Sunday, March 22, 2015

1MB Travels: Fiji: Adventure Flashpacking - Day 1: Yasawa Islands

Fiji is just a relatively short 10 hour flight from LA  We were due to arrive at Nadi International at 6am, and from there had a tight schedule to get to Denarau Marina, on the northwest side of the main island, in order to catch *the only* boat that day headed for the Yasawa islands at 8:30am.

Luckily, our flight arrived early, in time to catch a free shuttle supplied by the boat company.  

One hour later, just past 8am, we checked our bags and hopped onto the bright yellow Yasawa Flyer, which was to take us on a 4.5 hour trip around the Mamanuca and Yasawas islands.

Though the journey is long, the Yasawa Flyer is great for first time visitors, as you get to check out all the major islands / resorts along the way.  (Another option is to travel by seaplane.  Look for my upcoming post for a more detailed recap on research on Getting Around Fiji!)

Our favorite from afar was Beachcomber island - a perfect, cozy disc of an island, rimmed by white sand, underneath the bluest sky, sun-kissed sea, white clouds, palm trees.
But, Beachcomber's reputation is as a place for the hard partying crowd, so on we went towards the more remote and serene northern Yasawas.

We passed Octopus Resort as well, said to be tied for the best resort in the Yasawas besides Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, where we were going to stay.  But, we had to consider that Octopus was too far south to allow for a visit to the Sawa-i-Lau limestone cave, one of the key stops for our visit.

Blue Lagoon (yep, where they filmed that Brooke Shields movie), at Nacula island, is one of the last stops.

The main yellow boat has a very efficient drop-off/ pickup system: at every stop, instead of taking time to dock - they stay in open water, and resorts send smaller speedboats up, in order to collect incoming guests and their luggage on one side, while on the other outbound guests embark for their return trip.  The Yasawa Flyer is apparently also the main source for supplies for resorts - along with our bags they also loaded produce and other items onto the speedboat.

(Like many other islands here, there are typically only 2-5 resorts on each small island - hence the single boat per day.)
As our boat pulled up, resort staff were lined up and broke out in song to welcome us.

A fresh tropical juice blend served as welcome 'bula' drinks.
After a quick orientation, we were led to our beachfront bure (bungalow).  We had found the best price on Agoda.  Like most resorts in the Mamanucas and Yasawas, one resort offered multiple levels of accommodations: for backpackers and low budget travelers, there were shared dorms that sleep 4-8 with shared bathrooms (just $43 USDpp/night!).  Lodge Rooms sleep two but also share bathrooms with the dorms ($80 USD /night) For a little bit more per night, you could get a garden view bungalow with private bathroom (~$200 USD/ night).

Top of the line rooms were premium beach front bungalows, literally on the sand just steps away from the water - and we found a deal for $288.50 USD per night total including tax!  Try to get that pricing in Hawaii for a room on the sand?!

And it was worth the 'splurge': with these rooms you are not only so close to the water you can hear the waves through the windows, you also get a private hammock, and reserved lounge chairs under a cabana.

A requirement for me was a private bathroom, and these bures came with outdoor showers (it took a modest prude  traveler some time to adjust to this, but once you did you definitely feel 'one' with nature!)

The rooms are ceiling fan cooled, so it can get a bit hot, but we were excited to just be in the Yasawas (a Fijian word that literally translates to heaven).

After some quick hammock time, it was time to speed walk to the resort's restaurant to catch lunch.
In the Yasawas, resort restaurants have mandatory meal plans with set per person pricing that they charge to your room.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at set times - with snacks in between - and you can't just walk up and order whenever you want.  This is the tradeoff for being remote - resorts have to be able to plan their supplies carefully, after all they only get one boat a day with supplies from the main island.  But luckily Blue Lagoon Beach Resort is said to have some of the best food in the Yasawas, and it lived up to its reputation!

For our first day lunch, there was a short menu of options including burgers to cater to picky eaters, and one dish that immediately jumped out to us foodies looking for local fare: Lolo (mahi mahi fish in coconut cream with cassava).  I normally find mahi mahi too tough and dry, but this was perfectly cooked: tender and juicy, with a delicious coconut cream sauce that we wanted to lick off the plate.

Another resort convenience is activities coordination: there's always options for each day, posted as blackboard specials - and you can choose to engage as much or as little as you wish.

For the first day we took it easy - easy to do as the Blue Lagoon is known for its beautiful beach and soft coral diving accessible right from the resort!  With our own snorkel gear ready to go - we dipped in for a quick look around, swimming with fish and great visibility (20 feet?) in clear waters before taking a much needed nap.

After a long travel day, it was nice letting the sounds of the ocean lull you to sleep.
Getting up for Happy Hour, we made our way to the bar for super touristy island drinks (what's a tropical vacation without them?).

Alcoholic drinks are the only things not included in mandatory meal plans, but the drinks are very reasonably priced.

The Pina Colada ($16 Fiji ~$8 USD) was on point.
I did attempt to ask for something local - and our friendly server said he would make me something off menu.  What came back was this lovely Bula (Fijian term used in the way Hawaiians use  'Aloha') drink - with ingredients that would go into a white Russian ($16 Fiji ~$8 USD).  But everything tasted super fresh and perfect for a hot day on the beach.
We did get a taste of the very distinctly Fijian drink just a little while later, when two staffers set up a mini kava ceremony for guests.

Kava, made from the root of the yaqona plant found in the western pacific, is dried and pounded into a powder, then strained with water to create a drink that has sedative and anesthetic properties.  Traditionally, it was used to welcome guests - bringing two groups of people together - and a requisite gift when paying villages a visit - but is also consumed at all times of day.

Kava is served in a large freestanding wooden bowl, scooped out with a half coconut shell and passed around the circle of guests.  You get to choose 'high tide' (full cup) or 'low tide' (half cup).  As a first timer we went for low tide.  You clap once with hollowed hands, yell 'bula!', drink the entire shell's worth of liquid in one go, then clap three more times and say 'moce' (mo-they, which means goodbye).

It looks like muddy water, and tastes like it, with a slight bitterness that gives way to a numbing of the tongue.  I did feel a bit sleepy after.  Definitely an acquired taste - but we could see why it would be so beloved for its natural ability to help people relax, and its unifying powers as a social 'ice breaker'. 

With the kava starting to take effect, we were in 'chill' mode for the gorgeous watercolored sunset over the beach.
And before we knew it, it was time for dinner.

This first night, it was a set meal - a platter of fried octopus, calamari, grilled shrimp on skewers, mussels in coconut milk, and various veggies with rice.

With that wrapped a relaxing first day in Fiji!  Stay tuned for a recap of Day 2.


Yasawa Flyer
Shuttle boat from Denarau Marina, Viti Levu to Mamanucas and Yasawa island groups
Ph: +679 675 0499

Blue Lagoon Beach Resort
Nacula Island, Yasawas
Ph: +64 3 442 9998

Day 1 costs breakdown:
  • Shuttle from airport to Denarau Marina courtesy of Yasawa Flyer: $0
  • Yasawa Flyer from Denarau to resort: $170 Fiji (~$85 USD pp, 20% tax already included)
  • Beachfront Bure: $577 USD for two nights, total prepaid via Agoda (~$288.50 per night tax included)
  • Mandatory meal plan: $99 Fiji per person (~$49.50 USD pp / day, 20% tax already included)
  • Drinks: $64 Fiji total (~$32 USD for 4 drinks, 20% tax already included)
  • Kava (free activity at resort): $0
  • Total: ~$295 USD per person 

(See my recaps for Day 2 here, Day 3 here, Day 4 here and Day 5 here)

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