Sea Kayak the Lau Group
|The rocky, remote coastline along the Lau Group (Corel)|
Far out to sea, wonderfully removed from the main tourist areas on Viti Levu, sits a scattered collection of more than 50 tiny islands where gentle lagoons teem with coral life, far away from the pounding surf caught on the outer barrier reefs. Closer in culture to Tonga, this area of eastern Fiji known as the Lau Group is where you'll find placid waters, stunning white-sand beaches, and sea-weathered limestone cliffs. Natural stone archways form where land and sea entwine. Steady southerly winds make it easy to sail here, but hard to get back. So stow the canvas and turn to sea kayaks, which allow you to explore these islands in a manner that absorbs their tranquility without leaving you stranded. Oh, and one other thing: adopt the South Pacific pace and give yourself nine days to explore the Lau Group, which will include seven days of paddling along the largest of the Lau islands, Vanua Balavu (Fijian for "long island"), under the guidance of Southern Sea Ventures, an assured Aussie outfitter whose staff knows the waters, the islands, and its inhabitants.
After arriving on Vanua Balavu on a flight from Suva, you'll meet your guides who'll provide you with a sea kayak, camping gear, and some food to carry. Play around in the quiet lagoons with your kayak or grab snorkel gear and head out for a swim along the reefs, trying to spot beauties like the clown triggerfish. The first night on the island you'll spend in a villager's home and be welcomed by a traditional ceremony with the chief, a ritual known as a sevu sevu. The ceremony involves singing, clapping, and drinking kava, a mildly euphoric tea made from the root of a pepper plant that you'll encounter all over Fiji. Most often the affair turns into a party of guitar music and dancing.
From there you'll set out for six more days of paddling to lonely beaches, camping under the stars, and catching fish for dinner. Tides and winds will help dictate where you go, but expect to start paddling by 9 a.m. and kicking back at camp by noon. Each evening guides will dig a lovo, a pit oven dug in the sand and fueled with coals, to cook dinner while you go for another swim. That, or you'll be welcomed into quiet villages by the area chiefsthe guides have close connections with the islands, offering an all-too-rare glimpse into the real Lau way of life.
Australian outfitter Southern Sea Ventures (+011.02.8901.3287, www.southernseaventures.com) offers guided seven-day tours of the Lau Group for $1,613, including most food, gear, and accommodation in Suva on either end of the trip, but no flights. Typically outsiders can't just show up in the Lau chain of islands; they need special government permission. But sign up with these guys and you'll skip the bureaucracy and get on with the fun.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication