Taveuni, the Garden Island

When asked if I’ve been here before I mention I visited 30 years ago. I see them calculating, trying to figure out my age, hmmm, I joke that I was only 10.

My most prolific memory is of snorkeling over a shallow reef that is still imbedded in my mind as the most colorful, breathtakingly beautiful mix of corals and fish, beyond compare after all these years.

I sign up for a morning snorkel trip to Rainbow Reef, I’m guessing this must be the same area. I’m joined by Ulpi and Caesar from Bogota, Colombia. Delightful couple also staying at the Coconut Grove Beachfront Cottages, which is a perfect slice of quiet funkiness with three cottages and a restaurant run by a pod of some of the friendliest ladies the world has ever seen.  Ronna, who transplanted herself from the U.S. east coast, lovingly built this gem and is at the helm of this smooth sailing land vessel.

Mother Nature let loose with a torrent of tropical rain on the way to the reef. As we enter the sea, the clouds part and sun illuminates the coral. The ocean is absolutely flat. 

Our snorkel guide, Sirena (is that her real name or did she choose the Spanish word for mermaid? It suits her either way) leads us to our first site, we drift with the current, slowly gliding over a vast array of coral. Lots of healthy looking bright bunches, yet sporadic. Damage from Cyclone Winston along with rising ocean temperatures has taken a toll, yet signs of recovery are hopeful. I spot a small white tip Reef shark, while Sirena drifts another direction, I make sure the Colombians see the shark, can’t take the guide out of me. 

Floating, letting my mind roam free, I’m definitely in my element, laughing at the antics of a school of small, bright, iridescent blue fish, going every which way, I start laughing with joy.

After nearly an hour of blissfully enjoying the undersea world, we board the boat to head to another site. Greeted with fresh fruit and banana bread, suddenly the Captain remarks, “Hey I see some manta rays, would you all be interested in swimming with them” I exchange glances with the Colombians and we silently agree that was the silliest question ever asked! We shout “Si” Yes” “Por favor” Please”

We quietly slither in trying not to disturb them, I find myself swimming next to this strangely graceful citizen of the sea that I had previously not met. He faces his huge mouth straight into the current, scooping plankton like a watery front loader. Flapping his “wings” so gracefully and powerfully, we have no chance of keeping up when he decides to move on but thankful for the experience. 

Back on the boat, the Captain shouts “Dolphins!” Very few words at sea bring me greater joy, a pod of frisky spinner dolphins are leaping and frolicking in the calm seas, living up to their name, hard to tell who is happier, humans or sea mammals!

Snorkel site #2, equally lovely, another drift snorkel, taking advantage of the current that runs between Taveuni and Vanua Levu, the Somosomo strait (Fijian for “good water”).  As each tide funnels through the narrow channel, nutrient rich seawater is suited for soft coral growth and spectacular biodiversity. 

Sirena leads us to a patch of cabbage coral. Seriously looks like we’re floating over green cabbage heads, an extremely healthy looking “crop” and mesmerizing to say the least, with patterns and dimensions I could gaze at for hours. 

Back aboard and headed to shore, the Captain apologizes and explains one outboard is not working so it will take longer to get back with just one engine, I say to myself “perfect” even though the skies start pouring again, I’d rather be on a boat than land.

Coming “home” to the Coconut Grove is such a pleasure, the sound of gentle surf, outdoor showers in adorable cabanas and delicious fresh island food, much of it from their own garden, are so welcoming.  Daily cuddles from the  “concierge” Millie the one eyed pirate dog is a sweet amenity.

I walk down the road to buy beer and am heckled by Kumar the fruit vendor, maybe he hasn’t had a sale in days but he walks across the street twice when I’m coming and going and I am shamed into buying some bananas that I probably paid entirely too much for, yet they were perfectly ripe and delightful.

Ready for a kayak expedition, the lovely Fijian ladies get me set up with backrest and paddle and I’m introduced to Tom. The ladies say he will be accompanying me to kayak. I kindly explain that it’s not necessary unless he really wants to go. I discover Tom is the gardener and I gather he would rather continue his landscaping task, so I insist I’m fine as I’m a long time kayaker. They begrudgingly let me go. The seas are calm and I paddle to Honeymoon Island. Yep, just me, all romantic, party of one, but wait, I’m not alone, a couple white terns squawk at me, crabs chase each other down the little beach I landed on and I’m greeted by my fish friends as I snorkel the surrounding reef.  Perfect amount of solitude with raw nature.

Upon return Tom sincerely greets me with “You are a strong woman!” I take that as a huge compliment and hope I have blazed a trail for the next solo female traveler.

I wake up before dawn, put on a bathing suit (to be polite) and slip into the sea.  The silky, soft, warm ocean envelopes me like an embrace. Mother ocean, how I love you. Did I have worries prior to arriving on Taveuni? That was a world away, breathing sea air, hearing the gentle waves embark upon the sand is the perfect remedy.

My last evening of sweet solitude on my deck provides great timing as I get to witness the full moon as she peeks out from behind clouds and shines so softly on the sea.  

International Woman of Mystery, is she in yesterday or today?
Fiji Gold at golden hour
Outdoor shower with a view!
Ronna, at the helm. Owner/operator. Photo courtesy of coconutgrovefiji.com
The wonderful pod of Fijian sunshine. Photo courtesy of coconutgrovefiji.com
Ahhh zen time on hammock, until friendly neighbor dog decides to join me with beach-full of sand in his paws

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