It seems like such a long time since the nightmare of Suva and the very expensive internal flights we had to take. After a couple of days in a not-so-great- hotel in Savusavu, we moved to ‘Naveria Heights Lodge,’ a beatufiul hilltop lodge, where, for 4 out of our 5 nights there, we were the only guests (which was awesome.) This place would usually be so far out of our normal budget, but Sam found a stay and dive deal on their website- 5 nights and 3 days of double dives. No brainer.
To reach the lodge we had to endure a gruelling 20 minute vertical hike up the hill, usually in temperatures of 32-34 (well, either that or pay $10 for pick up. No thanks!) It did mean we did a serious amount of exercise over the 5 days though, together with some exhausting dives.
We dived with ‘KoroSun Dive’ and they were amazing. I can’t quite figure out how to put our experiences there into words, but I’ll give it a good go. Depending on the amount of air you have in your tank, you can be down for anywhere from 35-55 minutes. There were only a few other divers with us on each day and the owners dived with us, as well as giving us loads of tasty snacks and info on what we would probably see. All of the dives we did were amazing, so much better than in the Yasawa Islands, but it was on day 2 when we came across a whole school of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks- there were about 80 of them swimming all around us for about 15 minutes- a truly breathtaking experience that we’ll both never forget. They were curious about us and swam right past us, looking straight at us. We saw giant turtles, whole schools of barracuda, giant tuna and groupas, as well as incredible reefs. We don’t have a Gopro but to give you a visual, here’s a photo of the Hammerhead site we visited that others took:
After 5 relaxing days at Naveria, we took a very early morning bus and ferry to Taveuni island, aka The Garden Isle. This place is seriously stunning- green everywhere, incredible scenery and home to the world famous Rainbow Reef (famous for its soft coral.) After saying we were definitely not doing any more diving, because it works out at about 90 quid per double dive for each of us, we immediately signed up for a double dive over Rainbow Reef. Why not?! This might tell you why (this is the top of the reef in Rainbow passage, one of our dive sites:)
It was a complete sensory overload- everywhere we looked there were more amazing things to see. The reef is huge, with a strong current running through it (this attracts a huge variety of sealife as the current brings food along with it) and around 20 dive sites. It was hard to orientate ourselves during the first dive because we literally had no control of where we were going- the current just pulled us along, even when we were trying to swim into it. On our second dive though, we could drift along and stop to watch everything on the reef. There were giant turtles, white tip and grey tip reef sharks, beautiful coral, hundreds of variety of fish, giant eels and sea snakes- the list goes on! We feel really spoilt to have seen so much underwater- today we were talking to a girl on the bus who had dived the Hammerhead site in Savusavu twice and seen nothing. That would have been so disappointing, especially if you’re only diving for 1 or 2 days.
We’ve now definitely finished our Fiji diving (although I was trying to get Sam to agree to another day of it) On Thursday, we took a local bus to Tavoro Waterfalls, which were incredible! We hiked around an hour to the bottom of the second waterfall and swam for ages. So lovely and so quiet, there was hardlys anyone else there.
On Friday it was another early start as we took a bus to Lavena, to do the coastal walk. Again, stunning waterfalls we could swim under and a lovely walk, but there were hundreds of flies and it kind of ruined the walk for us a little.
It was then back to Nadi, after taking a 2 hr ferry, 4 hr bus, 2 taxis, a 40 minute flight and a long, hot wait in Labasa airport. Today we flew back to NZ for one night only with my awesome friend Nicola and then tomorrow it’s onwards to Chile, yippee!
Note: We were feeling super relaxed until we landed in Auckland and got ready to get off the plane, only to be told that the plane had parked 5 ft short of the target line so the walkway couldn’t reach the plane. After 20 minutes of waiting, we were all told to sit back down, buckle up, bags away and then we were towed forward the required 5 ft. So from landing to getting off the plane, it was about an hour. I’m fairly sure that parking in the right place is a perquisite for a pilot.
Or specifically, travelling in Fiji is hard.
Having returned to the mainland, we headed to Suva after a night in Nadi (at an overpriced hotel, compounded by the fact we’re really overbudget for this part of the trip). After trapsing all around the airport to find out where our bus went from and being directed in different directions by whoever we spoke to, we finally got on a perfectly pleasant minibus for our journey to Suva. This is where our real problems began.
We’d really struggled to find a place to stay beforehand. Everywhere was either super pricey, catering to the weekday business crowd, or it was cheapish but terrible. We’ve never seen a place with such a divide; there was nothing mid range, and all the backpacker hotels had reviews in big capital letters saying things like “DO NOT STAY HERE” and “TERRIBLE STAY AWAY”. We’d found 1 place that looked ok, but there was no web booking and we were waiting for a message back. That message never came, and so on the bus we had to make a decision, and ended up going for the Novotel. It was pricier than we wanted, but by far the cheapest of the brand hotels as they had a weekend special on, and it was a bit out of town. Fortunately we’d read in the reviews they had a free shuttle into town.
Except that doesn’t run on weekends, and it was a Sunday.
And it turns out that pretty much everything shuts down on a Sunday in Suva.
We got a taxi in and had a wander around anyway. It’s a lovely little colonial town, with great architecture. We even managed to find somewhere for a spot of lunch. But all in all, there wasn’t really much there at all. There was a great highlight for me though as we got the bus back up to the hotel. All the buses are retro things that look like they’re about 50 year olds and all have classic paint jobs. Really really cool.
Then came our next battle. We knew the next day we wanted to go to Savusavu, one of the bigger town on the second biggest island in Fiji, Vanau Levu. We knew there were boats available, so assumed we’d be able to get a ticket when we were here to head over. Except it turns out that the ferry companies have almost zero information online. After a whole bunch of phone calls (did we mention that Fiji shuts down on Sunday) mostly on Monday morning we managed to discover that;
a) 1 Ferry company wasn’t running because of the cyclone
b) 1 Ferry company was running, but it was a 12 hour boat overnight, and we’d probably have to sleep in plastic chairs. And knowing our luck, it’d probably get cancelled anyway
So we had no choice but to fly or go somewhere else. Only all the direct flights were sold out. So, instead we flew from Suva to Nadi (you know, where we got the bus from in the first place) and then Nadi to Savusavu. What a faff! And a lot more money we don’t have. But we got here at last.
We also found we had the same issue here with accommodation. We struggled to find anything that was cheap but not terrible. We eventually stumbled upon one hotel which managed to fit us into a basement type room with a fan. Not great, but certainly within budget, and the next day they moved us (with some prompting) into a nicer room with a spectacular view. The view is pretty much the only thing the hotel has going for it though. The breakfast is terrible; I don’t mind for what we’re paying, but there are others staying here paying over 100 quid a night only to come down to breakfast to discover they’ve run out of bread and hot water for tea!
Griping aside, Savusavu is a lovely but weird town. We’re seeing a lot of westerners, and they don’t seem to be tourists but locals. A lot of them seem to hang around the yacht club (not as posh as it sounds) drinking from 11am. And we have no idea what they’re doing here, as theres no real business to speak of. The towns just 1 road of shops, a market and a bus station. Very strange!
Still it’s a beautiful place with lush green forest at every turn, and the weather has now turned around to being mighty hot and humid. The lack of hot water in the shower is truly not a problem. The major problem we’re finding now is it’s so hard to go anywhere or do anything. We’re so used to SE Asia and NZ where each day we can decide what we’re doing and get there via a bus or walk, but in Fiji everything requires incredible research skills and planning. When we pointed at a few of the things from the top 10 things to do on trip advisor for the area our receptionist didn’t have a clue. It turns out that the big resorts here all have their own tour guides who sort this, and to go solo is basically unheard of. Fortunately we managed to find an amazing tour guide to go for an island adventure tour!
The day started out with a trip to one of the inland villages. We could go no further until handing over an offering of Cava root (used to make the drink Cava, the national drink of Fiji. Not intoxicating, just makes your tongue numb) to the village Chief. I know the image you’re imagining, of someone in chiefly tribal robes and a formal ceremony. That’s what we thought. Not a chance! The chief was a fellow called Tom, wearing dirty shorts and t-shirt who we interrupted during his hedge trimming. Laura thinks he might have been high. Either way, we sat on a mat and some Fijian was spoken, and we were “formally” allowed into the village. Hoorah!
Things picked up from there as one of the tour guides took us to some private land he and his wife own. A small hike later (they normally make it a long hike, but it was too hot) we arrived at a private waterfall. As you can see from the pictures it was really beautiful, although some over friendly fish were jumping out the water to try and nibble me (harmless but surprising).
From there we then headed back to the guides’ house to jump in a boat over to a private island belonging to the village. No one on it except us, the guides and the other 5 people on the tour! We got to go on a big snorkel to see some beautiful coral, although the tide was a bit strong in places for our liking. We’re regretting not buying a Gopro so we could show you what the snorkelling is like. After that we were treated to a massive lovo dinner (a style of cooking where the meat is buried underground) and a walk around the island to see the Bat tree (literally a tree full of hundreds of massive bats. Quite a sight to behold and hear.) After the hermit crab race (they collect a hermit crab for everyone, put it in the center of a big circle and the winner is the first to the edge) in which I one the first round and Laura won the last we then had time for another paddle before being shepherded back to the hotel. It was a wonderful day and something that would have been impossible without the tour guide.
Today has been a chill day; partly because we couldn’t find anything to do without costing a fortune, and partly because we needed to do some planning to try and get the rest of the trip running smoothly. We’ve booked our next accommodation (an island about 5 hours down the road via bus and boat called Taveuni) and we know how we’re getting there and where to buy the ticket. We’ve also booked our first accommodation in Chile and know our plans for the first two weeks. So, we’re getting more organised which is nice. From tomorrow we’re moving to a nicer hotel (yay!) because we managed to get a really cheap accommodation/diving deal for 5 nights stay and 3×2 tank dives. Very exciting!
Happy New Year from a very windy Fiji!
There’s a cyclone somewhere in the vicinity of Fiji and so the weather has been all over the place the past few days- today it’s been so windy that the boats have had to be pulled onto shore and the big water taxi that ferries everyone around the islands couldn’t park on this side of the island as the water is so choppy. All diving, snorkelling and kayaking has been cancelled and together with the fact that last night was NYE, everyone’s looking a bit miserable today. Not us though! We’re really happy there’s no sun so that we feel absolutely no guilt in lying in bed all day, post booze hangover in full force.
For NYE, we’re at Octopus Resort on Waya Island. We were here 4 years ago, to engaged and met some great people so we thought we’d come back whilst we’re in the area. Not that much seems to have changed- it’s a teeny bit bigger but not so much that the feel of the place has changed. They do have an awesome new spa and yoga deck, which I’ve loved, so much so I’ve been doing 2 classes a day. Not today though- things got a little out of control last night and at some point I fell over and am pretty sure I’ve sprained some part of my arm. There’s no doctor on this island though so I guess I’ll have to wait until the mainland on Sunday and if it’s still as painful, go find some help!
NYE in Fiji was lots of fun. A band was brought over from the main island and they played terrible covers and then a few of us decided a pool party was in order so in we all went. There were free shots, lots of rum, awesome food, great people and general good times.
Before we arrived at Octopus, we stayed at Barefoot Manta, in a very glamorous tent disguised as a bure:
We hadn’t actually realised this is what we’d booked and initially we were a bit concerned as there were no doors, locks etc, just a zip up net at the front and then at the back, (which led to a gorgeous open bathroom.) However the view on a morning was amazing and it was so private. We did manage to lose a precious bottle of sun cream from the deck but whilst Sam reckons someone stole it, I think a cheeky little animal took it away.
The reason that we’d booked Barefoot Manta was because it’s a prime manta ray location and we wanted to snorkel/dive with them. However, I didn’t quite realise (until I’d booked and paid) that it’s the wrong season for them, so it kind of defeated the object of going there. It was a beautiful place, with a great dive school but there were quite a few things that let it down- food was average even though the restaurant was stunning (top photo is of our table there- amazing sunsets every night.) Some of the staff were lovely and went out of their way to help, but some were plain rude and it has really put us off recommending it to others.
We did manage to do a couple of great dives though- one in particular was fab and went through loads of underwater caves. On one dive we saw a ginormous reef shark- I’d told the dive master about my (irrational) fear of sharks but down at 22m there’s not much you can do. He tried to get me to go and touch it, but I’m a child of the Jaws generation and that plastic shark has taught me to fear them so I refused to swim down with him. It’s strange though because we snorkelled with loads of reef sharks in the Maldives and I was fine, but there’s just something about being so far down and coming face to face with one that scares me.
Tomorrow we’ll (reluctantly) leave the Yasawa Islands and travel back to Nadi on the mainland. We’ll stay there 1 night and then catch a bus early sunday morning to…..who knows? We were going to go to Suva, the capital of Fiji, but looking through our guidebook we read about a great place called Pacific Harbour, which is on the road to Suva. From there, there’s supposed to some great kayaking along the river (well, that’s what our book has told us- we’re back to a Lonely Planet one though so who knows, it could be rubbish.)
Bula from a very sunny Fiji!
Our time on Coconut Beach was absolutely lovely. I’m very dissapointed Laura wouldn’t allow a photo of her basket weaving as it was actually quite impressive I think. The food was amazing throughout, and we had great fun with the other 4 guests on the island. As we headed over on the 10 minute speedboat to Blue Lagoon I think we were slightly wary as it’s such a big place comparatively, but we had nothing to worry about. It’s absolutely lovely here.
As it’s Christmas we splashed out and upgraded our room to a Garden Villa which was an inspired decision. The room was lovely with another big outdoor shower and our own hammock (an important inclusion in any Fiji accommodation.) The island is certainly bigger and busier, but with that comes a lot of benefits. Meal times are much more flexible, and there’s a choice of food. There’s a full activiities board, including yoga twice a day for Laura. There’s even a proper dive shop, which allowed us to get a quick refresher before going on our first dive for 5 years. Fortunately it all came back to us, and once we managed to get equailized we had a great little dive (hopefully the first of a few this trip.)
On our first night we teamed up with some other people to take part in “Suvivor Fiji”, which was effectively a pub quiz with lots of Fiji questions. Having been in last place after the first round we rallied and ended up winning a champagne breakfast! However as we were all diving the next day we had the champagne on the evening instead. Very nice way to start the trip.
The water here really is stunning, a deep, beautiful turqoise with great visibility. The resort has its own great coral teeming with sealife. Their beach is beautiful and stretches far and really isn’t ever busy. I really don’t think there’s anywhere prettier to spend Christmas.
We were really interested to see what would be done for Xmas out here. Would it be like any other day? The answer is an emphatic no! They really went all out. The day started out with 2 little presents on our doorstep (a couple of wooden turtles) followed by breakfast where we were repeatedly warned to save ourselves for lunch due to the sheer amount of food. And they weren’t wrong! After a morning of snorkling and kayaking (we managed to kayak without falling out with each other,) we sat down to a feast. They’d rearranged the tables into two long communal ones,with a big array of starters to share such as sausage rolls, mozarella balls and a bunch of other bits (see the menu picture below). For main we had litereally everything. Fish, lamb, beef, pork and Turkey, steamed veg, salad and much more. However, there was no gravy which let the whole affair down, but it was still very tasty and the deserts went some way to compensating. I could easily have collapsed into a sugar coma following brownie, chocolate mouse, some pink cake which tastes of pure sugar (amazing!) and Jelly Beans. Whilst it’s not a patch on home cooking it was more than we ever expected from a remote Fijian island. To top it all off, there was even a full three course evening meal as well which we managed to battle through!
As if all the decorations and food weren’t enough, we were treated to a visit from Scuba Santa who paddles in in full Santa gear, gumboots and all, along with a scuba tank. He must have been roasting! It was definitely Santa too, not Jeff from the dive shop dressed up. He handed out sweets to everyone and took lots of photos before heading back off to give presents out around the world.
Today is boxing day and we’re sad to go, but our next island awaits after another 2 hours on the boat. I’ll be sitting in the shade this time after burning my legs somewhat last time. And I’ve run out of factor 50 now!
Bula from Fiji!