Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for lazy afternoons in the sun, and Pina Colada is actually my middle name. However, I wasn’t after a token island-party holiday. I was searching for a real Fijian experience, one that wouldn’t fade with my hangover.
At certain times in life, research and preparation really pays off. School exams are one such time, but I wasn’t intending on studying anything but coral reefs and coconuts. I was planning to travel Fiji like a local, experience the culture first-hand, and get way off the beaten track.
The small island of Beqa (pronounced Bengga) had already been researched by my boyfriend for its untouched beauty and, more importantly, notorious surf break at nearby Frigate’s Passage. Covering an area of just 36km, situated 7.5km south of Navua, the closest town on the Fijian island of Viti Levu, there are just nine villages on Beqa, each with a population of about 200 people.
So, after my pre-requisites were added, our search results delivered us an ace beachhouse. Owned and managed by local Fijian-Swiss couple Sam and Christine, the beach house has its own wonderful little beach with world-class coral reefs on its doorstep.
The accommodation ranged from camping to private Fijian-style bures just metres from the shore. This was the place we’d been looking for – tropical island bliss at an affordable price.
Stepping off the plane, I inhaled my first breath of sweet, warm Fijian air. Nadi (pronounced Nandy) airport was miniscule in comparison to any I’d seen before, only one storey high with a few narrow runways lined with tall palm trees.
The rolling green hills were dotted with small basic houses, cows were randomly roaming the fields, and greeting us off the tarmac were three serenading Fijians in bright blue Hawaiian shirts. The smiling trio swayed in unison as they strummed tiny ukuleles, their harmonic melody carrying throughout the airport. Welcome to Fiji.
After a long rickety bus ride from Nadi, down through the lush green countryside to Pacific Harbour, we boarded an old brightly-coloured boat to take us across to Beqa Island.
The afternoon sunshine was dancing on the sparkling Pacific as our boat finally pulled up to the sandy beachfront of Lawaki Beach House, Beqa Island. Owners Sam and Christine were waiting on the shore and waded in up to their knees to help us unload our bags and disembark onto the soft sand.
Our first impressions of Lawaki exceeded all expectations. The quaint lapping beach was met by lush bouncy grass with a black river stone pathway leading up to the main house.
Our smiling hosts were welcoming and gracious, offering us cocktails and buja mix to relax into our new surroundings.
The main house was warm and cosy with a distinct rawness in its design. The wooden roof beams were decorated with coloured twine woven into patterns, while the walls were lined with green bamboo. A huge fishnet hung over the bar with various island treasures suspended for our viewing pleasure.
With the crystal clear waters of Beqa Lagoon literally metres from our doorstep, there was a myriad of aquatic activities to keep us entertained. From surfing to diving, fishing to frolicking, it was quite easy to spend the entire day in the water.
Snorkelling was definitely the highlight for me, the sights and sounds of the creatures below were just incredible.
I donned the gawky goggles and snorkled at least twice a day to submerge my senses in the underwater wonderland of Beqa Lagoon.
Coral of all shapes and sizes, in every colour of the rainbow, made a magical playground for a myriad of tropical marine life. Tiny turquoise iridescent fish darted back and forth like hundreds of party people at a rave, all fluro and buzzing. But this is the all natural buzz of Fiji – no hedonistic Ibiza here.
Giant blue starfish hung lazily over shells and coral on the rippled seafloor, looking like a Salvador Dali creation.
The local islanders of Beqa are warm, friendly, self-sufficient people who foster a strong sense of community and support each other however possible.
During my pre-holiday correspondence with Christine, she had asked me to bring over any unwanted children’s books for the new school in a neighbouring village.
I met the school principal, who was most grateful for my Dr Seuss and old geography text books. I was surprised to learn that, prior to the school’s completion three months ago, all children were sent to boarding school across the island when they turned six years old!
The children loved the novelty of a blonde visitor in their village and I received a personal escort of 12 giggling children to walk me back around the shore for a final night of toasting marshmallows on the campfire.
Beqa Island is one of the few places in the world where technology and progress are yet to interfere with tradition and lifestyle. The native flora and fauna are spectacular, and the nearby villages enable you to really experience Fiji as a local.
Whether you choose to camp on the grass, stay in a dorm, or enjoy a luxurious beach bure, this is a place where you can’t help but forget about the world ‘back home’ and immerse yourself in the real Fiji.
Fiji- the facts to know
Nadi is where you will arrive in Fiji – it is on the west coast of the main island of Vitu Levu and is where you can see to all your “admin stuff” ie. banking, emailing, phoning home. Although many travellers head out pretty much straight away to more remote islands, exploring the mainland is becoming more popular, and with good reason.
The capital city of Suva is a bustling, cosmopolitan South Pacific city and a total contrast to some of the tiny villages inland. Lush rainforest, wide, winding and swimmable rivers and crystal-clear waterfalls populate Vitu Levu’s interior. Find out about walks that will take the adventurous off the well-trodden paths and introduce you to the fascinating local culture.
Home to several of the more well-known resorts, these offer varying degrees of accommodation. They are a picturesque island group with beautiful, white sand and reef-fringed beaches. While the islands are relatively small, there are many daytime and evening activities to fill your days.
Budget-style accommodation includes: South Sea Island, Beachcomber Island resort and Mana Island. All islands are set up for activities, including snorkelling (often free to guests), parasailing, jet skis, scuba diving and sailing. They are also a great place to do the tropical isle thing: lie on the beach, get sunburnt, drink cocktails and live it up until all hours.
These are a chain of 20 ancient volcanic islands. Here the pristine white sandy beaches have a backdrop of dramatic monoliths and, of course, are surrounded by crystal-clear lagoons. This is where you can experience the real Fiji. The accommodation is all village-based and in stunning settings and you are more likely to meet, mix and mingle with the locals.
There are boats that run daily from Nadi and/or the islands within the Mamanucas group. Each one has backpackers’ accommodation – ideally book ahead as all have limited space as they are relatively small. All through the islands there are beautiful formations of soft and hard coral.
Images: Tourism Fiji, Myholidaycentre.com