Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
The final destination on our Southern Hemisphere adventure was the beautiful Fiji. This was a destination I have dreamed of visiting for so long! It’s one of those fantasy places that seems so far-off, exotic and a true paradise with turquoise blue oceans, white sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and cocktails to sip while the sun goes down. A lot of the time you imagine a holiday destination to be as good as this, but in reality you find crowded and noisy beaches, dirty streets, expensive food and drink, and in fact it’s nothing special at all. This is where Fiji is different! It truly is as beautiful as I ever imagined and is a real gem of a place – somewhere I would happily return to time and time again! While stepping off the plane into a torrential downpour wasn’t quite how I’d pictured our arrival, we quickly settled in to see what this gorgeous place had to offer once the rain shower had stopped...
First things first – Fijian people are absolutely the friendliest people I’ve ever come across! Even in the passport control area of the airport (which is usually full of very stern-faced officials) there was a group of men dressed in Hawaiian style shirts, playing guitars, singing a welcome song and handing out flowers to wear in your hair! Every member of staff said hello as we passed through the airport and flashed genuine, happy smiles at everyone they came across. Our taxi driver was so chatty and friendly too, and when we arrived at the hotel there were staff there to greet us and open the car doors with an umbrella to shelter us from the downpour! Seeing so many happy faces makes such a pleasant change from forced smiles and small talk that you often receive in many other places around the world! The amazing welcome we received set us up for a fantastic stay in Fiji and was the best start we could have wished for. We stayed our first night in the Smugglers Cove Hotel on the main island of Nadi (which serves amazing food in the restaurant and some tasty cocktails!) before setting off on our island hopping adventure the next day.
We decided to do Fiji in a very different way to how we are used to travelling, and we booked through a tour operator rather than organising everything ourselves like we normally do. The reason for this was simply so we didn’t have to worry about anything and could really relax on the last week of our travels. We booked our trip through Awesome Adventures Fiji (AAF) and chose their package called Island Time. This was a 6 night stay that took in 3 different islands in the Yasawa and Mamanuca regions. AAF offer two ways to book – standard, which includes your boat transfers and accommodation, or the full monty which includes all that plus meals and activities too. For us this was a no brainer and we booked the full monty package meaning we didn’t have to think about taking much spending money (only for airport transfers and alcoholic drinks) plus we wanted to do as many activities as possible so having them included meant we could get involved in as much as we wanted to without the pressure to pre-book. Our adventure with AAF began right from our hotel door with a shuttle bus taking us to Port Denarau. Here we picked up our vouchers from the info desk and boarded the Yasawa Flyer, ready to sail the seas to reach our first island. The whole process from booking, to starting our trip, right through to the end of our adventure was straightforward and easy. Simply board the catamaran, let the staff take care of your luggage, and enjoy the journey, listening out for the name of your island to be called so you know when it’s time to disembark. Our first island was a 5 hour boat ride from the port so we made the most of this and sat on the top sun deck, taking in the views and enjoying the hot sun. We even got a special welcome to the Yasawa Island region by a Fijian warrior performing a dance on the rocks off Kuata beach - amazing!
Our stay in Fiji was absolutely amazing! We started off on Nanuya Lailai Island at a resort called Gold Coast. This is where we quickly learnt that Fijian resorts are not at all the same as the resorts you come across in places like Spain! Gold Coast Resort consisted of a sandy beach lined with palm trees, about 6 wooden huts with thatched roofs (called bures) which made up the accommodation, plus a larger hut which was the kitchen and communal dining area. Behind this was where the local villagers lived in similar huts dotted amongst the jungle. It was stunning! This was our favourite place we stayed in Fiji and is where we learnt all about Fijian life! For a start we learnt that we didn’t need electricity - we only had this in the communal hut for charging cameras etc - in our private bure we relied on daylight coming through the windows! We also learnt that in Fiji it’s all about coming together and making new friends so every meal time we sat with other holidaymakers and were wowed by the tasty food on offer! We had no menu options, we ate whatever we were given but everything was amazing! There were pancakes for breakfast, soup made with local vegetables, pineapple to snack on, curries, and spinach in all shapes and forms! One major thing we learnt here was that all the locals run on Fiji Time – so basically nobody is ever in a rush! To us that sometimes came across as everyone was always late, but by the end of our trip we were well and truly running on Fiji Time ourselves, not worrying about a thing!
During our stay at Gold Coast we enjoyed some great activities including:
All in all our first island was so amazing, we didn’t know how it could get any better. After boarding the Yasawa Flyer once again we hopped over to our next destination on Naviti Island to stay at the Korovou Eco Tour Resort. This more closely resembled a European resort featuring a bar, large dining area and an outdoor swimming pool but it was still very small in comparison and had that friendly, homely feel to it that is unique to Fiji. Here we were greeted by staff members singing a welcome song and handing out free drinks before being shown to our private beachfront bure. At the Korovou Resort we enjoyed some quiet afternoons relaxing in the beach hammocks, some more tasty meals shared with the rest of the group (we were summoned for our meals by the beating of a traditional wooden drum!) and another snorkelling trip to a reef site. This was amazing and to see all the different types of coral up close was fascinating! The problem was the sea was quite rough that day with waves slamming into you every few minutes, meaning water quite often going down your snorkelling tube – not ideal! Annoyingly, one of the waves pushed me so far forwards that I scraped my leg on the coral leaving a big cut on my thigh! After some slight panic we quickly got back on the boat to take me back and disinfect my leg, which was stinging a lot and bleeding everywhere, made worse by the bright idea of cleaning the wound with methylated spirit!! All was OK in the end but sadly there would be no more swimming for me for the rest of the holiday - the worst news for someone like me that loves being in the water! Instead, I sat by the pool topping up my tan and drinking Fiji Gold (the only alcoholic drink served at the bar)!
Our final stop on this trip was Beachcomber Island – famed for being a lively party island, perfect for finishing off our holiday! We had another private beachfront bure which was literally steps from the sand, with a private hammock out the front. This was absolute heaven and I loved having a swing in it and taking in all the gorgeous shades of blue in the sea. We only had one night here but it was one of the best evenings we had in Fiji. After a lovely buffet style meal, we got some drinks in from the bar (known as the Sand Bar as it was literally just an extension of the beach with the whole floor made up of sand!) then settled down to watch the entertainment. A local group put on a great show with traditional dances and music, finished off with a stunning performance of fire dancing on the beach! We also had a go at doing the Fijian take on the Macarena, known as the Bula Dance which was good fun and got everyone up on their feet. Our DJ for the evening was known as DJ Mama "but you can just call me Mama" and she was fantastic, such a good laugh! We spent the rest of the evening in the bar enjoying the local drinks and challenging each other to numerous games of pool, eventually calling it a night at some time past 2am! The next day we were up bright and early (admittedly not feeling so good) ready to pack up and hop on the Yasawa Flyer for our final activity – a Seaspray Sailing Adventure! This was my favourite activity of the whole trip which consisted of a full day on a small, traditional sailing boat called the 'Jolly Bula' complete with a friendly Fijian crew offering complimentary food and drink for the entire day. Sailing across the deep blue ocean, seeing loads more of Fiji’s hidden islands while sipping a glass of champagne at 11am was a really amazing experience and something I never thought I would get the chance to do! Our crew sang songs and played guitars on the journey, as well as pointing out different islands and telling us about the area. We were lucky enough to spot some dolphins and turtles too which was exciting! After an hour or so of sailing we stopped off at Monuriki Island – the very island where Tom Hanks’ Cast Away movie was filmed! We were free to explore for an hour with many people enjoying some more snorkelling time, but with my leg still sore we stayed on the land and wandered around the beach looking for turtles which are apparently popular there. We also enjoyed taking some of our own Cast Away style photos on the beach! Back on the boat we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch then set off for another island where we took a walking tour around a local village. As it was a Sunday most people in the village were sleeping or at church as they don’t do any work on Sundays, but those that we did see were just as friendly as ever and greeted us with huge smiles and loud calls of ‘Bula!’ (which is Fijian for ‘hello’).
Sadly, our trip was now coming to an end and we boarded the Yasawa Flyer for the final time, disembarking at Port Denarau, hopping on the shuttle bus and heading for our final hotel on the mainland – Oasis Palms. It was another rainy evening in Nadi so we enjoyed a quiet meal in the hotel restaurant (where for some reason they were only serving the chicken dishes on the menu, nothing else) while watching as loads of frogs hopped about the hotel floor trying to escape the heavy downpour outside! I was really sad that our trip was finally over and we had to say goodbye to beautiful Fiji. The thought of taking 3 long flights home then settling back into a monotonous routine of going to work and paying bills made me really upset, but that’s just the travelling blues for you! I knew that once I was home I’d remember how much I love the Lake District, and I could look forward to wherever our next adventure might take us. Looking back, this trip was a once in a lifetime experience for us, and while we do hope to return someday (especially to New Zealand to see family again) we know that it won’t be for a long time, and we’ll never get the chance to do all the amazing things we did on this holiday again!
Thank you for reading these blog posts and well done for making it to the end (sorry they have been so long – there was just so much to say!) – keep your eyes peeled next for my usual travel film, featuring our favourite highlights from this trip...
Vinaka! (Fijian for thank you)