We arrived in Fiji airport and were serenaded by 3 ukulele playing men as we queued for passport control. We hadn’t planned our Fiji trip (obviously) and only booked a couple of nights in Nadi Bay on the mainland. We just spent the day sunbathing by the beach next to our resort and planning how we were going to spend our 7 nights around the islands. I’m so glad we didn’t try booking anything online because the Fijian islands are a totally different ballgame to any other place we’ve ever been. There’s one company called ‘Awesome adventures’ who essentially have a monopoly on the islands. It’s their boat (the Yasawa flyer) that takes you between resorts and them alone who offer island hopping packages. Fiji has two groups of islands; the Mamanucas located only half an hour from Denarau marina and then the Yasawa islands which are up to 5 hours out in the South Pacific. The accommodation options are unconventionally rated too with only 1 or 2 coconuts (the more coconuts the fancier it is). Every resort on the Fijian islands has a compulsory meal plan, there’s no way around it. 1 coconut rating places have meals included in the price, 2 coconut places have meals on top (around 100 Fijian dollars a day). Safe to say, we couldn’t afford the two coconuts properties and began to narrow our planning by 1 coconut resorts. This was undeniably the most planning we’ve had to do since we left in February and it was so stressful trying to research and choose which islands to go (I know, we are prats, biggest concern being which island to stay on in Fiji). Initially, we were looking at a 7 day package called the Coconut cruise where you stay on 4 different islands but after reading reviews of the individual properties and seeing how many people said their belongings and money was stolen, had food poisoning etc, we only found 2 that we liked the sound of. We also didn’t think we’d want to pack up our bags ready for another 2 hour boat ride every other day. So we opted for 3 nights at Gold Coast resort on Nanuya Lailai island which is the last stop the Yasawa flyer does and 3 nights at Naqaila lodge on Wayalailai island (mid way down the Yasawa island group). Turns out, we are absolute geniuses and picked the two best places in Fiji (according to all fellow island hoppers we met).
First stop was Gold Coast, we got picked up from Nadi Bay at 7am and taken to Denarau port where we boarded the infamous yellow catamaran. Fijian waters seemed to be pretty smooth and it was a pleasant ride with beautiful island views. We clambered down into our resort’s long boat and drove 15 minutes to the island where we were greeted by Romeo, the island dog, bounding through the shallows. The island wasn’t as small as some of the Mamanucas, apparently you can walk around Bounty island in 5 minutes, but it was still fairly small, or at least very sparsely populated. In our resort, there were only 5 other guests and a handful of staff. We had a little ‘Bule’ or traditional hut right near the beach. When we went to sleep, we could hear the gentle crashing of the waves. It was definitely the most remote place either of us had ever been. It really felt like we where in the middle of absolutely nowhere, I suppose we actually were. The accommodation was very basic and the showers and tap didn’t really work, so we didn’t have access to running water apart from around 6-7am. Thankfully we brought hand sanitizer with us! The food they served was actually really good! Most nights we’d have whatever the catch of the day was. It was great that it was local food, as opposed to imported and poorly stored. We tried some new things like cassava, a local root vegetable and bread fruit which literally tastes like bread?!
In the evenings, it was run very much like a ‘home’ setting with only one dinner table to eat with other travellers. Every night the men who worked there would play the ukulele and guitar and sing whilst we ate. I’m sure its a generalisation but I swear, all Fijians are so musically talented! One of the guys also did lots of card tricks in the evening which were very entertaining. He invited the 6 of us guests back to his house one evening and everyone (apart from me because I’m sensible and didn’t want to go blind) drank Fijian moonshine that they’d made, they said it had only been brewed for 24 hours so it wasn’t harmful….though it was being mixed with 60% Fijian rum. They did traditional dancing and even a fire dancing show. In the evenings, we also had an amazing view of the moon. It was like a super moon every night and completely different to how we’d ever seen it before. It was so low over the ocean and absolutely massive. I suppose that’s why the tide around the island was so insane. It was madness how much the tide changed and with no apparent rhyme or reason.
We walked to the other side of the island towards the Blue lagoon, notorious for its snorkelling. The walk itself was about half an hour and though it is quite a jungle-esque walk, we still managed fine in flip flops (apart from on the way back when a piece of glass pierced through my flip flop and stabbed my foot!) The walk gave us spectacular views of surrounding islands, crystal waters and exotic trees. The snorkelling was amazing too. The water was so clear, we saw loads of beautiful fish and coral. We saw our first ever starfish which we were thrilled about and I saw an octopus though unfortunately I didn’t get that on the GoPro.
The other main activity to do is kayaking which our resort provided for free which was a nice bonus. We went quite a bit round the side of the island and came to a different beach. I have never seen so many crabs in my life as we did in Fiji! There were loads of different types and they were absolutely everywhere. I also found the biggest shell washed up on the beach. I think it must have been a sea snail but it was about the size of a melon! Dave also went kayaking by himself one afternoon whilst I lazed on the beach. He saw one of the local women spear an octopus just from lying face down on the water with a snorkel mask! He also saw her rip its’ brains out with her hands, graphic. When they both came back to shore, the lady held out the octopus for me to see as well and told us to feel how heavy it was, we’d guess it was about 10kg! We had octopus for dinner that night, it was my first time trying it and I wasn’t a huge fan though Dave said it was delicious.
On our last day, we did the walk to the other side of the island again but with a tour guide this time; Romeo the dog! He was literally the best dog in the world and it was so fun watching him so happily charging off in all different directions but check back to see his guests were okay and going the right way. After our little photo walk and a final lunch on the island, it was back in the long boat to meet the Yasawa flyer catamaran to take us to our next island; Wayalailai. When we dismounted in to our long boat and pulled up to Naquila lodge, we were greeted by all the staff serenading us on the beach! It was quite a surreal sight but also very touching (you can see them singing on our Fiji video). They were so welcoming and kept hugging us and saying ‘welcome to the family’. We had another beach Bule and could hear the waves again when we went to sleep. Wayalailai didn’t seem as remote as the last island and all the other guests seem to have running water working properly but unfortunately, we seemed to have drawn the short straw and it didn’t work for us. The evening we arrived, they had their weekly ‘Gay night’ where men dressed as women and vice versa. Though it was arguably poorly executed, you could tell there was an honest sentiment behind it and one of the staff gave a great speech about how they embrace the LGBTQ community there whereas it isn’t the case in the rest of Fiji as well as some of their personal experiences.
The next day, we went…SNORKELLING WITH REEF SHARKS! Dave and I were so excited by this as neither of us had ever seen a shark in the wild. We got in the long boat and charged through swells getting thrown up violently in the air. I’ll just add that this little boat had no life jackets, no seats and no ladder to get in or out. It was the bumpiest boat ride ever and even the anchor was getting some air it was so bumpy – not enjoyable. We finally pulled up in the middle of the ocean where there was a reef. We just had to jump in off the side of the boat – ungraceful would be the understatement of the year. But, we were in! As soon as we got our masks on, we could see the sharks. There were about 5, differing in lengths and they were absolutely magnificent. There was another resort out there too so there were annoyingly quite a handful of people. The guide kept hassling and bringing the sharks up to the surface with bait and letting people touch the sharks. He kept beckoning to me and I refused to come closer because I just wanted to watch them from above swimming around naturally rather than being groped by annoying tourists. The guide asked me later on back at the resort why I didn’t want to come closer and I tried to explain my reasoning though unfortunately he seemed surprised and I don’t think many people are particularly respectful to the sharks. It was still a fantastic experience and they are just so fascinating, I’d recommend it to anyone! Oh and in terms of getting back on the boat, the guide just said be limp and he hoisted us up by the armpits haha!
After we got back and lazed in the hammock for a while, disaster struck for me. I got the worst food poisoning I’ve had yet – both ends, simultaneously. My fever was so high, I shook uncontrollably for about 5 hours and I couldn’t see or hear at one point, definitely the most scared I’ve been since we’ve been travelling in the last 6 months! I didn’t eat for pretty much the rest of the time we were on the island and barely left the bed. As I said before, there wasn’t always access to running water and we noticed the staff bathroom didn’t have hand soap either so I’m not surprised I got so sick. There was also no way of seeing a doctor and we just had to ride it out for 3 days. Dave didn’t do too much without me other than the island’s summit hike where he said there were some pretty spectacular views! The disaster was not yet over however, the boat due to pick us up and take us back to the mainland was 2 and a half hours late because one of its two engines broke! So the sun was setting when it finally arrived, apparently it isn’t meant to operate in the dark – reassuring. We had to take the long boat out to meet it but we got caught in huge swells getting absolutely soaked and thrown around. It was so choppy, we couldn’t pull up to the catamaran for ages and it had to turn a different direction for our boat to try again. We finally managed to get on, looking like drowned rats, and had a further 3 hour journey to get us back. The journey was horrific, I’d say about 40% of the people on the boat were throwing up. The staff were handing out sick bags like sweets! I’ve never understood the literary expression of a smell ‘burning’ one’s nostrils until that day. The stench was unparalleled. Imagine that, still being ill and having not eaten for days. Needless to say we were so grateful when we got back and happy that we had a couple of days on the mainland to recover before flying on! An unfortunate end to a brilliant start in Fiji, oh well! At least we didn’t have a flight to catch (and miss) like many other passengers.
Thanks for reading and join us next time when we’re in New Zealand!
Sophie & Dave