1: SUNBATHE IN A HAMMOCK
If you’ve come to Fiji, you probably like the sun. It’s a country of tropical islands, so sunshine is pretty much part of the picture. Which means that blue skies and azure waters are also part of the picture. I’m not going to lie: it’s a pretty great picture.
One of my favourite ways to frame that picture is with a couple of palm trees and my feet at the end of a hammock. Potentially with a good book that I can lie there reading for a few hours, stopping every few pages to look around and remind myself what an incredible setting I’m in.
Ok, so sometimes it can get a bit too hot sunbathing. Luckily, the Pacific is usually just a stone’s throw away, with water that feels a little bit like getting into a bath.
2: CATCH THE SUNRISE
This is one of my favourite things to do in a lot of places. What better way to experience a beautiful place than to see it waking up at the start of the day?
Admittedly, I’m not really a fan of getting out of bed when it’s still dark, and at home I hardly ever wake up early expressly to catch the sunrise. But hiking to the highest point on the island and seeing the sun come up over the vast expanse of the Pacific definitely makes the early morning worth it. Especially when you know you can spend the afternoon snoozing in a hammock on the beach.
Of course, if you’re really not a morning person, there’s always the other end of the day. Sitting on the beach with a Bounty rum & coke and watching the sun fall away into the ocean was a wonderfully regular occurrence for me in Fiji. As in, every single night. Beautiful.
3. SNORKEL / DIVE THE CORAL REEFS
Before I went to Fiji, I had never seen a coral reef up close. The closest I’d come to one was watching Finding Nemo. Which was nowhere near.
Unlike most people, my first interaction with the reef was through SCUBA diving. I’d never even snorkelled before, when my friend (who has her PADI Open Water and had been preaching the joys of diving to me for over a week) convinced me to do an intro dive.
By sheer chance, it was a one-to-one intro dive, which meant it was just me and the instructor. He talked me through the equipment, how to breathe, the hand signals I needed to know. Then we walked down the sloping beach and into the sea.
The water was clear as glass. It was like immersing myself in a living, swimming gallery of coral and sea life, of jewel-bright colours, of graceful and flitting movement. I was overwhelmed by it. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.
Over the next week, we snorkelled a lot in Fiji. (Most resorts* rent out snorkelling gear for just a couple of Fijian dollars. Even the tiny family run ones will often have equipment you can hire.) I saw numerous reefs and more incredible sea life. But none of it compared to that initial rush of natural beauty, or the sheer joy of discovering a world that I never really knew existed.
*The term ‘resorts’ tends to make me think of big buildings filled with tourists and run by large corporations. There are a couple of these in the Yasawa Islands of course, but a lot of the resorts are smaller and family run. Some of them only have 5 or 6 bures (little huts) and these resorts will support each other across the islands.
4. VISIT A VILLAGE
The Yasawa Islands may look like a travel agent’s advert for tropical paradise, but it’s important to remember that each island is also a community. People actually live here. I know that sounds obvious, but I think that sometimes it’s important to be reminded of that.
On a lot of the islands, you can pay a small amount (often between 5-10 Fijian dollars) to tour the local village. It’s a great way to chat to locals and to get a feel for what life is like locally.
It’s also a good way to support the local community. One of the things I loved most about the Yasawa Islands was how many places I stayed were family- or community-run, and how it was supporting the local villages and keeping smaller island communities thriving. Often there will also be an opportunity to buy local crafts during village visits. Supporting local communities & getting beautiful things: win win!
5: SWIM IN THE SAWA-I-LAU CAVES
Sawa-i-Lau Island is about halfway up the Yasawa Islands. It isn’t a resort island, which means that when you visit, you’ll get there by boat. As you approach, you’ll see it rising out of the sea like something from Jurassic Park. Vast and craggy and prehistoric.
You’ll enter the main cave via a rocky path and down a ladder. It’s tall and filled with blue light from holes in the top and the bright seawater that fills its bottom. It’s a beautiful place to swim: calm and peaceful and ancient-feeling. It’s a place to feel as though time has forgotten you, or as though you have forgotten it.
From there, if you have a guide, you can swim through into the secondary cave. Although ‘swim’ may not be quite the right word. ‘Squeeze’ might be more appropriate. The entrance to the second cave is underwater. It’s also quite narrow, and pitch black – hence why you need a guide. It feels as though you’re pushing yourself into nothingness. I’m not going to lie, it was terrifying. What if I couldn’t get back out again? What if there wasn’t enough room once I got through?
There’s actually plenty of room, but it’s definitely a thrilling experience, swimming around in the dark belly of the mountain.
Have you been to the Yasawa Islands? What was your favourite thing to do?