goodies in the low tide line.

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Overall, a day well spent, I think!

beach comber island fiji

I Can See Clearly Now

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. During the night Holmes woke up, nudged his faithful friend saying, “Watson, I want you to look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied, “I see the stars.”

“And what does that tell you?” Sherlock continued.

After pondering the question Watson deduced: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Metereologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?”

Holmes considered this for a while then retorted: “My dear Watson, someone has stolen our tent.”

Well there’s a slightly irrelevant joke for the day…

We’re now camping in a little town called Bonito in South West Brazil. We set out to snorkel down the nearby Rio da Prata bright and early this morning and were the first nine people in the river. The water was absolutely phenomenal. By far the clearest water I’ve ever seen, with visibility of up to 40 metres! Despite the lack of colour, the fish were enormous, some up to a metre and a half in length, and in very large numbers. I got a bit of a fright when I spotted some scaled skin right next to me and realised I was right next to a Caiman crocodile, poking its eyes out of the water. It was really bizarre seeing it from an underwater perspective – they’re not quite as inconspicuous!

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Crocodile Rock

Perhaps I was slightly over dramatic last night. Madang is gorgeous. When I woke up in the morning I realised that we are literally a couple of metres from the sea. It really took me by surprise! We drove up the coast picking up increasingly larger numbers of Mrs Nomino’s relatives until the car was packed up like taking pigs to market. I tried some fruits that I hadn’t even heard of: Laulau, which is a very strange fruit a little bit like a pear but with a large seed like an avocado. Delicious. Also these strange swollen little bananas which were white and tasted oddly milky. We stopped off at a couple of points to get in the water. It was so nice to be in the sea again, I didn’t realise how much I missed it. I happily passed away a couple of hours meandering through the beautiful reef (thankfully Verena leant me a snorkel). It was surprisingly good – the variety of enormous, vibrant coral formations were to rival the Maldives (Unfortunately the water was significantly murkier though!) I managed to find a little nudibranc which brought back fond memories of Pemba Island and at one point came face to face with a large eel less than half a metre away – That’s what you get for diving down to look in the little caves in the reef! The area really was spectacular, with dark volcanic sand between thick rainforest and turquoise sea. Every now and then a few flying foxes would spring out from the tree tops and fly passed us.

One sun-burnt back and a couple of reef cuts later we headed back to the house, drinking from some coconuts that we picked up on the way. The sun was setting when we arrived back and the water was irresistible. The fact that it’s prime crocodile territory here was not a strong enough deterrent.

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