Weekly Wrap-up #8 From a Working Perspective

As the other two-legged Tansley of the Tansley Travels blog family and the only one currently working in Fiji, you can imagine I work quite a bit, and am often away. So much so, that this is my first ever entry since S started documenting our time overseas almost a year ago.

I’m currently typing this up from a ‘liveable’ shipping container on the western end of the island of Vanua Levu, in an area known locally as Wairiki. For most of my time here so far, the island of Vanua Levu is my most frequented when travelling away from the main island for work. It is the second largest island in Fiji, while far less populated than Viti Levu, it is dominated by the sugar cane and forestry industries and developing fast. Ten years ago there wasn’t a fully sealed highway from one end of Vanua Levu to the other, and now there is one of the smoothest (and emptiest) highways in Fiji.

My biggest source of work here is a local company that stockpiles the harvested pine logs from the forestry industry and turns them into woodchip in a mill, this is then stockpiled and exported for paper pulping. Feeding the mill and powering it is a fleet of eight Caterpillar machines which includes two large generators, each one capable of providing 2.1 megawatts of power at full load. To put that into house hold terms, if you lined up one thousand kettles and one thousand toasters on a fictitious power board and turned them all on at exactly the same time, that’s how much power this generator can make at full capacity.­ The engine is a V-16 requiring four hundred litres of oil at an oil change, and its all squeezed into a 40 foot shipping container. It takes a lot of power to turn a twelve metre log into, well, sawdust. Big chunky sawdust bits.

View from the top of the conveyor of sunset and stockpile-accom. house on right hilltopView from accomodation house back to the site and millSunset at the wharfStockpile view from houseLog stockpiles-mill_workshop bottom right

Anyway, I digress. Coming here for a trip is usually done to service the entire fleet in one go, repair any breakdowns (often) and carry out what best passes as preventative maintenance where customer’s budgets allow. I get up at about 3:30am and drive to catch a ferry from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu, taking my service vehicle with me so I have as much tooling as possible (sometimes I fly with as much tooling as a toolbag and my backpack can carry). All up between driving and the boat ride it takes me nearly 8 hours just to get to site, and then I work the rest of the day and pass out some time after dinner and a quick call home.

A common occurrence in Fiji is, when it comes to spending money the top brass of companies often have deep pockets and short arms where machine maintenance is concerned – until the machine doesn’t work. It’s what keeps me so busy here in Fiji, and as such means that a visit here is often scheduled to take 5-7 days, but usually means stay till the work is done or you run out of parts to keep things going. I’ve been here since Tuesday 22 August, and expect to be home this coming Wednesday (subject to change, parts warranty only and consult your doctor if pain persists). I stay on site in a house built by the company, it’s a timber building which is mostly just a shower block and one large dining/kitchen area with 5 or so shipping containers under an awning off to one side for the site manager (who lives here full-time) and accommodation for working visitors such as myself. It ain’t the Ritz Carlton but it gets the job done.

While I plug away until the work is done, S is left to fend for herself and do whatever the ‘Real expat housewives’ do. I assure you most days it isn’t as glamorous as the instagram account would have you believe, since I am often working too much S carries out much of the mundane legwork things during the day such as paying bills – something you mostly have to do in person here in Fiji. Paying things online and via b-pay just hasn’t really caught on yet, like fast internet. In between keeping our highly energetic dog out of mischief S actually does most of the legwork required to keep a household ticking away that you don’t really notice needs to be done because in Australia its so easy to get it done from the comfort of your own home.

I don’t enjoy being away from home all that much but as you may have guessed I do often get spoilt with the travel for work and see some amazing places. In one year I have seen more of Fiji than some Fijians get to see in their lifetime. Coming to Vanua Levu has been a favourite ever since the first trip over here, the island has two major towns and outside of that it appears almost untouched in some places. On the northern side and down towards the western end, it can be hot and often dry. I have seen areas that would make you think you were in central Queensland after a rainless winter, and then within a hundred kilometres and on the other side of the island it changes to mountains and jungles. All on an island maybe 3 times the size of Fraser island.



The perk of this particular work location, far flung though it is, is a private wharf belonging to the company for loading the woodchip into bulk cargo ships. I’m never here when a ship is, and because the wharf is private the local villagers and those with small boats don’t have access either by land or sea due to a marked exclusion zone. The net result of this is a reef with quite a healthy marine life and some great fishing opportunities, though I’m more interested in getting in with a mask and snorkel to explore and see it all up close. On days like last Saturday morning, the weather is absolutely perfect and the tide is just right; work is put on hold for an hour and a brief break is taken from the busting of knuckles and getting oily and greasy in favour of getting in the water and face to face with hopefully everything else swimming about down there (except the 6 foot barracuda that lives under the wharf).

Glassed outreef seen from standing on wharf looking straight downReef and wharf pylon

Alas, I waffle too much, but I may threaten to do another post in future.


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