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Old 07-05-2015, 01:58   #1
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To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

We have enjoyed a very easy life in French Polynesia since October 2013. Clearance was done in 30 minutes at the Gendarmerie in Nuku Hiva, and the only other contact we've had with local administrations in 19 months (apart from a 20-minute visit on board by the customs in May 2015) is a visit to the customs head office in Papeete to get a paper allowing us (yacht-in-transit) to buy tax-free gas-oil (currently 94 francs per litre, instead of 136 francs). We could sign our 3 girls at school for free, both in Nuku Hiva and Raiatea. Safety, quality of food (albeit a bit expensive, see the thread "Where is the Australian Whangarei?"), good and free drinking water, good and free education, etc... French Polynesia has ticked all our boxes. That's why we are still here.

We are planning to leave at the end of this school year (June). At first, our goal was to reach Australia by late November and spend the next cyclone season there, our girls at school. But the cost of education in the public schools of NSW for foreigners (about $1300 per child per month), the cost (about $1600 for the family) and hassle of the immigration process (biometrics and visa application in Suva, Fiji), the cost and hassle of biosecurity (fumigation, etc), customs, and generally speaking all the constraints and red tape make us start to reconsider our plans.

And to get visas to Australia, we must apply in Fiji. We always took it for granted that we would stop in Fiji anyway, because Fiji is on all routes between East and West, because we have heard of the beautiful moorings, nice people and, last but not least, a good place to haul out and have cushions, cabinetry and other works done by skilled tradespeople who charge much less than what their colleagues in French Polynesia would. But last night, I read nearly all Noonsite pages about Fiji. The amount of bureaucracy, red tape, constraints seems to be worse than Australia. Do we really want to go through all this? By contrast, Vava'u (the Northern archipelago of Tonga) seems to offer a much easier and cheaper clearance process.

Have we become that spoilt by the ultra-fast and free clearance process, the absence of administrative hassle and constraints in French Polynesia? The prospect of having to go through the Fijian red tape in order to be able to apply for the Australian red tape doesn't appeal to us. So, should we forget about Fiji, and spend more time in Tonga and Vanuatu instead? Or is the country so unique that, just like for the Galapagos, we should accept the cost and the red tape? Thanks for your feedback.
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Old 07-05-2015, 09:16   #2
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Well, my first reaction is "Why would you go through all the hassle and pain of going to the South Pacific and then skip any of the wonderful countries along the way?"

If it were me I would skip Oz altogether because of the paperwork and expense of getting in and staying there. In fact we sold our boat rather than doing that. If we make it back we very much might skip it again and go from NZ straight to Indonesia and up. We love Aussies but the country is not very welcoming to cruisers.

You should consider NZ although I have no idea what the cost of kids in school might be. Vanuatu is our fav place but still in pieces from the last cyclone and no idea about how to have a family there. Fiji is a wonderful place too. But all of them have onerous paperwork and lots of hoops to jump through to stay longer than 3 months. It's doable in all in most circumstances.

You could just divert to Hawaii for a season. Easy to get in to and much cheaper by comparison.
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Old 07-05-2015, 09:53   #3
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Fiji recently had an election. Not sure it makes much difference in regard to the hassles encountered clearing into the country, especially since the military bloke who was at the head of the military junta won the election...

While Fiji has some beautiful islands and an interesting culture I opted to bypass Fiji in 2009 due to the hassles. Even got so far as anchoring off Suva, but communications over the VHF with cruisers in the process of clearing out and authorities ashore convinced me to haul anchor and leave. This is after I'd sailed into Fiji in 2000, clearing at Levuka. Even then, things were much less than ideal.

Clearing into Australia is not as onerous as you're led to believe. Done it twice. The rules are known ahead of time and easy to meet. While fees may seem steep, compared to other countries where staying a year and possibly longer is prohibited, factored out over the length of your stay fees are not as bad as they first appear. Weather in Australia is more pleasant than in N.Z. too. Would do Australia again in a heartbeat!

Obtain visas in New Caledonia, well worth visiting in its own right.

Hassles? Compared to what may lie in store for you in Indonesia, clearing into Australia is a piece of cake.

Think safety during the 'cane season too...
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Old 07-05-2015, 10:13   #4
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Vava'u in Tonga is great and Neafu Harbour delightful with hymn singing practise wafting down most mornings at about 0500. From there it's an easy run across to Savu Savu then once you find the entrance to the coastal channel around Viti Levu it's well marked around to Lautoka where you will have to check in again. Vuda Point is well sheltered and hot but a swimming pool in hotel next door for kids . Musket Cove likewise great. Had an excellent jib made by Marshall Sails in 2007 and very good price. I can't remember the beauracracy being too onerous there .Unfortunately Vanuatu copped it severely with Cyclone Pam and I doubt there would be suitable schools for your children.
Why not consider public (State) schools in Australia ? There should be little to no cost there ?? You'd want to be no further north than Scarborough ( too hot in summer) and there is a marina there. Brisbane river has free pile moorings right in the city but don't know how long you can stay. There's lots of delightful little coastal towns right down to Sydney and there are places where you can stay right in the harbour. Being an Aussie don't know about the bureaucracy other than minimum 96 hours notice and a clean bottom ! Would have thought you could get a 12 month visa. It's worth it and so many cruisers bypass Aust but provided you tick all the boxes C&I are usually very courteous. Good luck !
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Old 07-05-2015, 13:01   #5
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Originally Posted by Dave Isom View Post
Unfortunately Vanuatu copped it severely with Cyclone Pam and I doubt there would be suitable schools for your children.
Plenty of suitable schools here and we not all dead from the cyclone.
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Old 07-05-2015, 14:52   #6
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Glad to hear that .
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Old 08-05-2015, 08:21   #7
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Entry is really easy, either in Savusavu or Suva. Not sure how you were misled.
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Old 08-05-2015, 08:48   #8
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...


Australia over the past 20 years or so has had a lousy history of people arriving in small boats. The 'boat' people are escapees from the situations in Asia and all over the world who wish to start a new life in Oz.

They get on to anything that floats and on sighting Australia will burn, scuttle and abandon the boat. Often many are found wandering in the NT desert having survived the sharks and crocodiles and without papers and are put into the legal system to get justice from the Australian justice system. It can take years.

So anybody arriving without a visa or papers are really put through the grinder by C&I. If one has financial assets it makes thing a tad easier but it really is non effective. The Australians have had one hell of a problem with 'boat' people. They are really nervous about people jumping the immigration queue and it includes aircraft and ships. Many arrive having chartered a plane and without the proper papers they just get sent back!

But one can get to Australia!, just don't try and just expect to be admitted for a long period of time and draw on the Australian taxpayer for education Etc. The consulates will readily advise...............................
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Old 08-05-2015, 09:28   #9
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Unless things have changed since 2009, it's possible to apply for a multi-year visa. But, it's not as easy as it was in 2000 to get one. I didn't even apply for a multi year visa in 2000 and received a 7 year renewable visa. I would have been required to leave and return, but still... It's probably not going to happen today.

Ask for two years and you may get lucky.

If you have an arrest record and believe you were falsely charged and or arrested, take all documentation you have that supports your contention. No guarantee since an arrest record is typically a bar to receiving an Australian visa. But, if you think your case is strong and supported by your evidence no harm in trying. Must have a plan B of course...
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Old 08-05-2015, 11:32   #10
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Good advice for anywhere, but particularly Fiji: Know the rules, follow them, and be patient & you'll have no problems with customs. There is a bit more paperwork, clearing in and out to go from Lautoka to Savu Savu, etc. But no big deal. On the day we cleared in, a yachtie in line in front of me was arguing because his boat was in the marina, rather than the clearance anchorage where one's boat is required to be when clearing. An hour or two later we were sailing off and he was still huffing about in the office. Why not just follow the rules?
Tonga is not to be missed along the way, but if you need to haul out, you wont find it in Tonga. Fiji is cheap to haul out. Your boat will be set in a trench filled with tires for cushions and I've heard that the rats may take advantage of the low freeboard.
NZ and Australia--they are particular about their rules, too. We were worried about scary quarantine laws. Yes, you'll have to apply for an entrance visa online-- free or relatively cheap as I recall. But again, as long as you appear to be making an honest effort to do what you're supposed to do, we found clearance quick, professional, and friendly in both NZ & Aus.
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Old 08-05-2015, 14:52   #11
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Having spent two cruising seasons in Fiji we found if you are patient and follow the rules you should be okay. we dropped down to NZ for the summer cyclone season and went back up to Fiji.

Forget about schooling in Fiji and stick to your correspondence schooling.

NZ was good for clearance but you must forward your details on prior just like Australia. Eat all your meat before you make landfall otherwise you will loose the lot, you should know the drill by now.

Had some work done by Marshal sails in Port Denarua about two years ago at a reasonable price but would forget about cabinet work etc.Also had our boat boarded at the marina at night with us on it and lost around $1000 cash out of my wallet, left on chart table.took nothing else but, so try and lock up.

Had a new stainless targa made in Opua NZ ,high quality job but not cheap.

Easy clearance in Noumea but a bit of a walk around the town to clear out.
Port Moselle marina will assist in your clearance in if you take up a berth but try and book ahead if possible, it gets pretty full.

Vanuatu was nice but facing some issues due to the recent cyclone, check for updates.

I cleared in at Coffs Harbour and had no issues because we made several email and ph call to customs prior to departure, yes the entry fee is high but you must realise that this is a safe country will all the facility you are going to need after your trip.

I think my favorite was still Fiji west coast so make the effort and chill out. also be very careful navigating as your charts will be out so daytime navigation only till you have some track lines.

Cheers from the MADMAN
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Old 08-05-2015, 15:04   #12
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Dave Isom said, Post #4:
Brisbane river has free pile moorings right in the city but don't know how long you can stay.
Not free. Pay per month. Comes with laundry and shower perks. Wakes from ferries can be a problem.
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Old 08-05-2015, 20:07   #13
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

One does not have to clear Customs between Customs Districts within Fiji anymore.
Fiji — Noonsite
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Old 09-05-2015, 01:07   #14
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

Check-in in Savusavu is easy. The marina will get the authorities to you board. The boat is autorised for 18 months and the persons for 4 + 2 months.

If you want to stay on a period over 6 months without getting throw you hassle of a resident permit, you can have a short trip with you boat to Futuna in 2 + 2 days to restart for a new period of 6 months.

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Old 09-05-2015, 04:31   #15
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Re: To Fiji or not to Fiji? That is the question...

I noticed in your original post that you did not mention Samoa at all. I would just like to say that it is a destination not to be overlooked, which we very much enjoyed. Clearing in was not a problem at all and I don't remember having to pay much (apart for those who were not aware that Samoa changed time zone a few years back and thus thought they arrived on a Friday and instead had to wait the whole weekend to clear in). Apia is interesting, the visit to Vailima (Stevenson's house) was emotional, and we toured the island of 'Upolu in rental car. It was great. To cruise the rest of Samoa, you have to ask authorisation which is not complicated. It seems there are a few bays around 'Upolu where visiting would be possible, in a very traditional setting. We sailed on directly to Savai'i, and to do so we cleared out in Apia, asking to visit 'Upolu on our way. This was granted without any questions, and our authorisation was in fact a letter addressed to any local authority in Savai'i from the the government asking them to make us welcome in any way that was possible or needed. How neat is that ? Plus, we could sail on without having to beat back to windward to Apia. Really, consider spending a few weeks there at least.

We didn't stop there, but Wallis and Futuna is said to be a good place to visit as well and clearing in is free.

As for Vava'u, there is everything you need there, true, but we just found it too touristy. It's just full of boats everywhere, and both chartering and tending / profiting from blue-water boats really is THE business there. Actually a lot of businesses are Australian/NZ-owned and/or operated and the locals are not always in the loop. The reefs suffer, the coral was not spectacular, the whales are harassed. Now it's still a pleasant place, but to us it didn't feel like paradise at all.

We skipped Fiji, mostly not because of the price but because of lack of time, and choices had to be made. We didn't feel 2 weeks would do justice to the country, and felt that for such a short duration the fees would be steep. The same goes for Vanuatu, but we will be going there this year with more time to spend. The fees are far from free but the country badly needs it.

Finally, consider New Caledonia. Although French as well (so clearing is is free too) don't expect it to be another French Polynesia. It will be very different but is definitely a place worth to visit. Most people just stop in Nouméa, which understandably can be a bit of a shock. It's about the first real (albeit small) city after a long time in the Pacific and people mostly expect to face that shock only once they reach Australia or NZ, not when they reach NC. So many people are disappointed, perhaps because they then sense they are at the end of their paradise milk run, and NC has the unwanted position of being the last in the run, the place revealing that truth you don't want to face. However, there is a lot to be done in NC, but you really have to be aware this is not Polynesia. The usual thing is to go to the Isle of Pines, and visit a bit of the Prony area, before going back to Nouméa to check out. This is a nice thing to do for sure, but be aware that the Isle of Pines, although scenic, is not the paradise described in tourist brochures, and that people are especially rude there (Australian cruise ships call there every other day, so cruisers are perceived more like a nuisance than they are welcome). The Prony area and the southern lagoon are great places to go to. In the heat of the cruising season (September-November) you may actually end up being several boats in an anchorage, but otherwise you might very well be alone. Head further afield, and this sometimes means just 20 miles out of Nouméa, and you might find yourself alone most of the time ! The northern lagoon is actually empty and the east coast is spectacular. If you're a diver, you will be in heaven, because the lagoon is huge. You might be able to school your kids in Nouméa, there are international schools too, but it might not be as easy as what you have known in the Marquesas.

Now on to Australia. We haven't sailed there yet, but it looks like it's not as bad as was advertised a few years back. OK, it's far from cheap, to be sure, but if your reference currency is the USD, you'll be getting 20% more for your bucks than a year ago, so maybe it's more manageable now. What about NZ ? You may have a reason to skip it, but it's a great place, with friendly people and very scenic areas (here's a link to our slideshows for those who wish to watch them : Clearing in is free, and you also get a free 3-month visa on arrival, which you will have to extend thereafter.
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