The two smiling fishermen approached in their little wooden boat, proudly holding up a huge wahoo. “Hop on with a knife and take as much as you like”, says Jesse James. We are a bit reluctant but it doesn’t take too much encouragement for Lyn to hop aboard and slice two nice fillets of delicious fish.
In this day and age it’s hard to imagine a place where you can live comfortably with no money. Living a largely subsistence existence in an abundant tropical paradise the locals on Matuku Island have this and are probably the happiest, nicest and most generous people we have yet met.
Time to see more of Fiji
Musket Cove is a wonderful place, but at the end of September 2017, after 3 months essentially based in that area we were ready to see a little more of Fiji before we left. We had heard wonderful accounts of the Southern Lau group of islands, including surf break possibilities so we decided that was where we wanted to get to. The only problem is to get there we would have to be travelling against the south easterly trade winds, which are notoriously strong along the Coral Coast on the south of the main island (Viti Levu).
After watching the weather for a few days a forecast of light wind had us heading eastward. Before the weather window we sailed to Likuri harbour for a closer launching point, a lovely and sheltered anchorage which looks like it would be a great flat water kiting spot. We left early in the morning, happy to be motoring in no wind
and later in the day motored through the main pass of the Astrolabe reef, north of the Kanduvu group. Stunning scenery in the glassy blue water with a pod of spinner dolphins accompanying us.
That night the wind came in stronger and with more east in it than expected and we were sailing hard on the wind. After quite a rough night on the morning of Saturday 30 September we modified our original plan to get to Fulanga Island, and re-directed to Matuku.
The pass into the anchorage is quite wide and deep, but with shallow fringing reef and unmarked. With the rising sun in our faces it was stressful getting in, but we were rewarded by a beautiful perfectly sheltered 360 degree protected anchorage.
We went in with some kava to perform the sevu sevu ceremony in the village and were soon charmed by the beautiful little village and equally beautiful people.
Fijis new Surf Mecca?
Next morning we went exploring the surf breaks at the main pass where we had come in. They are interesting and beautiful, but don’t offer much of a ride. The left on the south side of the pass is all over the show and wild, with the occasional hollow short ride if you were in the perfect place. On the north side of the pass, the right breaks beautiful and smooth, but is so short and ends almost immediately after it breaks.
Local fisherman Jesse James is a wonderfully positive man. He fishes and spear fishes with sharks at night time and hobbles around on a gammy leg (I think caused by polio) which doesn’t seem to inhibit him in the least.
He has an ambitious plan to open an eco-surf resort on the island, which would be the first resort on the island. Jesse does not surf himself, but he has assisted surfers who have come visiting by boat. He said that these surfers had been really stoked by the waves here. I quizzed him on the spots and it seems the most likely spot is a left called “Vinakas”, which is at a sort of false/shallow reef pass just south of the main pass. His advice was that you should only ride it around high tide.
During our time at Matuku we were lucky to have pretty good swell the whole time, including a big 4 meter swell for a couple of days. Whenever the tide was good I was going out on the dinghy to try to surf at Vinakas. Lyn was my faithful assistant a few times, hanging just behind the break on the dinghy whilst I tried to catch waves. On the smaller days the waves were stunning to eye-surf, hollow and fast, but I found that when I tried to catch them it was very hard to get one that didn’t close out or break too fast.
The wave breaks quite square on the reef and you need to pick one with a bit of a shoulder. Also, there is no sideways exit to deep water, so if you get stuck inside you are reef hopping on shallow reef.
I was also obviously the one and only surfer there, at a place with no hospital and with not much chance of being rescued if I had a major injury. Lyn would have been very limited in what she could do to help me. I also had no moral support or the courage of fellow surfers to share it with. So on the big days I chose discretion over valour and caught photographs of perfect waves, rather than riding them.
The waves did look a lot more rideable when it was bigger and if I had a surfing mate there I would definitely have been keen to give it a go.
Although Jesse says there are a few other surf breaks which we didn’t see, they are all much more wind-affected than Vinakas where the trade wind blows offshore, so I think I saw the best of the Matuku surf potential. Maybe Vinakas might line up better with a swell with a bit more south in it, but I don’t think so as I think the swell just tends to bend in and break quite square on the reef. So I think that Vinakas is an excellent surf break at the right tide, with a bigger swell and definitely for more advanced or pro surfers. It is a beautiful alternative to the crowded Namotu/Tavarua area but it is far less consistent for good surf.
We did one scuba dive on the main pass which was pleasant but pretty ordinary in terms of coral and fish. On the inside sections of the Vinaka surf break before the false pass the diving and snorkelling looks awesome. Beautiful coral and interesting terrain. I snorkelled here but we did not scuba. Jesse says there are many other great scuba locations, but we didn’t get to them.
We are not religious, in fact we are quite against it, but whilst here we appreciated the beautiful faith and sense of community that the Fijian islanders enjoy through their Sunday church services. Out of respect to our hosts we accepted their invitation to attend the church services and it was a lovely experience. We attended the local service at the village at the anchorage (Loma) with a lovely lunch afterward. We also were fortunate to attend the monthly combined villages’ service at the nearby village of Raviravi.
This included a lovely tea, cake and kava reception after the ceremony.
The services were in Fijian but the minister had such charisma that he kept us interested anyway and the singing was truly beautiful.
Lyn provided endless entertainment taking photos of the beautiful children and showing them back to them. Not camera-shy at all!
We were also fortunate to be there on the arrival day of the cargo supply ship from Suva. It was fascinating to see the organised chaos of the collecting of the goods by longboat from all of the villages of the island.
All good things
With our time in Fiji coming close to an end and wanting to explore a bit more of other islands we said a sad farewell to Matuku on Friday October 6th and set out for the Kanduvu group. We have left a part of our hearts there and we will be back.