We’ve had an unusually high number of visitors this season. While we’re secretly (maybe not so secretly) delighted to finally have the boat back to ourselves, having friends visit breaks us out of our normal routine of surfing and kiting. It also forces us to take a break from the never ending list of boat projects, and pushes us to find a more diverse array of locations and activities. Win! Matt and Ally came to stay with us in August and were keen to see the Yasawa, so we watched the weather and put together a south-north-south itinerary.
A few days in, the forecast took a turn and it started to look like we couldn’t do the full run (we may never see the top of the Yasawa), so we made for Waya where we could hide from the northerlies and anchored off Octopus Resort. Having been here before, we figured it would be a decent pause-point where we could lay on the beach, enjoy some fruity drinks, snorkel and shower in relative comfort while revising the plan. Our knowledge of the island itself didn’t extend much beyond the resort, but its allure was strong and everyone seemed eager to get in some footwork.
Waya is striking, as are many of the Fijian islands. Soft, sandy, palm lined beaches, backed by a dense lush jungle that climbs exponentially steeper and more foreboding hillsides. They reach higher and higher until becoming impossibly vertical, prehistoric rocky spires. Deep-cut valleys pulse with fresh water lifeblood creating veins of flora that bring light back into the dark crevices from which they’re rooted. It’s very microcosmic, and begging to be explored. Exploration by land can be a tricky navigation, though, and not just for the obvious reasons. A close look at satellite imagery showed an unmistakable trail up in the highland, but all the land is privately owned and setting out on foot often requires a local guide, kava, and likely some cash. Doing otherwise is considered disrespectful and can even get you booted off the island. Online research yielded little information on how we could venture into the mountains, so we popped our heads into the resort office and asked.
The next morning a man named Manoa, who’d been selected as our guide, met us on the beach in front of the resort. He led us up a steep stepped hill, over the ridge and back down into the forest before popping out onto the beach of Nalauwaki- the village he’d come from and also home to the owner of the land we were about to hike through. We did our sevusevu (the Yasawa version is a bit diluted but no less important) and made for the trailhead. We followed Manoa along the beach to where the cliffs meet the sand, through a curtain of vines and coconut fronds, up a small cliff and onto a trail we had absolutely no chance of finding on our own.
Hiking doesn’t seem to be a leisure activity in the islands. There are no switchbacks to ease you into elevation, no strategic shaded climbs or sunny flats. Whatever is the most direct route is the route you take, and it makes for an intimate experience with the elements. Thick twisted vines stretching from jungle floor to canopy offer a strong handhold for pulling yourself up crumbling footpaths, and sheer sun-soaked rock walls have to be fully embraced to scale. You move through the terrain with your whole body, and it changes rewardingly as you make your way further from the sea; delicate leafy tendrils remain in the shade, giving way to alpine-like flowers holding fast to hot rocky outcrops. Then those to the stout windblown shrubs and eventually to the long golden grass that blankets Fiji’s highlands.
Manoa sensed that we were needing a rest and deviated us to a vista where we could get our hands off the earth and onto our water bottles. We’d expected a fairly strenuous climb, but sitting in the hot tropical sun looking straight down upon Nalauwaki, and then straight up to the summit of Uluikaukau, there were doubts as to how gracefully we would make it up there, if at all. We capped our water and pressed on, passing a hillside cassava crop with several men from the village working the field. Realising that the locals do this portion of the hike on a daily basis was both inspiring and embarrassing. It’s difficult, and ironically comical, to laugh at yourself when you’re breathless.
One more tree, one more rock. Manoa lured us further on, up and across a final grassy ridgeline toward the summit- a pyramid shaped peak that itself resembled a tiny version of the whole island. Victory overcame exhaustion and we put our rock climbing skills to one last test, at least for the ascent. Standing above the rest of the island we could see the village, the reef, and Cavalo to the west. The low island of Viwa barely visible on the horizon. More islands of the Yasawa, each with their own unique and impressive geology, continued to the north until they were the same colour as the sky. We could have spent the whole day sitting there, taking it all in. We turned to the serrated range behind us, wild and unnavigable goat territory, and began our way back down.