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Pacific Paradise

Island hopping on the Yasawas, Fiji

After a brief overnight in Auckland, I arrived in Fiji to torrential rain, a flower in my hair and a welcoming song - all of which set the tone for a pretty special 12 days.

I spent my first night on the main island of Viti Levu in a town called Nadi. There's not really very much to Nadi itself but the hotel/hostel i stayed in was lovely - great food, a swimming pool, lovely staff and a dedicated, if slightly suicidal-thoughts-inducing 'band' who managed to turn the chirpiest of songs into the kind of music that wouldn't be out of place at a wake. I met a few girls who were just leaving Fiji and they gave me some tips on the best islands to visit and after a good night's sleep being lullabied by the funeral twins downstairs, I set off to the islands.

The 'thing to do' in Fiji is to travel on the yellow catamaran - The Yasawa Flyer - which sails to the top of the Yasawa archipelago and back every day. You hop on and hop off where you want, booking your accommodation on the boat. Each island has between 1 and 4 resorts on it and there are no shops or other infrastructure so you eat at the resort and basically spend all your time there and they all offer different activities. I had a 'Bula Pass' which includes some accommodation at no extra cost. However, after a few nights at places where you do have to pay a little bit extra, I came to the conclusion that i wasn't likely to return to anywhere quite like this for a while and the general experience (read: food) was sufficiently better than the free places for it to be entirely worth paying the supplement!

Without exception, the islands are stunning. The boat journey between them is incredible - you pass some islands that are so tiny they barely look like a sand dimple, some with huge hills towering above them and some with great expanses of rainforest. They all feature lush greenery, white sand and (i know i may have referred to the sheer turquoiseness of the sea before but this really does win the prize for sheer turqouiseliciousness) sea that is so clear and turquoise and perfect that is looks like it's been photoshopped.

I spent 4 nights on the first island at Manta Ray resort which i LOVED. I slept in a 32 bed dorm but it was split into cubicles of 4 so it didn't feel so huge. As with all the other islands, food was announced with the banging of a huge drum (the same type of drum as they use to tell the kids it's time for school and to announce the start of church services on Sunday) and I enjoyed every bite - we had 3 course meals and buffets of amazing curries, freshly caught fish, exotic fruits... deelish! Unfortunately the side effect of this is a slightly Pavlovian response to anything resembling drum beats...

Apart from eating and chilling out on the perfect beach, I did some of what in any other context might be termed 'relaxing' but in Fiji is called 'activities'. I wove a basket out of banana leaf (and then my instructor unpicked it and did it properly), I made a bracelet out of coconut, went kayaking, snorkelling (ACTUALLY the clearest water i've ever swum in), did 2 dives (saw a lobster!), and went to visit the village of Soso which was fab. We got a little boat over to a neighbouring island and were greeted by a young girl who showed us around the village and the school and then took us to a church service where we listened to the incredible choir and watched dozens of little kids squirming around in the pews, play fighting with each other and pulling faces at us.

Most of the islands provided some form of entertainment (traditional and...erm...less traditional) in the evenings so we learned the Bula! (hello, welcome) dance which is kind of like the Macarena but with a bit less hip thrusting, played musical chairs (seriously), did the 'Snake dance' (like the conga but the person in front does any kind of dance move they want and everyone else has to follow), risked serious injury with several goes at the limbo, had races booting coconuts across the floor with another coconut tied to a string around your waist (this is where the hip thrusting missing from the Bula! dance came in...) and generally acted like kids a lot of the time. I also got involved in several Kava ceremonies which is a Fijian way of welcoming you into the village - you sit in a circle and the Fijians make up a drink (i use the word in its loosest sense) from Kava root and water, then offer it to you in coconut shell cups. You say Bula!, down your drink, suppress the gag reflex, clap three times and hey presto, you are a member of the tribe. Rounds of drinking are interspersed with rounds of song, dance and desperately trying to think of an excuse to get up and leave. They are so friendly and welcoming you don't want to be rude, but this 'non-alcoholic but mildly narcotic' drink really does just taste like muddy water and has an after effect like a strepsil that numbs your throat so it eventually seems worth being quite rude to bring the whole thing to an end!

Everywhere I went the staff stood on the shore to welcome us from the boat with the Bula! song. All of the resorts I stayed at were on gorgeous beaches and offered different activities. I did loads of snorkelling, went on a trip to the Blue Lagoon where the Brooke Shields film was filmed), made another bracelet out of leaves and some others from shells, got up at 4.30am to climb up to a hill at the back of the island to get a view out to sea at sunrise, did yoga on the beach at sunrise, went to another church service, watched a film on a screen set out under the stars, swam, got a bit emotional at the beauty of the singing, drank cocktails out of coconut shells, sat in more than my fair share of hammocks, read a LOT and ate some of the most incredible (my favourite being Fijian Kokoda - a traditional dish of lime cured fish in coconut soup which is delicious) and inexplicable ('vegetable' soup that tasted of cheese...) food i've ever had in my life. The whole thing was made all the more fun by the fact that you spend all your time in the resorts rather than going off in the day to do other stuff so you really get to know the people you're with, and keep seeing the same people on the boats between the islands.

There was also the small matter of the Tsunami warning... I was at dinner on my first night on the islands when the Ops Manager sat down next to me and cheerfully announced that there'd been a huge earthquake in Japan and there was a possibility we'd be on Tsunami alert. There was much speculation (and a small amount of panic) for a few hours until we were told that we WERE on Tsunami alert. Originally the plan was to go up to the main Bure (the hut where we ate) at 2am as it would hit at 3.30am if at all but then it was decided that it wasn't a good idea to let people stay at the beach bar until that point so we all packed up our bags of essentials and headed up at 9pm. We weren't in any danger as we were 47m above sea level (the wave was predicted to be about 6m) and there was a hill behind us we could climb if necessary. We were also camping out in a hut with a bar, they brought up mattresses, we had a dvd player and internet access and all in all had a pretty good time of it. It was humbling to see how the locals reacted though, given that it was their entire livelihoods they stood to lose rather than a rucksack full of dirty clothes they plan to throw away as soon as they get home. One guy headed out into the ocean on his boat as it was the safest place for it! The next day the currents in the bay were crazy - they changed direction every 20 minutes and you could tell just from looking at it just how strong it was.

It seems they've had so many warnings that haven't ever come to anything that noone really believes it'll happen but still. I felt very lucky to not have my whole home at risk. And also very lucky to not be on one of the islands that are only 0.5m above sea level, some of which had to be evacuated to the mainland! Some of which didn't even tell the visitors that there was an alert but that's a whole other story.

So, Tsunami warning aside, an idyllic few days in Fiji.

Posted by Hoodfish 10:45 Archived in Fiji

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