Friday, 11 November 2016

Fiji Time

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 Time'
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.  

Friday, 4 November 2016

Yasawa Islands

The islands off the western coast of Viti Levu are broadly divided into the Mamanuca and Yasawa Groups.  I bought a 7-day boat pass for the Yasawa Flyer catamaran, chose six islands to visit and spent one night on each island.  The islands I selected were Bounty (which is actually in the Mamanuca group but a popular stopover enroute to the Yasawas), Waya, Waya Lailai (lailai means small and is the island just south of Waya), Manta Ray, Nacula and Tavewa.

The yellow Yasawa Flyer catamaran

I wondered if some of the natural Fijian culture and traditions would be lost in the stream of tourists visiting the islands but it was all there in the welcome at Bounty Island.  The Yasawa Flyer comes within a few hundred metres of each island at which point tourists are transferred onto a small boat.  As it nears the shore, the resort staff are all there with a song and big 'Bula!' to welcome everyone to the island.  We were then personally greeted with a smile and handshake and also farewelled in the same way when we left.

Traditional Fijian island welcome
I had the overall feeling that Fijians have a genuine appreciation for tourists and want to give them an optimum experience.  In most places the staff learned my name and would often use it.  It was a nice feeling to come out for breakfast in the morning and be greeted with 'Bula Dave'.  I was a little embarrassed on occasions when I couldn't remember their names in return but it was a nice touch on their behalf. 
The resort staff were proud of and happy to share their culture with us.  This involved things like basket weaving demonstrations, learning the Bula Dance (which is reminiscent of the Macarena and lots of fun to do!) and trying the traditional drink called kava.  Kava is the root of a type of pepper plant that has been dried and then crushed into a powder.  It's then mixed with water in a ratio of about one teaspoon to one cup.  The end result is a mildly narcotic drink that looks literally like muddy water.  Despite its unappealing look, it tastes okay and after a few cups it gives the tongue a slightly furry feeling.  We learned the etiquette which involves clapping once, saying 'Bula' (cheers) drinking the cup in one go and clapping three times in gratification.  All good fun...

Arriving at the tiny Bounty Island

Bounty Island sits just 10km from Nadi and is a 20 hectare piece of paradise.  It's lined with beach and surrounded by coral and tropical fish.  A walk around the island only takes about 20 minutes and paddling a kayak around took me about half an hour.  The Yasawa Flyer comes through at the same time each day which gave me 24 hours on each island which was perfect for what I wanted to do.  My days were spent swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and hiking.  If there was time left after that I could just relax on the beach or in a hammock strung between a couple of palm trees.  Most resorts organised beach volleyball later in the day when it wasn't so hot.

Tidal sandbar connecting Waya and Waya Lailai
Waya Lailai and Waya were the best islands for hiking.  They both had trails that led up to great view points where I could see other islands and the coral reefs under amazingly blue water.  The tracks weren't always entirely easy to find and follow but it was all part of the fun.  When we arrived at Waya, ten people disembarked and nine went to the resort on the southern point of the island.  I was the only one to get in the boat for the other resort.  When I arrived I found that I was the only one staying there!  It was peaceful with a whole bure (traditional Fijian building made from timber poles lashed together with coconut-fibre string with woven walls and a thatched roof) to myself.  There was running water but no power so they gave me a lantern when it got dark.