I’m going to start by saying, capturing the unbelievable beauty of Fiji with words would be near impossible. This is easily the most relaxing, yet fun adventure I have been on yet and I can confidently say that I will be back here someday (hopefully soon) to finish exploring the rest of the islands & to say a big BULA to those I’ve met so far!
My week began at Smuggler’s Cove, a popular hostel for people to stop at while traveling between the islands and the airport. I had heard this beach wasn’t so good from reading the reviews, but when I arrived, I was in already in awe—I loved it! Sure, the hostel wasn’t as glamorous as one may wish, but what do you expect for $10 a night? Outdoors, there was a restaurant on the deck surrounded by a few swimming pools and obviously a front row seat to the beach. I was here pretty late in the day, so I took a walk down the beach to watch the sunset and then headed back to Smuggler’s Cove for dinner. Then came the entertainment: Men oiled up and wearing traditional Fijian clothing danced to beats at the sand pit in between the dinner tables and afterward some women came out and did a few songs as well. Then, we followed the men to the beach for the grand finale. They stood in a line in the water twirling the fire sticks until they lit an actual wave on fire. It rolled all the way into the beach until being smoldered in the sand.
The next morning, I woke up early to walk down the beach and watch the sunrise. Three stray dogs ran up to me and obviously I set down all of my things to pet them, as any decent human being would. However, I unfortunately left one item lying in the sand: my room key. I didn’t notice this was missing until 5 minutes before I needed to board a bus. $50 FJD later to make up for the lock replacements and I was on my way to Port Denarau.
My first priority upon arriving at Port Denarau was COFFEE. After getting a latte, checking into the admin office and tagging my luggage, I was ready to board the boat.
“You look better now.”
“What?” I said looking up at the guy checking my ticket.
“You just looked really tired before. You look better now.”
So, my morning was clearly off to a great start; shoutout coffee for reviving me.
South Sea Island
My ride was only about 30 minutes long as my destination, South Sea Island, was the first stop. I hopped off onto a little speed boat with about 10 other locals and coasted to the shore. Since my luggage was MIA, I had to hop back on the speedboat and jump on the next big boat of people cruising by to identify it. As we pulled up to the little island, we were greeted by a group of locals singing the Fijian Welcome Song that ended with a big BULA (meaning hello/welcome). This entire week, it was almost impossible to walk past someone without hearing a happy Bula. In fact, I once walked from my hut to the reception area (a two minute walk) and heard this phrase a hefty 8 times! It was impossible not to smile back.
South Sea Island was the smallest island of all of them and you could walk around the entire perimeter of it in a mere four minutes. There were only about five other travelers staying on the island with me, but there were about 100 day trippers who were occupying the island until late afternoon. The paddleboards, kayaks and snorkels were all up for grabs to use throughout our entire stay, but I opted for something a little different: a submarine. I climbed into the submarine with about 10 other people and coasted along the outskirts of the island, seeing tons of colorful fish, blue starfish, bright coral and even some reef sharks patrolling the area. These little guys are nothing to fret about, as they’re too tiny to think of us as a food source.
After this excursion, we enjoyed a buffet-style lunch (which I ended up getting very familiar with by the end of the week) while watching some more traditional Fijian dances, like the sitting down dance. And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
After lunch, I went for a quick paddleboard ride around the island and then took a much needed nap on the beach. It was pretty late once I woke back up, so I went to watch the sunset with some of the other travelers on the island from Germany, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
At 7:00, we all went down to a long table on the beach and enjoyed a three course steak dinner with each other’s company. This was the best meal I’d had in months and it was a good opportunity to get some insight on the other islands I’d be heading to later in the week, as some people had just come back from those same spots. After dinner, we lied out on the beach watching the stars, sharing travel stories and playing with some of the other inhabitants of the island: hermit crabs. I was fully ready to spend my night sleeping out in a beach chair, but eventually dragged myself to bed.
The next morning, I woke up early to watch the sunrise per usual. The great thing about South Sea Island is that you can never be on the wrong side to watch the sun rise and set, as you can walk around the entire island with the snap of your fingers. As my friends began to wake up, we chatted over a big fresh breakfast and loads of coffee before hopping back on the boat to head off to our next destinations.
My next stop was Barefoot Kuata and I would have to say that this was my favorite island out of them all. When we first arrived, we were greeted by a man doing an indigenous dance atop one of the giant cliffs just off the coast of the island. We were then given a welcome drink and song as we checked into our oasis. The accommodation on this island was one of the best parts—I was staying in a little hut facing the ocean, which was about 20 feet away.
As I started to explore my temporary home, I literally walked into Narnia. I followed a sandy path up the edge of the island and just beyond the ferns was a tropical paradise: Bright blue swimming pools, hammocks, an insane view of the ocean & surrounding islands and a full bar. I was in literal heaven. I borrowed one of the books from the mini library here and camped out in the hammock, swinging over the gentle waves for most of the day. At sunset, I took a short hike up the back of the island to watch the sun go down from the side of the cliff. It was such a surreal moment & I could definitely see how people can live minimally on these tiny islands if they get to see views like this everyday.
After dinner, everyone on the island (some from Essex, Scandinavia, Russia and Amsterdam) gathered together to play some games with the locals before we set off to play some of our own card games equipped with nothing but the best- Fiji Gold. It was a really fun night and we even ended up getting the bartender to join in with us, while he played some of the most prime music I’ve heard in a while. Picture this: The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but a trap remix. I tried to ask him which app he used to play it, but I’m pretty sure he was just extremely deep into Google, like I’m talking some search-page-four circumstances.
Scuba-diving With Bull Sharks
After fueling up with some tropical fruit & pancakes the next morning, I decided to go back to the hammock with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I was supposed to leave this island a bit early today, but the dive shop workers kindly offered to take me over to my next destination after I was done scuba diving with the bull sharks. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. I willingly-no, I PAID- to hop into open water to feed the very sharks that are in the top three species of unprovoked attacks in Australia. And it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. We zipped up our wet suits & hopped onto a dinky speedboat for about a 10- minute ride off the island.
Once we arrived, we finished putting on the rest of our gear: fins, goggles, weight belts and air tanks, then tipped off the boat backward into the ocean. We let the two divers holding the food (giant, bloody fish heads) get about a 10 meter headstart before we descended to the floor of the ocean. Here, we crouched behind a reef wall as about 30 giant bull sharks circled around us, scouting for their lunch. We were strictly told to NOT touch the sharks, though I was extremely tempted as they swam a mere 6 inches from my face, practically slapping me with their fins. One in particular, who looked older than the rest & like he’d been hooked in the mouth before, took a special interest in me as he swam straight at me from across the open area and did a quick right turn away only once he was close enough to run into me time & time again.
We all had a bodyguard come down with us as well, suited with a rounded metal pole. This way, if a shark came too close, they would point the pole in their direction which deterred them for some reason. We were down there for about 40 minutes, watching the sharks fight over the fish heads, or chase the various Red Snappers to retrieve them, as everyone was hungry. After our air tanks began to run low, we swam up through the swarm of sharks to check out a few reefs before returning to the surface. It was here that I finally found Nemo! It was kind of funny, actually. As we approached the anemone, a few of the clownfish darted inside, as one of them (Marlin?) stayed out and watched us. He literally turned his whole body as we swam by keeping a close watch. I really felt like I’d bought a ticket to the Finding Nemo set visit.
Back in the boat, we shared some of the awesome footage (TO BE POSTED SOON) we captured with each other while identifying some of the species we couldn’t place. At the end of the day, if the bull sharks truly wanted to, they could’ve killed us all right then & there and had the best feast of their lives; the rounded pole wasn’t about to stop anyone. However, they didn’t. This dive was made to educate people on the true nature of sharks. They truly do not have it out for humans; they’re a misunderstood species and we should continue trying to protect them and their habitats.
Once I arrived back on shore, Jonah (a local) gave me a quick ride over to the next island on his speedboat, which I had all to myself.
I had heard great things from many people about Octopus Resort and how well they take care of their people. And after seeing it firsthand, I can say that this resort did not disappoint. The only downside (for me, at least) was that it was more of a family-oriented or couples retreat destination, whereas most of the other islands I’d gone to were full of young travelers to meet like myself.
Almost immediately after I checked in, I walked over to the dive shop to sign up for their Fijian Cooking Class. When I arrived at the class, I was admittedly a little disappointed to see that we would be making seafood, but then again, I should’ve suspected it. It was a small class, with only 4 other women besides myself and we took our time preparing some Fijian Kokoda. I helped to chop up some of the vegetables and shred the coconut. It was actually pretty interesting doing so, as the method for making coconut milk in Fiji was much different than the method I’d used in Bali. Instead of peeling the coconut, we straight up chopped it in half and then used a tool to scrape out the insides. Once our concoction was complete, I mustered up the power to try it and to my surprise, I absolutely loved it! If you know me at all, you know it is extremely out of character for me to even go anywhere near seafood. Therefore, this must’ve been the best of the best.
Recipe: Fijian Kokoda
- 1KG very fresh walu (Spanish mackerel/mahi-mahi)
- Juice of 10 lemons
- 2 medium sized onion, finely diced
- 1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
- 5 spring onions, finely sliced
- Small bunch of coriander (to taste)
- 1 medium sized cucumber
- 1 stalk celery
- 3 cups coconut milk
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Lime wedges to serve
- Cut the fish into 1cm cube, discarding any body tissue.
- In a bowl, mix the fish and citrus juice and chill to marinate for 2-3 hours or until the fish is opaque.
- Rinse the fish in running water and add the other above mentioned ingredient.
- Mix well with coconut cream, add coriander & chilli.
- Salt & pepper to taste. Serve it chilled with lime wedges.
- Serve with cassava or taro fries.
After the class, I took a walk along the beach and found tons more kinds of little crabs, including hermit crabs which seemed to be everywhere I looked. For dinner that night, Octopus Resort served an extravagant buffet of pretty much every dish you could think of- and dessert. Fiji truly is paradise.
The next morning, I stuck to the routine: Sunrise, beach walk, buffet breakfast. I was getting quite used to this luxurious lifestyle. This morning was extra special, however, as I was able to attend Sunday morning church service in a local village that was on the other side of the island. A group of us got together and began the 15-minute hike over the mountain and through the trees before we reached the small village. Young children ran out of their houses as we arrived, waving and shouting “Bula!!” There were also TONS of dogs, my favorite was this tiny puppy who was taking shelter from the sun under a palm tree.
When we got to the church, we were all instructed to take our shoes off as a young girl walked around the pews and handed everyone a bible with the Fijian and English language.
To the right of us sat about 30 children, peeking and shyly waving at us as some women recited scriptures for about 20 minutes. Then came the best part: singing. Fiji churches are known for having incredible above and beyond choirs and this little one did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, I had to leave just one song in otherwise I would miss my ride to the next island! As I was walking back to Octopus Resort, I spotted something-no, a couple somethings- out of the corner of my eye: Pigs. Yes, there were pigs on the beach.
Apparently, the village has tons of pigs and lets a few of them roam wild in the forest. It was quite the way to end my time on this island.
My fifth and final island was Barefoot Manta and it is called this for a very special reason. Between May and October, Manta Rays are spotted off the coast of this island, swimming and dancing through the waters. Whenever they arrive, someone would run and bang the drum shouting, “The Manta is here! The Manta is here!” (Paul Revere take notes) and we would all go running to the dive shop to grab our snorkel gear and swim with the gentle giants.
When I first got there, I was greeted with a welcome drink as one of the locals briefed us on the activities and lunch times. As they carried our bags off to our small huts on the side of the ocean, they also carried our lunches over to us. My room here reminded me of one of those isolated oasises that people run away to and finish a book or something. All white sheets with a white canopy over the bed and wooden windows that we left open the entire time to watch the ocean from.
I decided to take out a kayak to burn off some of that buffet food before laying out on the beach until sunset. Barefoot Manta was lovely because they ran a free sunset cruise equipped with happy hour drinks each night. On the boat, sipping our Fiji Gold, we happened to meet a couple and two children from New Zealand that had a mid-life crisis and up and moved to Fiji. Doesn’t seem like the worst crisis result, as they were now coasting out in the ocean at sunset with their kids who’re close friends with some famous Fijian singers. We found this out after his song request shifted away from Pitbull and Kesha. However, about every 10 minutes or so, the music would stop because Saki the DJ needed his sunset pictures too.
We arrived back at Barefoot Manta just in time for dinner. We sat at a long table with 8 other travelers and enjoyed a three course meal and afterward, we played none other than Cards Against Humanity, the Australian version. After a while, all of the cards were used up, so we went and lied on the beach watching the stars and waiting for the moon to rise. Though it’s orange glow didn’t start to peak over the ocean’s edge until about 11:00PM or so, it was okay because we were content with each other’s company and watching the plethora of shooting stars above us.
The next morning, I witnessed the best sunrise of my entire life. The cool part was, I hadn’t even set an alarm to wake up for this one. I had randomly awoken and saw an orange glow pouring onto my white sheets and decided to go and have a look. It was unreal as pink, purple and scarlet streaks colored the sky through the palm trees. I walked over to the reception area and had about three cups of coffee before breakfast was even ready, but it was worth the wait.
Not long after breakfast, the drummer started shouting, “The manta are here! The manta are here!” We sprinted to the dive shop to grab some snorkel gear and hopped on the speedboat to zoom over to the two gentle giants. Some nearby islands had also caught the news, and so people were already out there scouting the area. However, these weren’t the only inhabitants in the area; huge schools filled with hundreds of fish enclosed themselves around me. At first, I was terrified as I could’ve sworn someone shouted ‘Piranhas‘; but I quickly realized there’s no way these guys would be in Fiji and relaxed as I we glided our way through the baby Mackerel. We swam around with the manta rays as they were feeding for about 30 minutes before we all raised the white flag, exhausted from chasing these agile swimmers through the currents of the Pacific Ocean.
It was getting to be that time now where I needed to say my goodbyes to the island. The band gathered those who were leaving around a small table and sang us the goodbye song. After, Saki the DJ added me on Facebook and said, “There, now you can always see all my sunset pictures.”
It was about a 3 hour ferry ride back to the mainland, where I stayed at Smuggler’s Cove again before heading to the airport the next day. I have nothing but good words to say about this incredible country: the ocean, the sunsets, the people–everything was so rejuvenating and it was the perfect way to finish up the last week of my semester abroad. Until next time, Fiji.