Fiji -- The Southwest and world famous Musket Cove
Bula, Bula!  After a typically breezy & rough passage from Opua to Fiji, we dropped the hook to rest in "tiger shark" bay... before continuing to Latoka for check-in formalities.  Days later, we were introduced to the famous "Musket Cove Yacht Club" at beautiful Malolo-lai-lai.  Musket Cove is a great base of operations for cruisers, and did not disappoint on any front.
After "joining" the club (lifetime = $1), we took advantage of all the great cruiser offerings -- secure moorings, fresh water showers, groceries, hobie rentals, restaurant(s), golf, dock space for rinse off & repair,  swimming pool, TV lounge for rugby games, etc, etc.
Plus, great cruiser BBQ's on sunday night... with grills, fixings, extensive bar, on a beautiful sandy beach... and lots of fun cruisers to share it with!  After an appropriate dose of Musket Cove, we ventured off to explore Fiji's Western islands -- Waya, Blue Lagoon, Saui-Lau, Likiliki, Monuriki, and more
The Big Five O
We also made a brief stop at the mega yacht marina at Denirau... for fresh water, a boatwash, and Sue's 50th Birthday Dinner.
Flat Water!!!
We've are pretty loose with invitations to join us... because no one ever does, until Fiji.  We had 7 "accepts" in July '03.  With only one spare berth, we had a small dilemma.  "Take A Break", run by Dave & Judy Cull came to our rescue.  The Pinner5 enjoyed the space & luxury of the catamaran, while we traveled with our sons, Jeff & Brandon, on Kiapa.  It was a great solution for cruising with 9... and Dave proved to be a great guide for novice Fiji navigators.  Our only complaint was that Take A Break seemed to favor anchorages that were monohull rolly!
We enjoyed exploring Fiji's western isles.  The flat water sailing was heavenly.  The Walu fishing was excellent.  We had some "nice" dives.  The anchorages were secure, and Musket Cove made a great base of operations.  The only drawback is that tourism is well-established, so you're never really very far off the beaten track.  We addressed this by weaving our way east along Viti Levu's north shore to Nanuyira, then across bligh water to Yadua.
Vanua Levu -- Yadua, Makongai, and around Savusavu
Yadua was exquisite.  We spent most of our time in the primary anchorage on the west end, but did venture around the north coast during settled weather.  We also ventured out into bligh water a couple times to "catch".  We walked across the island to perform sevusevu with the village chief.  We explored the marine preserve.  We dove the beautiful reef wall guarding the anchorage.  The most memorable day included the "over the line" game we ran one saturday with the local kids in Cuko bay.  Early the next morning, a boat came to transport the kids back to the village on the east side.  As they drove by the anchored boats, we heard the continuous chant... "hey batta, hey batta".  Afterward, it was a couple of easy "day" sails east to Savusavu, and fresh groceries.
Savusavu is a port of entry offering a comfortable harbor with moorings, fresh water sources, and good provisioning.  We rented a car and did some land exploring, and enjoyed a local wedding where we were honored guest.  The Copra Shed  or Wai Tui Marina make great bases of operations.  There isn't much breeze in the harbor, so it's a bit hot.  An easy escape is to anchor a few miles away off reef in front of the Cousteau resort in clear water and fresh trade winds.
Makongai offered a great anchorage and a non-traditional village dedicated to marine research.  We enjoyed diving and volleyball with the villagers, and endured many fun-packed kava sessions.  A great stop, only a long daysail from Savusavu.
The Lau Group -- an isolated, protected tropical paradise
Words can't describe this magical place... and our pictures certainly don't do our stay justice.   We were fortunate to arrange an invitation to "the plantation" through the good folks at the Copra Shed in Savusavu.  We elected for a lazy overnight passage to weather to get out to the Lau group.  The pass was tricky, but actually well marked if you knew what to look for.  Once inside, there was an exciting winding eyeball-navigation trip to the volcano anchorage.  The village folks were very welcoming, with regular volleyball and kava sessions in the evenings.  We took some of the guys out fishing three weekends in a row with great results over a seamount and at the pass entrance.  The villlage was quite pleased with the 100's of lb's of fish we caught.

The story wouldn't be complete without the tale of the lost dinghy.  The night before our planned 4th Saturday fishing trip, the wind came up in the wee hours.  Our Caribe was (poorly) tied up behind Kiapa, instead of being up on the spinnaker halyard as it should have been.  When we got up to check on things at dawn, we immediately noticed that the dinghy was gone.  As the anchorage offered 330 degrees of protection, we assumed that an extensive search of the lagoon would turn up our ride -- WRONG!  Amazingly, the incredibly narrow entrance to the caldera anchorage had been working as an exhaust outlet for the southerlies that had piped up that night.  Our dinghy had blow out of the anchorage, and apparently out over the barrier reef on the north side of the island.  Mithrandir came to our rescue, volunteering to convert our fishing expedition into a dinghy hunt.  We put together a 10 nm x 10nm grid, and started working back & forth across it.  After 7-8 hours of searching, we reached to NW corner of our grid... and exhaustion.  It was a windy day, with lots of white caps... but we hadn't seen anything that looked remotely like a dinghy.  As we were preparing to turn about for the ride back, someone hollered "dinghy ho".  There, a few 100 yards ahead of us, bobbed our 10 foot dinghy + 8 H.P. outboard.  We sailed along side.  I jumped in... and old "one pull Johnson" fired right up.   We rigged it for a rough towboat ride back... and set sail.  The dinghy had traveled 10 miles north of the anchorage... out the enclosed anchorage, out over the reef, in over another atoll's reef with 2-3 meter waves, and finally out of that lagoon into the open ocean.
Long Road to Village
Volley Ball Team
Stairs UP to Village
As a couple of new yachts arrived to explore the plantation, we felt it was time to check out the "bay of islands" and, if possible, visit a couple of the local villages.  The bay was spectacular, with magical water color and basalt formations.  Not many cruisers venture beyond the plantation, but we found that our kava offering was well accepted at two nearby small villages.  We enjoyed a week or more with Mithrandir at cozy "little harbor", spending almost every day diving & snorkling nearby reef structures.
There was some controversy during our visit over "plantation invitations" and village efforts to require "cruising permits".  The Lau group is truly a unique South Pacific paradise, and it would be overrun if it were open to tourism and cruisers.  We were incredibly luck to be able to visit, to interact, to fish & hunt, and to enjoy these islands.
After 5 weeks in the "explorer isles" (3 weeks at the plantation and 2 weeks exploring on our own)... we finally returned to the real world.  A long daysail had us back outside of Savusavu just after dark.  It was mid-September.  After topping up our fuel & provisions, we slowly made our way back to the southwest with another great stop at Yadua.  We arrived back at Musket cove mid-October, just in time to start working on our November 1-ish sail back to Opua and beautiful New Zealand. Our "season" in Fiji had flown by...  We had wondered what it would be like to cruise one island nation in the same time we had explored from Mexico to New Zealand.  Fiji offered great variety, fine weather, good foraging, warm people, and beautiful scenery... and we managed to add 4000 miles to the log  Yeah, it was good!!!  Vinaka to all who made it so.