I had gone to Fiji on the basis that some friends had described their trip there as one of the most beautiful experiences they had ever had. So, with that judgment in mind it was too inviting not to investigate the islands for myself.
Nadi itself is on the ‘mainland’ island of Viti Levu and it is here you can observe the volcanic isles’ history with its dark sands and rolling mountains. My excitement grew when we arrived at Denarau Marina and came face to face with the Yasawa Flyer, a large catamaran that was to take us to three island destinations in the northely Yasawa cluster.
As soon as I laid eyes on Coral View Resort from the small fishing boat that was taking us closer, I instantly knew we had reached the heart of Fiji. I was drawn into the Fijian vibe at that moment and it stayed with me throughout my entire stay. It felt like everyone I came into contact with was so friendly and happy to help.
Tourism is one of the main sources of income for Fiji, however the people didn’t seem like they were after my money, just to show off their beautiful islands’ history and culture. Initially it is the people that draw you in, but once you arrive, it’s the scenery; gorgeous sand and flowing volcanic mountains that attract you even more. Each island has a different vibe, but the three I visited shared one factor, they were all so welcoming and cheery.
“Go, now, quickly or you will miss out. No Fiji time. Go go!” came the call from the boat I was sharing with a dozen fellow adventurers floating in the South Pacific ready for an exploration. It was clearly time to leap from the boat into the ocean, down to a great spectacle below. Quickly donning snorkel gear, throwing on fins, I entered the water to find four, three metre long Pacific manta rays swimming below. At first I was in awe of these humungous creatures, then I watched as they slowed glided away from the boat, leaving one at the back
for us to swim only a metre above.
Coming from somewhere with an extreme lack of marine life, it was hard to believe the amount of vast aquatic existence that lies just off shore of any of the islands. Snorkelling is definitely a must on the agenda. Luckily, most resorts offer free snorkel hire, or at an affordable rate, and the animated coral reefs are literally priceless.
After seeing some of the largest fish in the ocean it was a pleasant change to see a whole world of smaller, vibrant creatures, right on the island’s doorstep.
Most notable were the blue starfish that lay on the coral. There were fish ranging from the size of my finger to the length of my arm, none disappointing in colour, a rainbow under the ocean. This experience has taught me how close you can be to a whole other world without even knowing it exists beneath the boat you arrived on.
But beauty isn’t just found under the water on these paradise islands, as they boast some of the most stunning sunsets over colossal mountains. To get closer to the sunset we climbed through thick tropical forests to reach the peak of a mountain just in time to see the crimson orange sky being lit, then watching in awe as the sun slowly fell down into the sea.
If you listen hard enough you could even hear it sizzle, just like in the 1980 Brooke Shields movie The Blue Lagoon, which was filmed on Turtle Island. After the short descent back to the resort, experiences like this on the islands make you even more grateful for one more Fijian feast. Another great magnet to Fiji is its vast culture and intriguing traditions. Everyone has heard of the famous mouth-numbing mud water that is Kava. Locals can sit for hours at a traditional Kava ceremony, drinking coconut shell after coconut shell of the opaque liquid, singing songs and trading stories. A refreshing change to a few shots of sambuca in a dirty club on a Friday night, no doubt.
The perfect spectacle after some Kava is a traditional fire dancing show. The locals put on a superb performance. Speaking to them afterwards it was evident they had some burnt fingers and singed hair, but in true Fijian style they were still smiling. A trip to any traditional village on the islands gives you an insight into real island life. I visited Soso, the largest village in the Yasawa chain of islands. Today, most villages are still without electricity and running water, and this one was no exception.
Given a tour by a local boy, Bulna, I was shown the well the village uses as its main water source, but at this time of year it was pretty empty and the locals were praying for rain. Not much has changed since in the villages since 1789 when Captain William Blight discovered Fiji after the renowned mutiny of the Bounty, leaving them unspoilt.
Activities you can get involved in include learning to speak some Fijian, during classes on the beach, or even get a lesson in coconut opening (a vital skill if ever you find yourself in any Castaway-type situations). Learning how to weave palm leaves into anything from hats to baskets is also popular.
I had heard all about the stunning sandy beaches, and was in search of this tropical paradise, but hadn’t quite braced myself for the crystal clear waters, vast marine life and luscious weather. Towards the end of my stay it was evident I hadn’t been wearing a watch the whole time, simply living on ‘Fiji time’, technically 12 light years away from GMT. I headed on to Australia, safe in the knowledge that I can trust the judgements of my friends.
Photos: Thinkstock, Fiji Tourism Board