We have spent the last 10 days in Fiji, a perfect place to relax with its tropic beaches but also a place to experience a colourful culture. We flew into Nadi, which acts as a gateway to the rest of the country, and straight away were given a taste of Fijian hospitality as a traditional band played for us as we went through customs (the most light-hearted customs I have experienced!). Of course Fiji is part of the commonwealth and our Queen is on the money here too, she gets around!
Nadi lies on the Fijian main island of Viti Levu (Fiji comprises over 300 islands) but have spent most of our time on a couple of the Yasawa group of Islands, which lie to the north west. We spent our first night at the very laid-back Bamboo Hostel in Nadi, where the helpful staff happily arranged us a ferry ticket to the Islands for the next day.
It was an early start as there is only one ferry (a nippy catamaran) a day to the Yasawas and it leaves Nadi’s Port Deranau at 08:30. Many backpackers come here and island hop between the many resorts scattered all along the Islands, but we took the conscious decision to have a holiday from a holiday and relax and re-energise by splitting our time between two islands that had been recommended to us by friends. I know you think travelling is a holiday but moving around all the time gets tiring, and we did plenty of that In Australia and New Zealand!
Our first stop was at Mantaray Resort (thanks for the tip Rich) at Balavu Island, a three hour ferry ride, where we stayed for four nights. On the way we passed many islands including the tiny Bounty Island, which you may remember as the setting from the TV show Celebrity Love Island.
Small speedboats are sent out from each resort to transfer passengers to/from the ferry, which cannot get too close to the shore due to the coral reefs which surround the islands. The speedboat literally dropped us off on the beach in front of the resort, a cluster of wooden huts hidden between palm trees and bush land, as the staff at the resort sang a welcome song for us. It’s fair to say it is bit of a luxury compared to what we have been used to, our backpacks were carried for us, a cool drink was placed in our hands, and we were ushered to our lovely ‘Bure’ – a private beach hut.
The weather has been great, hot (30+ degrees) and sunny, it is the rainy season and there have been a few thunderstorms and heavy showers at night but through the day it has been great – perfect 🙂
To be honest having been used to being on a schedule we were at first we were unsure what to do with ourselves, but soon got used to relaxing with a book on the sun loungers. Although there was also plenty to do such as Beach Volley Ball, trekking around the island, kayaking, and best of all snorkelling just off the beach. The reef here was amazing, much better that what I have seen in Australia, and literally it starts right off the beach. Unfortunately it wasn’t manta ray season but there was still plenty to see – masses of brightly coloured fish, octopus, turtles, starfish, and the odd jellyfish (we gave them a wide berth).
The food was amazing, most resorts operate a compulsory ‘meal plan’ (there was no alternative restaurant on the island!) whereby you are provided three meals a day, we were treated to a wide range of food including lots of local fish based dishes as well food from around the world – the cook was a Fijian Indian (Indians make up nearly half of the population in Fiji) and the curries were fantastic! It wasn’t cheap but it was nice not to have to think about a budget and just eat what you fancied (you could either choose from a menu or there was a buffet). Of course there was also a cocktail bar and some impressive sunsets to watch with one in hand.
There was a nice social vibe at the resort and it was easy to get to know people, there were some beach games organised by the Fijians to speed up this process! The resort also organised a boat trip to the local village, Soso, on a nearby island which gave us an insight into the real Fijian way of life. We visited the church, school (where lots of kids happily and loudly greeted us), and bought some hand-crafted souvenirs from some of the women. Of course Lisa had soft spot for the kids!
We also did a short trek to the highest point on the island (not very high) and to a lovely beach on the other side of the island. Four days at the resort was about right, it was enough time to get to know some of the people and enjoy the fantastic snorkelling. We caught the ferry this time going south about 30 minutes back towards the mainland to Waya Island, where we stayed at the Octopus Resort.
We were recommended Octopus by several people and it is a pretty luxurious place, more refined and organised (of course it cost more) than Mantaray – although this didn’t make it better in our opinion. This time we stayed in a bungalow set back from the sea, which was nice but a usual hotel room. The food was again great, although it was a bit ponceier with more focus on presentation than the delicious simple meals at Mantaray. Octopus has the bonus of a swimming pool, and warm showers – not that they were really needed! But the snorkelling wasn’t as good, the reef here was made up of flat pancake like coral, which wasn’t so colourful, although I suspect not many places could rival the reef at Mantaray. Nevertheless, Octopus resort is a very relaxing place to spend a few days.
In the evening we were welcomed to the resort with a traditional Fijian Kava ceremony. Kava is a traditional drink made from the root of the pepper plant, the Fijians love the stuff and you get offered it everywhere in little wooden bowls. We enjoyed the cultural encounter but the drink tasted like muddy water, it has the effect of making your tongue go numb and making you relaxed – not bad but I think I prefer beer!
Waya Island has the highest mountain (built up from a volcano) and I took the chance to join a guided trek up to the summit, about 2 hours walk through the dense bush land from the resort. I’m not sure if the mountain has a name, but we passed through the village of Nalauwaki (which provides most of the staff at the resort) on the way – we climbed up to the rocky point on the right you can see here (the village is just off the beach hidden amongst the trees).
We started early in the morning to avoid the midday sun, but it was still an arduous and sweaty climb up to the top on a path barely legible through the tall grass, the previous nights rain having made the already steep slopes very slippery. It was worth the effort though as the view at the top was great, we could see all around Waya Island and also some other Yasawa Islands.
Climbing back down was worse than going up as one had to be careful not to slip all the way down the mountain! I was happy to get back to the resort and the cool swimming pool! The evening entertainment at octopus was fantastic, something different every night including a pub quiz, bonfires on the beach, an outdoor movie night, and best of all a traditional Fijian dance put on by the staff – very impressive.
Both resorts were great in their own way, we probably slightly preferred Mantaray for the snorkelling and the beach hut but would definitely recommend both if you come to Fiji. I am not usually into the ‘resort’ holiday thing, but we have really enjoyed been able to relax and not have to think too much 🙂
Yesterday we caught the ferry back to the main island where we stayed overnight again at the Bamboo Hostel in the Newtown suburb of the town. Today we took a bus to the town centre, an interesting experience with open air comfort (no windows), cycle bells to notify the driver you want to get off, and a route that at one point took us onto the beach!
The town itself isn’t too interesting one main street crammed full of shops, it felt a bit like India as approximately half of Fiji’s population is Indian and they run many of shops. Whereas the islands are a little escape from reality Nadi is a slap back to the real world. The most interesting thing was the colourful Hindu Temple at the south end of the town, not quite what we were expecting in Fiji!
After a browse in some of the souvenir shops we went to an Aussie Coffee chain for a decent coffee before taking the bus back to the hostel. Fiji has been great, the people are amazing, the beaches are beautiful and we are sad to leave it – it is definitely the place to come if you want a quintessential tropical paradise island holiday. Our south pacific adventure is not over yet though as this evening we fly to Samoa, which is supposedly the jewel of the pacific whatever that means! I think we will get more in touch with the Samoan culture than we have been able to do in tourist friendly Fiji, so we are looking forward to that. Hopefully we might be able to sneak in a few days at the beach though…
There’s a load more photos from our time in Fiji here.