Nicola Russell takes her teenage son on a Fiji island holiday and discovers there is plenty of activity – or inactivity – in this tropical paradise to keep them both blissfully content.
Nicola Russell visits Fiji’s outlying island paradise
It’s one in the morning when I awake with a start onboard a small ship in Fiji’s outlying Yasawa Islands and realise my 16-year-old is not in his bed. dart out of our shared cabin and start visually combing the abandoned decks for him, increasingly believing he’s fallen overboard in a kavainduced daze.
When I reach the top level of the Fiji Princess, my panic stops short and I am greeted with its antithesis – pure calm. There, lying on mattresses under the stars, is a group comprising some of the ship’s crew and my son Joseph. I’m later told that when the weather is fine they regularly pull their beds onto the deck to sleep in the open air. It is only night one in paradise but Joseph is already well acclimatised.
It’s no secret that Kiwis love the tropical resorts at Denarau, not far from Fiji’s international airport – we flock there for family holidays, weddings and honeymoons. The Yasawa Islands, however, are much less frequented – and therein lies their appeal. It’s difficult to describe the magic of this stunning part of the Pacific.
There’s the freedom of isolation, the turquoise water and white sand, wow-inducing coral reefs and the world-famous friendliness of the Fijian people.
But there is something more in the deep-seated tranquillity here that rapidly soothes the nerves and is just the ticket for a relaxing mother/son adventure. This is the place to visit to be in nature, chill out and leave city stresses well behind.
It’s worth noting that the only argument Joseph and I had on our eight-day Fiji holiday was on the final night, back in Denarau, when he didn’t want to wear shoes to the restaurant for dinner. He’d lost his jandals en route and the thought of
closed-in shoes was now abhorrent. He’s since claimed he plans to live in the Yasawas when he leaves home – a plan I’m happy with as long as there is plenty of room for me to visit. Often.
Our trip to the Yasawas begins on a high-speed catamaran from Port Denarau, which connects us to the deluxe mini cruise ship run by Blue Lagoon Cruises. The ship sleeps a maximum of 68 guests, with a choice of three, four or seven-night cruises. Passengers on a week-long cruise board the Fiji Princess at Denarau, while those like us, who are doing shorter stints, catch a ferry to meet the cruise at one of its many incredible moorings in the Yasawa Islands.
Watching the mainland disappear behind us is a great way to transition to Fiji time, as the catamaran ventures through miles of deep blue sea to meet the Princess – and what a Princess she is! With three decks, a rooftop bar, an open-air restaurant and a splash pool, it has everything needed for a luxury tropical escape – but the beauty of the ship lies in its small size, which allows it to anchor so close to the islands.
Actually, the true beauty of the Fiji Princess is its staff. The ship has a 2:1 passenger/staff ratio and it shows. Given its intimate size, it’s easy to make friends with other passengers but it’s even easier to make friends with the lovely crew. Joseph was befriended, on boarding, by his namesake Josefo and promptly renamed ‘Little Sefo’ – which he remained for the duration of the trip.
On our first of three days on the Fiji Princess, we are moored out at Yalobi Bay in the Sacred Islands. Here we take breaks from snorkelling and swimming only to get food and drinks from the portable beach bar. Back on board, cocktail hour follows, accompanied by a flaming sunset and a beautifully presented Captain’s dinner. When I head back to the cabin, Joseph happily joins the crew to bond over guitar playing while I sleep.
The next day we wake to find the boat has moved to Nanuya Lailai,
Blue Lagoon Cruise’s own private beach. We spend two days here with the Princess’ small boats ferrying us back and forth from the island as much as we wish, for snorkelling, paddle boarding, swimming, fish feeding or just relaxing on sun loungers. The water is so warm I take to lying in the shallows with my book for as long as I can before Joseph wants me to do a more exciting activity (the lying in the water option is exciting to me!). A hearty lunch and a lovely afternoon tea are both served on the beach. Everything is low-key, the focus on nature and chilling.
We wander over to watch the lovo (very similar to a hangi) being laid for dinner, drink the water of coconuts just picked from the tree and watch basket weaving. The staff are engaged in these tasks and joining in is optional, adding to the relaxed nature of the experience.
After heading back to the boat to freshen up, it is time for cocktail hour on the beach, a kava ceremony (more medicine for the nerves) and then a feast of the beautiful lovo-cooked meats and root vegetables. After dinner, locals from the next village perform a meke for us, singing and dancing up a storm. One dancer in particular is so expressive that if I were a theatre director I would sign him up immediately. A shell market follows, where Joseph collects some beautiful wooden carvings and masks and I buy a pretty pair of pearl earrings. We finish off the night with a dip in the lap pool on board (swimming is not allowed in the sea at night – which is probably best post-kava ceremony).
We are collected the next day by the Yasawa Flyer water taxi and farewelled with an emotional song from our new-found friends. We pass Turtle Island, where The Blue Lagoon movie was filmed, watch the turquoise seas with wonder and soon arrive at Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, a deluxe, intimate sanctuary on Nacula Island. We are given the jungle bure, which is sheltered in a tropical garden and provides a relaxing, cool escape from the beating sun – perfect after three days at sea. The food at Blue Lagoon is the cuisine highlight of our trip – delicious buffet breakfasts and tasty à la carte lunches and dinners made from fresh, local ingredients.
ABOVE: Blue Lagoon Cruises’ small ship is able to anchor close in to the islands. Joseph enjoys a bit of guitar playing with a crew member from the Fiji Princess.