May 12, 2008

Reality Fiji

Writer: Caitlin Cherry
For: NZ Sunday Star Times
Date: May 14, 2000

Most of us who travel to Fiji only see the tourist version - we stay at resorts and sit beside the pool drinking coloured cocktails.

Few get a chance to really experience Fijian culture. New Zealander Anthony Norris of Tamarillo Tropical Expeditions, has spent many months working closely with the locals on the remote Fijian island of Kadavu, to ensure the small groups they take kayaking around the island get a chance to experience the real Fiji.

Kadavu has no television, few roads and life is dictated by the tides.

The island is almost entirely surrounded by one of the worlds largest reefs - the Great Astrolabe, which protects the waters around the island from the massive Pacific swells, and makes sea-kayaking a pleasure.

Tamarillo takes groups of up to 12 people for an 7-day trip kayaking around Kadavu and nearby Ono, staying in small, simple resorts and in local villages. I took the trip with 2 Americans, an Australian and three other New Zealanders.

The first two nights were spent on Ono, at a small palm-fringed resort called Jona's Paradise. With a small coral reef right by the shoreline, the snorkelling there is amazing. This is where we had our kayaking training, and got a chance to walk with our Fijian guide Petero to the top of the island to see the lay of the land.

We began our kayaking trip on the third day - hugging the coastline we paddled around the southern coast of Ono, stopping for lunch at a beautiful bay where an old man, called Taito, with lots of stories to tell, lives on his own in the small bure he built himself. The support boat carrying our luggage arrived before us, and lunch was ready when we pulled onto the shore.

In the afternoon we kayaked for another couple of hours to the village of Naqara - all the children from the village were there to welcome us as we pulled in to the shore. Naqara is a very traditional village - which meant we had to change into more modest attire, covering our shoulders and legs.

After a lesson from Petero on village etiquette, we headed into the village meeting house.

Our guides offered the villagers a kava root on our behalf, which was ground up to make a huge bowl of kava - and the ceremony began. The taste of kava can be hard to get used to, but it is fairly rude to refuse it - at least not the first time. The four New Zealanders heartily drank every bowl until our mouths went numb.

We then were called away to another room, where the most incredible feast had been put on for us - prawns, stuffed crabs, fish - it is impossible to describe, except to say it was one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten.

After dinner we returned to the meeting house for more kava and a Taralala - or dance - to music from three guitars. We all danced until the kava ran out in the early hours of the morning.

After a comfortable night in a bure, a delicious breakfast, and a fond farewell to the people of the village, we headed back around the Ono coastline, stopping for some more incredible snorkelling, another tasty lunch and plenty of strong (real) coffee. We then crossed the channel to Kadavu in the support boat.

We spent the night at another small palm-fringed resort - Alberts Place - and in the morning began the trip around the island of Kadavu.

This day was the highlight of my trip - as we rounded the eastern tip of the island we saw two humpback whales, a mother and her calf, just a few metres from our kayaks.

The view from a kayak is totally unique - you get to see the beautiful coastline, cruise through the mangroves, kayak over incredible coral reefs - I saw a reef shark, two rare sea turtles and more shades of turquoise than I knew existed.

We spent the next night at a resort called Matava - which runs diving expeditions out past the Astrolabe reef - and hires out all the equipment needed. It also has a bar - which was a welcome relief for many of the people on my trip.

The moment we arrived at Matava a marathon session of touch rugby began on the beach with some of the local Fijian lads from the area. This was of course followed by another incredible feast.

In the morning we set off in our kayaks on a day trip to the village of Nacamoto. When we arrived another incredible feast was laid out for us - crabs, prawns, eggplant - again impossible to describe - except to say I was in ecstasy.

All of us stuffed ourselves yet again, so we all keeled over for a nap, before taking a scenic walk, over the hills back to Matava, led by one of the villagers.

It was a chance to see more incredible views of the island and the roaring Pacific swells smashing onto the reef in the distance.

After a dip in a river swimming hole in another village along the way, we returned to Matava for our final night on Kadavu.

The following morning we took a boat trip to Kadavu's one small grass airstrip and flew back to the mainland, and Nadi's Tokatoka Resort.

Now this is the Fiji that I knew before - poolside bar, fancy cocktails, hundreds of middle-aged Australians wearing slacks and polyester summer dresses. But it all just seemed so tacky after the experience of the previous days.

What we experienced on Ono and Kadavu is not something a traveller could not do on their own.

Tamarillo have worked very hard to develop relationships with the locals on the two islands - so that we are welcomed into their homes, and looked after as if we were family.

Sea-kayaking with Tamarillo is an expedition for people with a sense of adventure - who want to really experience ALL that Fiji has to offer.

I would do this trip again in a flash.

May 10, 2008

How to offset carbon emissions for travel and living

Take a look at the different actions you can take to reduce and offset the build-up of greenhouse gases

Human beings have needs which must be met. But in meeting those needs, our actions are causing a build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which are a consequence of the energy and the services we use every day. We burn fossil fuels for electricity in our homes and businesses, for transportation, and to manufacture the goods we buy and consume every day. Considering that doing without energy seems highly unlikely, we should at least take actions to offset our CO2 emissions. This is where carbon offsets come into play. 
Carbon offsets are financial instruments representing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which allow governments, businesses, and individuals to compensate for their emissions. One carbon offset represents the reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases. Carbon offsets are bought by either governments and businesses to comply with restrictions on the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions allowed, or at a much smaller scale, by individuals, businesses, and governments that wish to mitigate their emissions. By participating in sustainable projects, we are generating offsets. Some of these projects include reforestation, energy efficiency projects, methane abatement, and the production of renewable energy, such as hydroelectric dams and wind farms. 
Although these projects may seem unrelated to our daily lives, there are plenty of simple actions we can take to offset carbon emissions. Through more efficient heating, cooling, and lighting we can drastically reduce our energy consumption. By simply replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps and taking out our sweaters from the closet and lowering the thermostat during winter months, we are making a difference, believe it or not. Carpooling and using public transport are also simple actions that lessen our impact. 
When traveling, many of us decide to fly to our destinations, either for comfort or to save time. Air travel, however, produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other form of transportation. We can make our travel greener by donating to a series of projects that help offset greenhouse gases resulting from our trips. The internet offers hundreds of sites introducing carbon offsetting projects to which you can make donations. The environmental impact of your flight is calculated and a price is allotted as to how much that impact actually costs. You donate that amount to the project, and thus offset the emissions caused by your flight. Several airlines throughout the world are also looking at neutralizing the effects of their flights on the environment, so before you buy your ticket, check if your airline company is involved in a carbon offset program. 
Most carbon offset projects that you may participate in will not only reduce global carbon emissions, but will improve the quality of life of the populations where the projects are developed. Through a reforestation project, for example, we are not only reducing carbon emissions, but also providing a better education for children who would otherwise spend their time collecting wood for fuel. We are also helping preserve forests and providing a habitat of many plants and animals. 
Participating in offsetting practices is not as difficult as it seems. There are numerous types of activities that can generate carbon offsets. We can modify many of our daily activities to reduce our carbon emissions, make donations to established carbon offset programs, or do business with companies and service providers that follow carbon offsetting practices. Whatever action we take, we must always study our options and choose transparent methods for mitigating our impact. - Eco Articles - How to offset carbon emissions for travel and living

May 5, 2008

Prime paddling

Writer: Sarah Daniell
For: NZ Sunday Star Times
Date: 5 Sept, 2004

I'm sitting cross-legged in a village meeting house and before me, on a woven mat, is a plate of cake and a jug of lemon tea.

" Kana vaka levu, eat plenty," says Iokimi, an old Fijian guy next to me. "We don't like it when tourists come here and just pick at the food.

"It is not so much an invitation to eat, but an order and I'm not going to argue. We are, after all, in Kadavu (kan-da-vu),which comes from two words: Kana, to eat, and davu, to lie down. Eat and lie down. It could be a philosophy for life.

The genteel afternoon tea party seems oddly juxtaposed with this traditional village scene at Waisomo, in Ono Island in Kadavu, Fiji's southernmost island group. But as we discover over the next five days, it is as much a part of the welcome ritual as drinking kava.

The cakes are cooked, like everything here, over fire. Not for these gastronomes the agony of whether to go for fan or conventional bake. And for five days the food is (with the possible exception of the sea slug cooked in coconut cream) magnificent. In fact, Tamarillo Tropical Expeditions, our hosts, could easily change its name toTamarillo Culinary Adventures.

Anthony Norris, a peripatetic New Zealand adventure guide, discovered Kadavu in 1996 while on a reconnaissance for sea kayaking tours. He set up Tamarillo Tropical Expeditions - the only kayaking business in the area - and was later joined by Marina Mantovani of Italy, and Ratu Joseva, a paramount chief in Kadavu.

Tamarillo has been providing adventures for people of all ages and abilities since 1998. On one trip, the eldest guest was 75 years old while the youngest was 3.

Martinis-by-the-McResort-pool it is not. Kadavu is the real deal. This is largely due to the locals' staunch adherence to traditions and culture. Tamarillo has valiantly risen to the occasion with their sympathetically-designed and well-paced tours and Norris, who explored Fiji's other islands before settling on this quintessential paradise, chose well.

Kadavu is surrounded by the Great Astrolabe Reef was named by explorer Dumont d'Urville who sailed by in 1834 in his boat, the Astrolabe.

The reef, the third largest in the world, protects the white-coral beaches (and kayakers) from the pounding Pacific swells, and its biological diversity makes it a top scuba diving and snorkelling destination. There are whales, reef sharks, sea turtles and magnificent coral.

Kadavu has rainforests, spectacular beaches, mangroves, lagoons, islets, waterfalls, and lovely people. There is one airstrip, transport is by boat, there is no electricity (but there are generators) and - joy of joys -very few telephones.

Despite the best efforts of a wildly gusting south-east wind, our 15-seater plane touches down safely at Vunisea, the "capital" of Kadavu. We then clamber into a boat and motor for nearly two hours to Jona's Paradise on Ono Island, where we will stay for two nights.

Our bure (with ensuite) is beachfront and that night, after feasting and drinking vodka with freshly made lemonade, we fall asleep to the perennial lullaby of the waves.
We are in a state of blissful acclimatisation at Jona's Resort, reading, trekking to the top of the island for a panoramic view of the primordial landscape and the sunset, eating and lying down.

We have our first taste of village life at Waisomo, then on day three we head for the water like baby turtles thrown to the elements, alone in the big blue.

Except we're not alone, of course. There are eight in our group plus four Fijian guides - Petero, Ephrami, Qase (pronounced Gus) and Katherine; one New Zealand guide, Jacqui Pryor; plus Norris and Ratu in the support boat, which carries our luggage, fresh coffee and food so that we may eat and lie down.

My kayaking guide is Petero, which is fortunate for me, less so for him. He steers, I set the pace - or so the theory goes. You don't need the Iron Man gene to be able to kayak successfully, but a basic level of fitness is helpful. We stick close to the shore, gliding between rocks and a spectacular frigate bird soars overhead.

The first leg augurs well. We paddle over glittering water in 20 shades of blue and flying fish skid across the bow of my kayak. It's about 40 minutes to our morning tea stop where we have a snorkel. Petero, ever the gentleman, spears a fish for lunch - a ritual he repeats each day, afterwards cooking the fish over fire on the beach.

We lie around on mats and do the Fijian slap dance (whacking mosquitoes) before beginning the next leg of the trip to the beach owned by Taito, a Fijian with tales of omens and butterflies.

Taito lives in nearby Naqara village but frequently retreats to his bachelor pad beach-cave - surely the most romantic piece of beach-side real-estate in the Pacific.

The day Taito met Norris back in 1998 started out as any other day. He awoke, did his chores and caught a fish for lunch. Suddenly, a swarm of butterflies materialised and swooped in, covering his arms and dancing around him. Butterflies symbolise good fortune, says Taito and it was a sign that he would meet someone special that day. So he set two extra places for lunch. As you do.

Meanwhile, Norris, who was on a kayaking recce with a friend when he rounded the west side of Ono, saw the idyllic beach and Taito waving them in. When they landed on the chalky white sand, Taito said, "I've been expecting you." They've have been friends ever since.

That night we are guests at Naqara, where village protocol is observed reverentially. First there are speeches and a gift of kava root is presented from Tamarillo. There is cake, tea, followed by kava (it is polite to accept two cups) and a mind-boggling spread of local delicacies including stuffed land crab, shrimps, fresh fish,eggplant, rice and salad.

We are all tired, but it's a fitful sleep to the sound of what must be a hundred barking dogs, followed by a pre-dawn chorus of crazed roosters. Throughout the night and into the morning I entertain not very pretty fantasies involving slug-guns, sling shots and neck-wringing.

In the morning, the villagers farewell us from the beach and we head off to confront a bitching head wind. The waves have picked up and we engage in a little involuntary surfing. It's fun and certainly challenging, but just when I think I might bail out and holler for the support boat, our next stop appears up ahead. Timing is everything.

Joe Nalewabau owns a beachfront property and 46 acres of tropical gardens and forest called, appropriately, Somewhere Special. His prescient legacy is more like the Garden of Eden.

Nalewabau is a bespectacled, elegant man, who spends 12 to 16 hours a day toiling in the tropical heat of his sanctuary(so much for eating and lying down) and likes to talk philosophy. He proudly shows me his orchards, vegetable gardens, frangipani trees, avocado trees, coconuts and mangoes.

We wash off the salt under a cold outside shower and have lunch before bidding Nalewabau farewell and starting the day's final run. We must have been as fair a sight as any a vessel under sail: six double kayaks rafted up, with sarongs and a tarpaulin to catch the wind. And better still: no paddling required.

Just 40 minutes later, we make Jona's Paradise before crossing the channel to Albert's Place in the support boat.

The food at Albert's is cooked in the traditional lovo which is similar to a hangi. Just when you think the food can't get any better, it does. There is also a magnificent chicken curry, fresh whole fish, vegetables and rice. We drink bizarre Duty Free concoctions and dance and sing before collapsing under our mosquito nets.

We are grateful for a leisurely kayaking pace the next day, but manage a snorkel. Exhaustion and hang-overs give way to a sense of childish wonderment at the "Nemo" land of coral gardens and coloured fish. Afterwards we have stuffed roti and bhuja on the beach before setting sail for Matava Resort.

Matava should be spelt with an "aah" at the end, because on first seeing this place, with its beachfront bures, exotic gardens and sense of relaxed and unpretentious luxury, you can't help but sigh. There are hot showers, a small library, an outside dining room and more importantly, a bar selling cold Fiji Bitter.

The day we arrived, someone caught a yellow fin tuna and that night dinner is sashimi and a smorgasbord. The food at Matava Resort is legendary, as is the maitre d' - Maggie who is elegant, entertaining and hilarious. Our last two nights here are the ideal finale to a fascinating and challenging week.

We've travelled for a week and never once got in a car; there have been no ringing telephones, no newspapers, no six o'clock news. In the summer months in Kadavu, says Petero, the mango trees drip with fruit. It sounds like the perfect time to return, to eat and lie down.