It had been a productive and highly enjoyable sixth week volunteering in the Yasawa Islands. The only disruption to the scheduled school visits had been on Thursday when we had carries out activities at base due to a poor water forecast. This had been followed on the Friday by a slightly hairy experience on our small boat in a larger than usual swell.
This was a perhaps a pre-warning of the storm which was approaching. It was a depression coming from the west which had caught the eye of forecasters who thought it had potential to become a cyclone. The damage from a Category 1 cyclone isn’t usually too significant I can’t so we weren’t too concerned.
On Saturday I waved goodbye to fellow volunteers Jessica and Steph, leaving school teacher Heather and myself with team members Gabby and Jim. Saturday afternoon and evening was relaxed at Botaria Resort, but the next day was far from it…
That night there was loud cracks of thunder over the islands as the rain poured down. We were starting to experience the first indications of the area of low pressure. After breakfast Heather received a phone call from Elle, general manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, informing us we were to be evacuated to the main island – Vitu Levu.
Elle is also plays a significant roll in the “Awesome Adventures” company, an organisation which helps run several of the 16 resorts in the Yasawas chain. It also provides the flyer, a daily catamaran service which provides the best way of travelling to your chosen resort while seeing the other islands. Therefore, it was her call to evacuate all guests at the resorts to Port Denaru on the mainland.
The Flyer is timetabled to arrive at Botaria at 11am on its way north. This time it arrived early and turned at the next resort along, picking up all tourists south of Naviti. Another boat would do the resorts north of Naviti.
The first challenge was actually getting on the Flyer. None of the resorts have a mooring large enough, so we are taken by small longboat to the flyer which stops just out to sea. Once the resort’s boat captain has managed to park next to the catamaran, passengers must step from one vessel to the other. This can be difficult in stormy conditions and proved to be today as Heather and I both found it hard to find any sort of steady surface to step on.
Thankfully making it onto the boat, we started our winding four hour journey south. As every guest at every resort was leaving the Flyer was soon at full capacity. Luckily Heather and I were able to find seats in the middle and at the back of the boat as we swayed from side to side in the large swell. This is seemingly the best place to sit if you don’t have good sea legs.
Relieved to arrive at the port, it was a farewell to Heather who had unfortunately only been able to spend one day volunteering while in Fiji. I was then given a lift from Elle herself to Nadi Bay, an inland hotel which would be my shelter for the next few days.
The next few days were spent sitting around and not doing very much at all. I was desperate to return to the islands but knew this was the a safe place to be as the cyclone arrived. On Tuesday it hit Nadi and there was high winds and flooding in other parts of Fiji. Nadi Bay was a sheltered spot and I felt sorry for the locals who had been forced to batch down the hatches again after the flooding which had followed Cyclone Josie a couple of weeks ago.
“Vinaka Fiji” team member Ross’ family home was flooded along with his farm just outside Nadi. Dengue fever had also been going around his village and he fell victin to it for two weeks. Meanwhile, Gabby and Jim had trekked to Kese when we were evacuated on Sunday. This village on the other side of Naviti from Botaria was hit by flooding from the heavy rainfall.
The Flyer didn’t run next untill Thursday and I met Miss Tema at the port. She had been forced to take an extended break and we were both unaware that Ross was ill as he didn’t join us on the boat. The cyclone had even worse effects in Kadavu, an island 60 miles south of the mainland. Roofs were torn of houses and locals said they thought the world was going to end, as Keni intensified into a Category 3 cyclone.
Arriving in the Yasawas again it was great to be back, but hard to hear of the difficulty my Fijian friends had faced. Difficulties that many say our becoming more common as climate change has a huge effect on a country which actually contributes to the global problem on a much smaller scale than most. When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in January 2016 it was the strongest ever to hit the Pacific region. Huge Disruption was widespread and the current Fijian government now treats globe warming as a hugely important issue. Let’s hope for the sake of this beautiful group of islands, that there is now some restbite.