Friday, 5th November 2021 was a joyous day on Moondust when Pete and I were re-united after being apart for 14 months! Just three weeks later, when the Omicron Covid variant was identified in South Africa, it became clear that I had been super lucky to have arrived in Fiji just before the whole world again closed their doors to South Africans.
I had returned to South Africa in September 2020 for my daughter’s wedding, convinced that I would be back on Moondust within a month or two, maybe three if Covid wasn’t over by then. Little did I know at that stage that Covid wasn’t going to disappear in a few months, years or maybe ever.
Hoping that Fiji would open their borders to international visitors sooner than New Zealand, being more dependent on tourism, Pete sailed to Fiji in June 2021 with a temporary crew member, under their so-called Blue Lanes Initiative.
As Fiji was still closed to fly-in tourists, Pete decided to make the best of his time in Fiji and made a wide circuit around the more than 300 islands. He especially wanted to visit the remote Southern Lau group of islands, which meant waiting about 45 days for the right weather window, as these are difficult to reach in the face of the prevailing the trade winds.
Read more about this in the next blog.
Efforts to get to Fiji
In the meantime, I was trying my best to keep up to date with travel developments. My challenge was twofold: Fiji had to open its borders AND there needed to be flights available. As the world was slowly opening up I could see that it would be possible to book flights between South Africa and Fiji from 1st November, even though Fiji’s borders were still closed. Flight arrivals at Nadi Airport showed that there were “repatriation” flights arriving from a handful of destinations and I would have to choose a route that allowed South Africans to transit en-route to Fiji.
Fiji then announced that they were aiming to open their borders to “green list” countries on 1st December. I suspected that South Africa would not be on Fiji’s green list because of its low vaccination rate and I decided to apply as “returning yacht crew” through the agent that Pete used as part of his Blue Lanes mediated entry.
Jo Morris from Yacht Partners was once again efficient and helpful in setting this up. Coming from a “high risk” country, I had to self-isolate for a week before my departure and provide three negative Covid tests; 7 days, 5 days and 72 hours before departure. Fortunately, the Fiji Covid Mitigation Task Force gave approval for me to quarantine on Moondust under the supervision of the navy, similar to the procedure Pete followed when he arrived in Fiji.
My last week in South Africa was quite stressful as I also had to provide documentation from a medical officer that I was self-isolating and needed to get this letter from my doctor as close as possible to my departure, which was immediately after a long weekend in South Africa. This made the timing very awkward and I knew that I would not be able to relax until I was on the plane.
I had a 38 hour flight: Cape Town – Johannesburg – Doha – Hong Kong – Fiji. In order to be allowed to transit in Hong Kong, my luggage had to be booked through to Fiji from Johannesburg and I had to have all my boarding passes in hand.
One upside of Covid is that the flights were very empty and I had a whole row of seats to myself on each of the long legs, which meant that I was able to sleep well. All went smoothly until Hong Kong where there was uncertainty about my Fiji entry status as I did not have proof of a hotel quarantine booking in Fiji. They had never before had a passenger who was going to quarantine on a yacht. At 01:00 a.m. they were making phone calls to try and ensure that I would indeed be allowed into Fiji, despite me having a final approval letter from Fiji Immigration.
I am not sure if they managed to get a satisfactory answer to their question at that time of the morning, but at the last minute I was told to run to catch the plane!
On Fijian soil
As I stepped out of the aircraft, I could smell Fiji and its rich, fertile earth; the kind of soil which nurtures trees bearing the most delectably sweet tropical fruit! Passing through Immigration I was glad to find that my quarantine period was reduced from fourteen to ten days, thanks to new local Covid regulations. I was the first and only visitor to arrive from a high risk country; the other arrivals only had to quarantine for seven days.
Yacht Partners had organized the navy as escort as well as another vehicle to pick me up at the airport and take me to the Denarau Marina, situated on the western side of Vit Levu, the biggest of Fiji’s islands. From the marina the navy took me out to Moondust, from where we proceeded to the quarantine anchorage area.
On day five of the quarantine period the navy brought a health care worker to do a Covid test and repeated this on the last day. The ten days passed surprisingly quickly, although we were not allowed to go ashore, but we kept busy with small boat jobs and swam.
In my absence Pete had bought himself a ukulele and had become a competent player in the eight intervening months, playing in accompaniment to his singing. I really enjoyed the serenading!
One very important job that we had to do, was to mark all available ‘cyclone holes’ on our chart. The cyclone season starts on 1st November and lasts six months. So we had to be prepared to tie up to the Mangroves of one of these sheltered nooks when a cyclone threatened. When we left South Africa four years ago, we never thought that we would be caught like this in the cyclone season. Covid has indeed complicated so many people’s lives…
It appears that we will be able to explore Fiji during the cyclone season, as long as we make sure that we are always within a few days’ reach of a cyclone hole. I am looking forward to snorkeling again and enjoying the magical underwater world that I got to love so much on the first half of our circumnavigation.
Before holiday time began, however, we had to remain around Denerau for another two weeks. Pete had visa business to attend to, we needed to stock Moondust before heading to the outer islands and we also battled for a few days with a repair on the genoa roller-furler.
Three weeks after arriving in Fiji we could at last lift the anchor and head 12 miles west to idyllic Malololailai Island.