The offloading is taking forever. There are now 3 small skiff's shuttling our myriad of supplies from Brianna to the Amanzi Wai camp site. Bricks, bags of cement, furniture, food stocks, barrels of fuel - basically everything and anything you can think of that one needs to sustain life on an island, is coming off the boat. I sort off take charge on deck and start organising which loads get sent on which boat, counting boxes and making sure they check out against the shipping manifest. I then realise my luggage has evaded me and has somehow been liberated from this shit box. This is definitely a sign. If my luggage can make it off the boat undetected, maybe I can too.
I say to Eddie (Tevita's dad), that maybe we could be of better help on land since they could need some extra help off-loading all the gear. He agrees. Sweet. I’m on the next skiff with a lounge suite, some cooler boxes and a few pockets of onions. Brianna was anchored extremely close to the reef. Pretty shortly after departing form my former prison, we can see through the brilliant aquamarine water onto the shelves of coral. I know this place, not this place exactly, but this vision. How I have missed it. It looks like everything I had imagined, and more, so much more. All the islands we have stopped at the previous few days looked pretty sweet - white sand beaches, green fringed palm trees, great fishing possibilities, but all kind of similar. This however is something different, something unique, something special. I'll tell you why.
We approach from the northern tip of the island, which a squizz on Google Maps will show you, is the sheltered side of the island where our camp is and the future buildings will also be. It has everything all the other islands have, a massive, lush, dark green centre, the palm trees, and this amazing water with a colour and clarity that is just transfixing. There are some awesome looking flats too, to the west, extending over a point that is close to a very special geographical point named “the waterfall”. Lets take a conservative guess and say 50-60% of the northern coastline is protected and sheltered by a sort of semi-circle of jagged smaller islands. This naturally created a lagoon right on our doorstep. The closest outcrop is 300-400m away from our beach and about the size of half a football field in surface area, I presume. The lagoon itself is pretty big, at least large enough to hide a number of big fish!
Its spring tide at the moment, so the difference between low and high is significant, but when it drains out, you can see exactly what you're casting onto. Some pure sandbanks, some deeper channels, some grassy flats, some pocketed reef banks, the odd little coral bombie poking out here and there, and a little section towards the north east that has a jagged rock bottom. The vast majority of the lagoon is fringed by our island’s beach.
I have to say that our position is fairly strategic in terms of the short distance required to reach a range of areas offering different opportunities to catch many different fish species in many different ways. The outer reef is less than a mile run in the boat, you can wade the majority of the lagoon on a low tide and I can only imagine how awesome it must be to drift over the lagoon in a boat at high tide. If you designed a sport fishing theme park, it would look something like this.
Our skiff lands, I hop off and stand on the beach for the first time. I’m here now. So long I've waited for this. Weeks, months, countless packing hours, countless repacking hours, time spent, money spent, hours travelled, but finally, I’m on the island. It’s breathtaking. I can see fairly quickly that the foliage behind the camp is thick and quite unwelcoming. A good mixture of hardwood, coconut palm, paw-paw trees and a few other species I can’t identify grow tightly together so you can see no deeper than 20-30m before things become a blur.
The camp itself is, well, a camp. Nothing fancy here. Chad's tent, another 2 man tent, and a massive blue army style tent, which I later would find out is one of the tents the Chinese government donated to the island when cyclone Winston hit the Fiji islands last year. It obliterated everything. It uprooted 20-year-old palm trees and lashed houses into pieces over the course of 2 days.
There is a fire burning in a large fire pit dug into the sand. A few benches, suspended net-chairs, and hammocks surround the centerpiece. Behind this and further towards to the rocky outcrops behind the beach is the HQ. It’s crude, but functional. It’s also going to be my office. A 6x6m industrial tarp stretched over a few 3m high poles, completed with some guide ropes to hold everything taught, makes the base of operations an airy but comfortable area. There is a large, very obviously handmade table in the corner that is supporting a few large Pelicase's. This is the heart of the operation; no one puts non-valuable items in Pelicase's. All our power tools and hand tools are in here. One thing catches my eye - an utterly massive STIHL chainsaw. I am well aware that chainsaw's and angle grinders contribute to the highest number of work related casualties in various industries, but my God, I can’t wait to slay a 30m tall hardwood tree with that beast.
After our skiff arrives, we greet the local people who will, in the next few days, become our new family. There are a lot of new faces and names, the saving grace is that Fijians generally have fairly simple names like: Henry, Mary, and Poppy, to name a few. The offloading starts with a renewed fury as the next skiff arrives with bricks and some bags of rubble. Then the next boat is stacked full with bricks, the next one also, and the next. Eventually, with 12 guys running backwards and forwards up and down the beach we managed to offload 764 cast blocks, 150 bags of cement, 200 bags of building sand, 200 bags of rubble, a lounge suite, food for 10 people for the next 2 weeks, water, 2 x 200l of fuel for the boat and generator, and various other nik naks of small cartons with mainland goodies. After a fairly solid session of physical labour, I’m sweating like a stuck pig. I mean properly sweating, like forearm sweating - you know it’s serious when your forearms start sweating.
After a catch up with Chad and giving Shaun a decent amount of shit for not landing a GT on fly already, we start making dinner preparations, which for Chad is a big thing. We're having chicken tonight, freshly frozen, imported by yours truly from Cost-U-Less on the mainland. Chad hasn't had chicken in close to 3 weeks, so I can understand his stoke. The birds are heaved in a drum of lukewarm water to defrost while the girls boil some sweet potatoes. This is where things get, for lack of a better word, “Afrikaans”. The wheelbarrow comes out, is filled with coals from the fire, and has a big 1inch gauge fence chucked on top. The fence is now the braai grid (Braai is a South African tradition that will bring a manly tear to any patriotic Saffa when done correctly - but basically grilling over an open flame or coal.) The chicken gets chopped, marinated and made short work of, on the braai. I call it “wheelbarrow chicken”.
It’s pretty good - I can’t lie. Sitting back on a hardwood bench taking it all in, the new smells, the idyllic sound of small waves lapping the shore in the background, the feel of soft sand under foot. And lets not forget, the chicken - after 2 days of travelling and 3 days on the boat, either eating very little, or eating crackers, this is definitely a treat. I think I can get used to this. Work, play, fish, and surf. Island life. The ‘stoke’ is high. Every now and then I have a little giggle at where I actually am. It’s real. It’s tangible now. A dream that has been in the pipeline for almost a year finally comes to fruition. I can’t wait to see what the next few days will have in store for us. What fish are we gonna see? What fish are we gonna catch? All these questions and all these possibilities. So, so many possibilities.
I set up my tent, unpack the essentials, move all the technical gear under the HQ tent, and proceed to commandeer half of Chad's neatly organized table. This is going to be an issue, I can see already. Sand free real estate is worth a lot in these parts. I have a lot of things, lure bags, fly boxes, a hardware box, a basic tool kit, a surfboard, a body board, and 7 fishing rods that need to find a home. This is a problem to be solved in the daylight hours. Eventually everything just gets plonked down on Chad's mathematically organized grid of ‘things’. I feel like I’m invading. Am I invading? I get told I’m invading. Yeah, I'm invading. Just for one night though…
I creep into my tent, warm and humid, but the wind is blowing and it makes it bearable. I drift off knowing I’m right, I went left when everyone else went right. I made the right choice, put in the hours, made the sacrifices. I’m here now, I’m committed and I can’t wait to go fishing. Good night.
Words & Imagery Nic Schwerdtfeger.