As we drive away from the airport towards my accommodation in Wailoaloa Bay, my first impression of Fiji is not what I expected it to be. The skies are filled with angry clouds, the land is lush emerald green, and the ocean looks unforgiving; not quite the idyllic blue skies and azure waters I have seen plastered online.
Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian Islands, is home to three-quarters of the population and is the hub of the entire Fijian archipelago. Nadi, (pronounced NAN – DEE) located on the west side of the island is where I’ll be basing myself for the short time that I have in this pacific paradise.
Once I’ve dumped my luggage in my dorm room I head to the beach where I witness some tourists and locals playing rugby – Fiji’s national sport. The sun is starting to set, and although the grey clouds are still lingering and it’s raining, it’s a sight to behold. The setting sun paints the horizon hues of orange and shades of burnt red.
I spend my first full day exploring Wailoaloa Bay and the town of Nadi; the local bus offers an easy and convenient way of exploring the main island with fares starting at $0.70. There wasn’t much to the centre of Nadi, only some shops, restaurants, cafes a small handicraft market as well as a produce market. However, at the base of Main Street, I stumbled across the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple. The Hindu temple offered an insight into the traditional Dravidian architecture and is one of only a handful of traditional temples outside of India. The colourful exterior pops against the clearing skies.
It’s late afternoon by the time I make it back to the hostel, the rain has since passed, and the temperature has risen. I walk down to the beach and make a conscious decision to explore. I head in both directions, taking in the rugged coastline and for a while, I just sit, watching a seaplane land and not long after, take off again.
For my second and third days, I’ve booked myself onto two different sailing tours. One that focuses on exploring some of the various islands while the latter is all about discovering the regions marine life. I take the local bus to Denarau Island where all boats trips/island cruises depart.
Not long after we pick up anchor, I see a break in the clouds ahead – the sun is attempting to make an appearance. As soon as we sail through the threshold, there is nothing but clear blue skies ahead. THIS is the Fiji I came to see.
After sailing for around an hour and a half, we drop anchor just off the coast of Modriki. Modriki is an uninhabited island, part of the Atolls islands and was the scene for Tom Hanks ‘Castaway.’ Castaway is an epic survival drama starring Tom Hanks; a FedEx employee marooned on an uninhabited island after his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. He attempts to survive on the island using remnants of his plane’s cargo and after visiting the island and experiencing its remoteness, it’s no wonder Tom Hanks’ character turned to Wilson for company. We leave Modriki behind and sail north-east towards Yanuya, where we are welcomed by the local community with a Kava Ceremony, an important aspect when visiting any village. We receive a short tour of the island, the local homes and school and meet some of the local children who bear some of the happiest smiles I have ever come across!
Day three included another early morning departure from Port Denarau; this time we were headed towards the magical islands of Malolo Lailai , Tavarua, Namotu and out to the outer reefs. After sailing for a while, we drop anchor at a sand quay close to the Malolo Barrier Reef, where the calm, clear waters make it easy to spot the elaborate reef structures and masses of marine life. I place numerous linckia laevigata (cobalt blue starfish), crescent wrasse, parrotfish and scissortail. After a generous amount of time snorkelling, we climb back on board and make our way towards Malolo Lailai Island where a sumptuous Fijian BBQ has been laid out. Freshly grilled fish, various meats, salads and fresh fruit. After filling up on the delicious spread, I swam in the Likuliku Lagoon and just appreciated the beauty that surrounded me before we made our way back to Viti Levu.
If this trip has taught me anything, it’s that there are two sides to Fiji, a green side and a blue side. Do your research before you go, plan what you want to see, what it is you want to get from your time here and plan your base accordingly.
Sitting on the plane back to Melbourne, I felt that actually, Nadi was a great base for myself to be able to explore the variety that this country has to offer. If you find yourself wanting to base yourself on one of the smaller islands, I get it. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to calm clear waters each morning? But don’t confine yourself to one island, because Fiji is so much more!