What comes to mind when you hear “South Pacific”? Beach? Turquoise water? Snorkeling? Island hopping? Probably yes. Don’t we all dream the island dream..?
The Yasawas and How to Get There
While dreaming is free, making dreams reality isn’t. It’s actually pretty expensive, especially in Fiji. But you cannot go to Fiji and not go to the small islands (on the main island, there are no beaches worth mentioning). Fiji is so far away (for Europeans, at least) and it’s not like you’d go there all the time (that wouldn’t make it any cheaper anyway) so forget about the money and live the island dream!
One of the most accessible and affordable groups of islands in Fiji are the Yasawas west of Viti Levu. Once a day, the Yasawa Flyer, a yellow catamaran, sails up and down the chain of islands, stopping at the various resorts to collect and drop off passengers. Amazing Adventures, the operator, offers all kinds of packages from a few days up to three weeks – for the ones who really can’t get enough of the beach.
A good option is the so-called Bula-Pass which gives you the chance to do some real island hopping. Although according to the brochure you have to spend a minimum of two nights at one place, you can very well spend every night at another resort. That’s what we did. The four resorts we picked were all on different islands and really different from each other.
Waya Lailai: Ecohaven Resort
Beautifully located at the foot of a steep mountain, Waya Lailai Ecohaven is a nice first stop. The bungalows are spacious, with a terrace and even a fridge (with a ripe pawpaw inside – lucky me!) but a bit outdated. In fact, all the bungalows at the resorts we stayed at were, but who cares, we’re here for the beach!
Unfortunately, it was raining that first day in the Yasawas so we spent most of the day lazing on the terrace. In the late afternoon, the rain stopped and we went up to the top of the mountain to watch the sun set.
Before we left for the Yasawas, we read some travel blogs. One in particular insisted that the hikes in the Yasawas were all easy and could very well be done in flip flops. I’m pretty sure that person didn’t do any hikes on the islands. The trails are steep – especially the one on Waya Lailai -, muddy, slippery, overgrown with spiky grass, and definitely require good shoes.
It was a great hike, although Noah, the guide, walked a bit too fast for some of our group (well, he does the hike twice every day…). Standing on that rock on top of the island however, and taking in the fantastic views, was worth all the effort and sweat.
The next morning we went snorkeling where the reef sharks are; a wonderful experience. Though totally harmless, these beautiful creatures can still startle you when they suddenly swim up beside you.
Since it’s quite big and one of the cheapest resorts, Waya Lailai is also pretty crowded. That can be nice if you want to meet people, but not very nice on a snorkeling trip when there are more people than fish in the water.
The food at the resort is average, staff a bit superficial, and the activities pretty expensive (if not overpriced). However, the shark snorkeling and the views from the top of the island are unbeatable.
Nacula: Nabua Lodge
Nabua Lodge is the northernmost stop of the Yasawa Flyer. We chose this place mainly because we wanted to visit the Sawa-I-Lau cave. However, we happened to be there on a Sunday and on Sundays, surprise!, the cave is closed. So we spent the day chilling at the beach and walking to various viewpoints.
Every weekend they prepare typical Fijian food at Nabua Lodge so we had the opportunity to try food cooked in a lovo, an earth oven. It was delicious.
There’s not that much to do at Nabua. Except for the fantastic “dining room”, a big terrace right over the beach, and the people we met at the lodge, Nabua will probably not stick in my memory for long.
Nanuya Lailai: Gold Coast Resort
Just across from Nabua but half an hour on the Yasawa Flyer (it serves other places first) is tiny Gold Coast Resort. The small bungalows are right at the beach, at night it sounded as though the water lapped against the walls. The place is very basic – there’s not even electricity in the bungalows – but it’s just beautiful.
At the other side of the island is the famous blue lagoon (where they filmed the 1980 movie). Nanuya Lailai is so small, you can walk there in about 25 minutes. “How will we find the way?”, we asked at the resort. “Take Romeo, he’ll show you”, was the answer. Romeo, as it turned out, is not a guy but a dog. A really amazing dog. He lead us across the island to the blue lagoon and waited patiently in the shadow of a tree guarding our stuff while we were off snorkeling.
Unless you see the blue lagoon from above, you don’t really notice it’s a blue lagoon. It’s just an amazing spot for snorkeling. Apparently, people feed the fish there so they’re absolutely not afraid of humans and swim really close to you.
Although close to the Sawa-I-Lau cave, Gold Coast Resort doesn’t offer trips there. When asked why, Bill, one of the guys there, told us that they used to but it’s a total rip-off (85 or 95 Fiji Dollars, depending on where you do the tour from, for a very short visit of the cave) and therefore they don’t offer that anymore.
Gold Coast Resort is small and basic but its people are amazing, genuinely friendly and honest, and the food is definitely the best.
(The dog in the video is Toni the snorkeling dog from Long Beach Resort. Romeo is water-shy.)
The name is accurate: The beach in front of the resort is long. Very long. But it completely disappears during high tide.
Snorkeling there is fun, even though there aren’t many fishes around. That doesn’t matter when you have nice company: Toni the dog went snorkeling with us. I’ve seen dogs who love water, but none like Toni!
Long Beach Resort offers lots of activities, they can keep tourists occupied for days. You can weave baskets, make jewelry from coconuts (lots of fun!), or go hiking. Most activities are very cheap or even free of charge, like the hike up Goat Island, just across from the resort.
Even though the food at Long Beach Resort was the worst of all the places we stayed at, it was, together with Gold Coast, one of our favorite resorts.
Go to the Yasawas!
The Yasawas is a must-do when you’re in Fiji. Even if you feel a bit awkward when you’re greeted by a small band singing a welcome song when arriving at the resort or if Bula-dancing in the evening is not your thing (there’s always the option to sneak away before the collective fun begins). For sure, the Yasawas are very touristy but for the most part, the resorts are quite small and can only accommodate a certain number of people at one time. Therefore, it is very well possible that you have a beach all to yourself.
Island hopping in the Yasawas is a unique experience and it’s the best way to discover these amazing islands. However, better go now than later; the Fijian government constantly increases the tourism tax so prices rise every year.