It turns out I was the only one leaving the island heading north on this particular day so I got the full force of half the staff singing the farewell song to me. It was delightful, endearing and incredibly awkward for someone of my personality, especially when almost everyone insisted on giving me a big hug afterwards. I still loved it though and will miss all those cheerful personalities. That said it was just as well I hadn’t tried to squeeze an extra dive in as the northward boat was fairly early (it seems to vary a reasonable amount depending on specific drop offs.)
Once back onboard the Yasawa Flyer (this time a different one called the Panther) we headed northward, this time with MUCH nicer weather and a proper view of the scenery. It continued to make excellent time as the boat was nearly empty and based on my brochure seemed to be skipping roughly half the stops. It still took a while though as my next stop was at the end of the chain at the Blue Lagoon beach resort.
The eponymous blue lagoon is actually the water between a number of islands up at the north end of the chain and is indeed the blue lagoon where most of both versions of the film were shot. It seemed as if the catamaran was taking a fairly circuitous route through the lagoon but as my travels over the coming days would show it’s a fairly shallow lagoon with lots of reefs and rock formations lurking. The resort itself was obviously a bit more of a traditional resort than my last digs and came out with a ~20 passenger excursion boat to pick us up. A fairly sizable group of us were disembarking and again as we came to shore a welcome part of the staff were singing a welcome and smiling ear to ear. This time however there was a delicious pineapple and berry smoothie in a champagne flute to add to the experience.
Side note on the film track of things, the island from Castaway is also in the chain and has a resort as well. How sick of Wilson jokes do you think they are?
My guidebook wasn’t wrong, the beachfront villas at the BLBR were indeed spectacular. Sadly I wasn’t in one of those. Because I’d gone a bit upmarket at this stop I was in the ‘lodge’ area which was essentially groups of side by side rooms which reminded me a bit of some of the old cabin motels you see in the backwoods of Wisconsin/Michigan etc. They were spotless, had small patios with a bench to relax on and a pretty garden area. The bathroom was shared with the two small dorms (male/female) but it was large and had extremely good water pressure for the showers. It was perfectly pleasant, just not as magical as the Barefoot Manta experience had been. Were I to return with someone I’d probably spring for at least one of the non-beach villas.
The food however… good lord… While I still maintain the first few nights food was tasty, the Blue Lagoon’s culinary team was top notch. After settling in the newcomers all straggled in to the beachfront restaurant and I found myself with a table overlooking the beach at mid tide. The lunch menu was a choice of about 10 different items, all of which sounded delicious but wanting to go for something very different than the previous nights I had a chicken schnitzel, which honestly turned out to be something that made me assume the chef had trained in the us at one point because while it was delicious and lightly fried… it was served with a peppery gravy very reminiscent of something you’d have with chicken fried chicken. There was always a pie of the day at lunch too which was always popular with the aussies/kiwis. Breakfasts were a full continental as well as your choice of various hot breakfasts including eggs benedict, pancakes in the usual or the asian way, full english breakfast and so on. All of this was great; however…
Dinners were at another level. I would have loved to experience the full cycle they no doubt have in place but while I was there we had a curry night where the tables of four got what seemed like half an east india company buffet dropped off at the their table. My solo dinner was a giant tray with 4 kinds of curry, naan, salad, fruit and pickle, and that was AFTER one of the best dal soups I’ve ever had. Another night was just a six course meal with multiple choice for each course because why not.
The vibe at this place was a strange but pleasant one. You definitely got a sense that some of the guests were high roller-ish, but at the same time they’re rubbing shoulders with backpackers (though admittedly not the absolute low budget backpackers.) There was also a more sizable Canadian contingent during my stay, half made up of one large extended family with three generations there. I’ll also admit to feeling like I stuck out a bit more at this resort as a solo traveller around 40. While I’m still happy to have a good chat with the backpacking crowd there’s definitely more of a gulf there than when I was doing my grand travels a decade ago. Anyway, after that first lunch I quickly went and changed into swim gear, grabbed my ebook and found a spot on the edge of the beach. It was a very hot afternoon that I spent in and out of the water, soaking up some rays and marvelling at the fact that I could see ten feet down in the water from well on shore. It’s really hard to convey just how magical the water is here… pictures are startling but still don’t do it justice.
Day two dawned early as I was catching the first dive boat out to a site that I’d heard was phenomenal. The dive shop at the BLBR actually serves a number of the surrounding resorts and I was buddied up with an older lady who was staying at the Turtle Island resort nearby. I remembered reading in my guidebook that it was the ultimate of fancy pants and also where a lot of blue lagoon stuff was filmed and she confirmed that it was completely over the top but her husband liked to travel fancy. Looking it up later I found that their smallest villa costs per night what my entire 7 day island trip cost… must be nice.
The dive site (BONZAI!) was surprisingly far out west given that there’s not much in that direction but Australia. I guess the shelf continues out a fair way because when we went under the surface I discovered a beautiful reef face, coral everywhere and an abundance of Anenomefish poking their noses out to fend off us intruders. It was a beautiful spot but honestly that first section of the reef was the highlight, especially with the lovely visibility. The others on the boat had been diving all week (this resort has a ‘dive all you can for a week’ package available that I am sorely tempted to return and do as it’s a ridiculous bargain) and had been dealing with less than great viz the previous few days due to all the rain so I guess my timing was good. My only annoyance was that my breath control wasn’t great on this particular dive and I had to surface a bit early but my companions assured me I’d caught the best of the views. I decided to skip the second dive that day and just snorkel as there were some other (paid) activities I wanted to catch as well during the trip so pacing my diving was best. Thinking back now I’m also glad I hadn’t chosen to do both when my breath control was bad on the first one just in case it was an asthma thing I wasn’t noticing and would have been as bad again.
One thing I haven’t mentioned about the place is the sheer volume of crabs everywhere. There are various types of fiddler crabs almost everywhere you look and spots where they’ve burrowed everywhere else. Tiny little white almost ghostly crabs are near impossible to see but scurry everywhere around the beach. Peak crab happened to me at dinner that night when as I was eating my seafood curry I noticed a little boy looking at my feet most intently but before I could look under the table something pointy scuttled across my foot and I jumped before I saw him cruise over to another table. The following night there was a shriek from the restaurant restroom and a woman ran out and said there were four of them around the ladies toilet snapping their claws. A bunch of them even ended up in the swimming pool one night until one of the staff pulled them out… I didn’t notice if they were set free or taken to the kitchen 😉
The following morning was another early start as the trip to the Saw-I-Lau caves set out from the dive shop at around 8:30 and I needed some Eggs Benedict first. I wasn’t the only one. Originally I’d been glad I signed up for the cave early but I guess interest was such that they decided to take two boats. We set out north to Sawa-I-Lau island and in the process got a view of Yasawa Island itself which is the northernmost in the chain and has a couple actual settlements, some roads and a tiny airport. The cave island is owned by the local tribes and visits are controlled, most of the caves are off limits but the spectacular flooded cave we visited is not.
The caves are tall and echoing limestone caverns filled with a mix of salt and fresh water. Formed underwater and thrust aboveground by tectonic movement they’re beyond picturesque though annoyingly my waterproof camera was acting up. We disembarked at a small beach and splashed through some absolutely gorgeous warm waves to reach a small staircase. I was honestly expecting a more substantial climb but the cave entrance was only about 30 feet up followed by an immediate drop down and some very low rocks over the steps. Leaving our sandals (and phones for most) behind we splashed down into the deep clear cave into water that while not at all cold by home standards was a bit of a shock after the warm seas we’d just left.
The first cavern is about 1/3 open to the sky but far far above which combined with the foliage makes for almost mystical streams of light descending to the water’s surface. There is something almost alien about the scene, the pitted and smooth rock walls shimmer in the reflections off the water and the sounds of human visitors echoing strangely over and over. The other neat part of the adventure came after as our guides showed us a swimthrough that the braver among us ducked under and swam 10 feet or so towards a waving flashlight and surfaced in a new dark section of the caves.
As we collected those brave enough to do the swim-through we eventually got to venture deeper into the blackness until we found the one spot of light, a narrow well apparently called the spitting cave because a drop of water from it will apparently echo throughout the cave. I can believe it after spending half an hour in the inky blackness and it was incredibly neat.
Less fun was the fact that it really felt like the guides should have been more forceful about making people who needed them wear life jackets. We were warned that you’d need to be comfortable treading water for quite a while but they weren’t what I’d call forceful about it. And while they eventually brought a pvc pipe floaty handhold thing through for people in the dark cave, there were a few people who were clinging to it with a forcefulness that kept submerging it. Several of the backpackers girls were very much not comfortable with the dark cave in general and probably should have just immediately returned to the light. One father there with his two kids was particularly moronic, not even being good enough at treading water to consistently keep his chin out of the water. Meanwhile myself and one of my diving companions from the day before alternated treading water or just floating on our backs and whistling for echoes.
Despite the iffy safety issues and my concern for the dumber folks it was a very neat little adventure, though I wish I’d been able to go with a smaller group. Once we’d returned to the bright side of the swim through we found the other guides had been climbing the cave walls and cliff diving for the other guests. Once of these guys was basically spiderman and had climbed almost to the roof of the cave before jackknifing down so far that it took him an absurdly long time to resurface. Eventually though we all started to get cold and made our way back to the steps where at least two people wanged their head badly on the low ceiling. At least getting warm again was as easy as throwing yourself back in the waves outside as the temps in the shallow bay were essentially bathwater.
Refueled by a tasty lunch I headed out on an afternoon dive and snorkel trip and had another gorgeous time. I saw a stingway literally the moment I put my head under the water. A massive collection of clownfish guarded one end of the reef and as we were finishing up a shark sleeping far below was startled by us and whooshed up for a closer look before high tailing it out of there. Breath control was better this time but it was also a shallower dive.
The trip ended with us killing some time snorkeling near one of the private beaches used by the cruising arm of the company that owns our resort where our guide fed some of the fish. This is ethically not the best 🙁 but honestly I think the fish in that area probably eat a ton of scraps off the boats that moor in the area anyway. There were swarms of Sergeant Majors and a whole bunch of Needlefish that arrived after and scared the former off. I’m fairly sure it was one of the latter that decided my right earlobe was a hunk of bread and repeatedly bit me until I was actually bleeding, a new experience for me. I’m going to go ahead and hope that’s the last time I’m fish food this trip.
Coincidentally my last night on the island was also the beach bbq and survivor night. The staff cooked up copious amounts of ribs, chicken, fish and beef skewers on a pit bbq on the beach. The guests mostly sat at larger tables and met new neighbours, I horrified some Brits and Australians by checking the weather back at home and finding a -45 windchill warning. As the night wound down we played survivor, which could more accurately be called ‘Fiji trivia.’ I did my best and probably personally kept us tied but the in the end it came down to drawing lots to break a tie with the other leaders and they won the free bottle of champagne. Alas… Still, as I sat on the beach watching one of the staff members spray gas onto the bonfire to get the damp logs started I looked back on my stay with incredible fondness.
The next morning was checkout time though thankfully once I got everything packed up I managed to have a little bit of snorkeling off the beach and a nice long read on the beach before the boat arrived. As previously mentioned we were at the end of the Yasawa Flyer route so we were the last stop before it turned around and headed back. The trip was mostly uneventful except for the fact that they decided to do a pickup for the day trippers at the first island rather than use their own boat as I imagine they do at busier times so they catamaran was absolutely packed to the gills for the last 20 mins of the trip. The only downside of a lovely trip otherwise.
I’d booked back into the same B&B for my one night stay back in Nadi before flying to my next destination the following morning. Unfortunately my excitement that evening was limited to finally doing laundry for the first time and grabbing one of my fave Aussie sodas from the corner store for a treat.
I am extremely thankful the weather turned for me, while the islands would have been beautiful whatever the weather the fact that the sun came out and made them the gorgeous turquoise paradise of the brochures took things to the next level. I can say without doubt that I’ll be back there some day.
Up next: Onto fiji’s other large island of Vanua Levu and Savusavu Town for more diving.