In case you’re new to Joie de Velvet or haven’t had a chance to read my previous three Travel With Me posts yet, this summer I’ve sacked off reality to go travelling with the boyf around the other side of the world.
We began in beautiful Singapore, a modern, clean and vibrant country that’s cemented itself as one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited. We then hopped across the pond to Australia to explore two cities I’ve had on my bucket list for years – Melbourne and Sydney! We later return to Aus to see some more places along the east coast but to break up the city visits, we reserved a couple of weeks for rest ‘n relaxation in the paradise islands of Fiji.
We started on Mana Island, one of the stunning Mamanuca Islands in the south and slowly made our way upwards towards the Yasawas.
If you’ fancy reading about what we got up to on our first two islands, head over to the Travel With Me: Fiji (Part I) post here! To find out more about the others, keep reading…
After becoming accustomed to lively resorts and private Airbnbs for the past couple of weeks, Island No.3’s accommodation came as a little shock to our systems. It wasn’t what we expected, to say the least!
I’m not great at the whole rough-it backpacker ‘thing’ – I’d (generally) prefer to stay in a nice-ish hotel/hostel for a shorter amount of time than camp or share a 20-bed dorm for a longer period. I like having hot water, I like getting those tiny shampoo samples, I like having a fan or air con and I like being surrounded by walls that protect me from the creepy crawlies outside (if I see a spider I will scream).
We assumed Island No.3 would have the same kind of hostel/hotel vibe we had previously been enjoying but our expectations were a little… off 😂
Rather than your standard hotel it was more like a homestay with an enormous Fijian family. Stepping off the boat onto the island’s small patch of sand we were hugged and welcomed by Auntie and the kids, then taken off to the kitchen-dining room burre to be given more details about our stay. It wasn’t minutes before the Head Guy was telling us there would be no hot water, no WiFi, no air con and limited hours of electricity while we were here, and proceeded to describe a situation where a previous guest had complained about her inability to have a warm shower and been laughed out. Again – and you’ll probably hear this a lot in this post – it wasn’t what we were expecting! 😂
Nevertheless, we made do with what we had, of course! The weather wasn’t good for the most part – the choppy waves meant most of the outdoor activities were cancelled and it was too chilly to lounge on the beach. We did lots of reading in our little room though and watched episodes of Final Space (the only thing I’d downloaded on my iPad before arriving) on repeat. By the end of our stay we’d definitely become more accustomed to this simpler existence and felt very, very relaxed. While I could nit-pick at the condition of our living burre or our occasional bouts of boredom, the people on the island were what made this stay worth it. The Fijian family who looked after us were wonderful, welcoming us into their tight-knit clan the moment we arrived. They held ‘Welcome Ceremonies’ every time a new tourist arrived (which was pretty much every night) and it was here we were introduced to the world of the weird and wonderful kava. Kava is a muddy-looking drink that tastes a bit like dirt but makes your tongue tingle and can have the same effect as alcohol if drank in large enough quantities. Unlike beer or wine or spirits, kava is completely natural and made from the root of a plant. The root is dug up after years in the ground, dried and turned into a powder before being mixed with water in a big wooden bowl. The family drank heaps of it every evening and were left looking very chilled out by the time us tourists started to retreat to bed 😂
The highlight of our time on Wayasewa was the sunset walk on our final night. I mistakenly assumed it would be an easy stroll with stunning views and while the latter was 100% true, an easy stroll it was not. We were at a steep incline for the majority of the time, through long grass fields and up rock faces until we reached the peak. The idea was to watch the sun melt into the horizon but the clouds made the sunset a little underwhelming. The rest of the view though was nothing like I’d seen before – we were so high up and able to see island miles and miles away. We were also accompanied by the sweetest little dog who took a shining to Jacob. So while we may have resented the lack of hot water and the creepy crawlies that invaded our room – and were beginning to go a bit mad with boredom and the lack of Wifi – this leg of the trip made us a lot more appreciative of these luxuries that can easily be taken for granted. Weeks and weeks on, I’m still stepping under a hot shower and feeling ridiculously thankful! That wasn’t to say we weren’t crazy excited to be heading to our next destination, a place known for something very special…
From the simple life to one of the most exciting places we stayed during our whole two-month trip – Drawaqa Island, or Barefoot Manta Island as it’s often identified, is the epitome of Fijian paradise. Many of the islands are ‘known’ for something in particular – it may be for the bull sharks that you can dive with, the reef sharks you can snorkel with or the amazing quality of the coral reefs. Barefoot Manta Island, as evident in the name, is most famous for the manta rays that swim in a channel nearby. People visit the island solely to swim with them, although it’s never guaranteed that they will be spotted. If they’re seen by swimmers or boats, a message is sent to the hotel and a massive drum is beat – anyone who wants to say hello to them can then grab some snorkelling gear and hop on a boat that takes them right to them!
We arrived on the island at midday and enjoyed a mouthwatering plate of creamy fish fettucini before grabbing some snorkels and swimming with the fishies on Sunrise Beach until dinner time. We were making our way back to our beachside burre when everyone started darting around yelling things… and then the drum started being banged – the mantas were here! We got caught up in the frenzy, not really sure what to do or what ‘swimming with the rays’ was going to involve. We followed the crowd that had accumulated from the Dive Shop to the boats waiting for us on the shore and before we knew it we were stopping in the middle of the ocean. Everyone jumped out with their masks and flippers and eagerly followed the guide who was keeping the two manta rays in sight.
I won’t deny I was kinda scared at the start – we’d not done much open-sea snorkelling before (i.e. being dropped in the middle of the ocean as opposed to swimming from the shore) and suddenly I was questioning whether I could actually swim, haha! Within minutes though the apprehension and fear had melted away and we were confidently flippering our way through the crowd to get a glimpse of the beautiful manta rays.
It wasn’t just the mantas though – we got to swim alongside hundreds of other fish, beautiful multicoloured species both big and small. We were later told by a nice British couple at dinner that we’d also been in the company of an enormous shark who had been lurking around in the depths and freaking out the fish around us. I’m just glad we found out about the shark afterwards as opposed to while we were in the water! 😂
There were lots of sharks around Barefoot Manta – each morning you could stand on Sunset Beach and watch white-tip and black-tip reef sharks chase after fish in the shallows. Jacob spotted an enormous one while we were snorkelling too (and quickly proceeded to lead me towards the shore before I realised – I’m not a fan of them 😂). In addition to the sharks and the rays and the stunning colourful coral, the food at this hotel was a big highlight for me. It was such incredible quality and an amazing mix of Western and traditional Fijian flavours.
Our burre here was also really special. Sat right on the beach – literally about six metres from the lapping waves – it looked a bit like a massive makeshift tent but was filled with beautiful wooden furnishings and had sliding doors at the back into an outdoor bathroom area. We watched the sunset every evening from our private hammock, admiring a sky full of colours that we aren’t often lucky enough to see back home in London.
Barefoot Manta was one of my favourite, if not the best island we visited while we were in Fiji but our next and final destination was a pretty (very) close second…
The Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula Island was our final stop before returning to the mainland and it couldn’t have been a more perfect place to round off this leg of the trip.
It’s no wonder why this resort is named as it is; the water around the island was the bluest blue I’ve ever seen, with dark patches indicating fish-filled reefs under the surface. We snorkelled as much as we could here and while the water wasn’t as transparent as that around Barefoot Manta, we still appreciated the vibrant fish and coral just metres from the beach.
Unlike the previous resorts and hotels we had enjoyed in Fiji, the decor here was less traditional and more modern and minimalistic. And the food… my gosh, we were really spoiled here. There was a compulsory daily meal plan charged that irked me at first (but what if I don’t want to wake up at 7am in time for breakfast?!) but it was 1000% worth every cent. The dishes resembled ones you’d find in a fine-dining restaurant in the city and was without a doubt some of the best grub I’ve ever had. It wasn’t all snorkelling and reading on the beach though – one afternoon we took a little boat over to the other side of the island to visit a village and school. It was super interesting to see how vastly different their lives and traditions were to our familiar western ones. The locals were so friendly; they performed a dance presentation at the end of our tour and we wandered around a market held by the ladies. I treated myself to a beautiful little shell bracelet.
Our final day on Nacula Island – and the end of our Fijian adventure – came about very quickly and we said goodbye to the island with a beer in front of one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. It felt like a movie and made our departure from this paradise life all the more difficult.
After 17 days soaking up the Fijian sunshine and hopping between the ocean and various sun loungers, we were sad to leave but excited to take on some more Aussie cities.
Next stop, Brisbane!