We arrived in Taveuni after an uneventful and surprisingly comfortable 24 hour ferry ride. The seas were calm, the A/C was cold and we slept through the night mostly alone in first class.
We had no idea where to go. We saw two other guys with backpacks and asked them where they were headed. They said there was a hostel towards the north end of the island called Maravou. We decided that would be a good place to start so we shared a cab and were off. We arrived at another beautiful hostel with friendly staff and a pool. We booked two beds and were shocked to find A/C and Wi-Fi in our room. This is a first for us since leaving New Zealand. We pretty much spent the whole day in bed watching movies, drinking Kava and soaking up the A/C.
We bumped into a few friends from The Beachouse and shared some beers and stories. We had no real idea of how to get to our island village so we just started asking around. Turns out the bartender at the hostel was a cousin of the man we hoped would take us to his village, feed and house us, and take us spearfishing. At first he was a bit skeptical about why we wanted to go and if we had spoken to his cousin yet. We hadn’t. All we had was a name and a place recommended by some friends. He eventually came around after realizing we knew many of the same people and agreed to contact his cousin. Calling the island is impossible. They only receive service in one spot up on a hill so unless the person you’re trying to reach happens to be standing right there, the call won’t go through. He left a few messages and said he would let us know soon. At $35 a night for me and Sam for Wi-Fi and A/C we were in no rush.
The next day we got word that his cousin wanted to talk. After a very scratchy phone call I conveyed that we would like to come out for some spearfishing. He said he would pick us up in the morning by cab. He arrived right on Fiji time and we had lunch and talked about what we were looking for. He agreed to take us to the island and let us stay as long as we wished. We then ran around town gathering supplies, filling gas cans, and buying Kava for our Sevu Sevu. We had 16 20-liter cans of gas and plenty of food. We loaded this plus our 3 large bags and sport tube into the 19 foot boat. It looked like we were off on what would hopefully be a pretty epic expedition.
The hour long boat ride to the island was pleasant with calm seas and talk of village life. We knew we were going somewhere special but no words could prepare us for the beauty of this place. It was a series of small islands set in a circle around a large protected cove. Each island had steep jungle covered peaks protecting the small harbor. A few boats were moored outside of the tiny village with just a handful of houses close together in a row. It looked like one of those fake Bahamian villages they set up for the cruise ships where each tiny house sells something and is a different pastel color. Except this one was real. The whole village came out to meet us. Kids were everywhere. Less than 100 people live here with nearly half of them being kids. About half the adults are women and a handful of elderly leave about 15-20 hardcore spear fisherman. This was exactly what we were looking for.
We had never been part of a Sevu Sevu ceremony but through some research knew the basics. We would present the Kava to the chief and he’d accept it and either allow us to stay or not. After arriving we met the chief who was on his way out fishing and said we would perform the ceremony later that night. We settled in to our beautiful small home right on the sand with the high tide line less than 10 feet from our front door.
The chief came back shortly with a doggie. About 10 kgs clearly caught only moments before just as the sun went down. I was so stoked to already see exactly the fish I was looking for. He pointed to one of the small islands that created our bay only a few minutes boat ride away and said that he’d caught it right there.
Arriving in Fiji we were pretty sure we would just drink Kava all day everyday. The first two hostels we stayed at advertised all the Kava you could drink. Upon arriving we discovered the price of Kava had risen to more than the price of beer. Most likely because it’s all getting exported now to Kava shops all over the world. We didn’t drink much Kava our first few weeks in Fiji, just a bowl here and there. One of our friends at Beachouse gave us a pretty good sized bag just before they left and we had been drinking it alone in our room every night. We enjoyed it but didn’t feel much from it. It wasn’t until village life that we really experienced Kava. At our Sevu Sevu ceremony the chief welcomed us over a big bowl of Kava. We drank more than we had before but we heard everyone had a big night the previous night so it was fairly tame. As the week went on we were invited to each family’s Kava bowl. We would finish with one family then hop over to another. We were Kava hopping. Anytime we wanted a bowl we just poked our heads out of our house and someone would ask us to join them. Each afternoon there would be multiple groups of people pounding the raw Kava root into a fine powder. They did this with a long thick metal rod and an old scuba tank cut in half. I had heard before that you must let it build up and the more often you drink it the easier you feel it. After 10 days of truly endless Kava we definitely felt it every night.
We weren’t planning on diving the day after we arrived as someone else was using the boat and I had lots of rigging to do anyways. However we woke up to our host knocking on the door asking if we wanted to dive. Silly question of course we did. I scrambled to rig enough guns to get us started and we loaded about eight of us into a panga and headed offshore. The seas were maravou as they would say meaning flat/calm. The sun was as hot as ever and after about an hour we made it to the first spot and hopped in. Sam was using the float line so I used my 105 Aimrite roller and started hunting the reef. It was beautiful with only 35-40 m of vis but they apologized for it being dirty. I saw multiple doggies cruising along in the 10-15 kg class. None offered a shot but I didn’t care this was day one and I was only expecting to join the guys on a reef mission. We drifted into a nice corner and the current picked up and so did the life. It was noon and there were a few doggies hanging around the edge of the drop off at 20-25 m. I took the float line from Sam and rigged it to the big Aimrite double roller. I was at 20 m looking at a school of doggies swim away when I see a lone one sneak up to me between me and the reef. I leveled the gun and had him pinned right against the ledge. Everyone was above me looking straight down as I took what would surely be a stone shot on the 20 kg fish. I fired from point blank and totally whiffed. I was confused and pretty embarrassed as I did the swim of shame back to the surface. I then found my slip tip lodged firmly into my shark fins it must have slipped off just prior to firing. Later video would show exactly that. Ryan: 0 doggies: 1.
Sam was getting pretty antsy seeing all the doggies swim around and was demanding the float line back. I wasn’t stoked on this but we started passing it back and forth. My next shot at a doggie was again super close pinned between me and the same section of wall. Top of the head behind the eye lots of angle on it and I waited for him to roll over. He didn’t. He stopped to shake his head and dump blood everywhere but hauled ass for the ledge with a bunch of sharks in tow. Before I made the surface he was wrapped in a ledge and had the ball of sharks devouring him. Doggies: 2 Ryan: 0. Except now I was sure I’d lost my one and only slip tip and made useless one of my three shafts for the big gun.
I was pretty bummed but didn’t have time to languish in my pain as the commotion had attracted everything. I could see a large coral trout swimming around a big GT and a few more doggies. Sam had the 105 reel gun and had disappeared down current. Some of the villagers followed her while I stayed up current above my wrapped up gear. Apparently she hit a nice doggie at 60 feet but luckily he shook the spear and swam off without taking her and the gun. She arrived back up current where I mentally reprimanded her for risking her life and gun in our first hour in the water. I snatched the gun back from her and prepared for a deep dive to unhook my probably mangled shaft and maybe shoot at the big coral trout. As I got deeper I could better see the fish the commotion had attracted. I leveled off and a big GT cruised right up to me. It had the biggest doggie I’d seen yet following right on it’s tail. I told myself I would not shoot it. I had 2 shafts for the 105 and 2 shafts left for the 125 and nearly 3 weeks of diving left. He just kept coming closer and closer ’til he was just a meter or so away. I couldn’t help myself and leveled the small gun for what could only be a stone shot. Luckily the shaft hit true and the doggie rolled right over into my arms. Definitely one of the more risky shots I’ve ever taken. No belt reel connected. A 50 m reel with probably only 40 or so meters of line. Aimrite 105 single roller with a tight 14 mm band. Right as I shot I went for the fish and grabbed him by the head to drag him the 70 feet back to the surface. I wasn’t taking any chances with the sharks. Screams erupted as I hit the surface I had a whole village excited with me. On the video from 70 feet down you can hear the whole village cheer when I hit him. Come by my talk at the Blue Wild and I will play the video.
Getting my doggie the first day really took the pressure off for the rest of the trip. Maybe too much so that I relaxed into village life so much that would be the only doggie I’d land the next few weeks. I missed a few more small ones and spent a lot of time in the water with the pole spear looking for a small doggie or big walu. I had one more brief shot at a 50 kg fish but he was too far away and swimming into the current. I think the big weather shift we had turned the fish off because we never saw them like we did that first day.
I had a blast with the local guys hunting the reef every day. Big job fish, coral trout, and some of the dumbest mu I’ve ever seen. Night diving for lobster and hikes up to Cobia, the island with the blue hole that is an old volcanic crater. A really really cool experience even without the diving. I only just scratched the surface of this area and I’m confident I’ll be back there very soon.