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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

Travels in Fiji

Written by Leanne Turner
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There is no simple way to describe visiting Fiji. From the outside it appears a rather “safe” place to visit; English is one of the official languages and even the currency has the comforting presence of the Queen. But hearing locals talking amongst themselves in Fijian, the beautiful scenery and the friendliness of the people: you realize quickly that you have arrived somewhere very special. A traveler to this beautiful country steps off the plane and upon feeling the tropical heat while walking from the plane to the terminal immediately feels like they are following in the footsteps of the great explorers, charting untamed lands and undiscovered places. The greeting of a band of Fijians playing instruments and singing welcoming songs to visitors might seem a bit contrived. However it soon becomes clear that it is this friendliness you see throughout the islands. Fiji would definitely be a great place for someone who is just starting their wanderings throughout the world. But even to the more experienced, the sheer number of islands to hop and trips to take means that this is not just for those who want to travel without putting much effort into it.

 

The main international airport in Fiji is Nadi (pronounced Nandi) and the area surrounding it is fairly unremarkable. It is clear that this is simply a transit area for people either traveling on to Suva or to the many island chains. The area is mainly populated by hotels close to the airport. Further out there are some shops and bars which are more than adequate for a one night layover, however not enough for any kind of prolonged stay. Traveling to the Yasawa Islands, once the basic logistics have been arranged, is fairly straight forward. I spent the night in the Tanoa Sky lodge, which is only about a ten minute drive from the airport (transfers are included in your booking)  and was picked up by Jim, the manager of the Octopus resort, along with his wife and children as they were making their way back to the island. This was my first taste of how truly friendly and genuine the Fijian people are. He couldn’t do enough for me during the short drive to Port Denarau, from helping me with my bags to ensuring that I was checked in for the ferry to the islands and that I made it onto the correct boat at the correct time. Early in the morning, the port itself is beautiful. Sitting at the side of the dock, looking out to sea while the surrounding palm trees sway in the light breeze while the sun shines just seems perfect, and this is just the beginning of the journey. 

 

Leaving promptly at 8:30, the Yasawa Flyer appears to be part transfer vessel and part tour boat, with staff giving running commentary on sights as we leave the harbor and giving passengers “dolphin alerts” which generate much rushing to catch a glimpse of them. My excitement grows upon seeing the other islands that we make stops at: gorgeous isles epitomizing the archetypal tropical beauty spots; azure waters breaking upon perfectly white sand which itself rings luscious deep green interiors. These various islands host a range of different resorts: there are party islands popular with young people, very traditional Fijian islands with basic accommodation offering authentic local experiences, and high end honeymoon islands where guests relax in the lap of luxury. And then, around two hours after leaving the port, we are informed that the next stop is Octopus resort. After claiming my bag to ensure it is taken to the island with me and for the first time attempting to step down from a large ferry to a small, one-engine fishing boat, I said a silent goodbye to the 21st century and prepared to maroon myself on an island with no internet, phone or TV for the next three weeks. 

In all of the excitement and trepidation that I was experiencing, the very first thing  I noticed on the very short hop to the beach was the ocean. It is a cliché to say that it was as clear as a swimming pool but that is the complete truth; no matter how far you go out you can always see the ocean floor and the huge range of sea life that calls these waters their home. And that was only the beginning. Looking towards the beach; seeing the beautiful wooden structure that makes up the large bar/dining room; the sun loungers underneath wooden sun shades and the bures dotted further along the beach just brings home the paradise that Fiji is. Our captain points out to us as we are about to reach the shore that when our “welcoming committee” shouts “Bula”, we the passengers must respond in kind, which I can say was a pleasure to do. This was probably the greatest arrival I can imagine at a hotel; they stood on the beach playing instruments and singing a traditional Fijian welcome song, and then as the song came to an end “Bula” rang out (Fijian for welcome), and it is impossible to resist shouting it back with laughs and smiles from all. 

      

After being greeted by a very welcomed cocktail on the veranda and checking in, everyone was led to their accommodation which consisted of either a bure or a bed in the dormitory. Having never stayed in a dorm before I was slightly apprehensive about what it would be like; however I was pleasantly surprised as the room was very clean, cool and had only six beds. The communal bathrooms (there were two) contained more than enough toilet and shower facilities for everyone and were of a very high standard.

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And so began possibly the best three weeks I have ever known. It soon became clear that visitors to these islands do not stay in one place for very long, preferring to island hop instead. However, within half an hour of talking to other people sharing the dorm; this was one of the best places in the Yasawa’s. There were two separate groups of people who had actually left Octopus for other resorts up the island chains and within 24 hours had decided to come back and spend the rest of their trip on this small island. I cannot think of a better recommendation.

 


 

 

As well as having a swimming pool with views to die for; either looking out over the ocean or the vast green expanses of the interior of this volcanic island and sun loungers aplenty along the beach, Octopus offers a large variety of different activities and trips for their guests to do, and you are free to do as many or as few of them as you like. While this may sound alarm bells and bring to mind images of shuffle board or karaoke competitions, this is not the case. Activities included hand-line fishing, two different hikes around the island, a day of snorkelling and a picnic lunch and cookery lessons in traditional Fijian dishes as well as many others. While most of these are not free, the charges were very reasonable and well worth it. One trip that I can especially recommend is the trip to the local village on a Sunday morning and includes attending the church service. While not being a religious person I was still curious to see the church choir which other guests had waxed lyrical about throughout my first week. It took around half an hour of hiking through dense forest to get to the village and after removing our shoes and taking a seat in the pews, the service began. It was in Fijian so we couldn’t understand what the pastor was saying but it detracted nothing from the experience and the choir was the most beautiful I have heard before or since. 

 

Back at the resort, mealtimes were another unforgettable experience. Instead of individual dining tables, guests took their seats at large tables seating eight people so everyone had the chance to chat to other guests and really get to know each other. The meals themselves were also served “family-style” with everyone passing around large bowls of food to share amongst themselves and created a wonderful atmosphere. The wide range of ages, nationalities and experiences of the people that I met was truly inspiring and made me determined to follow this trip up with other travels and adventures.

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To top off the first week, the activity for Sunday night is movie night which may sound rather dull — until you have seen a large screen being erected at the side of the pool. After lying out on a sun lounger under the stars and watching the latest Hollywood blockbusters, the cinema will never be the same again. 

 

©Leanne Turner

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 18 January 2013