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Vanua Balavu

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Only 60 miles from Taveuni, Vanua Balavu is completely different. The geological map has so many different colors it looks like a rainbow; with the island is primarily limestone with a maximum elevation of about 500 meters, far to low to catch tradewind clouds. These conditions make water precious on Vanua Balavu - drinking and bathing is at a premium, and scrub brush replaces hardwood forests.

On the up side, Vanua Balavu is inside one of the world's largest atolls. Some wind swells come from the East, but almost all Vanua Balavu paddling is on protected lake-like waters. Gilan'gila Bay is inside the reef, protected by Vanua Balavu's East Cape, and dozens of limestone islands.

On the downside, such protection creates a "frying pan" effect with shallow, still waters easily susceptible to Global Warming. When I first visited Gilan'gila in 1997, rainbow colored reefs filled my viewfinder to the horizon. When I last visited in January, 2001, the reef was fried by Global Warming, totally dead. Paddling my kayak across the Bay's surface, I felt like an alien in a space ship flying over a dead planet where life once thrived. There's still good snorkeling in the area, but you have to know where the reefs are.

Gilan'gila Bay is still worth the visit. Nu'kutagasa Island is a complicated maze of sea arches, semi-hongs colorful limestone and a great camping beach. Around the corner on Evu'evu Island is the Spirit Cave that all Fijians on all islands hold sacred. It is a special place, and baby sharks frequent the nearby mangroves. Around the corner the other way is Nunganila, perhaps the must beautiful homestead in Fiji. Our "aerial" shots of Gilan'gila are taken from the top of the peak, a hefty hike for even my trainee guide.

Alas, Thailand company politics kept me from returning to Eastern Fiji, but that doesn't mean that you can't go. In 2001 Vanua Balavu didn't have kayaks, but you can visit the bay with Chief Joe from Nawanawa Plantation in his small dory. Twice a week airfare gives you plenty of time to cruise through the beautiful islands, snorkel the remaining spectacular reefs, and spend time with Chief Joe learning Fijian culture, at its purest in the Lau Group.

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