Ya­sawa Is­lands:

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.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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