Travel With Me: Fiji (Part II)

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…

Wayasewa Island

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. Travel with me to Fiji and find out what we got up to on Wayasewa Island!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.Hiking up a mountain to watch the sun set was one of my highlights on Wayasewa Island 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…

Drawaqa Island

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. 1536860573167Many 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.

Watching the sunset from our beachside burre on Barefoot Manta Island

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…

Nacula Island

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. The Blue Lagoon Beach Resort had some of the best food I've ever eatenIt 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.

Nacula Island beach


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!

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Travel With Me: Fiji (Part I)

Soft white sand, turquoise sea, luscious palm tree-covered beaches, colourful coral reefs, bobbing boats, glowing sunsets… all the things you see in travel guides and magazines and on Instagram and Pinterest when you come across anything to do with Fiji. They’re things I never thought I’d actually get to experience first-hand and still can’t really believe I have experienced.

If I ever doubted Fiji’s paradise-factor beforehand, I take it back wholeheartedly. I can’t really find the words to describe how magical this country and its islands are; I feel I’ll only do it an injustice if I try! I’ve had to split this Travel With Me: Fiji portion into two posts because there’s just too much wonderful stuff for me to ramble on about… I hope you enjoy part I!


We started our 17-day Fijian adventure in an apartment hotel close to Nadi airport where we spent a night before catching one of South Sea Cruises’ comfortable catamarans to our first island…

Mana Island

Stepping off the boat onto the pier at Mana Island Resort and Spa, it was Jacob and I’s first time seeing one of Fiji’s paradise Mamanuca islands and we were speechless. It was everything social media and our travel guides had portrayed and more. The clear blue water was what struck me first and we were both mesmerised by the dozens of fish circling the legs of the pier.

The majority (if not all) of Mana Island is reserved for its hotel, an idyllic collection of classic Fijian ‘burres’ and numerous white sand beaches. We were given a singing performance by the kind staff at the resort as we stepped off the boat and then greeted with shell necklaces and a welcome drink at the grand entranceway.

Our little garden burre was exactly what I imagined – comfortable, clean, all dark wood and crisp white linen with traditional Fijian artwork on the walls. My favourite part was the bathroom – the shower was outside, a beautiful grey-stone wall encasing a decent-sized washing area. It was completely open to the elements and provided perfect views of the bats that lived on a tree near our room and frequently flew overhead in the evenings. And the stars… my gosh, being able to look up and see a sky full of twinkling, glittering stars while I shampooed my hair was such a treat. On our final night we sat outside for ages playing with the camera settings and managed to capture a stunning nebula!

Nebulas in Fiji

We spent the majority of our time on Mana sitting on beaches, snorkelling, drinking and eating (three delicious buffets every day meant I managed to gain back all the weight I’d lost pre-holiday and more!). We also walked up to the hotel’s Lookout Point for breathtaking (and I mean I literally had to catch my breath) views of the whole island, the most incredible turquoise sea I’ve ever seen and silhouettes of other distant islands.

1535434430566-1.jpgEvery night the hotel held various entertainments, from crab racing to live Fijian music to movie nights. On our final night we were lucky enough to catch a fire-dancing display on the beach, it was amazing!

The fish were beautiful, the sand warm and soft, and the food delicious; I was really sad to say goodbye to this magical resort but also super excited to find out what Island No.2 was going to be like…!

Beachcomber Island

Our second Fijian destination was the epitome of the desert island emoji 🏝

Beachcomber isn’t even a mile across and it only takes about 10 minutes to walk around the whole island. It’s covered in palm trees and other beautiful greenery, with white string hammocks outside every private room and an enormous open dining hut where everyone eats meals together.

It’s renowned for being the ‘party island’ but sadly we didn’t get the chance to do much partying while we were there! Jacob caught a bug at Mana and was horribly ill for the entirety of our time at Beachcomber. J spent his time in bed and I was split between feeding him bread and paracetamol and reading in our hammock 🌴

Jacob obviously didn’t have the best of times but at least it gave us a chance to chill for a couple of days. Almost every day previously had been jam-packed with city explorations or museum viewings or sea sports; it was quite satisfying to read a book in the sunshine and do not much else! This is what we originally planned for this Fijian portion and why we sandwiched it in between trips to big ‘n beautiful Aussie cities when we knew we’d be busy trying to sightsee!

For sociable, comfortable, good value accommodation in Fiji I’d highly recommend Beachcomber – it’s also one of the only islands where you can catch ferries to the Mamanuca Islands and the Yasawa Islands. You can also take day trips to the little islands nearby and do all manner of water sports when the weather is good. Should I ever return to Fiji I’d definitely stay here again. 


Keep an eye out for Fiji Part II over the next couple of weeks where I’ll be chatting about our adventures in the Yasawas. We got up to some pretty exciting stuff, including one of the highlights of our whole trip… 😏

Love,

Travel With Me: Melbourne and Sydney

If you’d asked me which country was at the top of my ‘To Visit’ list anytime over the past six or seven years, I would have said Australia without hesitation. The south and east coast in particular, it’s a place I yearned to explore and a lifestyle I dreamed of immersing myself in.

When we touched down in Melbourne on the 21st July after a slow seven-hour flight from Singapore I almost cried with happiness. You know when you crave something for so long and the wishing and waiting takes over your brain a bit, and then you actually get what you want and don’t really know what to do with yourself? That was me, excited childish squeals included.

The cold 11-degree air hit us as soon as we loaded off the plane – a bit of a change from the 32°C heat in Singapore we had gotten used to!

Our apartment at The Jazz Corner Hotel was perfect, fit with a gorgeous kitchenette where we made dinners and chomped down on Cheerios every morning, and a massive living room / dining area. It was also in a great area near Latrobe Street – follow this road down through the shopping parades and past dozens of cafes for about 15-20 mins and you get to the Yarra River (Melbourne’s equivalent to the Thames).

We hit up some lovely touristy spots while we were there – a morning walk around the Queen Victoria Market, a browse through the shops in Melbourne Central and a football game at the Etihad Stadium on our first day. We admired the art at the NGV, took a walk down Hosier Lane to enjoy the street art and made a trip to see Parliament and the Melbourne Museum. We also spent an afternoon wandering through two funky inner suburbs, Carlton and Fitzroy, where we indulged in a pastry and one of the best chai lattes I’ve ever tasted at Le Gourmet Cakes on Brunswick Street.


One of my highlights though was the Eureka Skydeck 88 – the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere at 92 storeys high (the public can only get to floor 88 though!). On our final night we waited until the sun set then made our way to the tower so that we could take in the lights of the city from above. To say the view was spectacular would be an understatement and I’ve been daydreaming about it ever since! The Skydeck gives you a 360° view of the city and beyond – it’s so high you can see part of the iconic Great Ocean Drive on a clear day (more than 100 miles away!).


After four nights exploring and enjoying what Melbourne has to offer we hopped on a short flight to our next destination, Sydney!

I visited this city around 12/13 years ago with my family. My dad travels a lot for work and we often tagged along with him if school holidays allowed for it. That year we toured New Zealand (another country I’m desperate to return to for a long road trip) and hopped over the sea to Sydney for a couple days while we were ‘in the area’. Unsurprisingly I don’t remember a lot from the trip but I do recollect looking at the Opera House from across the water in absolute awe. The city definitely made an impression on little me.

Almost as soon as we dropped our bags off at our Airbnb in Darlinghurst we headed back out and ventured to Circular Quay, home to the stunning Sydney Harbour. We ended up returning to the water almost every day, using it as a base from which we caught ferries to other parts of the city or to enjoy dinners with stunning views.

We did so much walking on this leg of the trip which made our diet of cookies and carbs all the more satisfying. As well as having our fill of Sydney’s beautiful CBD (including the gorgeous botanical garden) we managed to take a couple of day trips to the outskirts and beyond…

The Blue Mountains

This is going on my list of “Favourite Days Ever”. I’d heard about the Blue Mountains in passing a few times but had never originally added it to my mental itinerary for our time in Sydney. Thankfully Jacob suggested we go one day and I’m so glad we did.

We caught a train from Central Station to Katoomba, a quaint little town sat on the edge of the mountain range. We stopped for a hearty brunch before walking for about 40 minutes to one of the most beautiful views my eyes have ever seen.

From the viewing platform at Echo Point we could see the craggy Three Sisters (an oddly shaped rock split into ‘three towers’) and Mount Solitary nestled amongst miles and miles of eucalyptus trees. The oil from the trees diffuse in the air and combine with dust particles and water vapour to scatter light rays that appear blue – hence how this amazing landscape got its name!

After lapping up the views from various vantage points and platforms we followed a dirt trail round the side of the mountain for about an hour, past waterfalls and rockfalls and more stunning views, to Scenic World. Here we caught a carriage down the steepest railway in the world (it was almost vertical, I was pretty much standing in my seat as we zipped down the track; this is about as rollercoastery as I’ll get 😂). We then followed a wooden boardwalk through the forest at the foot of the mountains, learning about the area’s coal mining history as we went, and then caught a cable car back up the mountain – more amazing views!

After spending lots of time in big, built-up cities it was lush to spend a day appreciating nature’s own beautiful creations.

Manly

Manly is a super popular town a ferry-ride away from Circular Quay. We caught the boat fairly late in the day and with just a couple of hours of sunlight left we opted to head to the National Park just East of the main town area.

We initially started heading for North Head (beautiful views of the Sydney skyline, also meant to be a great spot for diving!) but with a 1.5 hour round trip to the jetty we aimed for the City View platform, about a mile or so nearer.

The journey took us through some deserted, slightly eerie barracks and down a long metal walkway through burnt bush land (perhaps a forest fire from the previous summer?) and eventually we reached the platform where we took in amazing views of Manly, Sydney’s CBD and clumps of skyscrapers from other towns as the sun glowed.

Bondi

I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen Bondi, its beach or its beautiful Iceberg swimming pool plastered over my Instagram feed but I knew I had to visit to see what all the fuss was about.

Unsurprisingly it was just as pretty as all the photos portrayed and I got so excited when the sand and sea came into view as we walked through Bondi town.

The town itself is adorable, full of indie coffee shops and restaurants with tanned beauties munching on avo toast and sippin’ wine outside. Despite it being winter in Aus, there were hundreds if not thousands of people lounging on the beach or on picnic blankets on the grassy banks behind the sand.

We spent most of our day on the beach, dipping our toes in the freezing water now and again and lounging on the sand. I’m sad we didn’t get to see the Bondi Icebergs but we just completely forgot while we were there, too eager to enjoy the beach and the town’s cute lil rows of shops. Just another reason to go back, eh? 😏


Sydney’s going on my list of favourite cities – it’s bustling, it’s safe, it feels alive! Our stay here only made me want to come back and spend even more time experiencing what it has to offer. For the time being though we’d had our fix of cities and were reeeeally excited to be heading off on a beach break to Country Number 3 – a place I never imagined I’d ever get to visit let alone spend a couple of weeks enjoying.

Next stop… Fiji!