This page contains our diary from Fiji, which we visited from the 20th
September to 1st October. Arriving in Nadi, we had a night there before
heading to the Yasawas Islands, and then back to Nadi for 2 nights.
As you'll see, it was a relaxing beach holiday for us, which we needed
after a hectic two months in North America. It was certainly a relief
not to be driving so much!
Fiji – arriving in the developing world
Well, what a change – leaving the States, losing
a day, and arriving in a country that reminds us of India at every turn.
We arrived at 5 o’clock this morning, to join a huge half hour queue
for immigration (as in so many cases, two international flights landed
within a few minutes of each other, and overwhelmed the puny airport).
On the other side of customs stood a wall of touts and ‘tourist information
assistants’ – all trying to convince you that their hotel was the right
one to go to. All in all, a typical Asian arrival! We headed straight
to the tall, thin Indian holding the Sunseekers sign – a backpackers
hotel in Nadi town which we’d had recommended on the Internet. Its always
pretty nice to have a clear idea of where you want to go to in these
situations, as you can wade past all of the touts just repeating the
name of the place you’re heading for – their professionalism lasts long
enough to point the way to the rep/tout from that accommodation. He
immediately took our trolley and wheeled us out to the car park, to
his van. This was like arriving for a five star resort! After a short
wait while he searched out other prospective guests (no luck for him!)
we drove through the countryside to the hotel – not just a pickup from
the airport, but a private transfer too. We could get used to this.
The ‘hotel’ was a typical Asian one too – bars on all the windows, unfinished
concrete stairways and big holes in the floor that would swallow the
children completely. And friendly. So we checked in (at 6:30 am) and
had a breakfast of toast and tropical fruit – what a contrast to a month
of sugar-loaded breakfasts in the states. Not a Dunkin Donut in sight.
The day was taken up with wandering into town, buying fruit in the market,
and finding a down-at-heel Indian coffee shop for samosas and chai,
and deciding which islands we’re going to head towards. There are so
many options for backpackers in Fiji, but we’ve decided already that
we want to go to the Yasawas Islands, so its just a case of deciding
which particular resorts (the word ‘resort’ in this case meaning 3 huts
and a kitchen). Everybody has an opinion – each of the hotel staff,
each of the fellow travellers, and everybody you meet. And, of course,
they’re all different. By the time we have to decide, we’ve got 35 different
recommendations, and none twice!
Before heading into town for a curry dinner, we booked our boat and
accommodation for the first 3 nights – the rest we’ll decide once we
get out there.
We enjoyed our first Fiji day, and feel really in traveller mode – chatting
to fellow backpackers, and enjoying cheap-eats on the streets of Nadi.
Yasawas here we come
The Yasawas islands comprise an archipelago running up the north west coast of the main island (Viti Levu) for a hundred miles. In the last three years lots of new ‘resorts’ (remember, 3 huts and a kitchen!) have been built, as a result of a daily catamaran service that covers the chain. It means that its much easier for backpackers to get out to their accommodation, with a 2-4 hour air-conditioned journey in a big boat, rather than 8 hours in an open fishing boat. Each of the resorts have their own qualities – with a mix of good or bad beaches, good or bad snorkelling, good or bad food, friendly or unfriendly staff, and either a ‘party spirit’ or quieter. We’d had some recommendations from people that had been to Fiji in the past – mainly about which places to avoid – so we weren’t setting off blind. Although travelling without the trusty assistance of a guide book makes me feel a little bit naked!
The coach for the catamaran picked us up at 8 o’clock, and dropped us at the marina, ready to catch the luxurious Awesome Adventures Catamaran. It was dead easy, and that’s where the comparisons to Asia had to end. Our journey lasted an hour and a half, dropping passengers off at various islands on the route (South Sea Island, in the picture above, was the ‘perfect’ image of a tropical island – a little sandy atoll sitting in the middle of the deep blue sea). Eventually our turn came to transfer, as we jumped into a small, bobbing aluminium fishing boat from the back deck of the huge catamaran. Both girls enjoyed the moment, but we were a bit nervous for them.
The boat took us into Bayside Resort on Waiai island, which turned out to be empty of all other guests. The ‘resort’ consisted of 3 bures (traditional thatched cottages with woven bamboo walls). One had a double bed, one was the dormitory with 10 bunk beds, and the other (ours) was a ‘split’ bure, with a small divide between two separate rooms. Because it was empty, we were given the two sides, even though we’d only paid enough for one, so the girls got their own ‘room’ with a double bed, and we got a little bit of seclusion with our own room. Our room had a double bed, a mosquito net, and that’s it – no table or chairs to put anything onto, and no shelves – but we did find a couple of nails in the wail that we could hang our towels on. The girls turned out to have chosen the room with a chair, and an extra single bed, so they immediately set to laying out all of their toys (we’ve now got a small collection of Happy Meal toys, that they’re going to give away to children on the island).
The toilet block was set apart from the bures, with a separate ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ – posh eh! – and a lovely cold water shower. This was a side effect of something we found out pretty quickly – there’s no power on the islands. As the sunset at 6pm, they carried lanterns to each of the bures, which cast a dim light around – just enough to avoid bumping into things, but not enough to see what you’re doing. This is pretty basic living, probably more basic than anything we had in India, but it’s still pretty luxurious compared to the way the other islanders live. They don’t get the kind of food we were getting. At tea time we were served tea and toast, and then for dinner we had rice and a local curry. It was exactly the meals we’d been dreaming of throughout our trip in North America.
After two days here we’ve got used to the rhythm of life – breakfast at 7:30 (as we’re the only guests we can choose our breakfast time), then dawdle on the beach until we see the catamaran pull up offshore at 11:15 – that’s a high spot of the day to see if other guests are arriving. Then lunch at 12 o’clock, followed by a lazy afternoon until tea at 4pm, then watch the catamaran again at 4:30 as it comes back down the island chain. Then we go into a frantic period of showers and general domestic stuff before the sun goes down, and it becomes too dark to do anything. Then we settle down in the hammock to watch the sunset, and then wait for dinner at 7pm. After that its straight to bed for all of us – something we’ve got used to since we’ve been travelling. In the last two months, because we’re nearly always sharing a room, we all have to go to bed at the same time, and get up at the same time. Our friend Helen Cooke would be proud to see us going to bed at 8:30pm!
Today a couple arrived on the boat from further up the chain, and it was nice to have some fellow travellers to chat to. Dinner’s a romantic affair, with lanterns and flowers on the table, and stars shining through the open sides of the thatched area. Although everything is very basic, its exactly what you might imagine a mid-Pacific tropical island to be (unless you’ve seen the luxurious resorts on things like The Holiday Programme).
It’s all a far cry from home, where you take things like electricity for granted. We’ve no radio, TV or lights, and Charlotte’s delighted that it’s limited her Maths lessons on the computer – until we get back to the mainland we’ve only got enough battery power to allow a lesson every other day! Charlotte felt homesick for the first time today, and at dinner she had a little cry when she said that she missed home, and missed her bedroom. But a game of Uno with everybody sent that thought to the back of her mind (for the moment).
The girls found two Fijian children to play with when we arrived, and so had been happily building sand castles, and hunting starfish and crabs in the rock pools. They also get special attention from the half dozen staff at the resort, with things like a tin of Milo and powdered milk appearing on the second day for them to have hot milky drinks in the evening.
A trip to the village
Today we went to the island’s village with the gardener. His wife is a weaver, and he offered to take the girls to try their hand at weaving a mat. Of course, they jumped at the chance, so didn’t complain on the 40 minute walk to the village. The village was like typical Asian villages, except that this one was kept cleaner than anything we’d seen there. The houses were either traditional thatched bures, or concrete-built ones with corrugated roofs. Each had a garden marked out by small palm trees, with little pathways like roads between them all. The biggest surprise was the absence of rubbish – normally in Asia you’ll find a big pile of rubbish around every corner, but here they burn their rubbish every night. Not only does it make the area cleaner, the smoke also keeps the mosquitoes away.
Today we moved on, further up the archipelago to Nacula Island. We’d booked ahead, by radio, with both the catamaran and the resort, so they knew we were coming. We all piled ourselves and our rucksacks into the dinghy, and met up with the catamaran. This time we were on board for 2 ½ hours, right until the top of its journey. The transfer was a bit ropier this time, with us and our rucksacks all getting splashed by waves as we headed inshore on the most beaten-up looking boat in Fiji.
We’d arrived at Nabua Lodge, which was a bit bigger than Bayside, as it has 6 bures, and four electric lights between 7pm and 10pm. But these were just for the dining room and the toilets – still no lights in our room. It was just as quiet, just two other couples were staying. The setting was much better than Bayside, with really blue sea, and good swimming. But the tempo of the day was the same, dictated by meal times! However, the food wasn’t as good as Bayside, and the staff nowhere nearly as friendly. But it was still blissful. From Nabua we were able to make a couple of trips, one by boat to the Blue Lagoon, where we swam and snorkelled, and one to Oarsmans Bay, which is a slightly more expensive resort. It was a 1 ½ hour walk around the rocks and along the beach, but it was worth it – the beach was the best we’d seen on the islands, as there were no rocks in the sea to hamper swimmers. Oarsmans Bay was a bit of hybrid resort, because the accommodation wasn’t in traditional thatched cottages, but in modern wooden lodges, with electricity and hot showers! It attracted both backpackers, and holidaymakers from New Zealand and Australia, both four hours flight away. At both Bayside and Nabua Lodge we’d been paying $100 Fijian (about £45) including all meals, but Oarsmans would have been more than twice that, around $230 for everybody (£100). All the resorts include all meals in their prices, because there is nowhere else to go and eat on the islands.
Adjusting to island life
We’ve adjusted to island life pretty easily. The days start early, with everybody up around 7am, and end early – the sun sets at 6pm, and then the evening starts to wind down because of the darkness.
The latest night we had, when we went to bed at 10pm, was Fijian night. A group from the village came up to Nabua Lodge, and danced and sang Fijian songs, accompanied by a Fijian band. They wore traditional hula skirts and garlands of flowers around their neck, and gave us garlands as we watched. We’d expected it to seem a little tacky, but the music and dancing served to remind us exactly where we were – sitting on the beach in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We really enjoyed the whole evening, and it rounded off a great week in the Yasawas.
Leaving the islands
Today we had to return to the mainland. As you can see from the photo, we didn’t all want to go! But we had a good eight days, and were ready to move on – to get back to the mainland to have a nice curry, do our laundry (and does that need doing) and pack ready for Australia. We’ll also be able to catch up with our email, update the website and (literally) recharge our batteries – after eight days with no electricity or many lights, the batteries in the laptop, the torches and the cameras are all flat as pancakes.
We went back to the same hotel we’d started in, into the same room – it’s always comforting to go back to somewhere you have been before. The children were instantly comfortable with their surroundings again – a lesson we’ll remember for the future. But hopefully when we get to Oz and buy our camper van, we’ll be taking our surroundings with us as we travel, so Charlotte’s little bit of homesickness will recede for a while. And as Sarah’s Mum and Dad will be meeting us in December in Australia, that will be something for the girls to look forward to (Emily has already decided that she’ll be sleeping in Nana’s bed!)
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