Finally giving in to the lure of travel once more and heading to the fabled south seas.
(note, pictures to follow once I get on some non terribad internet)
Well, here we are… I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever write another one of these. While I’ve taken a few mini trips since that last one left off on a cliffhanger they haven’t been of this sort. (side note, I need to go back and write the last post of that) I’ve missed traveling like you wouldn’t believe but wondered when I’d feel comfortable doing this sort of thing again. While I was probably more stressed out in the planning stage of this trip than any previous one that was more a factor of other life events, inept companies and this turning out to be a different style of trip than my previous adventures. More on that to follow of course as I discover Fiji.
Fair warning as well, it’s been an unfortunate amount of time since I’ve done any writing at all so please bear with me if the first couple posts are rusty and rambly, hopefully we’ll get back to normal quickly.
It was sometime in July last year that I stumbled across a thread on the red flag deals forums announcing ‘Fiji Airways new direct flights from vancouver, introductory deals’ or something of the sort. Having almost stopped in fiji on my trip to New Zealand and Australia about a decade (sob) ago I was intrigued… and when I clicked through and saw ‘Starting at $600’ I knew that this might put me over the edge to travel again. Sadly I didn’t snag one of those but I still locked in a great deal and got my seat for about $900 RT after some seat reservation fees. Coupled with a cheap Swoop flight grabbed a few months later to Abbotsford and some very much appreciated chauffeuring from my uncle Robin and I was going to be arriving in Nadi (pronounced Nandi) Fiji pale from winter and ready to relax. I had learned from the past and gave myself a 3 day cushion on the swoop flight heading out but thankfully their only change was to push it later in the evening and actually make it more convenient, a rare win.
Kind of hilariously in the days leading up to my flight Fiji Airways sent me emails inviting me to ‘bid on business upgrade’ (I took a look and the minimum bid one way was almost double the cost of my return flight) and later on offering me the chance to have a ‘bubble row’ to myself for a slightly more tempting $600. Once on the plane I wondered why they’d offered though as there seemed to be very few empty seats and I didn’t really see how that’d have been possible. However thinking about it now I remember now that the Auckland bound Air New Zealand flight had been cancelled that evening (likely due to the cyclone) so I’m guessing a few folks were transferred to our flight as a two hopper to NZ given roughly ¼ of the flight appeared to immediately head to the transfer desk on arrival in Nadi.
The flight itself was a bit of a nightmare, starting at 9:40pm and landing at 5:30am+1day. I couldn’t help but joke that as an eternally single person I’d found a way to skip valentine’s day by flying west across the date line on the 13th and not really experiencing the 14th as we landed the following morning. As I waited for the flight to board I became increasingly dismayed by the large number of people with very small children that kept arriving. Don’t get me wrong I love kids and I’m sure a couple of them were going home but man, maybe for the couple years while your kids are under 3 you could pick vacation destinations that don’t require a 12 hour flight? My usual recent luck for transcontinental flights held and I ended up beside another broad shouldered person and in a seat that didn’t recline at all. And yep, one or more of those toddlers caterwauled all through the flight.
For those that haven’t tried it, let me tell you, the cure for mild whiplash from a car accident a few weeks ago is not a 12 hour flight in economy.
I’ll admit I really only knew the absolute basics about Fiji before prepping for this trip. Tropical place, influences from a number of cultures, strong Indian influences in particular, very at threat from global warming. What I really didn’t know was just how small it was, a population around the same size of Manitoba strewn across a large number of islands (though with most of the ‘mainland’ of Viti Levu.) For the most part the population speaks Fijian, English and a Fijian Hindi dialect and thus far communication hasn’t been an issue. More to come on all that I’m sure.
I arrived at the hotel sometime around 7am, hoping against hope that they’d have some luggage storage so I could ditch my bags and go walk around a bit before check in time. Thankfully it turned out that my room was already free and a very grateful zombie stumbled up the road to the B&B offshoot of the main hotel, obviously a converted vacation home. Shown to a lovely clean (if spartan) room, I promptly dumped my gear, showered the smell of travel off myself and crawled between the sheets for a 2 hour power nap. I knew from experience that I couldn’t sleep for long if I wanted to beat the jetlag but I definitely needed something.
The B&B itself was nice, especially for the fairly bargain price (I’m splurging most of the rest of this trip so I kept the initial landing spot on the cheap end without doing the hostel dorm thing.) I’m guessing the hotel’s manager or owner lives in what was once the guest house and this main house now has 5 small guest rooms and a large living room/kitchen. 3 rooms share a bathroom/shower and two have ensuite. The bed was comfy and the place was spotless and that’s all that mattered at this moment.
A few hours later and brighter eyed if not bushy tailed I threw a few things in my daypack and went back to the main hotel to ask them to call and confirm my offshore stay. A couple weeks before I left I’d zeroed in on a multi hop trip up some of the offshore islands, had booked my reservation and gotten early confirmation… but had not had any final confirmation on the individual resorts I’d requested or any of my other questions. What was at first a minor annoyance became increasingly stressful as the trip approached and finally as I left for the islands not knowing if I had a place to stay beyond day 2. I gather I wasn’t the first with this problem as she told me to just go sit and she’d let me know what they said. Needless to say I blissfully complied, ordered a pineapple juice and proceeded to spend 3 hours reading on the shore as rain thankfully kept missing our end of the bay and I just watched the waves crash on the minimal beach. To say it was exactly what I needed was an understatement and the relaxation was increased by finally getting confirmation of my pickup for the boat even if they’d still neglected to finally confirm my hotels, something that would take 3 more emails. Still, at least I knew I was getting picked up
The combination of that relief, fatigue from lack of sleep and the overall stress of the last few months bleeding from me meant that bed was already calling again but I knew I had to last a couple more hours. As a result as inviting as the pool back at the b&b looked, I knew the post swim sleepies would do me in for the night so I followed the instructions of the hostess and found the minimart up the street. Amidst a couple snacks, some water bottles and a premixed gin and tonic I found my holy grail. A delicious bundaberg soda from Australia, not my personal fave blood orange variety but the still awesome peach soda. Annoyingly I’ve never found these in North America though Adam Savage is occasionally drinking one in his videos so someone must import them to california at least. Honestly if you ever have the chance… delicious on their own, delicious with gin/vodka/rum depending on the flavour. I polished that off very quickly back at the b&b while chatting with the new hostess Cecimaria. I’ve gotten better with the Fijian accent/lilt since that night but I was definitely in smile and nod territory a few times with this very bubbly young lady.
Between our chat and some angry emailing I managed to stay awake a bit longer but eventually gave in, had an early curry dinner back by the shore and raced back home through the rain to collapse sometime around 6pm local/10pm Vancouver/midnight Winnipeg with my body clock somewhere messed up between the three. Between my various efforts I’d managed to conk out until 6:45 the following morning and given I’d be up early the next morning anyway that seemed as close to a normal sleep schedule as I needed.
So I knew this was going to be the rainy season in Fiji. As the day of departure arrived I watched with increasing worry as the forecast shifted from a fair bit of rain to ’90-100% chance of thunderstorms every day I was scheduled to be here.’ It could have been worse of course given the NZ cyclone but still as I sat there eating my breakfast with a german couple who seemed to be youtubers the downpour increased to a dense tropical rain the likes of which I’ve probably only seen in Thailand. It came and went all day which I mostly spent reading and making sure I’d prepared everything else (fingers crossed.) A new guest arrived around lunchtime, his name was Jim and he didn’t talk much but I enjoyed him plucking away at his ukelele most of the afternoon under the thatched poolside shelter as we watched the water rise and rise. I’ll hand it to the local infrastructure though, the street flooding was fairly minimal until we’d reached a full 12 hours of this but by the time I went out for dinner manhole covers were overflowing on the main road and when they taxi brought me back I stepped out into lake roughly a foot deep. The next morning on the way to my pickup I had to wade through multiple troughs of calf deep water. I don’t think my poor sandals are ever going to be dry this trip.
The taxi drivers were hilarious in other ways as well. Pretty much everyone I talk to here at some point asks me if I’m travelling alone. When I reply yes some of them say something along the lines of ‘oh that’s the way to do it, others something like ‘you bring the wife next time?’ My driver on the way out to dinner that night had his own take. When told I was indeed travelling alone he considered that for a moment and said: You be careful… Fijian women very… INTELLIGENT.
Of course, the weather was worrying me for other obvious reasons as I had a 3-4 hour boat trip early the next morning. The rain was scheduled to continue and the islands I was going to had a ‘high winds/possible tidal flooding’ warning in place which didn’t sound hopeful. I kept waking up throughout the night as the heavens either opened up or quieted and checking my phone for note of cancellation (Why sleepy me thought they’d be that proactive is beyond me.) In fact when the shuttle bus showed up that morning they informed a few disappointed people that the day trip was cancelled due to weather (unsurprising given there’d be nothing to do really once at the island) but that those of us transfering to resorts were a go.
(since I wrote this things have apparently gotten much worse to the point where I may need to adjust end days plans if I’m not going to be able to safely get back along one of the roads, time will tell.)
I’m realizing that I haven’t really described Nadi much and I guess honestly that’s because there isn’t much to describe. It’s a relatively small city spread out in a couple directions. I didn’t see much of downtown given I was mostly dodging rain but didn’t see anything to really convince me I missed much in the city proper though I’ll be back my last bit of the trip and may try to explore more.
The port itself is a short trip from Nadi proper on an island/peninsula. This is where the fancier resorts close to Nadi are, a lot of places that from brief glimpses look like your usual all inclusives in Mexico (and indeed from talking to folks that’s basically what they are for Aussies/Kiwis.) Nestled in between all of them is a small but busy Marina which is home to a number of tour companies including the Yasawa Flyer, a high speed catamaran that runs out to a number of resorts on the offshore island chains.
I had chosen to do what’s called an ‘Awesome Pass’ which for a mildly exorbidant fee gives you unlimited boat rides, a number of nights accomodation (in my case 6) and bundled food. Normally I’m not down with the bundled food options on this sort of thing but on most of these islands the resort is literally the only thing there so it’s not like you can swing out to a mom and pop operation with a bit of a walk. That said, I’m writing this on night one of the islands and the food today was both fantastic and local.
I chose to spend three nights each at two different resorts (there are a large number to choose from) deeper in the island chain and more focused on snorkeling/diving. This meant a fairly lengthy trip as the first was about halfway through the catamaran journey. The big boat essentially runs a daily route up the two archipelagos and meets tender boats from various places which run passengers and luggage to and fro shore. Unfortunately for those who suffer from sea sickness the wind warning wasn’t a lie and she was rolling and hanging in the troughs a fair bit. As a couple of Aussies behind me kept saying, more than a few people had to ‘Chunder.’ Thankfully my seeming imperviousness to seasickness continues to be a thing and I enjoyed the ride until the stop was called.
As much as I do hope to see these islands in their sun-drenched glory before the week is up there was something special about seeing the lush green hills appear out of the mist. The first island (and the target of many day trips) is called South Sea Island and seems to be little more than a sandbar with a few dorms and bures (huts) on it. Later islands have impressive craggy cliffs, lush vegitation and hidden sandy beaches where a small cluster of huts will suddenly appear. None of these resorts are huge, many (most?) are eco-travel focused and as sustainable as possible.
After about 3 hours I ended up on a narrow shoreboat speeding across a large bay and driving into shore at a welcoming crowd of singing staff and a hearty BULA (meaning health, a seemingly universal greeting hereabouts.) Between the musical welcome, the sand, the palms and the water… I felt at peace for the first time in months.
This only increased that feeling as I settled in to my bure, enjoyed my private view of ‘sunset beach’ and then went to enjoy a tasty lunch with my fellow new arrivals and those already enjoying the place.
The resort is small, I’d guess roughly 20-25 Bures with a couple of them being backpacker dorms with bunks and some like mine having an ‘ensuite’ which is open to the sky. They surround a larger ‘main bure’ which is basically a meal area/kitchen/lounge and a couple smaller bures which house other services. The whole thing is on a spit of land off one of the hilly islands and we’re surrounded by three beaches: my aforementioned sunset beach (though we didn’t see one tonight) a larger bay with a reef further out, and two (sunrise and ?) others seperated by a narrow point that share a large coral reef just offshore that offers fantastic snorkeling with absolute minimum effort.
You’d better believe I was in that water more or less as soon as I could be though I also set up some diving for the coming days, but more on that in the next post.