Fiji – After the non-stop adrenalin adventure of New Zealand, it took me some time to get into the slow rhythm of Fiji Time. About eleven days to be exact. I booked this 12 day island hopping holiday almost a year ago, in rainy London, after 15 stressful years working in financial services. At that time, lazing on the beach for two weeks sounded idyllic. On arrival in Nadi, I wasn’t so sure. Twelve days suddenly sounded like a long time, and I was worried about getting bored.
This fear was particularly heightened at the first stop, Bounty Island. A mere 48 acres, I walked around its sandy circumference in just 23 minutes. This included some time for seashell collecting. Hum. What to do next? The wooden drum roll call for lunch was still two hours away. I went to the dive shop/activities bure and inquired about the various water activities on offer. I settled on hiring some snorkeling gear. There was a spectacular coral reef just off the beach full of fish. The elegant yellow and black angel fish. Translucent neddle fish with their long spikey noses. The black, fat lumps of sea cucumbers resting on the bottom. The now well known ‘nemo’. My favourite though was the royal blue starfish! The waters were warm and crystal clear. With the sun shinning through the surface, everything was illuminated showing off all it’s variations of colours in full vibrancy. Snorkeling done, I dried off and waited for the call to lunch. Shortly after 1pm the soon to become familiar drum roll call for mealtimes came. Phew! Something new ‘to-do’. After lunch, there was another long search for how to pass the time. I settled on some book reading and a nap, before more snorkeling. By 5pm I was getting restless. I wasn’t used to so much down time. Dinner was another two hours away. So to pass the minutes I went to shower early and treated myself to a happy hour sunset cocktail on the bar patio. Finally, the call for dinner came. With only 12 guests on the island, mostly couples or friends travelling in groups, I ate on my own in silence and finished my dinner at 7.39pm. There had been no mention of nightly entertainment, so I headed back to my bure, read for a bit, and was asleep before 9pm. As I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but think how long the next two weeks were going to feel, particularly as I knew my next leg was a stopover in Phoenix where I’d get to see my family for the first time in seven months. I was anxious to get ‘home’ and to have a break from the travellers life. That familiar feeling of homesickness I get in the weeks before seeing my family wasn’t helping me settle. The only hope that I could hold on to was that I was at least changing resorts every two days, seeing 6 of the 333 islands in the country, so at least the scenery would be different, and the people too!
After Bounty, I left the Mamanuca Islands and headed up to the northern part of the Yasawa Islands, before slowly making my way back down south again. It took several days, okay maybe even a week, but I did finally relax into the snail paced flow. After honing my daily routine, I felt much happier and relaxed. My days started around 7.30am with a lazy awakening to the sounds of ocean waves lapping at the shore, before being called to breakfast at 8am. This was followed by sitting in a sun lounger with a second cup of coffee, and a read of an article in my Destinations magazine, Adventure special. By 10am, I would head out for an activity. Just before miday, we all gathered to say goodbye to the guests leaving for the Northbound islands. The locals sang Esilelee, complete with guitar and a bass accompument provided by a big box with a string and stick attached to it. Having successfully passed the morning hours away, we were rewarded with lunch. Sometimes just one course. Sometimes with a welcome second course of ice cream. The afternoon schedule included a post lunch read and nap, another activity, more reading and napping, shower, and pre-dinner cocktail. The drum roll call to dinner was always welcome.
After dinner we were always treated to some array of evening entertainment. One resort provided hermit crab racing, where my pacey little crab managed to make it to the second round. Sadly it got dumped out on its back in the semifinal and spent the whole race trying to right itself. Another resort released back into the wild three baby Hawksbill turtles it had rehabilitated. We stood silently on a flashlight lit beach, as the turtles were placed on the sand 30 feet from the water. We had to wait for their natural instincts to kick in and for them to enter the dark sea on their own. It wasn’t long before the first one made a dash for it. Happily wading in and swimming off, to quiet jubilation from the gathered guests. The second turtle took a little longer to venture in but finally followed the first. The last though, bless her, wouldn’t budge. I didn’t blame her. It was dark, and the Pacific Ocean was quite a bit larger than the pond shed been living in. After much coaxing, nearly an hour later, she reluctantly made her way in too. Everyone slipped back to the bar, hoping these three little guys make it. And still another resort offered dancing games. I played statue, where you danced until the music stopped then had to freeze. I feel over quite early on!
Luckily, each of the islands and resorts had their own distinct personalities and different beach and ocean aspects. This helped me from getting too bored. Coralview Resort on Tavewa had a warm and welcoming staff with a beachfront garden complete with ocean view hammocks, which I spent one whole afternoon, a solid four hours, sleeping in. Barefoot Resort on Drawaqa was perhaps one of my favourite. It had a laid back vibe. With it’s completely sandy grounds, I went everywhere barefoot, even to dinner. There we were spoiled with three different sandy beaches. I spent most of my time floating around on an inner tube on the Sunset Beach side or in my personal hammock by my bure. Mantaray Resort on Nanuya Balavu had a funky more upmarket vibe with its fluorescent green and orange sunloungers, stone paved paths, and interior designed showers. The beach was filled with coral rock reminents so not as pleasant to lay on, but the amazing food and cool communal deck made up for it. Wayalailai Ecohaven on Waya Lailai Island was backed by stunning karst rock monoliths and had a long curving pristine white sandy beach. One of the few locally run resorts, it had a more traditional, rustic, and simple Fijian feel. The food was pretty basic, but I kinda needed to fast after the multiple course meals at Mantaray. The final resort was Beachcomber Island, back in the Mamanuca group of Islands. Dubbed the Party Island, because that’s where all the backpackers go, it turned out to be full of couples and pretty quiet. No one even got on the dance floor at night. Still I had an amazingly spacious ocean view bure, complete with my own terrace and hammock, so it wasn’t all bad. And I was particularly fond of their dress code – Seriously Casual (I.e bathers and bare feet are acceptable at all times).
The slow rhythm of each island was pretty much the same, but there was some variation of things to do. During my activity hours, I managed to pack in a variety of adventures. I hiked up to the top of Drawaqa island one morning for panoramic views. The day before, I had rented a sea kayak and paddled all the way around Barefoot Resort. A proper adventure as it was much bigger than Bounty, taking me 1.5hours to get around! I’ve attended coconut demonstrations where I learned how the locals climb up the coconut trees and how they husk and crack open coconuts with their bare hands. I just went for the free coconut water and coconut pieces, but it was interesting all the same. We also got the opportunity to go to another island on a visit to a local village, Soso Village and met school children. Seeing the simplicity of local village life humbled me once again to how privileged my life as a Westerner is and how lucky I am to be able to just pack my bags and go anywhere in the world. I’ve snorkeled the Blue Lagoon, made famous by the Brooke Shields movie. I’ve made necklaces from seashells I collected on the beach and I’ve snorkeled though caves. On Waylailai, six of us adventurers, actually all the house guests that night, got up at 4am for a sunrise hike to the Big White Rock. Our arms had to swat away large green leafy plants in the dark to make our way to the top. We arrived dripping wet, from sweat or the morning dew I don’t know, and covered in mud and little seeds, but seeing the sun rise over the Pacific was spectacular! I’ve also spent a lot of time reading, napping and generally just starring out at the sea admiring the various shades of blue and turquoise and watching the shifting shapes of clouds.
The Fijian Islands are breathtakingly beautiful. As are it’s people. I had to often stop myself from wishing my time away and to take time to appreciate its scenery. I had to remind myself daily that just a year ago I’d have done anything to have escaped the dreary London winter and my stressful fast paced working life to be here in its waters and it’s warmth doing nothing. I have loved it and I have met some lovely people along the way, but two weeks was long enough. I’m looking forward to being ‘home’ for a bit now. I can no longer wait to have the unconditional loving hugs from my family, to be around people who’ve known me for more than two days, to sleep in the same bed for more than two nights in a row, to dump out my backpack and to properly wash all my clothes. Oh, and I’m looking forward to some proper Mexican food too! Seems that’s just as scarce in the rest of the world as it is in the UK. Phoneix, see you soon! Well, after my 36 hour Friday! Crossing the international date line and arriving 9 hours before you left, even though you’ve just flown 11 hours is something I can’t quite get my head around. Maybe that’s what they really mean by Fiji Time!