vanua levu fiji from air
Vanua Levu

Fiji was back on our radar after two years of not being able to leave New Zealand. I was ready to see what those beautiful fish were up to and immerse myself in warm sea water every day. I looked at the map of its many islands and settled on the one across from Taveuni, where we stayed four years ago. The reef was somewhat nearby, the beach looked great and the guest houses were in our price range.

Siga Siga Sands (pronounced Singa Singa) was a bit off the tourist track, situated between Cousteau’s resort and Koro Sun Resort on Vanua Levu’s southern coast. We’re not resort kind of people, so the fewer folks around, the better. There were only 3 guest houses (or “bures” as they’re called there), all self-contained and right on (or near) the beach for a very reasonable price. The land has been in the family for 100 years and was originally a coconut plantation. Our hosts lived nearby and took great care of us and anything that was needed. They even provide breakfast and dinner if you want it! The town of Savusavu was a 10-15 minute ride north by taxi.

We got in close to sundown after doing some shopping in town on a busy Saturday evening and it happened to be Andy’s birthday. I was going to surprise him with dinner on the beach but there was some threat of rain, so we went the non-romantic route of eating inside instead.

I asked Sunita (the caretaker) if she would make us some curry chicken dishes, rice and roti (with more roti on the side for my breakfast tacos in the morning!). The final touch was something we had never tried before – Kava! Kava is a mildly intoxicating drink made from the root of the Kava plant. It’s supposed to provide you with a slightly numb mouth and relaxed sensation, similar to alcohol.

Well, dinner was fantastic and we didn’t get around to trying the Kava until a couple of nights later. The sediment had settled at the bottom of the bowl, so I stirred up the brown liquid which resembled muddy water and poured a couple of glasses. The first sip wasn’t exactly pleasing. It did taste like we were in fact, drinking dirt. But a few seconds later, our mouths were numb like we had been to the dentist after a filling and we waited to see what was going to happen!

All I can tell you is that I slept really well. There were no drunken ramblings or mystical creatures that appeared, which was slightly disappointing. Kava root in Fiji is as popular as Coca-Cola it seems. It’s expected that you present some to a village Chief if you happen to visit and it’s sold in root and powered form just about everywhere you look. You can even take some back home with you!

The other event happening that day was a meteor shower and planet alignment. I figured it’d be very dark out there and that I should get some great shots of the Milky Way and the meteors. I made sure to set my alarm for about 4:45am and got my camera gear and tripod ready to go for the morning.

Unfortunately, I could only barely see the Milky Way and didn’t spot any shooting stars, but I took some photos anyway.

Being that I saw in the sunrise, I opted for some photos of that since I was out there. I kept hoping for that spectacular pink and purple sunrise I saw one time in Fiji, but it never came during the 10 days there. But these were different and beautiful in their own muted tone ways. Still peaceful and enjoyable…let this new day begin!

The water was clear, warm and blue with large black rocks out in the distance, marking the edge of the reef. Deep, dark waters are a reminder of the depth that surrounds these islands in the Koro Sea – over 9600 feet in some parts. The volcanic rocks which sit above the water near the shore, chiselled around their base by thousands of years of moving water also tell of their geologic age. I stood upon a huge, old, dead coral head on the beach which could have been formed millions of years ago, as Fiji started to rise up out of the ocean. That would have begun on this island between 10.4-5 million years ago.

Once the tide had started to retreat, I noticed a bunch of brown, spiky arms sticking out of the rocks close to shore. Brittle stars in full daylight! I thought they only came out at night for some reason. We put our fingers near them and they grabbed on like little octopus. I then watched them wave their arms upside down along the surface of the water. Their tiny “fingers” searching for food of the smallest kind. They would often touch one another and sometimes venture out a bit, but not fully, preferring the safety of the rocks.

There were so many small creatures that I’d start to notice moving around in the pools. From little hermit crabs, snails and tiny tropical fish to crabs, crustaceans and odd flatworms. I witnessed this “moving tongue” come up out of the rocks where the brittle stars were. It could wrap around anything and slither along effortlessly without any bones to hinder it. It was transparent with brown spots and a line in the middle of its body. It would sometimes surprise the brittle stars, but seemed harmless enough. I found out later it was a type of flatworm.


Tuk Tuk hunting fish

We went back into town to see what was there and to stock up on more food. Hitting the local market first in order to put money in the hands of those who need it, we found a couple dozen vendors with their wares. Fruit, veg, coconut oils and Kava were all being sold. They had the largest limes I’ve ever seen! The pineapples were as fresh and sweet as you could imagine and cost about $3 FJD ($1.50 USD).

The fish market was nearby, but I was told to go on certain days so I’d get it fresh. We did go back on one of those days where I found prawns and bought about a pound of them. The prawns weren’t what I was used to seeing from my days near the Gulf of Mexico. These were a dark color with reddish stuff that looked like blood (couldn’t have been!?) which stained my fingers and nails as I was cleaning them.

Fiji prawns

Some had long pincers while others didn’t. I ended up pan frying them with butter and garlic and they shrunk significantly! But that’s alright, they were very good and a real treat for me, as I can’t even remember the last time I had fresh prawns.

Moving on to the critters around the shore, we took a walk at (almost) low tide around the bend of rocks on the eastern side of the beach. Having seen mudskippers in one area cruising around the rocks in search of food, we came across another odd creature farther down.

Sometimes walking along the beach wasn’t an option and we either walked in the water or on sharp, volcanic rocks. Going to see what was around that bend was no exception. The water was about knee high and I started to notice a beautiful purple patina on the rocks that came up out of the sea. There were these tiny fish that would jump around and stick to the rocks then fall back in the water. Upon closer inspection, I thought they might also be mudskippers but they were different looking in color and shape. These were smaller with beautiful patterns and a different fin structure. It had some long hair like looking things at the end of its tail. Watching one for a while, it blended in so well to the rock, it made me wonder how long it took to evolve that way. It had the most beautiful blue eyes and an orange stripe down its back. It was only about the length of my pinkie finger. I researched these and believe they’re rock jumpers.

We also came across an interesting urchin in a shallow pool that had midnight blue sections on it and tufts of spines. There were rocks stuck to it and if you look below, you can see brittle star arms as well. This urchin was fully submerged in water and was about the size of a grapefruit.

After getting a bit paranoid from rogue waves and holding an expensive camera, I decided we didn’t need to venture any further and made our way back.

View from the other side of the point

Checking out the mushroom rocks close to shore however, I spotted some white eels living underneath them! There were no less than 4, all sticking their faces out of the holes in the rocks, each in their own little den. Thankfully, I had saved the prawn heads and tails and took some back for a feeding session!

Some other strange creatures were these snake looking things. They were huge…able to shrink or grow like a slinky. It’s a synaptid sea cucumber, which can grow to over six feet. It was so soft, I could barely even feel it, like it was just filled with air. Harmless and silky, they filter feed with those feathery arms.

It was also in this area that the poison trees graced the shoreline. I was so happy to see them here and have another opportunity for photographing the flowers. They only open fully at night and then drop by morning. We headed out that direction early one day and I noticed a bee feeding from one of the flowers still on the tree and managed to get some photos before it flew off.

Round about where the mudskippers were, we noticed some pretty yellow crabs waving their arms around and having a feed.

Staying still long enough, we then witnessed a bunch of black crabs come out, some with bright pink claws! The lack of purple crabs here has now been made up for by these wonderful creatures!

Beautiful markings on their shells (one even had a heart shape), their back had two large blue dots on them. I assume to act as “eyes” for any predators. And speaking of eyes, if you made the slightest move, they would all run back to the safety of their holes and then take up to 60 seconds to come out again as long as there was no movement. They sifted through the sand, fought with one another, waved their arms about and generally got along with everything else there. I could’ve watched these forever (no good place to sit and not a lot of shade, however).

Tree near the pink and yellow crabs

The lots across the street were also part of Siga Siga’s property. It was a good climb up there, but a flat dirt road had been created. The view from one spot was spectacular, overlooking the palms and sea. There was also a small orchard, which unfortunately was pretty bare. The avocado trees looked promising, but none were ripe.

One funny thing happened while we were relaxing on the beach. Andy swore he saw something with a fluffy tail run into a bush near us. We looked, but couldn’t see anything. I thought it was the rum getting to him. But in the coming days, we actually saw this thing darting about. It was a mongoose! It looked similar to a stoat and we never could get a good glimpse of it. Tuk Tuk the dog would try and chase it, but never caught it (we don’t know how many were there or if it was the same one).

Yep beer in a wine glass…nobody there to judge

On the last day, we were lounging on a different part of the beach when something caught my eye. I looked over and saw that mongoose running straight toward me and before I could tell Andy to look, it had gone under my chair and darted into the vegetation along the beach. Man, they’re quick!

We didn’t see any “exotic” birds…there aren’t all that many in Fiji unfortunately. There were kingfishers, doves, cranes, mynahs and we’d also see fruit bats flying over at dusk.

Giant clams exist here and I found this shell of one (didn’t make it to ‘giant’ stage sadly) on the beach one morning.

I was able to secure a spot with Ocean Ventures out at Natewa Bay for a snorkel. The weather had started turning cloudy and rainy by that time which has an effect on the look of the coral, but I still went. Natewa Bay has been heralded as one of the best spots to see pristine reefs. It’s protected somewhat from cyclones since it’s inland. I asked someone if there was anything else to do in that area and they said, “No…that’s like the REAL Fiji over there.”

It was fun chatting with the owners (a couple…one from the U.S. and the other from the U.K.) and hearing about their work with the community and their reef restoration projects. They’re passionate about the people and the place which really showed. It was fun relating to others who left their home countries to go do something they were passionate about. No matter how much their living conditions changed or how many curve balls were thrown their way, they stuck it out and saw it all through. You’ve got to give a hand to folks like them.

The reef was stunning. So much life and I was able to see things up close that are usually reserved further down like the Christmas Tree Worms. I even saw a shark! The ride on the boat was also worthwhile, reminding me of my foggy views back home. It was one of those spots where you didn’t even see another boat on the water anywhere. One of the rare places still around that hasn’t been commercialized which allows it to retain its unique beauty.

If you feel like taking a swim…

Nearing the end of our stay, we flew back to Nadi to spend a couple of nights in a nice hotel across from the airport.

Wow…this was luxurious for us and at the same cost of a typical motel in New Zealand. Two pools, on-site dining, TV (ok, it only had like 5 channels), a modern room! This is what we deserve at the end of a trip for sure.

Gateway hotel, Nadi

I honestly wanted to go to Nadi to see what shops were there. We headed into town and the first stop was the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple. The largest in the southern hemisphere! I hadn’t known about the dress code. I tugged at my skirt, trying to get it below the knee but realized I also had bare shoulders. We paid our $5 and were handed a long, thin cloth to wrap around our waists (Andy as well because he was wearing shorts). A taxi was being blessed as we walked in. Everyone had to leave their shoes along the wall before entering.

Worshipers could purchase food items from the man selling the tickets and a lot of people were walking by with fruits and a box of shelf stable milk on their platter. Hindus consider cows to be sacred, so this is an offering of gratitude.

We then wandered the town without purchasing much and headed back to our little paradise for a last swim in warm water until who knows when. Fiji is just as you’d imagine a South Pacific Island to be. Friendly people, beautiful natural wonders and relaxation at its finest. Not a bad place to be stuck for a while, as long as you have a friend with you.

*References –

4 thoughts on “Escape to Savusavu, Fiji

  1. All I can say is “Wow”! Incredible creatures, beautifully photographed, and I loved my swim through a most amazing coral reef. I felt like I was there. Thanks for the trip to Fiji!

  2. Steph, can you send me the 3rd photo you took of the sunrise. Where the sky and the water reflect each other? Amazing shot.

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