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Fiji to Vanuatu Western Samoa to Fiji Kiribati to Western Samoa

 

Leg04 Nadi.jpg (9818 bytes) Leg04 Apia to Nadi1.jpg (8741 bytes) Leg03 Apia.jpg (7029 bytes)

Live Satelite Image
Satellite data provided by The Living Earth Inc./Earth Imaging 1996, All Rights Reserved.

 

LEG 4: NSFA-NFFN and NFFN-NFNM, Apia, Western Samoa to Nadi, and Nadi to Taveuni, Fiji, 26 July 98, 3.5 hours and 1.0 hours

 


"Doug on the beach at Qamea."

Laying here in the hammock, being rocked by the gentle breezes here on Qamea, I’m reminded of some of the things I set out to find on this round-the-world trip. Qamea is a small island (although the sixth largest of Fiji’s 300) off the southern coast as Taveuni, between it and the late Malcolm Forbes’ Laucala. We are at the Qamea Beach Club, which was recommended to me by friend Leslie, who had visited here a few years ago. We were fortunate to find, when calling yesterday morning from Apia, Western Samoa, that they had a couple of bures available for a few days, despite late July typically being one of their busiest periods.

The weather has been mostly cloudy today; not a solid overcast, but with the sky largely obscured by low cumulus. Taveuni, just a short distance away across the Tasman Strait on which my beachfront bure sits, is periodically shrouded in mist. We had a brief, tropical downpour this morning, but it passed quickly after clearing the air. The locals complain that they are in the midst of a dangerously dry period due to El Nino, with many of this year’s crops failing, and with continuing drought threatening next year’s crops as well. For us, however, the temperatures in the low 80s, with gentle breezes, and little blistering sunlight, is pretty close to ideal.


"Our boatman from Qamea, taking us back to Taveuni to visit Whiskey-Whiskey."

 


"John giving navigational instruction to our boatman."

Today has been our first full day of true rest and relaxation this trip, and our situation here in Qamea is close to perfect. There are about 10 bures (traditional Fijian huts or villas), and with us the resort is just over half full. The other guests went out on an all-day diving and snorkeling trip, with a beach BBQ in the middle. And while we seriously considered joining them for the BBQ on the beach, in the end we opted for hanging out and chilling. We had to run back to the airport in the morning to get some things we needed from the plane after our rushed arrival last night, and by the time we returned it was lunchtime.


"A view from the Qamea Beach Club, looking towards Taveuni (where we landed)."

Our flight into Matei Airport last night was probably the most exciting flying on the trip so far, if you discount thousands of miles of oceanic flying over the Pacific as mundane. We were late getting out of Apia, Samoa, for several reasons. First, we had no reservations or idea of availability of places to stay in Fiji, since none of our contacts had gotten back to us with anything (being a weekend). So we had to make many calls to finally find room at Qamea. Next, we wanted to send Brian at Webbnet updates for the web site, since Samoa had a good Internet connection, while we had been unable to post anything the day before from Christmas Island, and doubted there would be a connection here at Qamea (we may yet find a way). Then, Aggie Grey’s hotel was on "island time" when we were trying to check out, and the taxis drive only 25mph to the airport.


"The view of Apia harbor from my room at Aggie Grey’s."

We did have an interesting taxi driver on the way back to Faleolo Airport in Samoa. He had just gotten back from living six months in California, where his wife still is, and was proudly telling us of his son who entered Choate at 12 and is completing university courses in the US now at age 15. He also told us a lot about traditional Samoan customs, and the titles and properties he has (three) in different parts of the island, inherited from various sides of his family. All along the route to and from the airport, on the road that hugs the shore, are large, open-air buildings used for village meetings and for visitors. A Samoan tradition that seems quite civilized.


"On the way to Faleolo Airport in Samoa, we passed a man selling his catch at the side of the road."

Once back at the airport, there was the usual paperwork and formalities to complete with the help of our handlers, fuel bills to settle, landing fees, parking fees, ATC fees, catering fees, etc. After being assured that all was set and ready, we fired up the engines and called for our clearance, only to be told that the tower knew we were going to Nadi, Fiji, but that they had no flight plan. We had faxed it to Universal the night before, and confirmed it with clarifications that morning, but no joy. We tried to file over the radio, but they insisted on paper, asking us to shut down and give a paper ICAO flight plan form to a man they would send down. We did that, fired up again, and were cleared for immediate departure. By this time, it was about 2:00 p.m. local time, and even with gaining an hour and losing a day on the three-hour flight to Fiji, that would put us in after 4:00 p.m. at an airport notorious for its slow bureaucracy, and we wanted then to fly on to Taveuni to be met by a car to be taken to the boat to ferry us to Qamea before dark. Tight. The sun sets fast in the tropics, and we had no time to spare.


"Doug flying right-seat on the way from Apia to Fiji, FL180, somewhere near the international date line."

The flight down from Western Samoa to Fiji was easy, and at only three hours enabled us to going with only wing fuel. Nice not to have to fill the ferry tanks! We had crossed the equator the day before, and today were to cross the real International Date Line (180 degree meridian). We spotted Fiji first on the radar, clearly showing land standing out from the water returns, and later got a visual. Pulling out one of our ONC charts, we saw that in fact our first sight of land was the islands off Taveuni: Laucala and Qamea, where we were heading. But we still had 165 miles to go on to Nadi where our handlers and customs awaited. If only we’d known better, we could probably have arranged customs closer to our actual destination, instead of having to go all the way to Nadi and back. We did some turns around the islands at 18,000 feet, and spotted the small, coral strip at Matei where we were later to land, before heading on into Nadi.


"The Matei airstrip, seen from FL180, en-route to Nadi, Fiji. We later returned to land just before sunset."

 


"Our first sight of Fiji, the reef surrounding the late Malcolm Forbes’ Laucala Island."

Our Universal handlers in Nadi, Fiji, were first rate, and earned every penny of their fee. We were met by a crowd of half a dozen people, who knew we wanted to get to Taveuni, which closes at sunset. We forgot to say that we had sprayed insecticide before landing, so first order of business was for a little man with a spray can to board the plane, seal us back up, spray us and the plane, and then sit there waiting for unknown beasties to die. Then we were allowed to de-plane (de plane, boss, de plane…).

That was at 4:19 p.m. local time. We were told that if we weren’t off by 5:00 p.m. that we couldn’t make it to Taveuni and would have to overnight in Nadi. We rushed with a small entourage of agents and handlers to immigration, to customs, to ATC to file a flight plan, to departure and back. When we told people we had to be off by five, they rolled their eyes and shook their heads, but we were insistent. At the ATC office where we were trying to file a flight plan (it was now 4:55 p.m.), they said there was no way we could make it, since we had to be wheels-down by sunset (6:02 p.m.). We said that we had a fast plane, that we’d cruise at 250 knots, and be there in 40 minutes if only they’d let us take off right away. (All the scheduled local flights, usually in Twin Otters, take over an hour). They asked what kind of plane we had, and we said a King Air. One of them said, well, that might just be possible, so they took the flight plan and told us to get going. After the ATC boss let his guy take the flight plan, that man secretly flashed us a thumbs-up sign, and we were off running for the plane.

We figured we had enough fuel to get to Taveuni and back, and so didn’t need to refuel. We fired up the engines in record time, did our before take-off checklists rapidly during the taxi and blasted off with the sun low on the horizon. We climbed up to 10,000 feet at best rate of climb, leveled off, and ran at max recommended cruise power, with ITT temps just kissing the red line, indicating over 200 knots and showing 265 knots over the ground thanks to a tailwind. The GPS kept estimating arrival at 5:56 p.m., only 6 minutes to spare and with no time allowed for descent, approach and landing. We were heading into the unlighted, daytime-only, 2,986-foot unpaved (packed coral) Matei airstrip, which had a tower that would not permit us to land after 6:02 p.m. ATC kept asking us for ETA updates, and we kept telling them we’d be on the ground on time (while we kept asking each other, "how the hell are we going to do that?!?").


"The packed-coral Matei airstrip on the island of Taveuni, Fiji."

We stayed at altitude until 25 miles from the airport, then pointed the nose down and descended at 3,000 feet per minute keeping the airspeed right at red-line (226 knots indicated at sea level). We used the GPS OBS mode to guide us to an extended runway center line, and were lucky to have reported winds favoring Runway 11, for which we could make a right-base entry. The winds at Nadi made us expect 29 to be the favored runway, with a more time-consuming right downwind entry, but luck was on our side. We continued our slam-dunk approach to 1,500 feet, where we sighted the runway, then leveled off to bleed the speed first to approach-flaps and then to gear speed, kept slowing and descending to full flaps speed, stabilized briefly, touched down in the first couple of hundred feet of runway, hit the brakes, put the props into reverse, and stopped within 1,800 feet. This was my first soft-field landing in the King Air, and the shortest strip I had ever taken it into. As we were turning a 180 to taxi back, we saw the huge cloud of dust the reversing props had thrown up, and a small crowd of a couple of dozen spectators sitting on the hillside next to the runway watching and applauding our performance. Tower reported us down at 5:58 p.m. We burst out laughing. Piece of cake! And they said it couldn’t be done…

Then we had a mad scramble as the plane was parked, because it was getting dark fast, and we had a 20 minute car ride and then 15 minute boat ride to Qamea. With a new moon, there was little light. We secured the plane, grabbed the bare minimum of bags, jumped in the van, and the driver drove like hell over the bumpy, dirt coast road to a beach where a little skiff met us. We waded into the water to board the boat, which then raced at max speed, jumping out of and then crashing back down into the water repeatedly, as it steered for the bright light on shore at Qamea. We were met by our hosts there on the beach with a flashlight to guide the boat and then us, were shown to our bures, and then to the bar for our complimentary welcome Mai Tais. Needless to say, our tales of adventure made for lively cocktail and dinner conversation with our hosts and the other guests, who were easily amused by these two crazy pilots who dropped in on them with little warning. They later told us they were expecting two fat Samoans after my phone call from Apia that morning, and were quite surprised to see who actually showed up!

This morning, we went back to Matei airstrip to get some needed belongings from the plane (most importantly, laundry that needed to be done). There were many people at the airport waiting for the scheduled Twin Otter that was due, and they all took great interest in little Whiskey-Whiskey as we opened the door and began doing our thing. A quick walk-around showing no signs of damage, but our pitot covers were missing. We suspect someone from our audience the night before had taken them as a souvenier (after all, they have that tempting streamer saying, "Remove Before Flight"). So, we hired a guard to watch the plane for the next two days, and hopefully whatever urchin took our pitot covers won’t become the envy of his friends who will all want their own pieces of plugs and covers with "Remove Before Flight" streamers. Welcome to Paradise!


"The case of the missing pitot covers…"

 

 

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Satellite data provided by The Living Earth Inc./Earth Imaging 1996, All Rights Reserved.

Click near each end of the red arrows for progressive reports

 

Click the following Legs for Progressive Reports

Departure San Jose, CA
Leg1 San Jose, CA to Honolulu, HI
Leg2 Honolulu, HI to Christmas Island, Kiribati
Leg3 Christmas Island, Kiribati to Apia, Western Samoa
Leg4 Apia, Western Samoa to Nadi & Matei, Fiji
Leg5 Nadi & Matei, Fiji to Port Vila, Vanuatu
Leg6 Port Vila, Vanuatu to Cairns, Australia
Leg7 Cairns, Australia to Darwin, Australia
Leg8 Darwin, Australia to Singapore
Leg9 Singapore to Male, Maldives
Leg10 Male, Maldives to Muscat, Oman
Leg11 Muscat, Oman to Amman, Jordan
Leg12 Amman, Jordan to Tel Aviv, Israel
Leg13 Tel Aviv, Israel to Valletta, Malta
Leg14 Valletta, Malta to Gibraltar
Leg15 Gibraltar to Cascais, Portugal
Leg16 Cascais, Portugal to Santa Maria, Azores
Leg17 Santa Maria, Azores to St. John, Newfoundland, Canada
Leg18 St. John, Newfoundland, Canada to Bangor, ME
Leg19 Bangor, ME to Danbury, CT (to see Doug's folks)
Leg20 Danbury, CT to Meadville, PA (to see John's folks)
Leg21 Meadville, PA to Boulder, CO
Leg22 Boulder, CO to San Jose, CA
Epilogue Epilogue
  Current position of Ponceby.

Satellite data provided by The Living Earth
Inc./Earth Imaging 1996, All Rights Reserved

The E90 King Air "Ponceby"


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