Kava and a Lovo on Ono Island

We chose Ono Island for our first stop in Fiji. On the map, Ono is a specific island northeast of Kadavu on the southern edge of Fiji. In reality, there are a zillion little islands out here. Some appear on maps and others exist only in reality. We asked the locals the names of these other islands and they said “Ono.” They’re all called Ono? Ono is a group word and not a singular word? Are these questions only foreigners ask?

I never really sorted this out.

What I do know is that the big island of Ono has 3 resorts, 6 villages and no roads connecting any of them. Each little occupied unit hugs the coast separately from the others and is accessed only by boat. The middle of the island is mountainous and covered with trees and when I asked what’s there, the Fijians shrugged and said “no one goes there.”

That’s incomprehensible to an American. Do you mean there’s beautiful island property, up high on a hill and out of the range of hurricanes and typhoons? It has a 360 view of the South Pacific and no one has built a giant mansion on it and carved out a private road? How can this be?

The Fijians laughed when I said that, which is why this place is so great. Because no one thinks like that. Everyone wants access to the ocean so they live close to it. No one needs a road because they all have boats. Why build on top of the hill?

Why indeed.

Mai Dive resort is one of the primary resorts on Ono Island. It’s a tiny place with a 16 person capacity when it’s chock full up. This is a terrible picture to show you the scale

Mai Dive Ono Island

And a better one of the inside of our little ocean front cabin (called a burre)

Mai Dive Ono Island

And then a jealousy inducing view from our porch

Mai Dive Ono Island

The ocean was literally right there and this is me sitting in that tree on the right of the picture above, an epic overgrown place perfect for climbing

Fiji tree

Every resort in Fiji has a food plan. You can custom it for allergies or preferences – Dani is vegan, for instance – but  you don’t get choices or a menu. You sit down family style with everyone in the resort, and they serve you food. Fortunately, the food at Mai Dive was some of the best we had all trip. This is a lunch of fish cakes on watercress. Doesn’t it look scrumptious?

Mai Dive Ono Island

Mai Dive has a staff of 14 who did everything in their power to make us comfortable. These sweet ladies were the best

Mai Dive Ono Island

They were hilarious and so friendly. When you live in a tiny place with 30 other people, you spend a lot of time hanging out with them, hearing about their families and watching them interact.

Dani and I spent 5 days on Ono. We dove in the mornings and sat on our porch reading in the afternoons. We taught ourselves to play gin rummy, we saw a giant sky full of stars with no light pollution, we met a great American couple from San Diego that we’ll see again this fall, and some raucous Aussies that fought us for the last bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.

It was super chill and easy until Friday night when the Mai Dive crew cooked us a lovo, a big Fijian feast cooked on hot rocks buried in the sand. Dani and I expressed avid interest in this feast so the lovo chefs – Ahmet and Waise – came to get us every time they moved to the next stage so we could watch that whole process from the beginning fire

Lovo fire on Ono Island

To the piling of insulating leaves and shoots

Lovo on Ono Island

then meat wrapped in foil – chicken, beef and pork – followed by taro root and plantains

Lovo on Ono IslandAnd then the whole shebang covered by palm fronds. They said that the traditional covering is banana leaves, not palm fronds, but they don’t have banana trees on this island so they improvised

Lovo on Ono Island

And then a tarp and sand.

Lovo on Ono Island

After which we left it to cook for a couple hours and whiled away the time with a little kava!

Kava is the root of a pepper plant native to the South Pacific. It’s dried, pounded and soaked in water to make a traditional drink. Many Fijian’s drink this instead of alcohol. There’s a lot of hysterical writing warning foreigners off of kava lest they hallucinate, get addicted and never leave the island like some kind of lotus eaters.

Here’s the reality: It looks like dirty water

Kava on Ono Island

And tastes earthy and a little spicy but not particularly unpleasant. The drink sizes come in low tide, high tide and tsunami, you clap once to receive the drink and three times when you finish it.

drinking kava on Ono IslandI felt a tingling in my tongue and lips when I drank it. It has a mildly narcotic effect so everything slows down a bit in the middle of the kava ceremony and some people report really vivid dreams afterwards. I didn’t get dreams but I don’t often remember my dreams anyway.

The great thing about kava is the community. Everyone sits cross-legged on the ground around the kava bowl

Kava on Ono Island

you share a common drink and talk or play music in between drinks. It’s fun and easy and there’s always lots of laughter.

Sai on Ono Island

After a few cups of kava, it was time to unbury the lovo

Lovo on Ono Island

and eat it!

Lovo on Ono Island

Doesn’t it look romantic? This night ranks at the top of my most favorite memories of Fiji.

And Ono ranks as my most favorite island in all of Fiji. Were I to come back, I’d head straight to Mai Dive. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thank you to Jason the owner, Joe and Joanna the managers, Ahmet, Emily, Sai, Koleta and all of the kitchen staff, Dee and Waise the dive instructors… All incredible. The diving was also spectacular and I’ll devote a whole post to that.

Mai Dive on Ono Island

Vinaka vakalevu, Mai Dive!

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