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Taking it easy on the Yasawa Islands


For once the brochure doesn’t lie! Nor do the pictures need airbrushing. I was being granted a rare treat not just a holiday. There are over 300 islands across Fiji (of which 100 are populated), the mountain ranges are friendly and green-topped, the waters crystalline, and the sand is truly white.

Yasawa Islands, Fiji, beach

The Blue Lagoon cruise makes most sense if tacked onto a visit planned for down under. It is the perfect holiday within a holiday. It’s true that for a European it’s a long, long way but the pressure is off instantly on landing; the airport and marina are fabulously near to each other. Besides, cruises are as restful or energetic as you feel. You are effortlessly on the move and there is a definite passive beauty in viewing the shorelines, in passing gently past static land.

Cruises may not be for everyone. Most of the year Blue Lagoon Cruises are exclusively for adults (though the rules are relaxed between September and Christmas). It is not just ‘plain sailing’. There is always something to feast upon. We stopped at different spots regularly enough to make each day new. The setting for each dinner is different and imaginatively conceived. This determined tour operator fully recognises how vital a part food plays in the holiday mix.

210414fiji-photo-23xYes, this Yasawa Island group, around 20 in all and volcanic in origin, is properly remote, accessible only by a handful of options. It looks out over Bligh Water, named after William Bligh, Captain Cook’s first mate. It’s also famous as the location for the filming of both Blue Lagoon versions (the 1948 Black+White one starring Jean Simmons and the more recent one with Brooke Shields). And yet, miraculously, they remain unspoilt and innocent.

The advantage of being bespoke and boutique is that things are small enough to be informal. On Blue Lagoon’s own private beach on Nanuya Lailai Island the size of the vessel allowed us to get so close as to be tied up to a coconut tree. The rotund and jolly captain somehow maintained his authority, with his self-detrimental joke “the more you eat, the more you float”, while joining in the spontaneous swim ashore as we suddenly all felt a need to cool down. Refreshing to be able to break the brochure routine!

The clientele are principly Antipodean, with people typically in their fifties or more, more likely those renewing their vows as opposed to spending their honeymoon. One wise-cracking passenger said against himself that they were ‘more nearly deads than newly weds’. Inevitably relaxed camaraderie climaxed on the last night on the top deck for the “Skydeck dinner” Being, as I say, a refreshingly small boat there were 40 of us guests aboard and nearly the same number of staff, who all speak excellent English. It is their first language, taught ahead of their respective Fijian dialect. I met the English teacher at the village school at Yasawa. Alfred, perspiring from sporting his tie. also runs the library which houses copies of Hamlet and Julius Caesar but no art books to show Paul Gauguin’s work , a much more vital and fitting connection between European and Oceanic values. The schools need assistance hence the inspired charity the Vinaka Fiji Trust which also pushes an enlightened doctrine for marine conservation and sustainable crops.

It makes a real difference that most of them come from the Islands and know the villagers we have a special chance to meet in a respectful way and not as a ‘human safari’. With their natural grace and dignity they do things in “Fiji time” with endearing patience, song and dance.

Cruise ship, Yasawa Islands, FifiI went on a shorter 4 night version of the 7 day tour. I stayed on afterwards to make more of my visit to Fiji. I went to nearby Modriki Island, the setting for Tom Hanks’ Castaway, and returned to the mainland to take in the breathtaking scents of the orchid gardens started by the late Raymond Burr of both Perry Mason and Ironside fame.

At last, I got a chance to recreate my own desert island experience. Like mad dogs and the Englishman I am, I walked around one island and swam the circle around another. I had the place to myself alongside a myriad of little creatures. Snorkelling is the best way to enjoy them especially in and amongst these renown soft coral spots. I had a hat and some water and of course underestimated the distance and the heat. Nothing that a drop of iodine and tea tree oil couldn’t restore.

British Colonialism has left its mark with hymn and psalm plaques in the Methodist churches. I bought a copy of the Fijian to English dictionary. Cobo – to clap the hands crosswise, so as to make a hollow sound – was something I had witnessed as part of a ceremonial act. Tele – to paint with lime the eyes of a pig so as to blind it, preventing it thus from spoiling gardens – was luckily not.

Yasawa Islands, Fiji, fisherman on beach

Photos by Richard Aspinall www.aspinallink.co.uk

Adam Jacot de Boinod was a researcher for the first BBC television series QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, which led to an interest in foreign words. He wrote The Meaning of Tingo and all the most Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books, and created the App Tingo, an iPhone Game about Interesting Words.

He flew with Air New Zealand to Los Angeles and onto Fiji with the newly formed Fijian Airways, He travelled to the Yasawa Islands of Fiji courtesy of Blue Lagoon Cruises (see www.bluelagooncruises.com for details).

Getting there

Flights from London Heathrow to LA with Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.co.uk/) Prices range from £800 to £1,400 for return flights in Economy Class. Additional options: Economy Saver, Economy Flexi, Premium Economy and Business Premier. Flight times are between ten and eleven and a half hours.

Connecting flights from LAX with Fiji Airways (www.fijiairways.com/). Prices range from US$400 to US$2,500.

Cruise

Blue Lagoon Cruises (www.bluelagooncruises.com/). We did the four day Wanderer Cruise: www.bluelagooncruises.com/cruise-itineraries/wanderer-cruise/ other itineraries are available.

4 nights from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015 FJ$2,660(Hibiscus Deck) and FJ$3,400 (Orchid Decks) per person for a double/twin cabin.

Transfers are also available from Mamanuca Island Resorts to Fiji Princess. (www.bluelagooncruises.com/cruise-itineraries/#departures)

Hotels

Matamanoa Island Resort (www.matamanoa.com/)

Volunteering

The Yasawa Trust Foundation was established in 2010 and created the ‘Vinaka Fiji’ Volunteer Programs in Fiji’s remote Yasawa Islands. The aim of these programs is to improve the provision of basic needs and amenities missing from village life in the Yasawas.

Vinaka Fiji invites you to share the magic of Fiji whilst helping the people of the remote villages of the Yasawa Islands. Their volunteer programs cover key areas of need, from helping children learn, to planting crops, installing water tanks or working in baby clam nurseries. Program length is flexible from 1 to 26 weeks, and the range of opportunities to help means there is something for everyone.

If a holiday in Fiji, combined with the opportunity to become more involved in the island life of the Yasawas, to genuinely ‘give back’ and lend a helping hand, and to make a difference through your travel sounds like a good idea to you, then Vinaka Fiji Volunteering will be a highlight of your travel experiences. (www.vinakafiji.org.fj/)

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