It’s been a busy year. Between overhauling the backyard (it was the landscaping project that should have been done almost 3-years ago…), the recent holiday schedule totalling to approximately 200 FTE hours (a first world problem, I know) and working overtime everywhere else in between (to afford a new venture for 2020 – more on that later) – we felt we were in desperate need for a holiday dedicated to relaxing. And were better than to kick back on a day bed, than Fiji?
I know that I have already popped in a #5 bucket list item this year, but there are no rules about double-dipping when it comes to exploring the world. Ergo, I hope you’re ready to hear about us #findingourhappy in Fiji!
The flight to Nadi Airport in Fiji was a shorter one than we expected – I guess we caught a good tailwind, because we were on Fiji time in less than 3 hours! It was about 5.45am and still dark when we arrived – the sun doesn’t rise until about 6.30/7am this time of year in Fiji.
So even by the time we had made our way out to our hotel on Denarau Island, first light had only just begun. We were greeted with peach iced tea and cold washers – which was well-welcomed as Fiji weather in November is nothing short of humid. We were funnily enough pretty jet lagged from our flight – we had originally thought flying through the night would be a great idea with the ambition to adventure around today. But a short flight, no proper sleep for over 24 hours and a 3 hour time difference definitely got the better of us! After heading to the buffet for breakfast, we found a day bed and spent the morning half-drooling into the pillows.
After a lazy Monday by the pool, we woke up on Tuesday morning feeling a little less jet-lagged and a little more energetic. Our plans for the day included a trip out to an island called Malamala – which is home to the world’s first ever Island Beach Club. A large coach bus awaited us at the entrance to our hotel, and took us to the Port Denarau Marina. From there we caught a catamaran out to the island, and arrived at paradise within the hour. A long jetty connected the boat to the island, with turquoise waters home to a spectacular coral reef beneath us. The skies were a little overcast, but even that couldn’t detract from the view.
Sitting there under our own private cabana, with a lovely staff member named Josy, bringing us fresh coconuts and Pimms – we were in our element. ‘Relaxed‘ doesn’t come close to describing it – we were in heaven. Dipping in and out of the water throughout the day, stopping only to sip from our coconuts and reiterate to each other how amazing this was, we fell in love with Malamala, and moreover – we fell in love with Fiji.
On Wednesday, we discovered a lot more to love about Fiji. We woke up early and once again made our way to the Port of Denarau – now old hats at catching boats from the marina. Boarding our much loved catamaran, we sailed out to the Mamanuca Islands, and were continuously amazed at the mountainous beauty Fiji encases on many of the islands we passed.
We spent most of the morning on an island called South Sea Island – an additional slice of paradise to the previous day’s escape. South Sea Islanders welcome you from the moment your toes touch the sand. A chorus of guitars and ukuleles sound above the gentle crashing of the blue ocean, and a Fijian man shakes the hand over every newcomer to the island.
After a quick briefing, we made our way to a small beach bure to set down our belongings. The view was breath-taking and the water was perhaps the clearest I’ve ever seen it. We had been extremely lucky to score the most perfect weathered day for a country well into their monsoonal season. We had happened to journey to the Mamanucas on a rainless day, and we could not have been more thankful to have experienced it this way.
After snorkelling out at the island’s reef edge, sun baking a little too much for our fair skin and filling our stomachs with a traditional Fijian feast – we made our way back aboard the catamaran and headed through to island-hop the rest of the Mamanucas. From Castaway Island, to Mana Island. From Beachcomber to Treasure Island – we truely took in some of the most spectacular islands I’ve ever seen. My Mr. and I both remarked on the serenity of seamlessly sailing between islands, wind on our faces, and salt spray lightly dusting our arms. It was nothing short of bliss.
On Thursday we decided to venture in the opposite direction to our beloved tropical islands of Fiji – and instead made our way into the town of Nadi (pronounced NAN-DI). We found a driver for the day (costing roughly $90 AUD) and within half an hour, our landscape had vastly changed.
We had seen a little of Nadi coming through on our way to Denarau from the Airport, but it had been dark, and in daylight, there was a lot more to take in. Where we had been staying in Denarau, is a popular destination for tourists. It’s home to a lot of westernised and Americanised hotels and therefore, attracts the large majority of tourists each year.
The transition from Nadi to Denarau is polar. From huts barely standing, to five star hotels and mansions accompanied by million-dollar yachts perched on the adjoining canal. The roads in Denarau are unbroken, complete with hedges and greenery that are expertly manicured. Whilst in Nadi, the roads are crumbling at the edges in some places and well-known banks find a store home in an old broken down ‘queenslander’.
For me, Nadi was not unexpected. I know that life in Fiji is not always palm trees and sunshine, and at its core, it is still a struggling country. But no matter how many times you may visit a country poorer than your own, it always gives you perspective. Nadi is adorned with small villages – each similar but with their own stories. We enjoyed exploring these and gaining a little insight into what it means to live in Fiji.
Our driver gave us a tour of the town, pointing out the best Fijian resturant for traditional food (Tu’s Place) and the ‘bustling’ part of town where all the night life stemmed. We then ventured out to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which derives it’s name from the silhouette of the mountains over Nadi. If you look closely, you can see the outline of a big-bellied giant sound asleep with his mouth open. And at it’s base, is an orchid jungle.
The Garden of the Sleeping Giant will cost you about $10 AUD each and is similar to a botanical garden you might find in an inner city. The garden takes you through a circuit that begins at an avenue of orchids, before directing you through lily-pad ponds and deep into a Fijian jungle. There is no time limit, and no guides. You simply take as much time as desired to walk through the gardens. There are plenty of photo opportunities, and giant swings to tame. And for those who desire a little extra challenge, there is the opportunity to climb a small mountain to a spectacular lookout over Nadi and out to it’s neighbouring Mamanuca Islands. It is however, a relatively steep climb, in a humidity this time of year that rivals Singapore – so if you’re not an avid mountain climber at home, take it easy, with plenty of breaks and don’t forget a rather large bottle of water.
When you do return from greeting the giant in the mountains, the friendly staff at the garden provide you with a cold and refreshing goodbye drink (which tastes almost like a blend of cordial undiluted and tropical juice – no complaints here!), before you leave. After our big day out in Nadi, we made our way back to the hotel, ordered some chips for a late lunch at the pool and baked a little more under the Fijian sun – grateful of this being our home-away-from-home, and with our perspectives a little more aligned than before.
Friday was an interesting day. We called it our ‘Unexpected Friday’ where nothing quite went to plan. It started with breakfast at the hotel buffet. Bacon and scrambled eggs for my Mr. and a fresh fruit medley with Bircher muesli for me. Of course, admittedly we both went back for seconds, unashamed of bringing back croissants and glazed donuts – because well, holidays!
By the time we made it back to our room, we noticed a little red light on our door handle which only turned a more angry coloured red when we attempted to use our key cards to open it. The door had been a little funny over the last few days, but it had never been all red, and had never refused to let us enter. We headed to the reception desk to request help, and after three separate attempts to reset and code new key cards – and a lot of walking to and fro (our hotel room after all was a fair distance away from the hotel lobby) – we were told to await security as the problem seemed to pertain to the door itself (which we figured).
It wasn’t too inconvenient – we were on Fiji Time after all (no hurry, no worries), but we were hoping to have booked a final day cruise out to Mana Island and were a little worried by the time we would be able to finally get into our room to grab our wallets, the tour desk would have fully booked the cruises.
After about twenty minutes or so, a security staff member appeared. He dissembled the door handle and inserted three new batteries, and finally the door let us into our apartment. Soon after, the hotel manager knocked on our door, giving us two vouchers for drinks down at the pool bar to say sorry for the inconvenience. We assured her it was fine and that we didn’t mind, however we were grateful for the vouchers.
We grabbed our wallets and headed back down to the reception to the tours desk to book in the cruise. On the way, one of the cleaners stopped us and told us she was sorry for not having already cleaned our room, but would do it soon! We smiled and thanked her and told her it was fine (we weren’t used to being fussed over!). When we got to the tours desk, we were told that all the cruises to Mana Island were fully booked until the 30th of November.
A little dismayed at not being able to go spend a day at Mana Island, we thought to pick ourselves up with a quick dip in the pool while we waited for our room to be cleaned. After a couple of hours, our room had still not been cleaned. We figured they had been busy and decided to make our way to the Port Denarau Marina to check whether there were any other cruise lines or boats headed to Mana Island, in the chance that we were perhaps not too late for this.
We caught the Bula Bus (a traditional open-sided, thatched-roof bus which makes regular rounds to the Port and each of the hotels on Denarau for $4.50 AUD per person per day – super handy!) to the Port and began to ask around. We looked at private charters, but were quick to cross that off the options list at $730 AUD per person. We double checked the cruises with the boat companies, but again, no space. We then found a cruise company offering transport there in a water taxi for $250 AUD each way, and seriously considered this until we were told that even if we had made it there, we wouldn’t have been allowed onto the island anyway as they were already at capacity.
We then changed tactics and thought if we couldn’t go to Mana Island, our next on the hit list was the Seaspray Adventure out to some of the other islands around Mana. As it happened, there was only room left for one of us – and there was no room to squeeze the other in.
We came to a dead end on every idea from there and realised that perhaps we just weren’t meant to spend Saturday out on the ocean. Our little adventurous hearts were a little disappointed as we caught the Bula Bus back to the hotel. We had really wanted to squeeze in one more trip out to the islands – but rationalised, that no matter what we did on our last full day in Fiji, it would still feel like paradise.
When we got back to the hotel, the room had still not been cleaned – which didn’t overly bother us. It had been cleaned everyday so far. We didn’t need it done. But within a few minutes of crashing on our bed, a cleaner knocked at our door to tell us she will be cleaning it shortly. We decide to head down to the pool bar to redeem our drinks and grab something to eat while she cleans.
Arriving to the bar, each of the options we select were unavailable. No moscato, no ciders, no cheese and bacon snack pies – we couldn’t help but laugh as we ordered alternative options, Friday just wasn’t really going to plan. Sipping on Pina Colada’s by the pool on a comfy day bed, we complied a list of things that had not worked out today and laughed at ourselves for being disheartened by it.
Trust us to book a relaxing holiday, and then absolutely freak out when there is one day where doing nothing is our only option!
Finally, our room was clean and we returned to the suite. As we lay on our beds, a small brochure caught my Mr.’s eye and within a few minutes he coyly started to tap away on his phone. Suspicious of his silence and intense devotion to his phone, I asked him what he was doing. “It’s a surprise…” was his only response.
I waited impatiently for the next ten minutes until he finally revealed his mischievous actions – he’d booked us in on a last minute cruise to Tivua Island for tomorrow knowing my adventurous self would perhaps have not been able to sit still for the day. I was grinning ear to ear as we caught the Bula Bus back down to the Port for dinner – happier than I expected that finally something had worked out.
Seated at a ocean-front table out of the deck at Cardo’s Restaurant, we had front row seats to a purple painted sky with pink clouds as decoration – it was dream-like to say the least. As we watched the sun sink further behind the horizon, and the candy-colours fade from the skies, we realised that just maybe… Friday, you really weren’t so bad after all.
Arriving to the Marina again early on Saturday morning, we boarded a large sail boat set for Tivua Island. My Mr. and I were welcomed with a cold drink stepping onto the boat and found our way to the front of ship to set beneath the sail. It was slightly over cast, but just as warm as if the sun had of been out in full shine.
The sail boat was a lot slower than the catamarans we had been on for the last couple of day trips, so while Tivua Island was not located far off the coast of Denarau, it still took us about 2 hours to make it to the small island.
A long jetty stretched out before us as we pulled up, with a small palm tree island in view at it’s end. Setting foot onto the sand was a frenzy as we were ushered towards the middle of the island for lunch. The open bar was the hub of the island, like a watering hole, with many people choosing to stay here most of the day.
Grabbing a cold drink, my Mr. and I moved away to the edge of the island to settle down under a small grass bure. We snorkelled out along the break, spotting plenty of reef sharks and some coral transplant projects, before making our way back to shore. In the afternoon before it was time to leave, we had the chance to feed some baby black tip reef sharks who were no bigger than the length of my forearm. It was actually one of the best moments of the trip, these little guys were the cutest – who would have thought I’d ever have a soft spot for sharks…
Sailing back to the marina was a noisy trip with credit to the open bar at the island and a little one too many drinks for many, but the air was filled with happiness. It took a little longer than the trip over as the winds were set against us, but it was timed perfectly at sunset and as my Mr. and I stared out to the shoreline, there was a sense of serenity. It was a good way to end our last full day in Fiji.
The morning of our last day in Fiji came around quickly, and we sadly re-packed our half-empty suitcases (seriously, tropical holidays are the best…togs, snorkels and beach dresses!). Delivering our suitcases to reception for safe keeping during the day, we head to the buffet breakfast at the resort restaurant for one last time.
With just a little over four hours to kill before jumping back aboard our flight home, we decide to wrap up Fiji with a round of mini-golf. I have to admit, I am usually really good at Mini-golf. Like, an average of 3 hole-in-ones per game – what can I say… I have a gift (legitimately won the “Hole-in-one” award at grade 5 camp for this phenomenon).
But this game was not my usual shining performance. And after laughing at my insanely bad hits, and my Mr. insisting for me to have another go only to do a lot worse the second try – It was agreed that this game, although strongly enjoyed, would be omitted from my golfing history. We laughed ourselves all the way back through Nadi and to the airport, where we boarded out sunset flight back to Australia.
From our plane’s window seat, we lovingly said goodbye to Fiji and it’s beauty – each silently promising to be back soon.
Fiji, you were a dream.
#5: Travel somewhere new once a year – Check (again)!