IT took us about 45 minutes to reach caracara ni vonu - a place covered with black boulders and rocks overlooking Navilaca Bay on Yadua Island. It was our final trek after five days on the island for a climate change adaptation workshop last month.
The workshop, funded by the Global Environment Facility Small Grants program, was facilitated by the National Trust of Fiji and sought to create awareness among the villagers of Denimanu about climate change and adaptation processes to survive the changing environment.
At the end of the workshop, we were taken on a short but worthwhile tour of a few parts of the island - the first was walking up Delainabuna hill and catching a glimpse of some of Fiji's rare and special wildlife like Fiji's largest butterfly, the Fiji Swallowtail Butterfly, and the Orange-breasted Myzomela, our smallest honey eater.
Our trek party included staff of the National Trust of Fiji led by project officer Jone Niukula, Conservation International's Vilikesa Masibalavu, an expert bird watcher, and Elimi Kurusiga from the Ministry of Forests.
We were first led through the village to the foot of a hill leading up to Yadua Village School. It was past the latrines to a clearing covered with all sorts of plants, creepers and trees.
The fittest of our lot took the lead uphill while Jone kept at my slow but steady pace. It was a good thing we didn't rush to reach our desired destination because soon enough the unique butterflies kept fluttering about as if to get our attention.
The University of the South Pacific's Professor Randy Thaman was close by with some other guides studying and taking snaps of the island's ecosystem. We could only hear faint conversations as we continued on our journey. When we finally reached, the view was just breathtaking. Considering the good weather we had and the cool breeze that instantly dried the sweat, reaching that spot was heaven.
It's a great spot to pick out the healthy Namaga mangroves. You can also see several beaches around that spot like the Vitikio and Nadugu beaches, as well as Qaranikakalaba Point and Soraitau Point. The Savusavanineva Passage sits a little further past Motubua Island and the Ruarua islets to the left. We spent a couple of minutes taking in the scenary at caracara ni vonu before heading back to the village the same way we came.
Only this time, what met us halfway was the sound of excited Fiji White-eye birds, an endemic bird commonly found in forests. We stopped a while scanning the trees to see where the birds were. They seemed to be playing us, calling out from one side of the forest which made us look around inquisitively, then sounding a reply from the opposite end, forcing us to change our search direction.
It was that way for sometime which made us realise the two were probably joking around to see how silly the humans looked trying to find them.
When we returned to the village, we refuelled with water, relaxed on the hammock and benches under the shade for a talanoa session.
Pita Biciloa was the man of the hour this time. He lay on the hammock with our taralala friend, Mr Guitar, as he shared a story he heard about the caracara ni vonu.
"This was the story told to me by my namesake and uncle, Pita Navara. It's about a place called Talai, opposite Yadua (the bay between Yaduataba and Yadua Island, also the name of an old village site by the coast)," Pita began.
"The shark god of Yadua or kalou vu 'Volivolitiyadua' left Talai to come this side. Around the Bay, he caught a 'white' or albino Hawksbill turtle and brought it to the village where he rested.
"At the time, there were no big trees, only grassland covered this area.
The Vonu Kula rested at the rocks (up at Delainabuna which is also known as Koronime) when it reached the grassland.
"So when it disappeared, the people started looking for it up (Delainabuna), clearing the bush to find the Vonu Kula but they never did. They say the Vonu Kula turned itself into the rock."
The name caracara ni vonu is interpreted from the people clearing the area to look for the vonu (turtle).
The link then with the vonu has overlapped into modern day Yadua with the villagers of Denimanu taking a lot of pride in turtle conservation work.
According to Niukula, the support from the village resulted in the establishment of their Daunivoni team through the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund.
"The first satellite tagged turtle for Fiji was on Yadua, and so far three Loggerhead turtles and a couple of Hawksbills have been satellite tagged too from the island," Niukula says.
When we travelled to Yaduataba Island to visit Fiji's crested iguanas, we passed several turtle nesting beaches; Niukula says there are more than 10 beaches for turtle nesting on the larger Yadua Island and Yaduataba.
While the climate change adaptation workshop focussed a lot on food security and sustainable living, it also paved the way for coastal re-establishment works to save the beaches on both islands.
The project to save the coastal beaches from being washed away is an effort to save the turtle nesting sites from total extinction.