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Like the flick of a paint brush, sixty tiny dots in a canvas of deep blue make up the Lau Group flanking the distant eastern border of Fiji . Of these, only half are habited with its proud people almost completely reliant on the reef strewn sea that surrounds and dominates them. Cargo boats from Suva ply these waters bringing in essential supplies and connecting the islands with the outside world. Otherwise, they remain untouched, undeveloped and seldom visited by outsiders. For those that do venture here, a warm hospitable race welcomes, one that blends the Polynesian Tongan culture with that of its sovereign rulers, the Melanesians of Fiji to the west.

Southern Lau, the most isolated of the Lau Group, are barely four hundred kilometres west of Tonga and holds the regions seat of power at the traditional village of Tubou on Lakeba. Northern Lau is the regions most appealing to tourists with the scenic Vanuabalavu and access to the spectacular Bay of Islands . If you’re really interested in exploring the islands in depth, it’s worth contacting the Lau Provincial Council on Rodwell Street in Suva (t%331 6801) who should be able to assist in organizing home stay accommodation on some of the outer islands.

Vanua Balavu
The only official accommodation in the Lau Group is Moana’s Guesthouse, fifteen minutes walk south of the chiefly village of Lomaloma on the south east side of the island. Moana’s can organize village visits, cultural interaction, hiking trips and picnics by boat to both Raviravi Lagoon and the Bay of Islands where there’s far better coral reefs and swimming, although you’ll need to bring your own snorkelling gear. At Lomaloma, a road cuts across the islands ridge to the remote beaches of the west coast, a distance less than two kilometres, with sweeping views along the way. Another road travels along the southern end of the island where most of the fourteen villages are spaced along. From Lomaloma to the southern tip of the island is a five kilometre walk, passing alongside the cliffs flanking Nakama Village .

The northern half of Vanuabalavu beyond the grass airstrip is rocky with sharp limestone pinnacles along the coast and mostly inaccessible. At the northern tip, and accessible only by boat, is the pretty Bay of Islands , a collection of deep indented bays, cove beaches, secret caves and limestone lumps with excellent snorkelling in the lagoon.

Lakeba Island
Lakeba, almost circular in shape with a diameter of eight kilometers,  is undulating in nature covered mostly in grass, planted in coconut palms and pine and with patches of light natural forest in the higher hills. A well maintained dirt road hugs much of the flat coastline making it easy to get around. The largest village of Tubou is on the southwest coast with a population of around six hundred and is the islands pulse with government and provincial headquarters, hospital, post office, several stores and jetty. You can stay at Jeke Qica’s Guesthouse (Tel: 882 3035) although making contact by phone can be difficult. Rooms within the family home are very basic and everyone shares the bathroom facilities. Alternatively contact the Lau Provincial Council in Lakeba (Tel: 882 3164). The village has a strong Tongan influence with people living in rounded thatch bures and wearing ta’avala or woven mats around the waist.

Getting there and around
Without doubt the best way to experience the islands of the Lau Group is by journeying aboard one of the local cargo boats from Suva . Although abiding to no fixed schedule, there’s usually at least one boat a week leaving for one of the island groups. Each cargo boat visits between three and eight islands before heading back to Suva , spending between three and six hours at each port which gives you enough time to disembark and have a quick look around. The round trip journey from Suva on all routes takes between six and seven days. It also gives you a real opportunity to mingle with the locals and get to feel the vastness of the ocean and the beauty of the isolated islands. The thrill of sighting land on the horizon, pulling up at port and watching the flurry of excitement as passengers and cargo unload is exhilarating. You’ll most likely be sleeping rough though, usually on the open deck, and if the weather is fine under, possibly under the stars. It’s wise to take at least a pillow for resting your head on, and preferably a mat to spread out. It’s definitely advisable taking plenty of drinks and snacks with you for the journey as the cooked meals provided on board may not suit your stomach. Toilet paper is another necessity - and be prepared for the sometimes vile conditions of a cargo boat bathroom. A few boats have cabins, each with five bunk beds, but these are often stuffy, odorous and packed with luggage. It may be tempting to linger on an island a little longer than the ship is in port but bit may be several weeks before the next boat turns up, a risk you may not want to take.

Shipping companies come and go rather quickly in Fiji so if you find any of the following ships no longer in operation, its worth contacting the Fiji Shipping Corporation (t%331 9383; on Edinburgh Drive in Suva for the latest franchise operators and schedules.

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