Fiji, Yasawa Islands

Fiji, Yasawa Islands, getting there and island life

We make our way to the northern part of the Yasawa islands on a fine day. The sea was calm and the boat seemed to maintain its course to make the journey in the 3 hours as advertised online. The initial part of the journey is quite scenic, leaving the main island of Fiji behind to our right hand side. Shortly after it is too far away and open sea is all that surrounded us.

Fiji main island
Fiji main island, on our way to the Yasawa

Two hours and a bit in the journey the landscape changes completely. We have arrived at the mid section of the Yasawa archipelago and from that point onwards turquoise waters, majestic tropical islands, fisherman scenes and the bluest of the skies awaits you.
Perhaps due to the rainy season, the hills that form the majority of the islands were incredibly green and lush. I don’t know if during the hot summer months when the rain is not as frequent the islands would have such a variety of greens and beautiful colors that are just picture-perfect.

There are two main ways to reach the Yasawa islands.
One is via the Yasawa flyer; a large catamaran which touches every single island on the archipelago, from the small islands off the coast of Nadi (which are not part of the Yasawa btw and are called Mamanuca Islands) to the south and all the way up the north of the islands’ chain. This option is suitable mostly for those with a larger budget and that wish to do islands hopping. The link for more information is here: flyer.

The second option is to take the Seabus. There are a few differences between the seabus and the flyer. The main one is that this boat does not go to the southern islands of the Yasawa, but straight to it’s mid and north sections. The cost is much different too and the boat is not as nearly as big. We defined the seabus the “local” way to reach these islands which is however perfectly suitable for tourists too but at a more affordable price. Those that seek to do islands hopping can do it too but limited to the mid and north islands. Seabus info is here: seabus.

The 3 hours journey (plan for more if the sea is rough) costed Fijian dollars 100 per person each way. The resorts and the homestay are in touch with the ferry providers and would know when to make their way to pick you up and transfer to your chosen accommodation. As there is no ferry terminals or peers as such, passengers move from one boat to the other in the open sea and transfer off to mainland.

We have decided to opt for the homestay experience. Not having a huge amount of time at hand it did not make sense to visit Fiji to stay at an international resort, where you are served international breakfast lunch and dinner, you are surrounded by international guests and the whole experience is simply far away from the Fijian customs and way of living in these remote islands.
We wanted to make the most of our trip enjoying the local way.

As such we embarked on a journey of total disconnection with the rest of the world 🙂
We decided to stay at the island of Nanuya Lailai, which is also one of the islands where the famous movie Blue Lagoon was shot. We have had electricity only for 3 hours a day from 5pm till 8pm, no internet, but living in a natural paradise.
The accommodation was very basic and the showers and bathrooms shared with all the guests, whether staying in a double room or in the dorm.

Fiji view from guesthouse
View from guesthouse

Sunrise was early and absolutely stunning. Our homestay faced the side of the ocean where the sun rises, and at the back of the village on top of a hill there was a platform made for enjoying these stunning views. At that time of the morning though if too lazy to walk over the hill, the beach is equally great to enjoy the sunrise.
Soon later, all guest are woken up to enjoy breakfast all together and OMG! how good did the mango and the papaya tasted like! Superb. The other food given at breakfast was a simple oats porridge and toasts with jam.
Most resorts have packages which include all meals for a certain amount per day. At this homestay though breakfast was included in the room rate and lunch and dinner were optional on a meal by meal basis. If guests wanted to be cooked for, they simply had to tell the cook a bit in advance and the cost per plate (if wanted) was only 15 Fijian dollars. Breakfast was therefore very simple and so was the lunch which usually consisted in fried instant noodles and eggs.

We took advantage of the meals options most of the time and all guests enjoyed their food in company of each other and the family members. The other option i to bring food from the mainland, as well as drinking water, to prepare your own meals. We didn’t do that and we were contented with the food provided, but the water was simply filtered rain water, hence you need to take a decision if you are happy with this or not. The best part of eating with the family though was that grandpa would sometime asks all to hold hands whilst he says a prayer (which could perhaps be a bit too much, but was fun to experience).
The meals were basic and for the first time we tried something called breadfruit. The texture of this fruit is like that of a potato, but the thing grows on a tree right behind the kitchen! So fascinating. And this breadfruit is what they ate regularly as a side dish and it is very filling.

Dinners were a total different experience, but I will talk about sunsets first. The sunset in February is early, between 6:30 and 7. It is very hard to describe it in words, it is something that it needs to be experience, but suddenly, whilst you are in your room or simply hanging out, from a bright sunny day, you are enveloped by these vibrant colors and the atmosphere all around you changes. The sky starts changing colors in these beautiful tonalities of pink, orange, blues, yellows, it is fantastic. Below a couple of pictures that can give you an idea. (Check out more in the gallery).

Amazing sunset in Fiji
Amazing sunset in Fiji

The call for dinner arrives punctually. One of the evenings I just wanted to enjoy the sunset, hence I have delayed the food for others too (hehe). But if you are punctual and join the table early enough, you see the colors changing from the dining area’s windows and all around. Until it gets pitch dark. It is really dark around here. We are so far from bigger cities, it is awesome to enjoy the darkness and the starry nights. Dinner is served and it is usually consisting of a main dish (usually fish, freshly hand picked in the day from the reef in front) or vegetarian (if you are) plus a lot of carbs on the side, sometimes rice and noodles in the same plate ?.
I have to say though that the best part of dinner was the music.
We were looked after by Navi. He is quite popular with all the inhabitants from the nearby islands too and he was a great and funny host.
Him and his brother would simply sat next to us during dinner time playing the guitar and singing typical Fijian songs. It was great to dine in this atmosphere and we will remember this for a long time.

Don’t forget to get entertained after dinner with some group dancing, limbo and the not-to-be missed crab racing! :-0

During the day things to do are aplenty, but be prepared to pay a slightly high cost for it.
One of the best things to do is obviously laying on the beach. This activity is free of charge and it normally is a favorite. We decided to walk to the blue lagoon and to do our share of suntanning and snorkeling there. The walk from the guesthouse to the other side of the island was approximately 30 minutes, followed by another 15 on this ever long beach that eventually ends at the blue lagoon’ spot. White fine sands awaits you there and right off the coast this deep lagoon and it’s reef are an easy reach for all type of swimmers.

The walk to and fro the guesthouse to the blue lagoon is also amazing. You can see the nearby islands, mangrove jungles, lines of palm tree that never ends, the Blue Lagoon and the beautiful blue seas. Walk through the locals’ plantations of cassava and grab a mango from the tree as you walk by.

Scuba diving is only offered by one dive center in the north part of the Yasawa. We have asked our guesthouse to find out prices on our behalf and we were quoted a whopping 120USD per tank, which is outrageous, plus the boat taxis back and forth to the dive center, which is on the opposite island etcetera etcetera. I would suggest to divers to go and stay directly at a resort that has a dive center within its premises as transportation between islands could be expensive. As boating is the only way to get around, prices are obviously on the high side.

Trekking opportunities can also be plentiful. From the blue lagoon we had clear visibility of the large island in front. The view of this island is stunning and a rock at the top of the hill fascinated us to the point that we decided to go there to reach it’s top and take-in the views. This was a whole day activity for us.
After breakfast we are taken by boat to the island and negotiate a pick up later in the afternoon around 4pm, which gave us plenty of time to do the trek and more, or just relaxing at the beach. The guesthouse usually offers village and village school visits at Fijian Dollars 50. The place we wanted to go trekking is where one the bigger village in the north is and the school, etc. hence that’s what costed us to go there.

We are dropped off near a resort, which is also the entry point of the trail. A local was walking towards the resort from the village and started talking to us and giving us tips for the trek. This is where we found out that the rock we admired from the other side of the sea was called “The Gorilla’s Head” rock.
Funny enough, this high point is a destination that others are also loomed to. We also had other trails to follow, for example to visit a local farm, or the moving cross on top of the nearby peak. But be prepared as the treks here are not easy due to the high vegetation and perhaps the paths not being too clear. Obviously plenty of water and stamina are required as per any other trek!

So we start our trail soon past the resort and suddenly we found yourselves in tall grass almost as tall as me. The path was hardly visible, but not too hidden. I don’t think it is frequented too often, but we had a goal and we continue anyways. After some 40 minutes of cutting high grass we finally reach the point where the slope starts to go up and the path becomes very clear, but very steep.
It did not matter. We were so happy and stunned at the views we could get higher and higher as we climbed.
1.5hours later we were rewarded by an amazing view of all the northern Yasawa islands! It was partially cloudy, hence we did not get totally sunburned and the breeze at the top was refreshing. We packed our lunch and had it at the top of the mountain.
We felt blessed, and even though a bit tired super happy to have made it to the Gorilla’s head!

Fiji, Yasawa Islands

Fiji, 3 most important words – Bula, Vinaka and Fiji Time

Don’t take people’s words for granted…

As soon as we arrived at the Nadi International Airport in Fiji, we were greeted by an awesome (but short) live local-music performance. My guess is that Fiji Airways organizes this for every landing plane, so that when people arrive, just before immigration, they get this very pleasant surprise awaiting for them, which puts everyone in the mood to have a great time and soak in the Fijian culture. Or the Fiji government? I am not too sure.

It was not long before our FOC pre-arranged pick up shows up to take us to our accommodation for the night. The first thing we hear upon arrival at Fiji is therefore what the driver kindly and friendly shares with us, as follows.

There are 3 most important things to know about Fiji…
The first is the word Bula. Bula in Fijian means hello and it is so used that it bypasses it’s “hello” function.
The second is the word Vinaka. This word means thank you and if you struggle to remember it you can quickly think of vinegar (which one often does prior to thank some one 🙂 ).
The third, which is probably the most important is “Fiji time”. And it’s not referred to the Fiji’s time zone…it is in reference that things are run at Fiji’s leisurely time. There are no fixed schedules for most things, the clock slows down in Fiji and you simply need to get along with it.

All well and said, the driver was very friendly and in a whizz we arrive at our destination.
We did not plan too much time in Fiji purely because there is simply too much too see and to move around to see it all, one needs a large wallet and plenty of time at hand, something that we need to manage very, very carefully.

My usual take when traveling is to do minimal planning. Get to the place, see how things are done and take it from there one step at the time and the way the locals do it as much as possible.

Based on my small research, I had managed to find out a relatively cheap option to get to the north part of the Yasawa islands, which is also the preferred (and perhaps only) way to travel there by the locals. I have therefore gathered some info about getting the bus from our hotel to the harbor and other bits and pieces. The result was that we needed to leave the hotel at 6:30am in order to be able to arrive at the boat on time for the 8am departure.

This meant that our breakfast would have been foregone as the hotel only starts service at 6:30am.
Not convinced with the information I obtained, I try again at the reception to gather more specifics, but this time asking to different people than in the afternoon. This time I was told that I did not need to catch a bus! They suggested that the operator of the ferry actually sends a pick up to the hotels in the area to pick up any traveler that need to catch the boat.

Fantastic! I thought. This information did not sound crazy too, because my small researches resulted in a similar conclusion. Deal, I was sold. This new option gave us the opportunity to get breakfast and a non problematic journey to the harbor. Time for beer…

In the morning, as planned, we proceed to check out, inform the reception that we were going to get breakfast and we get reassurance from them to be called once it’s time to go. At 6:45 or thereabouts, we are called by reception that the pick up had arrived.

We quickly finish eating and dash to the entrance. Shockingly! The pick up was gone…
GONE??? I ask in a suddenly not so happy mood. The answer I get was that because there were 4 other travelers, the car was fully and took off.
4 SEATS? Was that all that the boat company provided for pick up for travelers? WTH!
Our original plan was now out of the window as at that time we would have never reached the boat on time (also because all the buses situation was to be figured out, which may take time!).
I get quickly reassured by another worker, which seemed to be in charge of bookings and organized tours.

The first question I am asked was if I had a reservation with the boat operator. The answer was no…in my research I have read that tickets can be bought onboard, hence I did not want to book online, simply to tie ourselves down with something that could have changed if we had found better things to do or a delay or similar.
This was obviously a problem. I should have made some sort of arrangement with the ferry company, hence it is on me, but at the same time what follows seemed to be a well organized scam.

The lady at the reservations quickly help us making a few phone calls to the boat company indicating that we wanted to board etc. we were therefore assured that they were trying to send a different car to pick us up. In the meanwhile, a set of tickets is issued for us at an inflated price, which was probably the commission of this lady, of FJD226 instead of FJD200…

Fine. I thought we were sorted. A new pick up was being arranged and we had tickets in our hands. All was smooth again.

7:10 comes…and guess what? We are told that the boat company was not sending any pick up for us and that we had to find our way to the boat.


We were basically forced to take the taxi that was conveniently waiting for us outside the hotel, which is in obvious collaboration with all these booking reps, etc.
Having managed to negotiate the priced down, we settle for FJD40, which was approximately FJD30 more than what the bus would have costed us. Plus the reservation fees, this was costing FJD26 more than it should have!

I get in the taxi rather annoyed at the situation, but we had no alternative if we wanted to catch our departing boat at 8am. Very soon though I calm down as I had a large fault in all this, not having booked or written to the boat company ahead.

On the way we encounter traffic, which is normally a rare event in Fiji, but obviously, we had to be delayed by it. So the taxi driver has a few phone calls whilst in the car and the pressure was on as he repeatedly said the words “traffic jam” and made it clear that there was a chance to miss the boat.

You may think that it was unfair of me to say that this was all an organized scam. I guess that up to this point, I was also feeling sorry for having been annoyed at the locals for the situation.
But…there is a but.
Once we arrive at the harbor, we pay the taxi driver, make our way to boat, only to find out that the boat was going to leave 1.5 hours later at 9:30!
Come ON! You are on the phone with the operator and you don’t tell me about the boat delay? You still take my money for the ticket reservation when i could have bought the ticket onboard and you set me up with you taxi friend???

Oh well. The words from the day before from the pick up driver were resounding, not the Bula and not the Vinaka, but the Fiji Time.
Everything really works on Fiji Time here…don’t plan, it won’t go your way…make sure you account for Fiji Time as it would change your plans…

Below at the pier, waiting for the Sea Bus.