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Yasawa Islands

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The Yasawa Islands are the definition of the “tropical paradise” fantasy that travellers pursue when visiting the South Pacific. Powdery white sand beaches, pristine turquoise water, colourful coral reefs just offshore, coconut trees, jungly interiors, hammocks, cocktails and restrained development. Why would anyone ever want to leave? Well, Wifi access is pretty rubbish – so watching the second episode of Game of Thrones Season 8 was truly a nightmare. And I certainly didn’t lay eyes on hummus in the Yasawas. Complaints aside (despite their legitimacy), I had a brilliant, relaxing, though somewhat energetic week in the island group. Isolated from fast or functioning internet connections, I was remarkably productive in writing 3 (rambling) blog entries and finishing a book – which I never do in Melbourne! Michael Palin’s Full Circle around the Pacific Rim is a superb read and inspired me to dream up another long, ambitious global trek… or 10!

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The Yasawas are easily accessed from Nadi by ferry, which weaves between a string of a dozen or so islands from south to north. Accommodation choices range from homestays in small villages to resorts with varying standard levels, though a commonality is that they’re normally quite small (less than 50 guests). The islands generally consist of just one resort, so the beaches are sparsely crowded. I hopped between three islands in the Yasawas, with each providing quite different experiences.

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My first destination was Barefoot Manta Island Resort on Daraqawa Island. Upon disembarking the motorboat taking passengers to the shore, we were welcomed with a lovely song by the staff and ample expressions of “BULA!” The staff have successful cultivated a personable environment at Barefoot Manta, as they all seemed to know my name instantly after I checked-in (I only endeavoured to remember “Ann”, because her name was super easy). The resort (which has a capacity for only around 40 guests) and attached staffing quarters constitute the only settlement on the island. The resort occupies the only flat section on the island, a peninsula in the north, and as such has access to three beaches. The thatch “bures” (small, detached, beachside rooms), outdoor bathroom facilities and open-air, wooden communal building are set within lush grounds of coconut trees and hibiscus bushes. I stayed in a 4-bed dorm in one of the thatch bures overlooking the eastern beach, which was regularly pummelled by wind. I actually rather enjoyed the simplicity of the bure, with its “back to nature” vibe. I swam at least twice a day in the clear water, admiring the coral and fish (although it wasn’t particularly abundant). I also kayaked around most of the island and discovered snorkelling areas with coral more vivid than the reefs fronting the resort. I joined a trio of Fijian vacationers and Brazilian Lili scaling the island’s hills for fantastic views of the surrounding islands. Lili determinedly brought Latino dancing to the Yasawas, teaching Swedish Amanda and I the Samba: her “best students ever!”

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I next caught a boat to Nanuya Lailai in the north of the island group. The island is famous for the Blue Lagoon, supposedly the prettiest stretch of coast in the island chain. I actually lodged on the opposite side of the island at Sunrise Homestay for a slightly different accommodation option to the resorts. A Fijian family have converted their spacious property into effectively a hostel, with two small buildings consisting of dormitories to allow for nearly 20 guests to stay. It was certainly a comparatively rugged experience, with electricity available for just 3 hours in the evenings, no Wifi, simple showers and toilets and very muddy tracks between the buildings. But it provided all that was needed while staying in tropical paradise - the lack of electricity encouraging you to disconnect from the web, wake or sleep in accordance with the sun's movements and embrace "Fiji Time". Sunrise Homestay i located on an unspoiled stretch of beach buffeted by wind and with views to neighbouring islands. At low tide, it is possible to circumnavigate the island, crossing rocky beaches, sauntering past the calm waters of the Blue Lagoon and eventually trudging through deep mud in the mangroves. The homestay family were rather quirky, especially the septuagenarian patriarch who would sit with guests in the communal dining area at meals to announce the day's activities, tell stories and play Uno (Sunrise Homestay rules), or on a platform during the day to watch over the guests on the beach.

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Octopus Resort on Waya Island was my final abode in the Yasawas. While not strictly a luxury resort, Octopus definitely felt as such in comparison to my previous lodgings. The dormitory is among the most comfortable I have ever stayed in and even featured air-conditioning! The sleek, concrete buildings pivot around a glittering pool. The expansive decking, with various forms of chairs, lounges, beanbags and hammocks, would be the envy of any home-owning Aussie bloke. The food served was rather decadent: for example, my first dinner was a five-course meal. After initially being wowed by the comparative comfort, I eventually decide that Octopus isn’t really my scene. The resort lacked authenticity and the vibe of living on a remote tropical island - it was more like a "Western bubble" experience. Nevertheless, Waya Island is the most beautiful island I visited in Fiji. Octopus Resort is located on a long, pristine, coconut fringed beach with turquoise water in the foreground and verdant hills in the background. The snorkelling is excellent, with large schools of fish and coral emitting an almost neon-white glow. I hiked to the top of one of the island's hills through very thick foliage and along a tremendously muddy trail for panoramic views of the area. Overall, a fantastic location, but I was satisfied with spending less time at Octopus than Barefoot Manta and the homestay.

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On the islands, you are essentially entrapped into eating food at your accommodation. The resorts even enforce overly expensive and unnecessary meal plans ($80 a day), which typically include a buffet breakfast, lunch item off a menu and a three course dinner or lovo buffet. Lovo is the traditional feasting style of the Fijian people, with food wrapped in banana leaves (often weaved into the shape of baskets) and cooked for many hours in underground ovens. Pork, chicken and large specimens of fish are typically cooked in the lovo, along with myriad root vegetables (potato, sweet potato, taro, cassava) and eggplant. The feasts are complete with salads, rice and fruit. Conversely, food at the homestay was rather limited and unsatisfying. Breakfasts of banana cake, bread and fruit (no protein!) and lunches of rice, fried taro and either fish or stewed sausages (mass produced, hot dog-like sausages are very popular in Fiji). Desserts in Fiji are mostly Western dishes, although they do prepare a very tasty variation of cassava cake, sometimes flavoured with banana or pineapple.

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While it might lack the remote solitude and mesmerising reefs of Kadavu and Taveuni, if you’re after easily accessible tropical paradise in Fiji with the country’s driest weather, then the Yasawa Islands are an excellent option. I was very pleased with my choices of accommodation because they were each situated in beautiful locations and provided quite different insights. Barefoot Manta was certainly my favourite, as it offers an appealing balance of sufficient resort-style comfort while clearly maintaining the sense of residing on a tropical island within nature. Overall, Fiji was an excellent destination for my two-week Easter break and reinvigorated my interest to visit other South Pacific Islands countries.

That’s all for now,

Liam

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Posted by Liamps 13:53 Archived in Fiji

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