David Glenn gets a taste of the other side of Fiji, the marina at Denarau and, in complete contrast, the superb island groups that lie off this coast

There are more than 330 islands in the
Fijian group and the 23 yachts in the Oyster World Rally are enjoying cruising
amongst them as they prepare for the next legs to Vanuatu and then Australia
before sailing on to Indonesia and the Indian Ocean.

It’s tricky cruising here because the area
is strewn with coral reefs, many of them inaccurately charted and some not
charted at all, but the beauty of the place is beyond belief, the people
amongst the most welcoming and charming I have met in my yachting travels and
in places like Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu and Denarau near Nandi on
the main island Vitu Levu there are excellent and very well priced pit stops
for yachts. For those that venture into the more remote corners the rewards are
immense with some of the finest diving in the world and marine scenery which will
blow your mind.

I’ve just spent a couple of days in Port
Denarau Marina which came as a complete culture shock after the simplicity of
the Lau Island group to the east and Savusavu both of which are very much third
world communities surviving with few of the up to date trappings of western

But at Denarau you enter another world. A
string of five star resort hotels from the Sheraton and the Hilton to Sofitel
Blue and Westin line the shore and a massive area of reclamation is topped off
with a marina and shopping mall with everything from The Hard Rock Café, WH
Smith, surf and beach fashion outlets and the obligatory spa. It’s also the
ferry terminal which takes thousands of resort guests and action sports types
out to the various archipelagos, including Mamanuca and Yasawa, lying about 14 miles off the coast of Fiji’s
main island. It’s all a far cry from downtown
Nandi which is a basic, bustling cosmopolitan town which, among other attracions, boasts a fantastic market an absolute must for any yachtie.

It would be easy to dismiss Denarau as a
modern waterfront toy town and move on to the next beauty spot, but the fact is
it provides a perfect stopping off point for yachts almost halfway through a
circumnavigation. A number of Oyster World Rally crew could barely contain
their excitement at the thought of a five star hotel for a few nights, crisp
white sheets, room service and someone else to do the cooking. And of course
there are spas galore.

Although it’s still getting over the
effects of cyclone Ivan which devastated Fiji last December, Nigel Skegg’s Port
Denarau Marina can haul 50-ton yachts in a lift, put you on hard standing,
scrub and anti-foul you. Like almost anything else in Fiji it’s extraordinarily
good value for money. To lift and re-launch an Oyster 56 will cost about Fiji$670
(about £200) and there are excellent services for all types of engineering,
rigging, sail making and just about everything else a yacht might need.

Based close to the marina, which has been
expanded to accept quite large superyachts – the Ed Dubois designed Silvertip
was one of a handful alongside – is Yacht Help Fiji where David Jamieson and
operations manager Kay Cole run an extensive network of suppliers and contacts.
More than 650 yachts are likely to pass through Fiji this season, more than 35 of
them superyachts and Yacht Help and Port Denarau are likely to be in contact
with most of them organising everything from entry and clearing out to fuel
bunkering and all the idiosyncratic requests of superyachting.

Once you’ve cleaned up, fixed things and
rested you can head out to the islands off. Right now I’m sitting on the
balcony of a bure (Fijian for hut although this is more of a villa) at the
Musket Cove Island Resort and Marina on Malolo island, a favourite with
yachties and the re-assembly point for the Oyster participants before they
check out of Fiji in early July.

It’s a superb island which has been turned
from swamp to an extremely comfortable but not at all over the top resort.
Founder Dick Smith, died a couple of years ago but now his son in law Will
Moffat, a New Zealander by birth, is responsible for its upkeep and he relishes
the interaction between the resort and visiting yachtsmen who can use the
marina, take a mooring ‘ball’ as they’re called or anchor in excellent holding
off the beach. Will used to work for Southern Spars in Auckland and came here
first on an Auckland to Fiji yacht race. He met his wife here and the rest is
history. The ‘can do’ Kiwi attitude is clearly in evidence out here
where they source their own water from bores and reservoirs, generate their own
electricity, build their own ferries and are currently re-building the marina
store and café which was hit by lightening and burned to the ground recently. I
expect they’ll have it up and running in no time.

The fact that there are at least three
protective reefs out to weather keeps this anchorage particularly safe (from
the south easterly trades) and it makes a great starting point for any local
cruising. If you’re not too sure about where to go, nip ashore and ask Patrick
in the resort boatshed for an itinerary. He can supply the all important
coordinates and waypoints to navigate safely through the ‘pathway’ weaving its
way through the archipelago.

Will Moffat said yachts and small boats do
go aground on reefs from time to time but usually with very little damage. “We
nip out and give them a hand but as my father in law always used to say the
most useful thing on a boat out here is a pair of Wellington boots so that when
you do go aground you can jump out and push,” he said.