A chance to relax, with the Fiji-time edition (in keeping with the theme, a slightly delayed blog post)…
Jen and I had planned to head to Fiji for her birthday (and I’d had it booked before my tickets to New Zealand too, following traditional ‘organisation’…).

Fiji – Day 1 (Smugglers Cove)

We flew out of Wellington around midday to get into Nadi, on the main island (Viti Levu), in the evening. We stayed not far from Nadi town that night, in a hostel called ‘Smugglers Cove’ before we headed to a different resort for a few days.

Smugglers Cove is a bit of a cross between a hotel and a hostel, with smaller ‘private’ rooms of up to 4 people, and then the larger open dorm on the upper floor. That night, we were in a 4-bed dorm, with 2 other girls from the UK, who were taking a gap year (or so) and were making their way to Australia after spending a few months in the US.

At Smugglers Cove, we spoke to the travel desk to pick up our travel and stay vouchers for our trip… and after a bit of discussion discovered that they hadn’t included our transfers!

So… we sorted the transfers, including an early start the following day to catch a bus to Mango Bay Resort, before we grabbed a something for dinner from the adjoining restaurant and turning in early.

Fiji – Day 2 (Mango Bay)

As I said, we had an early start to get the transfer to our next destination… which involved us checking out and getting a taxi along the road to the Nandi Bay Resort by 7.15. There we waited for the transfer bus to Mango Bay… along with about a dozen other people waiting for their transfers.

Due to the number of people, and a bit of a miscommunication, we actually ended up on the wrong transfer bus! So instead of heading to Mango Bay, we ended up at Port Denarau…

Thankfully, the Fijian are really helpful and were able to sort us with a taxi to town to try to catch the bus from there. We waited at the stop-off for the bus, and the transfer company director turned up – we’d managed to miss the proper transfer bus in town too!

The transfer company directer helped us out, by giving us a lift to the local bus station, and we took the public bus instead…

This was an experience in itself, as we didn’t speak the language, and after about an hour of travel we’d come to the conclusion that there were no ‘official’ bus stops…

We spoke to the conductor as well as the driver, to confirm they would let us know where we needed to get off… but then noticed the conductor get dropped off himself! So we were back to square one, of having to figure out where to stop ourselves…

Thankfully, Mango Bay Resort had a sign 1 km in advance, so we got off and started down to the resort from the main road. While we were walking down, a car was heading up – one of the ladies from the resort, Liz with her dog Mishka – and they gave us a lift the rest of the way.

After our early start, we took advantage of the loungers and hammocks to chill and read in the sun for the rest of the day.

Mango Bay has a range of lodgings, both private huts (or bures) and also the shared dormitories. We were in one of the group dorms of 32 beds each, which were all in the same area, along with a shower and toilet block between the dorms. All of the bunk beds were covered with mosquito canopies, and the dorm had big, folding glass doors which meant it was nice to wake up with the sun.

In our dorm, there was just us and one other girl, so it was really quiet (bar the sounds of the birds and the frogs), which was great.

The resort felt like a great place to relax, and was a good introduction to Fiji on the mainland, but still very westernised.

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Mango Bay, grounds and open dining area
Shared dorms, surrounded by greenery
View from the dining area, over the resort pool and private bay area

Fiji – Day 3 (Mango Bay)

We spent the day chilling at Mango Bay, reading and chilling in the sun, as well as using some of the resort facilities, playing table tennis, fuusball and pool.

In the evening, we took part in the traditional Fijian Kava Ceremony.

It was great to learn a bit more about the culture – and to have the opportunity to try kava. The Kava Ceremony is a Fijian custom, or welcoming ceremony, where visitors to a village present the head of the village with Yaqona – or Kava root. The Kava root is then ground up, and strained through cloth into a large wooden bowl.

A cup of Kava is then offered to the attendees in turn – with two options, high tide or low tide (full or half cup). Before accepting the cup, the drinker must clap once and say ‘Bula!’ before drinking the cup in one gulp. After handing the cup back, they must clap three times and say ‘Mathe’.

The Kava Ceremony is symbolic to bring two families together, and after visitors are welcome to explore a village freely – which is a really nice idea.

Kava is pretty odd as a drink… it has a slightly gritty texture, and a taste that is like muddy water – a cross between soil, pepper and tree bark – or what I expect those three would taste like!

Kava is classed as a mild narcotic (in the west – in Fiji it’s just their native celebratory drink), which makes you feel tingling and numbness in your tongue and mouth after drinking – and guarantees a good nights sleep… Maybe this is why the Fijians are known to be some of the happiest people in the world!

In all honesty, I can say Kava is not something I’ll be taking up as a habit in future…

And I’d definitely suggest to anybody who is going to a ceremony to (if possible) take a second drink as a ‘chaser’ to wash it down!

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Traditional Fijian Kava ceremony
Jen, after walking out into the bay
And me in the bay

Fiji – Day 4 (Robinson Crusoe Island)

We had another early start, to catch our transfer from Mango Bay resort. We took a taxi to the Warwick Resort further along the road, where we would catch the proper transfer bus to Robinson Crusoe Island.

Once we’d picked up the other transfers, we hopped from the bus, onto the Robinson Crusoe boat across to the island and checked in. Between us, we had what they called an island ‘bure’ – a private hut for us. The bure was really cool, and a great display of island living, with all of the materials being sourced and crafted on the island – with a wooden frame, and palm leaf weave roof.

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Our Island ‘Bure’, from the deck we could see straight out to the sea
Inside our bure – all of the furniture, and the bure, crafted on the island
In comparison to Mango Bay, Robinson Crusoe seemed like a younger, more active island – with all of the scheduled activities on the island included in the price, and the staff taking part and encouraging us to take part in the activities.

After having a quick nap, we went to join in the island activities, starting off with an Island Cooking Demonstration.

The cooking demo was a bit of an entree before lunch. The guys who did the demonstration had caught some fish just off the island. The fire was started with some of the palm fronds, and built up with some of the smaller tree trunks that were broken up.

One of the first things to be added to the fire was a bread fruit, which ‘baked’ away in the fire while the fish was put in the embers to the edge of the fire.

They used mostly ingredients from the island, mixing up a sauce from sweet chilli and coconut milk, adding some of the coconut flesh to thicken it up. And they even cracked some coconuts for us to drink and wash it all down.

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Island Cooking demonstration – Gus cracking coconuts for the sauce
The Fijian answer to Bear Grylls, throwing freshly caught fish onto the fire embers – with the bread fruit already baking away
Our palm-leaf plates, with the fire-cooked fish
Fijian Bear Grylls cutting open the bread fruit
Gus using a bit of palm bark (scaped thin like cloth) to strain the coconut flesh onto the fish
After lunch, we went on a bit of a walking tour of the island. Along the way, the guides explained to us the uses for many of the local trees and plants, whether for medical or building purposes.

We stopped at some of the key areas around the island, including places dubbed as ‘Crab City’, where the ground was muddled with crab-holes housing the creepy-critters. We then stopped by the ‘Coconut Graveyard’, which had previously been coconut trees cut for their wood to craft the building on the island. After that, we circled along the beach on the other side of the island and back around to the bures.

After the tour, Gus (one of the guides) set us up for the afternoon activity of hand-line fishing… We used stale bread for bait, and spent a couple of hours perfecting our loop, swing and release technique for the lines while standing in the shallows.

Having never fished before, I was surprised to catch 2 fish on my first outing!

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Fijian Bear Grylls introducing Jen to some of the locals… Yes that is a live crab in his mouth!
Bear Grylls with his arm down one of the many crab-holes in Crab City (the crab holes can even reach several metres deep)
A couple of the locals we met along the way…

Fiji – Day 5 (Robinson Crusoe Island)

We were on Robinson Crusoe, and took part in most of their included daily activities.

In the morning, we took it easy, and chilled while reading our books looking out over the beach. Before lunch, there was a trip out to the reef on one of the island boats to go snorkelling. So we grabbed some gear and went along.

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Before we could head out to snorkel the reef, the guys from the island wanted to clean the boat…
Which happened to be quite close to some local sea life that had decided to come ashore – the sea snakes
After swimming out from the boat, the guides pointed out the route they would take out to the wave break and reef – which looked to be a good kilometre or so swimming. I didn’t feel comfortable with the distance and swam back closer to the boat, to take in the reef and fish there. When we got back, we used the island showers – which were bucket showers, that we filled from a rain-water tower before raising them up to sit on a ledge above head-height. It really makes you think about how much water we use day to day elsewhere, and how much more we could conserve and efficient we could be.
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Island-style showers – fill a bucket, then fill the ‘shower bucket’ (with a tap on it, before you hoist it up to sit on the shelf above your head… Then you’re good to go!
After lunch, we did some more hand-line fishing, but this time – even with the added bait of crab – the fish weren’t biting. I think they’d caught on!

So we switched activities, and joined some of the other visitors and staff to play beach volleyball, which was a great laugh with about 7 of us on either team.

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Perfecting my swing and release technique for hand-line fishing
It’s been a while since I last played volleyball, but I don’t remember this reaction on my knuckles happening before…?!?!
Sunset over Robinson Crusoe Island

Fiji – Day 6 (Robinson Crusoe Island)

We had a bit of a free morning on Robinson Crusoe Island, as many of the guests the previous day had been day-trippers or staying overnight only.

Picture – Gus bids goodbye to some of the overnight guests, with traditional Fijian song (the fishing rod was his own addition)
So we spent the morning chilling out, reading in ‘our spots’ on the beach. Mid-morning, we took a break from our books, and took the island kayaks out, to paddle out and around the island.
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Pictures – taking the kayaks out for a paddle
We came back in, in time for lunch and then joined another group to play beach volleyball – something that didn’t last very long as the sand was so hot it was burning our feet.

So we spent the afternoon instead crafting coconut jewellery…

One of the guys demonstrated, and we had cut rings out of coconuts, large enough that we’d be able to wear them as bracelets. After cutting the rings, we then spent a lot of time sanding them, to remove the coconut hairs and get a consistent texture, smooth the inside and even out the edges. Once the bands were smooth and we were happy, we dipped them into varnish and then hung them on palm strands to dry.

Coconut jewellery crafting turned out to be quite a messy job, with the shell dust from sanding covering the table and us. So it was time for another bucket shower before watching the sunset and then dinner. After dinner, we went on a ‘crab hunt’ where we wandered the paths around the island, looking for crab holes, with their pincered occupants.

As soon as we were back from the crab hunt, we all settled to chat at get to know each other around the bonfire on the beach, before calling it a night.

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The starting point of coconut jewellery, fresh from the island trees
What a difference a bit of sand paper can make!
One of our finds on the ‘Crab Hunt’
Sunset over the island, before the bonfire
Bonfire on the beach after nightfall

Fiji – Day 7 (Bounty Island)

We checked out of our island bure and left Robinson Crusoe mid-morning, to get a transfer Port Denarau where we’d catch our next boat transfer.

We had plenty of time at the port, so spent some time, and money, wandering around the shops before grabbing a bite to eat and boarding the ferry.

They had quite an ingenious way to do island transfers and drop-offs from the ferry. Due to the size of the ferry, it was too deep to dock at all of the islands as it may have gotten caught on the reef and rocks in shallow areas closer to the shore.

So instead, the island sent a boat to meet the ferry, and we climbed off the back of the ferry to switch onto the boat to Bounty Island. We arrived just in time to check in to the dorm room before grabbing lunch.

The dorm was an open shared dorm with around 24 beds, with shared showers and toilets at the end. The others in our dorm seemed to have come to the island as a group, so we didn’t really interact with them much.

The island felt a bit more like Mango Bay, more formal (with less conversations between staff and holidayers) and less activities-based than Robinson Crusoe.

In the afternoon, we checked out the turtle pond on the island, which housed around a dozen baby turtles, around 10 weeks to 3 months old.

Because of how young the turtles are there, they have softer shells and can be really vulnerable to predators, which is why a lot of the islands work together in their conservation efforts. The turtles are also really sensitive to chemicals, so can only be handled with gloves – and even dipping your hands in, with sunscreen on them, can affect the turtles eyes (giving them the equivalent of conjunctivitis).

Before dinner, we wandered around the island, to sit on the coral beach and watch the sunset.

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Checking out the turtle pond
First sunset over Bounty Island

Fiji – Day 8 (Bounty Island)

We had breakfast, and then chilled out looking out over Bounty Island beach until mid-morning. At that point, we were able to go back up to the turtle pond, where we could help out by cleaning the turtles and the pool.

Cleaning the turtles was awesome, we had gloves on and the turtles fit across the palm of our hands. It was quite tricky, as the turtles weren’t always happy to be out of the water and handled, and would wriggle and flap their fins trying to get away, so it was a delicate process getting them in a comfortable position that they wouldn’t hurt themselves when moving. We used toothbrushes to gently brush the shells of all their algae, before giving the turtles eye drops (for the infections caused by chemicals). The turtles then had to be kept out of water for an hour for the drops to work.

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Pictures – Toothbruthes at the ready! Time for turtle cleaning :o)
Most of the tourists cleared out as soon as the turtles were clean, but Jen and I stuck around asking questions about the turtles, their habits, the conservation efforts etc. While we were talking the guys from the resort asked if we wanted to help out cleaning the pool. So we jumped in to the emptied pool and grabbed some brushes to help clean the algae from the rocks and the pool, before rearranging them to create the ‘new’ turtle house setup as the pool was filled.

Because we’d helped out, and had obviously been asking the right questions, the guys from the resort offered us the opportunity to release the turtles back into the pool – and opportunity we jumped on of course!

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Pictures – Turtle release time! After making friends with the little guys, we got to release them back into the pool.
We spent the afternoon snorkelling out on the coral reef and seeing (probably disturbing) the local sea-life, just off shore. Before taking advantage of the sun to dry off.

Fiji – Day 9 (Port Denarau)

We checked out of the dormitory, bid our goodbyes to the turtles and waited for our transfer. In the same way as our first transfer, we took the island boat out to the larger ferry and climbed aboard. The ferry then sailed around for the next couple of hours to the other islands for drop-offs and we got to see the other islands in the Mamanuca area.
When we got back to Port Denarau, we decided to skip the transfer and get lunch there as well as wander the shops again.

We also had been thinking about what we could do the following day – as we were due to fly out late evening, so didn’t want to waste the day just waiting to head to the airport.

By early afternoon, we were all shopped out, and had even booked a day trip for our last day. So we headed back to Smugglers Cove where we were staying overnight, to chill out at the beach there for the afternoon.

Over dinner that night, while we ate on the beach-front deck, Smugglers Cove had their weekly Fire Dance show. So we watched as the group performed fire breathing, and spinning combined with some of the traditional island dances.

It was really impressive, especially as the youngest from the group was a boy who looked to be around 10, but obviously he was well practiced and put on as good if not better (in some cases) show than the older performers.

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Fire spinners at Smugglers Cove
Traditional dances in the sand-pit

Fiji – Day 10 (South Sea Island)

We’d booked a day trip out to South Sea Island, to make the most of our time in Fiji. This meant we had an early start to the Port, and then about a half hour trip to the island.

Picture – On the approach to South Sea Island
South Sea Island was a great last day. We started off by doing some scuba diving, beginning in the pool to get used to the gear, learning how to clear our masks of water (while underwater) etc. and then moving out to the reef just off the shore.

After we dried off in the sun, it was time for lunch – which included a show of the island traditions, singing and dancing etc.

After lunch, we took their semi-submersible boat trip around the reef so that we could see the coral and sea-life a bit further from shore. It was great to see what was there, although a very odd sensation with the water flowing past on either side (and not being able to see it in front). After this sneak peek, when we got back to the island, we grabbed our snorkelling gear and headed back out to swim around the reefs.

After snorkelling we then decided to dry off a little by staying above the water, and kayaked around the island (a couple of times, as it was small enough). Once we returned to the island, we took advantage of their outdoor showers (directly beneath the island water tower) to wash the sea salt off, before again sitting to dry in the sun.

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Around the coral reefs off shore on South Sea Island
Traditional dancers and weapons display over lunch
We caught our boat back to Port Denarau late-afternoon, and then the transfer to Smugglers Cove so that we could change before grabbing a taxi to head to the airport.