Monday 2 November 2009

Fiji Boutique Cruise: A picture of beauty

Serafina Silaitoga, The Fiji Times

IT can almost blind you. If you're not careful about screening the beauty of Albert Cove and Ringgold Atolls with your naked eyes, then you'd certainly go blind.

It sits behind Taveuni and Rabi islands in the northern division.

The blending colours of the blue skies, crystal clear shallow waters, white sandy beach with a backdrop of green is breathtaking.

That's just how stunning and powerful nature portrays itself through the picturesque setting of trees, birds, coconut trees and mountains.

There is no village or people on the Ringgold Atolls, except wild goats while four families occupy Albert Cove.

The surroundings of both areas have been left untouched. Neither logging of trees, burning of bushes or digging for gravel and sand has ever been done in these areas.

The Albert Cove bay sits on the northern tip of Rabi Island where the families live in typical Banaban built bure.

Upon arrival, while on the Tui Tai Expedition cruise ship, I noticed two men walk out from their bure with a mat, which they spread under a tree while another walked towards them with a basin.

Grog session was the first impression I had and this is their normal Sunday routine after a prayer session in the morning.

With no church at the bay, the four families who belong to the Methodist church have prayer sessions every Sunday morning as part of their church service.

The group sat with their basin of grog on the beach and waited for the arrival of tourists on board the Tui Tai Expedition ship.

Although no special welcome ceremony was accorded for the guests, the villagers, some of whom travelled from Wallis and Futuna said the weekly visit by special guests was like a breath of fresh air.

"It's just us here with our children and wives and having visitors is like breathing fresh air, a different kind of air that comes from the town area," said Bill Naka'u, a villager at Albert Cove.

"Sure we live amongst beautiful scenes tourists come to see. When they come to see and breathe the fresh sea breeze, we get to meet new friends and know more about their countries and that's life for us."

The villagers have also seen financial benefits as guests buy bu (coconuts) and other fruits the villagers sell.

Mr Naka'u said at times the cruise company buys baskets of bu, pawpaw and bananas from them.

"We are happy to have them over at the bay every week because we want to meet new friends and they also help us financially by buying fresh fruits from our gardens," he said.

The clear blue skies on this sunny afternoon tempted a few guests on board to go out for romantic lunches on the beach.

And this is not new for the crew of Tui Tai who on every visit to Albert Cove set up tables at different spots on the beach for couples to have lunch.

Program administrator Losefati Ligairi said Fiji's nature particularly in the northern division is what tourists look for.

"This is paradise for them. It is exactly this beauty that we have in our own country that has attracted tourists from overseas and being involved in the tourism industry for 20 years, this is what I have seen," he said.

"Every trip to Albert Cove there is always lunch on the beach especially during beautiful sunny days and we have to prepare ourselves to cater for their needs."

Listening to our conversation, a group of tourists who were relaxing and sunbathing behind us nodded their heads as I searched for their thoughts.

"Yes, you people of Fiji are so blessed," said Enric Onzak, an American first timer to Fiji.

"You all don't realise just how special your place is until we come and tell the locals how indescribably beautiful your country is.

Onzak, 18, said he has heard a lot of locals are migrating overseas, for greener pasture.

"I understand people move for better living but when it comes to nature, I think Fiji just has it because this is not a normal sight back in my country although we have spots of natural beauty but not as good as what you have here in Fiji," he said.

"This is just so natural and the people of Fiji are so blessed."

The writer was a guest of Tui Tai Expedition Cruises

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