Quick preamble: Apologies for the lateness of this particular post. I came back from work and immediately got slammed with work to the point where I just wanted to be off the computer in the evenings so this has taken about 2 weeks longer than planned. Whoops.
Dawn was just breaking over the hillside as I woke to finish packing and head to the airport for an early flight. It was already warm but mist was still hanging around the garden and lightly coating the flowers in dew. Somewhat oddly (I doubt her boss would have been thrilled) the caretaker/hostess of the place we stayed invited herself to share our cab as she had to be in town. I didn’t care as I felt like it made sure we’d actually be picked up on time. In reality though I probably could have been there five minutes before the flight and still made it on. As you saw in the last post security was pretty non-existent so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that I walked on with half a bottle of soda without comment.
Arriving in the capital was an interesting experience the tarmac security was just as bad as the other airports, only the fact that one of the folks on the plane clearly flew the route a lot gave us someone to follow to the exit area. At which point we waited next to this:
Kind of hilariously I was checking messages afterwards as we waited for baggage. I turned around and the other 2 people waiting for bags had just grabbed theirs from the cart as it arrived. But yep, they threw my bag on the silly micro carousel and I waited for it to come around feeling rather silly.
I regret not having a spare day or two to poke around Suva as it’s apparently a much more interesting town than Nadi with historical/colonial architecture and some museums but instead I hopped in a cab. Suva will have to wait til next time.
Off to maroon myself
My destination was Crusoe’s Retreat (on Man Friday road no less) which was more or less halfway between Suva and Nadi on the southern coast road (the Queen’s Road.) It turns out that a) this was farther than it looked from the town of Pacific Harbour which was the general area I’d been trying to stay and b) cab prices had increased a fair bit from my slightly out of date guidebook. That said on the way out it was still nice to have a bit of a look around at everyday life on the fringes of the town.
A wild ride…
I think I’ve mentioned it before but Fijian drivers definitely consider the center divider a suggestion at best and not a particularly attractive one. To be fair to them the edges of the road are sometimes catastrophically potholed (though the Queen’s road was much better than places I’d been elsewhere.) This led to an occasional white knuckled grip of the handrest as we cut a blind corner or did a questionable overtake. We would often power down a hill then suddenly arrive at a 2 foot tall speed bump and slam on the brakes to hump over. The road was good enough that I’d be reasonably comfortable renting a car and exploring the main island a bit next trip, but of course this is (or at least feels) much pricier as a solo traveler. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it elsewhere in Fiji from my brief glimpses of the outer islands, definitely believe what my guidebook said in that an off-road vehicle is best.
My driver started out very chatty but had no idea where the hotel was. It turned out to be much further past Pacific Harbour than expected and he started repeatedly asking me whether we were there yet as I watched the GPS. Eventually we found the turn off and headed onto a small gravel road that looked like it went to nowhere. We dove deep into lush seaside jungle but oddly started climbing towards the top of a seaside mount. I kept having to encourage the driver to go on, to be fair to him at one point we saw a sign saying “Crusoe’s Retreat: 1km” and then continued on climbing higher which was starting to worry me too. It was at least three kilometers later that we hit a blind corner and suddenly saw the sea burst into view below. The road immediately started doing quick switchbacks and dove a couple hundred feet down to a tiny courtyard at the main entrance. I wish I’d gotten him to stop and let me take a photo but he was worried enough as it was.
Unfortunately less pleasant was the fact that the cab ride ended up being FJD$190, about cad$120. In the grand scheme of things not a big deal but my guidebook had suggested more like $60 at most so it was lucky I had enough cash on me given the nearest atm was 30km back along the road. I hadn’t been expecting to be this quite so isolated and remote again at this stay. Still the resort itself was lovely and quickly made me feel welcome with a tasty drink and a trip down to my bungalow by the ocean.
The resort had the feel of a slightly aging place that was popular say 25 years ago but well maintained and gorgeous views off the coast. There was a large central restaurant/bar area partly up on the cliff face with steps up to ‘gardenview’ bures on the cliff up above (nothing here was without a sea view) and then two rows of 6 bures down at the sea front half facing the sea, half facing the well-kept gardens. My particular digs were the third one in from the ocean and had a spacious porch with a large lounging space and a hanging hammock ‘chair in the air’ that was incredibly comfy. Thankfully it also had air conditioning as the temps had ramped up and things were muggy as hell.
Unfortunately this was also the most disappointing part of the trip. Turns out the reason I was in Bure 3 was that I was the 3rd person to arrive at this resort at the moment and that was emblematic of just how ‘low season’ this area was. This had been a factor everywhere of course but I guess these more remote resorts that dot the southern coral coast of Viti Levu suffer a bit more during these slow months
After talking to my divemaster at the last stop I’d reached out to his recommended place on this coast to do a world-famous shark lagoon dive. They got back to me fairly quickly but told me they were about to change hands and the new owners were CC’d and would get back to me. While I shot off another email I did want to go with the recommended company if possible because the vibe at the Savusavu dive with Colin was perfect and he’d suggested it would be a similar feel with the Coral Coast folks. Big Mistake as it turns out. The new people turned out to be incompetent, only finally getting back to me (as is a theme with this trip it seems) when I got to the new hotel and asked the tour lady to call on my behalf. Suddenly there was an email in my box as well saying oh sorry we aren’t going out the day you asked after all but we can take you on (Date 8 days later.) How they ever thought that was acceptable as a ‘compromise’ (I doubt anyone spends more than 7 days here) I really don’t know.
Unfortunately, the disappointment continued. The lady who ran the tour desk out of the resort called several other places on my behalf and not only was no one doing the shark dive, no one was doing dives at all! She kept getting offers to take me out on Friday but unfortunately I was flying out late that night and for those not aware it’s not safe to fly within that interval of being in the deep. Frustratingly they did the shark dive the day I arrived at the new resort and honestly had that asshole company told me that was my only chance to go I would have moved heaven and earth over to hop a flight the night before to get to the Coral Coast earlier. Even typing this out now makes me angry.
Despite being somewhat shattered I arranged with the tour lady Rachai to go on a jungle tour up to a village then a raft/float back down the river to the sea. By the time we signed up for this it was later in the morning so I was set for the following day. Despite that, I was just settling into my bedroom and about to have an shower when I heard a knock on the door. Given how things had been going I had a sinking feeling… and sure enough it was Rachai telling me she’d had an email and they weren’t going out tomorrow due to low numbers. (Why they couldn’t have said to her when she registered me ‘hey we don’t have anyone else going so this is maybe/maybe not’ I don’t know.) She was genuinely upset to have to tell me this and kept asking me if I wanted to do something else. She tried calling around but I was clearly completely out of luck and in the end as the only other thing she could really offer me was the chance to rent a car and go into town for some shopping I decided just to stay around the resort and snorkel.
I was pretty bummed by all this; I’m not going to lie. The Beqa shark dive was pretty much the only thing I’d firmly had in my ‘must dos’ before I left. Still, it’s a reason to go back I suppose.
So despite all that… This was a lovely stay in a beautiful spot. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more with a few more people here (for instance almost all my resorts had a volleyball court but never saw a game running.) That said, I did do some kayaking out over the reef enjoying the views both above and below. It was solidly 33+ and 100% humidity my entire stay though so I spent most of my daytime around the water. The staff outnumbered the guests at least 10 to one during the day but most of them were clearly renovating some of the bures (or at least prepping them for high season.)
The snorkeling here was glorious, honestly not quite as good as the previous place but basically nowhere would be. The one positive about my timing here was that perfect tides were around the heat of the day for the duration of my stay. The was a long mostly sandy shelf leading out to the barrier reef here with countless stone outcroppings covered in hard and soft corals and most delightfully a massive crop of anemones scattered all over. It was a surprisingly frequent occurrence to float over a clump of stone and find yourself face to face with a clownfish coming out to challenge you. (The ‘dad’ comes out of the anemone to challenge the intruder with the ‘mom’ hanging out on the fringes of it and the baby sometimes visible if the fronds parted enough.) I saw both black and orange varieties. It was fun to dive down with my fins and get a closer look as they flitted in and out of the waving anemone. Again, regretting my stupid underwater camera refusing to charge…
…especially when I saw this guy. A banded sea krait. The one I saw was I’d guess at least 8 feet long and undulating in that bizarre way that snakes swim. I vaguely recalled that these were poisonous so I kept my distance but figured correctly that the general rule of ‘don’t bother them and they won’t bother you’ would apply. After getting out of the water I checked and yes they’re one of the more venomous things out there, venom 10x more potent than a rattlesnake! Absolutely gorgeous though and a rare treat to see.
Also in the venomous department were a couple lionfish which as pretty and neat as they are getting to be a nuisance some areas of the world. Still gorgeous to see it hovering around amidst clouds of other things.
I’m still amazed at how much time I spent in the water this trip, but this final step was definitely a high point for that with all the heat and humidity. I probably spent 4 hours a day at least on or in the water. The resort actually had a hot tub as well but I can’t imagine spending any time in it when it was still 30ish at 11pm.
In the evenings the grounds would suddenly be strewn with large toads that wouldn’t move until you were almost stepping on them, despite the fact that it was still quite warm I guess the slightly cooler breezes off the sea had enough moisture that they came out to enjoy them. There were so many of them that it was basically reverse Frogger trying to get up to dinner.
My other exciting nature moment was meeting a mongoose who I think lived under my hut. He was very cute and I felt extra safe from cobras.
That’s a wrap
The food was less exciting at this stop. Prices were fairly high but quality varied a ton. To be fair I’m not really sure if this was due to low staffing or just the fact that they didn’t have many people to cook for and weren’t doing their better options. Again though, it would have been at minimum a $50 cab ride round trip to go anywhere else so it’s not like I had a ton of options.
Before long the final day had arrived and it was time to head back to the airport. I’d discussed the bus option with the front desk staff and sure enough one could take a cab ride to the main road and hail the cross-island air conditioned bus. Combined it cost about 15 bucks and to be honest a better view of the coast from the higher seats. The wind was up a bit this particular day and I got a few gorgeous views as the waves crashed into the barrier reef. The only downside was that our road ended just down a fairly large hill so one had to pay attention as it didn’t take long for vehicles to go from ‘appearing in the distance’ to ‘past and around the bend’ and I had to manually flag the bus.
Further along the coast from my resort were a number of more traditional looking modern resorts and smaller rentals and hotels. Most of them looked just as deserted as my digs so I guess it’s not surprising I had issues. Thinking back now I think perhaps the reason the initial spots were busier was that they’re an easier ‘layover’ trip. I definitely met more than a few people who were sneaking in a 5 day layover going to/from Australia/NZ, some were even just there for two days and jetted out to the islands for a getaway.
Eventually I arrived back in Nadi with the bus thankfully going straight to the airport where I dumped my bag in left luggage and went off to properly explore Nadi itself a bit more/do a little souvenir and gift shopping. To be honestly my original impression of Nadi wasn’t changed much, it’s a fairly unexciting town and I’m glad I made the decision to get out of it quickly the first time. It’s a couple of shop lined streets with a mix of tourist and local focused things and not much else other than an elaborate Hindu temple.
I browsed the handicraft market a bit which was mostly uninspired Chinese-made junk. I bought a few small items and a few small gifts of Fiji Rugby shirts and other such things. I never really bring a ton back from my trips though I generally try to get a small piece of art which this time ended up being a small map of the islands.
And… sadly that was it. Really the only thing of note was that perhaps I got some recompense for the bad luck earlier but on my flight home I got a pair of seats to myself after paying for a bulkhead seat. Hilariously I’d gotten an email from the airline a few days earlier asking if I wanted to pay extra for a bubble of seats and had been moderately tempted due to what wasn’t the worst price. In the end I ended up on my own and also off the plane and through customs first from the economy folks. Honestly having a seat next to you open for a 12 hour flight is an absolute jackpot.
Much love to my Uncle Robin for hosting me for a couple days before and after the Fiji portion. It was nice to have a visit and a bit of an adjustment step back time wise as well as a snuggle with his pup Bailey.
That’s a wrap
Thanks for following along with me on this journey. I know it was probably not quite as exciting as my previous travels from a ‘read about it’ point of view since there was a lot less pure excitement/discovery. That being said, I adored my time in Fiji and I’d heartily recommend to my Canadian friends and family to take advantage of the direct flight from Vancouver. I’d love to see them keep offering the route.
I’ve never been to Hawaii, everything I’ve read about it of late says it’s super pricey and moving around is much more difficult due to the issues w/ rental cars due to the pandemic issues. Fiji honestly seemed every bit as beautiful, much more laid back and with a less commercial focus. Obviously I was here at low season and if you’re there at peak Aussie visiting time it’ll be much busier but even then I can’t imagine. I can’t pretend it was a cheap cheap trip, but it seemed great value. I’ve seen people I know spend more than I did on a Florida/Mexican trip and see/experience nothing near as glorious. You might be surprised at how accessible a trip to Fiji is!*
*Admittedly I got a great flight deal 😉
The scenery was phenomenal, the water divine and the people warm and welcoming. Pretty much every Fijian I met was genuinely curious if you were loving their homeland as much as they seemed to. It’s the rare trip I’ve done where I’d do the exact same itinerary, I might just change the month I went a bit. September is supposedly a great time to visit as you’re after the Aus/NZ winter rush but still in the best weather. You’d lose the joy of escaping Winnipeg at -30 in my case of course. As I’ve mentioned throughout this travelogue there are also other places I’d try to visit though. Some of the more remote offshore island groups are apparently worth a visit though there’s a time/money investment component to get there that means you probably wouldn’t do too many of them on one visit however.
As ever, if you have any questions about any of my travels hit me up. I’ve helped a few people do some Thai trip planning already this year.
Thanks for reading.
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