For seasoned travellers to this tropical destination and to those who, like us, had never touched down on her alluring shores before,TheYasawa Islands, north ofViti Levu, Fiji, are the up-and-coming romantic getaway hotspots of the South Pacific.
A bold claim but undiscovered by the masses, these remote, verdant, ancient islands offer couples everything they could hope for on a romantic getaway – not to mention ample variety in luxury accommodation from island to island. Vibrant reefs beckoning to be explored, beaches straight from brochures, sun, cocktails from fresh coconuts, villages with friendly locals, delicious fresh food and even the odd sip of kava if you so choose. In the Yasawas we had it all, and you can too.
Arriving in Nadi we caught a taxi to our stopover accommodation on the mainland, the aptly named First Landing Resort where, according to the Resort Manager Amanda Braddock, Mel Gibson,Will Smith and P!nk had stayed before us. But, not even Hollywood A-listers are the most impressive guests to grace this locale – the very first Fijians are said to have arrived here around 1500BC.
Not particularly tired from our short four-hour flight from Brisbane, we headed to the bar to celebrate our first night in paradise, excited for the journey ahead. After a few too many cocktails and the good vibes provided by a band of locals singing western classics, we were invited to drink some kava with the resort staff and some other guests. One of the guests described the taste of kava like the juice from a muddy puddle, and I concur this is a very accurate description. If you do partake in a kava drinking session, it is polite to accept a bowl if it is offered to you, so down the hatch – you're on Fiji time now!
Waking up feeling a little worse for wear through no-one’s fault but our own, but admiring the glimmer of the sunrise over the water, we headed to Denarau where Awesome Adventures Fiji's big yellow boat the Yasawa Flyer II was gearing up for our journey ahead. Because the Yasawa Islands are so remote, the only way to reach them is by boat or sea-plane which provides for an interesting holiday experience in itself, especially if the weather is a little choppy like it was for us. Stopping at all of the little islands along the way, most of which are home to only one or two resorts, was a great opportunity to discover the region– all from the comfort of the Captain's Lounge. Our first hop-off point was Naukacuvu Island, home to the chic and luxurious Paradise Cove Resort. Disembarking and climbing into our dinghy that would take us to shore, we could see on the beach in the distance a procession of resort staff in bright attire, singing, some playing guitar and all with a huge, welcoming smile on their face, typical of all of the places we visited in the Yasawas. Staying in the Beachfront Villa we couldn't imagine how it could get any better than this, tottering down the pristine beach to our lounge chairs and hammock whenever we pleased. Here we spent our days snorkelling, eating the incredible food (I still miss those lightly seared tuna steaks with a sesame coating) and enjoying life, truly carefree.
Although it's hard to top reclining beachside every day, perhaps our favourite experience was at our next stop, Naviti Island, where we got a glimpse of how a traditional Fijian village operates.We had heard of Soso village located over the mountain from Botaira Beach Resort but had little idea how to get there or even how we would be received. One of the young resort cooks, a local named Bola, was kind enough to offer to guide us as his parents live in Soso. After what seemed like an impossibly steep hike and realising we were embarrassingly unfit compared to Bola and presumably all of the other locals, (some of whom do this hike twice a day simply to get to and from work at the resort), we descended on the beach. Here we walked past a stretch of locals relaxing on the sand after some fishing, chatting and tending to their animals such as pigs and chickens who have a pretty good view from their beachfront pens.Walking around the village one thing we noticed was the juxtaposition of portable solar panels on the roofs of the very modest bures the locals live in – a sure sign of inevitable modernisation, helped greatly by the Vinaka Fiji voluntourism program.Vinaka Fiji aims to improve the locals' access to resources such as food, water and education by improving the overall sustainability of the village.This is achieved largely through the work of their volunteers and is a fantastic program for those who want to have a genuine Fijian experience while making a difference.The people in Soso treated us like family as we walked around the village meeting the locals, with cheerful little children running around playing their favourite game; rugby.We wandered over to the school at Soso and met the headmaster Don, who was tending to the grounds on his day off, his wife doing some washing close by. Don said that he had seen great improvements in education in the village in the recent years, attributed to the change of government, anticipating that all children will continue their studies past grade eight.
On our way out of the village, some of the ladies had set up a market stall just for us and joked that if we wanted a real Fijian souvenir this was the place to buy it.We chose something from each of the ladies and as we said our goodbyes each of them jumped up and gave us something for free because it was “Mother's Day tomorrow!” The sense of community and genuine happiness of the people in Soso when they have not a lot more than the basic necessities of life showed us how little we needed to be happy and was definitely a piece of Fiji we won't forget in a hurry.
NEED TO KNOW:
Getting there: Fiji Airways is the national airline of Fiji with warm service and comfortable cabins. Fiji Airways flies direct from most Australian capital cities.Awesome Adventures Fiji departs from Denarau daily at 8.30am visiting nearly 20 islands on the way, returning to Denarau at around 5.45pm.
Best time to go: Visitors to the Yasawas in the months of May to October have the spectacular opportunity to witness the manta rays during their annual migration, doing twirls and somersaults through the water, soaring like giant, underwater aliens. Most of the resorts in the area arrange tours to take groups out to the channel they habituate for the experience.
For the adrenalin junkies: At Kuata Island couples have the opportunity to swim with the inquisitive black and white tip
reef sharks. Being painfully conscious of my mortality at the time I regrettably gave this experience a miss. However, the brave amongst us said it was truly exhilarating, even if someone's go-pro did get nipped.