Manta Ray Island was a contrast to the previous islands that I'd visited. This was certainly the most commercialised place I visited. On arrival one of the first things we had to do was sign a two page disclaimer for all the things the resort wouldn't be liable for. We were then shuffled into a huge dorm room that is divided into cubicles and reminded me of the sleeper carriage in a train. It's a popular place though largely because of it's proximity to where the manta rays are known to be. The resort organises trips to swim with the rays if they are spotted on the day. I went for a hike to the other side of the island and missed the opportunity but I found a beautiful secluded beach and swam there instead. I also found the best snorkelling of my trip on this island.
|Building a traditional Fijian 'bure'|
The far islands of Nacula and Tavewa offer the opportunity to really adjust to 'Fiji time'. This is the affectionate term given to how relaxed the lifestyle is. Tavewa was perhaps my favourite resort because the staff were so friendly. From this island I did a half day trip to the Blue Lagoon made famous by the movie starring Brooke Shields. It's the celebrity of all the Yasawa beaches and attracts cruise boats, yachts and day visitors in small boats. Although it's not too dissimilar to many other lagoons in the area, the white sand is soft and the water is beautifully lucent. It's also sheltered from the prevailing trade winds which blow from the east.
|Cruise ships anchored in the Blue Lagoon|
One of the best parts about going to the islands is getting to the villages and meeting the people. It was a great way to learn about the lifestyle and genuine Fijian culture. I went to a little village on Waya Lailai and received an invitation for lunch. They told me it wasn't quite ready yet but by the time I walked down to the shore to get my intended photo it would be. As I was walking back through the village I received a second invitation for lunch. I thanked them kindly but pointed out the home I was going back to. 'No problem' she said. 'That's my sister-in-law - c'mon lets go together!' So we all shared fresh fish, cassava (a vegetable which tastes a bit like a parsnip) rice and a few laughs. They really are delightful people.
|Making new friends on Tavewa Island|
I think beyond all that I've seen and done my enduring memories will be of the people I've met. It's interesting to see how the distinct Fijian and Indian cultures live together as one. When people knew I was from New Zealand, the conversation almost inevitably turned to rugby. In Fiji, about half of the population are Christian while the others practise either Hinduism or Islam. However the one religion that seems to unite the country beyond anything is rugby union. Soccer, netball and volleyball are also popular but for many rugby is a passion. So, I had many conversations about the Super rugby, the All Blacks and Fiji's national team.
Fiji is a special place and I've love to be able to return one day. The country is made up of 332 islands and I've only been to eight. It's a place that offers its visitors the choice to be as active or as relaxed as they choose. Either way, its beaches, coral reefs, ocean and mountains will offer you beautiful photos and the warmth of its people will remain in your heart forever.