I left New Zealand at the age of 17 with my backpack, a few thousand dollars and an open mind. I travelled north to the Bay of Islands to meet my Aunt and Uncle on their 47 foot sailboat 'Drifter'. The plan was to sail into the Pacific Ocean, 1100 miles north towards Fiji. Although they were experienced sailors, I didn't know port from starboard or mast from mizzen. Eight days later, after the sea sickness had passed, we had arrived in Paradise.
It was the first time I had truly experienced and been immersed in a different culture. The people were warm and friendly, always with a big smile on their face saying 'Bula!' as you walk past - Bula being their greeting. They live a very simple and beautiful way of life, with many traditions and customs. Cross legged, the men drink Kava from coconut shells (which I experience later on is a much weaker version than what they drink in Vanuatu) due to the fact they pound the Kava root first instead of chewing it. Women weave baskets and sell floral dresses on the side of the road. Open aired buses can take you through the jungle to the next village over where you must bring a Kava root as a gift for their chief. Children giggle and hide behind the coconut trees, eyes wide with seeing someone slightly different in appearance to their own.
In some parts, the thick jungle travels all the way down to meet the water, but my favourite parts were the bays of endless white sand beaches lined with hanging coconut trees only accessible by boat. I found these dotted through the Yasawa Islands after I met and sailed with 'Delos', a 53 foot ketch, about a month into my travels. After these few weeks in the idyllic Yasawa's, I jumped ship to call Delos my home for the next four years. This was the beginning...
* Some photos taken by Delos crew