A massive Bula from Fiji! Welcome home, as the island villagers say upon arrival ❤️
I can’t believe we’ve been here the full three weeks already, and I really can’t believe I’m writing this on the 6 month anniversary of being on the road! It’s scary how quickly it’s all gone, but reflecting on everything we’ve done makes both of us regret absolutely nothing, and the sacrifices we’ve made to do it. No regrets may be my new life motto now 👍🏼
Our time in Fiji seems to have flown way faster than any other country, and I’m really not sure why as we’ve probably done less than anywhere else! Seriously, between us we’ve probably clocked up a good 100 hours in hammocks, read more than a dozen books between us, and napped more than we have ever napped before. But then again, that’s somewhat expected here! I’m somewhat doing a disservice to our level of activity to be honest. We’ve spent hours snorkelling in the open ocean around some beautiful reefs, kelly has been diving a couple of times, I’ve done a few hikes,been out fishing (or attempting to) and when bored run around some islands (it’s way less impressive than it sounds, some islands took four minutes max to run all the way around).
I think it’s safe to say our first impressions weren’t what we expected. As we stepped out of the airport we both agreed we felt the same as exiting the kerala airport in India! First, the humidity and heat was a full on smack in the face, but what we hadn’t realised was the large Indian population of Fiji. Further history reading made us realise the brits shipped thousands of Indian workers over here when Fiji was colonised. The Indian culture really runs through mainland Fiji especially to this day, with loads of food stalls selling Chana and various daal dishes, lots of roti and chappati, rice served with EVERYTHING!, and a good deal of communication through intricate head wobbles. Strangely, the food also has a huge amount of Chinese influence, with soy and noodles as commonplace elements of a dish: Definitely wasn’t expecting this!
We were really fortunate to stay with a lady called Dee, originally from northern island but living in Fiji for over 15 years. We met her on Couchsurfing, and she helped us book all our island hopping for the whole trip (she basically planned our lives for three weeks to be honest). It turns out she’s basically running a travel agency and knows about half of the tiny Fijian population. Whilst staying at hers, we met Andy and Katie, two British lodgers who are both dive masters (Kelly obviously picked their brains on everything diving in Fiji), Will, and Weiss; two Fijians who did a bunch of fire shows across the islands. We actually ended up seeing Weiss perform on one of the islands completely by surprise! Staying here gave us a really great insight into where to go and what to do, but also a good opportunity to fully adjust to the legendary FIJI TIME (basically everyone is so chilled out things are highly likely to not run on time: this is definitely a thing).
Thanks to the travel ninja skills of Dee, we managed to book 12 nights on 4 islands spanning the Yasawas and Manamuca islands, with all food, accommodation and boat transfers for a fraction of the cost of the main travel company, the Fiji Experience. They seem to have the monopoly here on island hopping and tour operations, but by utilising locals, liaising direct with villages and hostels, and, well, knowing the right people we had our trip sorted! If you ever end up in Fiji definitely get in touch with her on Facebook (Travelicious Fiji) or on couchsurfing (Dee Fiji Islands).
Fiji works quite differently to other places we’ve been. Because the islands rely almost entirely on produce that’s imported and then shipped from the mainland, EVERYTHING is expensive! Be prepared to pay a lot for your meals (which at many islands come from compulsory meal packages that can cost $100 a day each). We even paid $60 for sun screen at one point, which is what we paid for both of us to go on two snorkelling trips! People seem to think Fiji is cheap for some reason. It’s not, simple as. You will end up paying for most stuff up front, but cash is the only source of payment on many of the islands we stayed at for extra activities and drinks (obviously the majority run off grid, utilising generators and photovoltaics connected to gargantuan car batteries dotted across the villages). Obviously, most have no phone signal and absolutely have no wifi and probably no power throughout the day, oh and there aren’t any roads, cars, or means of transport apart from boat, snorkel, or walk. This is exactly what we wanted though! After 40 odd days driving the mammoth routes of New Zealand we really just wanted a break. I’ve said this before, traveling is far from constant relaxation!
The four islands we visited spanned the whole length of the Fijian archipelago. There’s 333 islands that make up Fiji though, so it’s safe to say we barely scratched the surface. Many of these islands are uninhabited , or are private resorts. You can see why this is such a honeymoon destination, some of these resorts looked like utter paradise, but for $4000 a night you’d bloody hope it would be paradise (for info, our 12 days averaged £120 a day for transport, food, and board for he two of us). We took the advice of Dee and stuck to 4 only, as many of the islands are pretty similar. This is broadly true, the beaches are all beautiful and offer some of the most amazing reefs we’ve ever seen, the accommodation and food are broadly speaking of the same quality, and generally what’s on offer is similar (sampling the Fijian drink Kava, watching fire shows, traditional dance shows, that kinda thing), but what really makes each place different are the locals. I was told the Fijian people were super friendly but didn’t expect this! They are SUUUUPER FRIENDLY! At points on some islands walking through villages, we were saying Bula to every person in the village nearly! They will genuinely do anything to help you out, without a question asked at any point. It’s really lovely to experience, a whole nation of massive smiles and general joy. Tie this with the constant sound of reggae blasting from most places you go, it’s literally impossible to not be chilled out and happy!
We started our island hopping adventure at Mana Lagoon on Mana island, a small hostel with about 30 beds, a long stretch of beach, and not much else. Regardless of this, we still reckon this was our favourite stop. It’s amazing what an impact the people can have on your experience. We were really lucky to meet a bunch of people we just jelled with immediately. Jason and Tessa, a couple from west of London, started their time traveling in India about a week before us, and appeared to have been about a week ahead of our route the whole way to Fiji! Sadly we parted ways on Mana, but got to enjoy lots of snorkelling, Kava drinking and story swapping. Guys, we will be linking up in London for sure!
We also met Lilly, another veteran traveler who had the most incredible travel stories to tell. Genuinely, I was in awe of some of the stuff she got up to! She finished her PADI on the island, and Kel went diving with her one day where they spotted a bunch of sharks and a couple of turtles. I’m glad to say I also got to experience these awesome creatures whilst out snorkelling. We also met a bunch of Canadian ladies who were such a joy to hang out with (and a completely bat shit crazy Canadian who spent the duration of her stay waking up the whole dorm, preaching about how amazing Trump and Jesus are, and generally pissing everyone off whilst hanging out the end of a bottle of red (the less we say about her the better). Overall, we found a great bunch of people to hang out with and enjoy sights like this!
Mana was the cheapest place we went, so we took advantage of this! Kel got a dive in, we both went to cloud 9, a floating bar in the middle of the ocean, snorkelled around an island that’s just sand (with some spectacular reef edges surrounding), jewellery making from coconuts, crab racing, more Kava drinking, and generally chilling on the beach. Like in Cambodia, the only real way we could tell the time was based on boats arriving, feeding time, and if the sun was out or not.
The locals at Mana were awesome. Because we stayed with Dee we felt like mini celebrities, many of the guys stay at her place when back on the mainland, and we later found out she used to manage the place! We were made to feel like family the four days we were there, and felt really sad to leave.
Our next stop was a total shift from what we’d experienced at Mana. We arrived at Beachcomber island feeling like we’d truly hit paradise! This resort catered to everyone from the budget backpacker looking for a dorm to luxury bure dwellers. The island was tiny, I managed to run around it in a couple of minutes. We stayed in a 80+bed dorm which was actually great (The fact it was basically empty the night we arrived helped I guess). Over the two nights here we again met some amazing people who we’d end up seeing on other islands we hopped to. Beachcomber was much more of a party island, with happy hours which seemed never ending, a huge bar, and a generally party driven atmosphere. This was probably the nicest place we’ve stayed in the six months we’ve been away, but I couldn’t hack it for many more days, I’m too old for the continuous 2am finishes and heavily booze fuelled nights. Clearly I’m just getting old 😩
Our third island Waya Lailai involved staying within a Fijian village. Whilst we weren’t in a homestay we definitely felt like a full part of the village. We didn’t do much here, because the beach was so nice! Most days consisted of trying to find the-optimum-position-in-the-optimum hammock-for-tanning-and-kindle-perusing, or a cheeky game of 7s with the locals. Needless to say, I was shite in comparison to the locals! I can definitely see why they are consistently one of the best 7s nations. One of the absolute highlights of this island (and of Fiji in its entirety) was the summit hike I did. Unlike the nicely paved hiking in New Zealand, this was more in line with Cambodian hikes: so challenging terrain! Coming back down in the dark wasn’t exactly easy either, but it was so worth it. Check out these views!!!
Our final Island was a good 5 hours from mainland Fiji by boat at the top of the Yasawa islands. We stayed at Nabua Lodge, and were pleasantly surprised to find we had a private bungalow that actually accommodated four people! To top this off, we genuinely had a bathroom in a wardrobe (yeah seriously! Kelly full on lost her shit when she found the gateway to toilet based Narnia). Without a doubt, Nabua offered the best reef snorkelling we did on the whole trip (and probably rivalling any we’ve done anywhere upon further reflection). To top this off, it was by far the cheapest AND had a shipwreck as an added bonus! It was so good, we ended up doing it twice, to the amazement of the locals 😜. Seriously, the array of tropical fish, sharks, turtles, and coral was mesmerising. Nabua really looked after us, with cheap as chips massages, great food and enteratinment. It was so good we ended up extending our stay another day to ensure we got to sample traditional Lovo, which we actually helped prepare; it was definitely worth it! If you’re ever traveling Fiji, Nabua is an absolute must for any budget backpacker. Sunsets here aren’t shit either!!
I can’t really fault any of the resorts or hostels we stayed at. Yes, this wasn’t filled with Fijian opulence you see promoted as iddilic honeymoon destinations, but for what we needed, each one ticked all the boxes and so many more.
After heading back to mainland, we decided we hadn’t had quite enough of beach life, so headed down the coast to beach house, a top surfer spot on the southern coast. This Aussie owned hostel was absolutely awesome, and fully geared for entertaining a wide array of guests. Sadly we weren’t blessed with great weather, so my shark snorkelling got called off, but Kelly managed to get out to do a once in a lifetime dive with bull sharks; no cage included! These 4-5m monsters of the sea are closer to tiger and great whites than the friendly reef sharks we’ve spent time with so far. By far the most adrenaline fuelled dive she’s ever done, but without a doubt the best! I just wish I could have done it too. I also managed to squeeze in a jungle hike and read another book or two, so all is well!
So there you have it. 3 weeks in Fiji done. I said it earlier, but it really was just what the doctor ordered. I feel so disgustingly chilled now the concept of having to go back to proper backpacking again (like constantly wearing my backpack) is hugely unappealing at this point. I’m sure we will get over that fairly soon though. Our next stop is Melbourne, then up the east coast.
Massive thanks to Dee for all her help, Will, Weiss and Tika for the Kava and fire dancing, and to all the wonderful people we met along the way! Hopefully our paths will cross again xx