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Fluffy pillows, A/C, hi-speed internet, TV and the all-important hair dryer are calling my name. And after a quick 90 minute flight from Apia, Samoa to Nadi, Fiji, I’m back in the land of the South Pacific tourist machine.
I’ve been to Fiji once before, on Round the World #2. It was the last stop on a particularly arduous trip and – to be frank – I was exhausted by the time I got there. And as a result, I barely left the hotel’s beach during my 2-night stay. Yet, I still claimed I’d been to Fiji.
Turns out, I hadn’t even come close.
On this trip I’m determined to get off the main island of Viti Levu to the outer islands of the Mamanacas and Yasawas – what I’ve heard is the real Fiji – the stuff of idyllic South Pacific travel brochures.
I hope that’s true since I didn’t see anything close to the dreamy pictures I’ve seen of Fiji on my last visit. Certainly not what I envisioned as a true South Pacific paradise.
I mean, sure, it was a decent beach with beautiful sunsets – but I honestly didn’t see what the fuss was all about.
The Westin Denarau Island
Home base for my 3-night stay in Fiji is the lovely Westin Denarau Island and I have truly never been so excited to see a Westin Heavenly Bed.
After dropping my luggage in the room, I head back down to the tour desk in the lobby. I need some expert help sorting out the dozens of island excursion options.
Yasawas or Mamanucas?
The Yasawa Islands are the furthest away and I know that a trip there will require a full day. However, the Mamanuca chain is closer and has a few half-day options available.
The resorts at each of the possible island stopovers all look equally stunning. I have some trouble deciding between them (but I’m also pretty sure I can’t go wrong!).
With some helpful advice from the tour desk agent, I eventually settle on a full-day trip out to the Yasawa Islands for Day 1. The trip has a 4-hour stop at the Octopus Resort on Waya Island for lunch and snorkeling.
For Day 2, I book a half-day trip of cruising around the islands of the Mamanucas. Both day trips are booked with South Sea Cruises.
Satisfied with my 2-day itinerary, I head to the hotel’s bar just in time for a sunset cocktail and the nightly Fijian fire dance show.
Day 1 – The Yasawa Islands
The remote Yasawa Island group consists of a chain of 20 ancient volcanic islands. These picture-perfect islands are widely acclaimed for their sandy white beaches and crystal clear lagoons.
There are resorts catering to all interests and budgets in the Yasawas. However, this particular island group is also a world famous as a backpacker destination. A number of resorts in the Yasawas provide basic accommodation to the younger set looking for a lively beach atmosphere.
You can easily spend a week or more bouncing from island to island at different resorts. And local tour companies can arrange the entire itinerary including all necessary boat transfers.
My boat for the day departs from the Denarau Marina just minutes from the Westin. It’s packed full of travelers headed to any number of island resorts.
The Captain’s Lounge Upgrade
When I booked my day-trip, I opted for an “upgrade” to the Captain’s Lounge which includes snacks and drinks for the day. It was only $15 extra and my general rule of thumb is that any upgrade that can be had for less than $50 is a no-brainer.
This turns out to be an excellent decision. Once on board, I head straight for the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin upstairs. Other passengers seek out any available seat on the boat’s various decks.
Heading out to the Yasawas, our boat makes a number of stops along the way. Each time, we drop-off and pick-up passengers at a variety of gorgeous island resorts and it’s a great opportunity to check them all out.
Our first stop is South Sea Island, followed by Bounty Island and the infamous Beachcomber Island (known to backpackers the world-over as Fiji’s “party island”).
Most of these islands are so tiny they don’t even have docks. So at each stop small jetties shuttle passengers to and from the ferry boat as we sit just offshore.
Waya Island – The Octopus Resort
After 3 stops in quick succession, we head out into open water bound for the Yasawas.
Two and a half hours after departing Denarau, we arrive at Waya Island and the idyllic Octopus Resort, my stop for the day.
I hop into the jetty with about a dozen other passengers who are actually staying at the resort (I suddenly wish I was one of them). We are greeted on shore by cheerful resort staff bearing wide smiles and fruity drinks.
I know immediately this is my kind of place!
The island is just-absolutely-stunning. The kind of place that makes you pinch yourself because you can’t believe it’s actually real.
Being the only “day-tripper” I am given a quick overview of the resorts’ amenities. They explain what is available to me (which is almost everything – a nice surprise). Then, I quickly stake my claim to a beachside lounge chair for the afternoon. It’s total bliss.
I do a little snorkeling in the reef just offshore and later enjoy an excellent seafood lunch at the restaurant.
Sadly, around 3pm it’s time to head back to my boat for the ride back to Denarau. I make it back to the Westin just in time for another spectacular sunset.
It’s the perfect end to an absolutely wonderful day in paradise. I can’t wait to go out again tomorrow to see more.
Day 2 – The Mamanucas
For today’s trip I decided to forgo the beach time and focus on seeing as many of the islands as I can.
Of the two island groups, the Mamanucas offer superior diving and more luxurious, larger resort options than the Yasawas. This island group is also home to Modriki (also called Monuriki) Island where the movie “Castaway” was filmed.
Throughout the morning, as we stop at each resort, the disembarking guests are welcomed in song by enthusiastic, smiling staff members. And the resorts are all so beautiful, I’m longing to get off the boat and stay awhile.
Maybe next time!
For the most part, each island caters to a different crowd. Some islands cater primarily to families with children, others to couples, and still others to singles.
After a full morning of island-hopping through the Mamanucas, it’s time to return to Denarau for an afternoon of poolside lounging at the Westin.
It’s been a fantastic morning exploring the Mamanucas. However, the next time I come back I will definitely stick with the full day options. They just give you so much more time to hop off the boat and enjoy the islands a bit.
Wrapping up a fabulous few days in Fiji
I’m so glad I decided to return to Fiji on this trip instead of considering it checked off the list after my last visit.
The main island of Viti Levu in Fiji is similar to the main island of Tahiti in that you haven’t really seen the country until you’ve left it.
I’d like to return to Fiji someday and plan an itinerary that includes staying on several of the tiny islands for a few days each. I can’t imagine a vacation (or a honeymoon!) more fantastic.
I’m happy to say that I’ve finally found the paradise that truly is Fiji – and you can bet I’ll be back for more.