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After 7 nights of “roughing it” in Tonga and Samoa, I was longing for all the comforts of a 5-Star resort. Fluffy pillows, A/C, hi-speed internet, TV and the all-important hair dryer were calling my name. And after a quick 90 minute flight from Apia, Samoa to Nadi, Fiji, I was back in the land of the South Pacific tourist machine.
I’d been to Fiji once before, on RTW #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 barely left the hotel’s beach during my 2-night stay. Yet, I still claimed to have been to Fiji. Turns out, I hadn’t even come close.
On this trip I was determined to get off the main island of Viti Levu to the outer islands of the Mamanacas and Yasawas – what I’d heard was the real Fiji – the stuff of idyllic South Pacific travel brochures. I hoped that was true as on my last visit I hadn’t seen anything close to the pictures I’d seen of Fiji, what I had envisioned as a true South Pacific paradise. I mean, yes, it was a decent beach with beautiful sunsets – but I honestly didn’t see what the fuss was all about.
Home base for my 3-night stay in Fiji was the lovely Westin Denarau Island – and I’d never been so excited to see a Westin Heavenly Bed. After dropping my luggage in the room, I headed back down to the tour desk in the lobby to get some expert help sorting out the dozens of island excursion options I’d researched online before arrival.
The Yasawa Islands were the farthest away and I knew that would require a full-day trip but the Mamanuca chain was closer and had a few half-day options. The resorts at each of the possible island stopovers all looked equally stunning, so I had trouble deciding between them (but I was pretty sure I couldn’t go wrong).
Taking the advice of my tour desk agent, I eventually settled on a full-day trip out to the Yasawa Islands with a 4-hour stop at the Octopus Resort on Waya Island for lunch and snorkeling for Day 1. And then a half-day trip of cruising around the islands of the Mamanucas for Day 2, both booked with South Sea Cruises. Satisfied with my 2-day itinerary, I headed 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 acclaimed for their sandy white beaches and crystal clear lagoons. Though there are resorts catering to all interests and budgets, the Yasawas are world famous as a backpacker destination with a number of resorts providing basic accommodation to the younger set. You can easily spend a week or more bouncing from island to island at different resorts and the local tour companies can arrange the entire itinerary including boat transfers.
My boat for the day departed from the Denarau Marina just minutes from the Westin and was packed full of travelers headed to any number of island resorts. When I booked my day-trip, I opted for an “upgrade” to the Captain’s Lounge which included 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 turned out to be an excellent decision as I headed straight for the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin upstairs while other passengers searched for any available seat on the various decks.
Heading out to the Yasawas, the boat makes a number of stops to drop-off/pick-up passengers at a variety of gorgeous island resorts along the way. Our first stop was 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 would shuttle passengers to and from the ferry boat as we sat offshore.
After 3 stops in quick succession, we headed out into open water bound for the Yasawas. Two and a half hours after departing Denarau, we pulled up to Waya Island and the idyllic Octopus Resort, my stop for the day.
I hopped into the jetty with about a dozen other passengers actually staying at the resort (I suddenly wished I were one of them). We were greeted on shore by cheerful resort staff bearing wide smiles and fruity drinks and I knew immediately this was my kind of place. 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 was given a quick overview of the resorts’ amenities and what was available to me (which was almost everything – a nice surprise) and quickly staked my claim to a beachside lounge chair for the afternoon…total bliss.
I did a little snorkeling in the reef just offshore and enjoyed an excellent seafood lunch before heading back to my boat around 3pm. I made it back to the hotel just in time for another spectacular sunset. It was an absolutely perfect day in paradise and I couldn’t wait to go out again the next day.
Day 2 – The Mamanucas
For today’s trip I had decided to forgo the beach time and focus on seeing as many of the islands as I could. 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 Island where the movie “Castaway” was filmed.
Throughout the morning, as we stopped at each resort, the guests disembarking were welcomed in song by enthusiastic, smiling staff members. And the resorts were all so beautiful, I was longing to get off the boat and stay awhile…maybe next time. For the most part, each island caters to a different crowd – some to families with children, others to couples and still others to singles.
After a full morning of island-hopping through the Mamanucas, it was time to return to Denarau for an afternoon poolside at the Westin. It was a fantastic morning but I think the next time I come back I will definitely stick with the full day options where I can hop off the boat and enjoy the islands a bit.
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 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.
Now I’m on to my last stop on this Oceania adventure, Brisbane & the Gold Coast!