A to Z of Yasawa Islands, Fiji
Cruise away from the better-known holiday spots and you will discover the "real" Fiji in the Yasawa Islands.
The group of grass-covered islands, which form the western border of the country, are home to many traditional villages and untouched beaches.
A is for Anchorage. You will spend every night anchored off a different island. With no overnight cruising, the Blue Lagoon's Fiji Princess drops anchor each day before moving on in the morning. With limited time cruising each day, there is ample opportunity to explore the islands, beaches and reefs and soak up the scenery.
B is for Beaches. New day, new beach. With a daily cruise schedule that gets guests off the boat and onto the beach, you're encouraged to feel the sand in your toes and the salt water on your skin every day. It is hard to highlight just one, but when the ship ties off from a coconut tree on Nanuya Lailai, that particular shoreline is very inviting (see also N for Nanuya Lailai).
C is for Caves. Put on a snorkel and fins and dive into the sacred Sawa-i-Lau caves in the northern Yasawas. Legend has it that these hidden ancient limestone formations are the resting place of the 10-headed Fijian god, Ulutini. But with low-hanging rocks as you enter the caves, the only head you have to worry about as you make your way around this popular tourist spot is your own. Once you are past the rocky obstacles, a hole in the ceiling of the first cave lets the light in. Local guides can help you negotiate an underwater passage from the first cave into the second smaller, darker cave. The tide determines how deep you have to dive to make the transition from cave to cave. If you don't want to get wet, but still want to get a photograph of the spot known as the "heart of the Yasawas", there are steps from the shore to the opening of the first cave.
D is for Donation. Small currency can go a long way to supporting Fijian villages. Regular visits from tourists, who pick up a souvenir or two from the shell markets or just leave a few dollars, helps out the outer island communities. With no shops or banks on these remote islands, cash purchases of the locals' wares from mini market-type setups is as close to retail therapy as you will get. It's not just monetary donations that have an impact in this part of the world. Children's books and pencils are also gratefully received by the village schools (see also V for Villages).
E is for Enjoy High Tea Island Style. Consuming fresh coconut plucked from the tree is a tasty treat. But the actual retrieval and opening of the coconut is best left to the experts.
F is for Fijian Hospitality. Who better to discover the outer islands of Fiji with than the locals? The Blue Lagoon Cruises' all-Fijian crew pride themselves on knowing your name – and your drink order. There is no chance of fading into anonymity – even if you try – and you quickly feel like you're part of one big cruise family. With one crew member for every two cruisers there is always someone around to answer your questions or top up your cocktail.
G is for Grown Ups. Passengers under the age of 14 are only allowed on the Fiji Princess during set times, leaving the rest of the year for the grown ups to holiday in a relatively child-free environment.
H is for Hollywood. The 1980 movie Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields was filmed in the Yasawas. The film is cringeworthy viewing, but the scenery is instantly recognisable. You'll also pass the island used for the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. Islands in the Mamanucas and Yasawas have also formed the backdrop to a number of small screen productions.
I is for iTaukei Language. English is the official language of Fiji but most of the locals are at least partly trilingual. Alongside English, Hindi and iTaukei language is taught in schools. The iTaukei are the descendants of Fiji's first settlers and there are 300 dialects of their language. Visitors can get caught out by the difference in how a word is spelt and how it is pronounced in iTaukei language. A "c" is pronounced "th" as in "this". So Mamanuca Islands is pronounced Mamanutha.
J is for Journey. From Port Denarau, through the Mamanucas and then the Yasawas there is plenty to see. Depending on the length of cruise you take – there are three, four and seven-night options – you will be making a journey that includes Modriki Island, Soso Bay, Naukacuvu, Yalobi Bay, Blue Lagoon, Sawa-I-Lau and Drawaqa Island (see also A for Anchorage).
K is for Kava. Kava is the ceremonial drink of Fiji, but is also drunk socially. Made from the pounded roots of the pepper plant (piper methysticum), it has an earthy, bitter taste. If you consume a large quantity of kava, it can have a relaxing effect. There are opportunities to partake on board and ashore.
L is for Lovo. The traditional Fijian way of preparing feasts for special occasions is in a lovo. Similar to the process used by other Pacific cultures, the lovo is an earth oven that cooks the food in three hours and creates a distinctly smoky flavour. Often included in the feast are the roots of cassava (tapioca), kumala (sweet potato), yam and dalo (taro), plus a leg of pork, chicken, fish, beef and lamb. Blue Lagoon Cruises prepares their lovo on Nanuya Lailai (see also N for Nanuya Lailai).
M is for Meke. Meke is the Fijian term for traditional song and dance entertainment. See how it is done and then join in. The dancers from Matacawalevu village are among those that share their traditional dance with cruise guests.
N is for Nanuya Lailai. Exclusive access to a private beach is something worth bragging about. Especially when it looks like this. Nanuya Lailai is Blue Lagoon Cruises' private island with 58 tropical acres available for guests to explore. Whether you stretch out on a sun lounger, head offshore in a kayak, feed the fish, join in a game of volleyball or just walk around the coast, there is enough to do at this secluded spot to fill your day.
O is for Ocean. Being surrounded by the ocean for days, guarantees you'll spend a fair amount of time in and on the water. You'll also notice how the water changes colour as the ship ventures to different areas. Opportunities to snorkel coral reefs, scuba dive, kayak and paddle board allow you to mix up your water activities.
P is for Port Denarau. Port Denarau is where the cruises to outer islands of the Mamanucas and the Yasawas begin. Denarau Island is a man-made island connected to the main island of Viti Levu via a causeway. Denarau is awash with resorts making it a convenient place to stay pre or post cruise (see also R for Resort).
Q is for Quiet. On a boutique cruise that has a maximum of 68 guests and is travelling around some of Fiji's less populated islands, there is no hustle and bustle. Adding to the peacefulness is that wi-fi is only available in certain places, so other distractions can be kept out too.
R is for Resort. It is unlikely you'll be able to work your itinerary so that you spend no time on the mainland. Whether you stay a night before or after the cruise there are plenty of accommodation options less than 30 minutes from Nadi airport and even closer to Port Denarau. Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa in Denarau (sofitel.com) is a luxury hotel that mixes Fijian and French cultures. By opting for the Waitui Beach Club packages you can get a personalised check-in away from long queues, access to the adults-only pool and beach club area including private cabanas, a pool butler service, complimentary cocktails and live entertainment. Waitui Beach Club also focuses on healthy eating, fitness and wellness with a range of food options that have the tick of approval from the resort's consultant nutritionist and daily group exercise classes.
S is for Sunset. Remember to have your camera or smartphone close at hand around sunset. Sunsets over the open water draw plenty of eager snappers and you may have to jostle for position to get your perfect shot.
T is for Take Care With What You Eat and Drink. Fiji can get hot and you'll need to rehydrate, but don't drink tap water. To avoid gut problems have bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. When it comes to food, make the most of the local cuisine but take care around uncooked food including salads and seafood.
U is for Undiscovered. Cruise ship passengers were unable to set foot on the islands in the Yasawas until the 1950s, and land-based tourism ventures were restricted until 1987. More and more resorts will pop up in the Yasawas in the coming years as tourism operators look to move from backpacker beginnings to cater for the luxury travel market, but at the moment some of these islands off the beaten track still have a feeling of being undiscovered.
V is for Villages. Visiting villages in remote Fijian islands shows a different side to the country. The indigenous Fijians who live in traditional villages, largely live a subsistence existence. Blue Lagoon Cruises takes guests to Tamasua village to eat with the locals and see how they live. There is also a trip to Kese village on Naviti Island to see to the local school and meet some of the students. Being immersed in these villages offers a stark contrast to the resorts many people go to Fiji for. When taking part in these village visits make sure you are properly attired (see also W for What to Wear).
W is for What to Wear. On board Fiji Princess the dress code is more casual than some other cruise ships, so a mix of beach wear and smart casual will get you through most of the activities. However modesty and respect are key when visiting Fijian villages. Women should cover their shoulders and wear a skirt or sarong to at least their knees, and men should also wear a sulu (wrap-around skirt). Sulus are handed out on the ship and the crew will show you how to tie it and when to wear it.
X is for eXperience. For first-timers to Fiji or to newbies to cruising, the Fiji Princess experience is a unique introduction to both the country and the concept of a holiday afloat. The smaller cruise ship can go places larger boats can't. For those who have been to Fiji numerous times, the cruise will probably take you to places or offer exclusive experiences you haven't encountered before.
Y is for Yasawas. The Yasawas are made up of more than 20 islands across an 80-kilometre stretch to the northwest of Nadi. This cruise does not stop off at every island in the archipelago but you will disembark feeling like you have seen some of the "real" Fiji.
Z is for Zika virus. There have been reported cases of Zika virus in Fiji and the New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that if you're travelling there you should always take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. See safetravel.govt.nz for up-to-date advice before travelling.
Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways fly direct from Auckland to Nadi daily. Both airlines offer direct flights from Wellington and Christchurch on selected days.
The three-night Explorer Cruise starts from A$1924 (NZ$2,021) twin share.
The four-night Wanderer Cruise starts from A$2564 twin share and departs Denarau Marina every Monday at 12.15pm and returns every Friday at 10am.
The seven-night Escape to Paradise Cruise starts from A$4202 twin share and departs Denarau Marina every Friday at 3pm and returns the following Friday at 10am.
- All meals including hot beverages, filtered water and juice.
- Private ensuite facilities.
- All scheduled cruise activities, including snorkelling gear, kayaks and paddle boards.
- Traditional Fijian entertainment.
- Captain's complimentary champagne cocktail.
- Ship-to-shore transfers and all port charges and taxes.
The writer travelled as a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises.