Day 857 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Nanuya Lailai, Yasawa Islands, Fiji. June 7, 2020.

It was sometime during the summer of 2006. We were having one of our frequent discussions about where we could travel next, either over the Labor Day holiday or Christmas. We talked about Canada, New York City, or Chicago if we were going in September, but would need a warmer location if in December. So out of the blue, Mike said, “How about Fiji???” Wow. How about Fiji, indeed! We made plans to go a few days before Christmas, returning a few days after New Year’s.

On December 4, 2006, the Fijian military staged a coup and took over the government. We debated the question of whether to travel there two weeks hence. Mike said it would likely be okay for tourists, and Mike had to cancel a trip to Fiji about seven years before that due to his traveling companion’s passport problems (going to Acapulco instead), so was reluctant to cancel yet another trip to Fiji. However, Jan really didn’t want to travel on roads lined with young soldiers holding rifles. One wrong move…

So we cancelled our hotel, and Fiji Air gave us a voucher for future travel. We waited until May 2008 to finally get to Fiji. It was fantastic. We spent 16 nights on Nanuya Lailai Island in the remote Yasawa chain, which scatters northward into the South Pacific off of Fiji’s main island. We arrived on the one ferry boat that leaves the mainland early in the morning and stops at many islands on its way. It lets off arriving passengers and supplies, and takes on departing passengers, mail, and trash. We arrived at our resort, on one of the outermost islands, five hours later. Was it worth five hours on a ferry? Oh, my, yes! But there is a seaplane that flies there, as you can see in the photos, and that is just a 30-minute ride. We would opt for that in the future, even though it costs about twice what the ferry does.

The resort lobby is open-air, as many hotels are in Hawaii, and outside of the beach, it is the only gathering area. The lobby includes a bar, restaurant, and some couches to relax on. Guests stayed in small huts called bure. There were a few bure on the beach, but the treetop bures were all off a path that wound up a small hill…the better for terrific ocean views! The first two photos were taken from our veranda, and it was so gorgeous and calming. There was very limited wifi, a beach, kayaks, snorkeling gear, and massages available. That was it. Jan’s mom had asked, “Were there all kinds of shops selling local items?” No shops. Nothing but a beach, the ocean, and other guests.

The Yasawas are generally fairly pricey because the resorts tend to be all-inclusive. In our original searches, we were finding costs of $1,000-2,000 per night. At a travel show, the resort we ended up at was touted as being more normal, as it charged per night at normal hotel rates and you bought your own food and drinks. The only restaurant available was the resort’s, so there was no competition. The restaurant was excellent. Breakfast was complimentary, but it consisted of coffee, muffins, toast, fruit, and cereal. It was plenty for a daily schedule of…nothing (much like quarantine!). The dinner menu changed daily, and it was supposed to be posted at 6:00 pm, as dinner was supposed to begin at 6:00 pm. But there is a distinctly slow, manana Fijian mindset such that sometimes it started at 6:15 or 6:30. They couldn’t figure out why everyone was waiting to eat as early as 6:00 pm, even though it was the advertised dinner hour.

As you scroll through the photos, you can see how utterly remote we were. The hammock was put to good use by us almost every day! We kayaked on two different days, with the trip out to the middle of the channel surprisingly easy and fun, while paddling back to shore was a struggle and took about four times longer than the original effort! We snorkeled most days, as there was a coral reef directly off the beach and another island just a little farther out, providing a relatively sheltered ocean environment, but allowing a constant gentle current to pass between the islands. Mike went scuba diving a couple of days, one of which was a pretty interesting shark dive. During that dive the guides were able to draw in, using trash cans full of chum, a lot of small black tip reef shark and a pretty impressive 10-foot-long lemon shark.

After the photos of the seaplane’s arrival and the passengers disembarking on the beach are two photos of Queen and Debbie (we remember their names quite clearly after 12 years!). A women’s group who came in for a weekend birthday party hired them from another island for birthday entertainment. We finished dinner and were heading back to our bure when they pulled us in, saying everyone had to join in the festivities. It turned out to be a lot of fun, as Debbie and Queen dragged us (literally) up on stage, gave us their headdresses and danced with us, and did so with everyone present…maybe 25 people or so. Debbie and Queen did say that they practiced their dances at home with the native music every day so that they could be in their best shape to entertain us…they were very sweet and gracious.

After the photos of the birthday party festivities are photos of our walk completely around the island, which took just a few hours, being so small. In addition to our little resort, there was a backpacker’s settlement on the other side, in the multicolored huts. That was it. The island was otherwise deserted. This is the island where the Brooke Shields’ movie, Blue Lagoon, was filmed. We had never seen it, and we were surprised and delighted when we watched it once we were back in the US, as we recognized various parts of the island where we had walked.

The next photos are of our Sunday morning church service. We had to take a boat across the channel to the bigger island of Matacawa Levu, where there was a village and church. Of all things, it was Mother’s Day, so the entire service was led by women, with a woman preaching. The church wasn’t any particular denomination that we could tell, just local Fijian. The little boy was really cute. He kept making faces at Jan, and she made faces right back as Mike took photos. We have about 10 of them, and he got more and more emboldened when he realized Jan wouldn’t be backing down anytime soon.

The last three photos are some of the gorgeous sunsets we experienced, as well as the resort staff waving goodbye to us as the ferry began its five-hour trip back to Fiji’s main island. We have great memories of the Yasawa Islands…tranquil, quiet, totally relaxing, and distraction-free. It was bliss.