Making the Sailing Scene: Tall-ship Charter Sailing in Fiji

Back in 1643, while navigating the waters of the Pacific aboard a tall ship, explorer Abel Tasman came upon Taveuni, a lush, narrow island covered in palm trees and untouched by the western world. These days, Fiji's some 330 islands are firmly rooted on the world's tourist radar, forcing an early decision on visitors: Take the easy route straight to an all-inclusive island resort, or forge your own path to discover the islands' off-beat charms? For those interested in the latter (and we trust you're among them), one is best advised to mimic Tasman's 17th-century arrival by charting a tall ship to explore this South Pacific archipelago.
Hollywood must have observed the same remote, splendid magic that Tasman felt when he first sailed toward Fiji and saw Taveuni's distinct ridgeline—the island served as the tropical backdrop in Return to the Blue Lagoon. Despite this cinematic spotlight, the "Garden Island" remains fairly unscathed; its volcanic spine hinders much travel to the southeast side, but views of the plummeting waterfalls and soaring cliffs (flanking Fiji's second-highest peak, 4,040-foot Uluiqalau) are accessible to boats circumnavigating the island. On land, the Bouma Falls region includes three enormous waterfalls, all with swimmable pools. As the island lacks predators like the mongoose, an abundant array of birds—from wild chickens to parrots and orange-breasted doves—flutter all over the island. Drop anchor off shore, hit the mainland to trek through the tropical forests and flirt with the region's wildlife, then dive below the water's surface for some of the best scuba and snorkeling in the South Pacific.
If you elect to head to Koro, a tiny island southwest of Taveuni, know that visitors must stay with locals or aboard ship—this is decidedly not a deterrent. The locals in the village of Nacamaki in the island's northeast corner still practice turtle calling, an all-too-rare tradition due to the dwindling turtle population. Kora also has a network of coastal bike trails, including an inspiring run to Nola Point, where you will find the island's best kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling. Then, when you've indulged your castaway fantasies long enough, hoist anchor and head for Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island. The city streets of Savusavu are lined with inexpensive East Indian, Micronesian, Melanesian, and Chinese shops (a reflection of Fiji's diverse population), while glimpses of traditional Fijian village life are to be had outside the city center.
But the true pleasure of tall-ship sailing in Fiji is the access it gives to otherwise-remote islands, places that exist as mere footnotes in most guidebooks. Regional tall-ship outfitters offer both individual charters and group trips. Experienced mariners can arrange to helm their own ship (after a perfunctory test, naturally). The waters are easy to navigate and the maze of islands offers adventure aplenty. If you're more interested in lounging on deck than driving the ship, round up a group of like-minded friends and arrange for a multi-day charter. Crews are usually composed of locals who've explored the waters their whole lives. Eat local cuisine, travel to your crew's favorite hideaways, lose sleep over tales from Fiji's cannibal past, and remember to keep slapping on that sunscreen.

Published: 21 Jan 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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