A VISIT to Totoya Island was a trip I had always looked forward to after hearing so much about it.
The island is within Yasayasa Moala group because of its neighbouring three islands of Totoya, Moala and Matuku, positioned in a triangular shape. They are traditionally linked.
I signed up for this particular trip with a mission to salvage the trapped Humpback whale on the island - our only problem at this point in time was transportation to the group.
Planning was already underway on the second week of October when Pacific Blue Foundation representative and Totoya chief, the Roko Sau Josefa Cinavilakeba contacted me to say they were negotiating with an inter-island vessel regarding this urgent trip.
Unfortunately work colleague, Nasik Swami opted out in the last minute. I volunteered to replace him.
I couldn't wait to get to the island that I've always longed to visit!
At about 3pm on October 17, I received a surprise phone call from the trip organiser himself, Cinavilakeba, that I was to organise myself in the next two hours of the same day and head for Deuba where a boat bound for Totoya awaited us.
Excited, I packed my clothes, rations for the five day trip and headed to Pacific Harbour at Deuba.
There I met the crew for the trip that included Cinavilakeba, Dr. Cara Miller a representative of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society International (WDCS) based at the University of the South Pacific, a staff from Telecom and two other guests namely Jonacani Dabea and Akariva Ragogo, both natives of Beqa island.
Looking out to the sea, I wondered which yacht or inter-island vessel would ferry us across the rough seas to the Lau group.
"We'll be travelling on a Super Yacht," Cinavilakeba said.
'What's the difference between a yacht and a super yacht?, I wondered. Well, according to my research, a yacht refers to just a boat starts at 34 feet. A mega yacht is anything above 100 feet. A super yacht refers to anything 200 feet and larger.
On a Free Guide regarding Super Yacht, it says that a super yacht or mega yacht is a luxury privately owned sailing or motor powered vessel that is operated by professional crewman. Depending on the wealth of the owner, a super yacht may travel the world, winter in the South Pacific, or spend the summer in the Mediterranean.
Even though a super yacht is typically over 78' (24 metres), most crew members will work in close proximity with others and may be responsible for several specific jobs while on board.
Most crew members will have their own private cabin on board.
Exactly as it says, we were each shown our cabin with no words to describe its luxury. One thing's for sure, this was a different world from rooming in local inter-island vessel cabins.
How did I end up here? I excitedly wondered.
Mr. Cinavilakeba said he had contacted the Yacht Help Association seeking assistance. They told him that this yacht was on its way to Tonga and would sail past Totoya.
All I can now says is: Yes! A very big vinaka vakalevu to Yacht Help that I was able to experience a ride in a Super Yacht for the first time!
Mr. Dabea just whistled in admiration as he stared with his mouth wide open at the awesome interior of this magnificent yacht.
"There's nothing here to write about the yacht and owner," he said as looked at me.
"He's got everything here," he added to which I certainly agreed.
Wearing footwear wasn't allowed inside this super yacht as it was super clean with its gleaming silver railings and wooden floors.
With variant old artefacts significantly displayed in the room and its shower room, the interior set up was breathtaking.
We left Pacific Harbour at 9pm reaching early Thursday morning October 18,. Totoya island was on sight.
Standing from a height near the wheel room, the scenario just looked so beautiful out there, especially the white sandy beach of Udu village.
The island itself was surrounded by the deep blue coloured sea signifying the unmatched beauty of creation, which sad to say, many don't notice or appreciate.
For Dr. Miller it was her first trip to the Lau group. We could all sense her excitement as she stood outside on the deck breathing in the fresh, cool air as we sailed around near the Davetatabu opening, making our way towards Tovu village.
Tradition dictates this of the sacred passage"Daveta Tabu". If one wants to pass through this passage, one has to follow traditional protocol by observing utter complete silence and most importantly to be seated in the traditional manner (seated crossed legged with feet resting beneath the knees for gents and for ladies legs bent at knees resting on the side).
At about 11am, we were berthed out in the sea in front of Totoya village as I picked up my camera to head for the lagoon where the trapped whale was sighted.
Extremely excited, this was my first experience of getting close to a whale. Seeing its huge size I admit, I was afraid fro a moment there. I snapped away with my camera, at the same time, being cautious not to fall into the 16 metre deep blue Vakamatatuku lagoon.
"Be careful, don't get too close to the whale," Dr. Cara warned us.
Heading back to the super yacht, we collected out luggage and headed for dry land towards Tovu, the home village of Cinavilakeba, the Roko Sau of Totoya, where we would be stationed for the next couple of days.
The days went by so fast as I tried to experience the daily lives and hardships faced by the villagers. With the village shop supplies running shortage due to the monthly shipping services, villagers had to go without sugar and opt for sweetness of the niu bu (green coconut) juice.
Delicious fresh homemade bread and buns are baked in the villages on Totoya island.
The island consists of four villages with Tovu the capital and seat of the Turaga na Roko Sau whose household site is known as "Mataiilakeba", Ketei is the seat of Tui Ketei traditionally known as Ramalo, the King maker.
The "Turaga Ramalo" has the ancient and prestigious role of installing Totoya's High chief, a role that has become obsolete due to rivalry.
The third village Dravuwalu is the seat of Tui Dravuwalu traditionally known as Nakorowaiwai and Udu the fourth village is the seat of Tui Udu traditionally known as Muaicokalau.
The island of Vanuavatu, although closer to the islands of Lakeba and Nayau than the island of Totoya is listed as the fifth village within the District and is the seat of Tui Vanua.Tovu the chiefly village, Ketei, Dravuwalu, Udu and and Vanuavatu island is also considered as its fifth village.
The chiefly residence of the Roko Sau is called Natokalau on a hill overlooking the bay and much closer to an ancestor house site, Kubunavanua, one of the early arrivals on the island.
The island is well known for lairo and seafood such as lumi, vasua, vivili (seashell) with food crops such as dalo cassava, sweet potato, and yams.
All in all, the Super Yacht trip made up for the three weeks wait as its story was told and retold to the friendly villagers on Totoya who made our stay a very, very memorable one.
Yes, I'm really fortunate to have being one that experienced a ride and sleepover on board a Super Yacht!