Fiji - Nandi to Namotu
It’s six am in Nandi Airport. A four-man band stands at the end of the gangway, ukuleles in hand. They're performing traditional Fijian numbers to welcome everyone to the island. It’s clearly a tourist favourite, but these guys are feeling it; there’s passion in their voices.
Their hospitality is infectious - even the customs officials in the sleepy in the immigration hall bust out a smile, before stamping my Passport with a warm “BULA” and waving us through to find Babu, the Fijian-Indian lad in charge of transfers to Namotu Island.
Babu takes us to meet with other guests for a quick breakfast at the Nadi Beach Hotel and we’re on our way to meet the boat at the aptly named Rendezvous Beach.
As we pass sugar cane fields it becomes apparent the locals like to paint their dwellings to match their mood – always cheery! There’s purple ones, bright green, orange with clashing windowsills and doorways of pink, yellow and electric blue.
We set foot on Namotu by 11am after a half-hour ride in one of the Namotu Island Resort traditional longboats.
The design of the island is ingenious. The resort’s owners Scott and Mandy have set it up to cater for every surfer’s wish.
It takes five minutes to walk from one end of the island to the other and less than one to walk from side to side.
The main dining area and bar is oriented towards Namotu’s staple break – Namotu lefts. The early morning coffee and swell checks, as well as afternoon beers, are spent gazing at the conditions of the left. It gives a clear indication of conditions for all the surrounding breaks.
With a pool to your right, games room to your left, wi-fi internet and comfy seating galore, there’s always someone hanging out in this communal area – it’s a treat.
Something that does appear out of place on the island is three golden Labradors – Harley, Clancy and Banjo.
It would seem that anything with a fur coat would simply perspire and perish in the 30-degree heat, but not these guys, they’ve got the place wired. The three dogs go everywhere together and spend their days chilling in the shade until meals and playtime.
They come alive around 4pm when the weather cools and the guests gather around the beach bar. The only other time you see them spark up is if the jet ski kicks over. This is walking the dogs Namotu style – the ski driver does a lap of the island while the three dogs make chase like pan lickers at the track.
As anyone who has been to the tropics knows, simplicity is the key when it comes to a bedroom and bathroom.
Namotu delivers, with three types of bures – Beach bures, VIP bures and Villa bures. All have traditional Fijian features, complete with grass-thatched roofs, but are also fitted with the comfort of air conditioning and a ceiling fan.
The beach bures are set up for two people and have private verandas leading down to the beach.
If it’s a family affair or you’re happy to share sleeping quarters, one of the two VIP bures is the go. They sleep two – six people.
The Villa is downright pimpin’ with its own private pool, bar and lounge room complete with TV and video equipment. It has three private bedrooms with a communal veranda that looks out towards Namotu Lefts. It’s at the southern end of the island and is also the viewing point for Swimming Pools (a perfect right hander).
The Villa is ideal for couples (can accommodate three pairs) but can easily sleep more.
Namotu Island sits smack bang in the middle of Fiji’s most prime surf spots. There are around 10 breaks in an 8km radius, however prior to last winter each island in the area owned a certain amount of them exclusively. On 2 July 2010, the Fijian Government issued the Regulation of Surfing Areas Decree, which took effect one week later.
It was a huge boost for the area, allowing surfers from all islands to spread out across the breaks of their choice.
The decree also means the breaks are now open to anyone from the larger and more popular islands, such as Plantation and Sea Shell. If you plan to stay on these islands and take boat charters, be mindful that the operators quite often don’t know the conditions, lack adequate safety equipment and can be somewhat unreliable.
Lots of surf resort destinations promote surfing options for all levels of skill. Namotu Island truly caters for all surfers with a plethora of options. Don’t be mistaken, these are reef breaks home to live coral, but the set-ups are easy to get to know. The experienced lifeguards will give you advice on where to surf to suit your experience level and will freely offer tips on how to stay out of trouble at each break.
There are surf options in any kind of weather. No matter the size of the swell there’s always somewhere holding huge barrels as well as spots out of the direct line of swell. The only wind that affects the whole area is a stiff northerly, which is very rare.
Although more of a ‘perfect’ wave than Cloudbreak, Lefts offers a more mellow surf in terms of size and power. There is still every opportunity to get a great tube ride and get
caught inside. Most of the time it’s a solid performance wave – consistent, with friendly sections for all kinds of manoeuvres. Rides can be anywhere up to 150 metres in length.
Wind – Easterly is straight offshore
Swell – In a south swell the wave breaks more like a peeling point break. In a west swell it becomes more hollow and hits the reef more directly, creating a faster ride with more wall
Tide – Best on mid-low but can be surfed on all tides
As the name suggests ‘Despos’ is considered a last resort. Not necessarily because it’s the worst wave around, but more for the fact it’s the furthest away – 20 minutes by longboat. The set up can best be explained as a perfect beach break, but on reef. It’s full of perfect A-frames. When it’s big, it’s a football field of steaming peaks.
Wind – North east
Swell – South swell produces more lefts, west swell favours the rights
Tide – Mid-high
Quite simply a perfect right hander. Fifty metres long, dredging take-off, hollow wall, predictable end section. In the trade season there’s a ‘magic hour’ when Pools goes glassy and looks like a swimming pool – pure perfection.
Wind – North westerly or glassy Swell – south west. When the wave gets over head high it starts to double-up on take-off. When it gets bigger than six feet, it just gets thicker. It’s never gets too big and is still good at one foot.
Tide – All tides depending on swell, mid tide is best
I couldn’t help but notice two new passengers the first time we went to Cloudbreak – the spinal board and first aid kit. This is no wave for the faint hearted.
Uli (pronounced Ool-eye) is our boat driver this particular day. You might recall a small boy in white Oakley Frogskins in Endless Summer II when Pat and Wingnut visit Cloudbreak – that’s Uli. He is a phenomena in the water. There aren’t many places in the world where a man’s surfing is shaped purely by a freight-training lefthander. Uli knows no different, eight foot backhand, heart-in-mouth take-offs are the norm to him. He is a treat to have in the water. His stoke is unmatched.
Although needing no introduction ‘Cloudy’ is a powerful left hander with different characteristics to its Indonesian cousin G-Land. The most noticeable is the angle at which the swell approaches the line up. Depending on direction, the waves march in almost perpendicular to the top of the pass and bend inwards as they move down the line. On the best ones, the take-off is relatively straightforward but the oncoming section demands a quick pump down the line. The next decision will determine the barrel of a lifetime or a solid working. It’s pull in and hold on as the wave grows hollower down the reef and will often require adjustment in the tube.
Wind – Trade winds (south east). Wind is welcome at Cloudy, most of the time it grooms the swell and keeps the barrels open.
Swell – In a south swell it’s a lined up point break, peeling and wrapping in a more tame, predictable manner. As the swell swings more westerly, the waves come in on the ledge and throw a heavier, more sectioning wave across the line up. This is when you need to be on the look out for wide sets.
Tide – All tides with many moods throughout the tide changes. On a low tide the take-off moves up the reef then during high tide it becomes makeable down the line at “shish-kebabs” – the shallow end section.
Almost a mirror image of Swimming Pools but receives more swell. Pools and Restaurants are back to back on neighbouring islands Namotu and Tavarua. This freight-training left hander is easily the shallowest and sharpest break in the area. It’s completely makeable, which is how it claims most of its victims. When you see most people go down you can see their eyes already fixed on the wall 10 metres away, missing the danger directly in front of them.
Wind – South east to south west. Scoring a non-windy day is very rare.
Swell – South west. The more west it is the more down-the-line it becomes
Tide – All tides, but the endless, grinding barrels that everybody seeks turn up on the low tide. If you fall at low tide you can almost guarantee a meeting with the lively coral, which, by the way, is great to snorkel on a flat day.
One of the only places out of the wind in a northerly, this sectioning, short right hander can pump out some great double-up barrels, but is for the most, pretty fickle.
Wind – North-north east
Swell – South west
Tide – Mid
For a small island, Namotu is bursting with things to do. The clarity of the surrounding water is unsurpassed the world over and no matter the depth, always looks cobalt blue.
The most defining point of difference of Namotu Island Resort is the flexibility when it comes to what you want to get out of your tropical island holiday.
Boats leave whenever you want (there are six) and the Head Boatman can communicate with any of the boats at any time via VHF radio.
One of the most popular activities outside of surfing is fishing. The designated fishing boat affectionately named ‘The Duck’ is set up with all the equipment needed to land the biggest of game fish.
With expert guides like Ben Wilson, it is extremely rare to experience an unsuccessful fishing trip. In saying unsuccessful, a trip which yields no fish on the line still doubles as a dolphin watching tour and surf check.
There’s an abundance of sea life milling around the back of these reef shelves, birds working, skip jack running and flying fish that jump so close to the boat they have been known to jump in for the ride.
Species of fish include all the popular pelagics – Wahu, Yellow Fin Tuna, Barracuda, Mahi Mahi, Yellow Dog Tooth and Giant Trevally.
The prized fish, including Marlin, Sail Fish, Spanish Mackerel, Coral Trout and Red Emperor, are also caught during the best time of year – January to June. The best time of day is early morning (5.30-7am) and evening (4-6pm).
The resort has over 200 lures for every type of fish and weather, so rest assured you’ll be eating your own catch at some stage during your stay.
Fiji is blessed with more than beautiful weather and stunning scenery – there are really no threats on the archipelago. No poisonous spiders, no deadly snakes.
There are, however, the odd inhabitant to watch out for in the water. As per usual the most common sightings of sharks are the smaller, less threatening species such as Black and White Tipped Reef Sharks and Oceanic White Tips.
If you’re not too nervy there are some thrilling stories to listen to around the bar which recount sightings of Hammerheads and Tiger Sharks. One of the greatest spectacles on record involved a whale carcass floating in the bay across from the resort, making a tasty feast for a school of Tiger Sharks.
The common routine after a long session in the surf is to jump in the pool to wash the salt off. Just be mindful that on the odd occasion you maybe sharing it with a sea snake. There are very few stories about these creatures ever harming a human and they are, in fact, quite fascinating to watch. Shy, docile creatures, they will stay out of your way at all costs.
Under water the view through a dive mask is Disney-like. There are too many species of fish to mention, many of which are quite curious.
Namotu is surrounded by a fringe of coral gardens, full of amazing colours which many say rival the best of the Great Barrier Reef.
The gardens run from the south-east end of the island for over 400 metres and at low tide the depth is 1.5 metres. The visibility on a calm day can reach 35 meters.
There is plenty of snorkeling gear on the island and if you have your scuba ticket you can visit one of the many dive sites in the area – there are pinnacle, wall and night dives.
There are numerous internationally certified divers among the staff and you can even get your open water certification while at Namotu. There are costs involved with going scuba diving, but it’s well worth the expense.
If the surfing, fishing and diving don’t keep you occupied the resort also has all the gear for kiteboarding, windsurfing and spear fishing.
There is also a Hobie Cat for communal use and an array of stand-up paddle boards.
The games room has a table tennis table, dart board and pool table.
There’s plenty of things to do if the surf is not to you liking, Namotu is a perfect place to try something new.
For the more leisurely experience you can go island hopping, shopping in the boutique or enjoy a relaxing massage. Massages are $60 for a half hour and $120 for a full hour.
The Namotu bar is stocked as well as any Australian pub with a large selection of local, Australian and international beers, along with a substantial wine list and every spirit you could hope for.
There are some fantastic cocktails that are sure to turn a quiet night into a beach party. The most infamous, the ‘Skull Drag’, is consumed through a snorkel and mask, cleverly designed with a funnel on the entrance to make for efficient consumption.
In the afternoons the weary gather at Wanga’s Bar on the beach. Wanga is an enormous man resembling something between the Terminator and Peter from Family Guy. He has a mysterious spinal injury which renders him immobile without crutches, but you would never hear him complain. Like all of the locals he has a placid acceptance that what will be will be.
Wanga says of chatter that starts up about an impending swell: “Man thinks he is smarter than God. He checks the internet and the internet says there in swell coming. Man is not smarter than God. God will send the swell when he sends it, not when the internet says.
The words bounce off his tongue like rhyme. I’m envious of this contentment that the islanders possess – Wanga has just summed up western patience more succinctly in English than I could have, and it’s his second language.
They are never in a rush, never erratic, but content that someone somewhere is taking care of things.
It turns out, in this country, whoever is taking care of things is doing a damn fine job.
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