There are many, many places that could be called paradise in this beautiful world that we live in, especially because the word paradise can mean many different things to many different people. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.
I myself have described many places during my travels as Paradise, and I meant it too, but now I feel that I perhaps overused that word. Because when you truly find somewhere that embodies Paradise, the word doesn’t hold as much meaning.
I should have saved it for Nacula Island.
It wasn’t the right time of year to visit. At the end of the dry season the land was barren and the grass yellowed from the harsh Fijian sun. I could imagine the land lush and green and even more beautiful earlier in the season, when the life giving effects of the rainy months still lingered.
Despite this, I fell hard for this small undeveloped island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Nacula Island is one of approximately twenty volcanic islands known as the Yasawa Island Group. Located above the touristic Mamanuca Islands, home to the infamous backpacker party island of Beachcomber, the Yasawas are less developed, more mountainous and more remote. The only way to reach them is by catamaran from Denarau on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, or by private sea plane.
There are no roads on the islands. No shops, no restaurants, no street lights. Tourism has only come to the Yasawas since the late 1980s and even now it is restricted to a handful of backpacker resorts with a few luxury resorts sprinkled in for good measure.
The small villages that are dotted throughout the Yasawa Islands still paint a picture of the traditional way of life before the arrival of tourism nearly 30 years ago. The main difference is that there are more job opportunities now, in the form of working at the various resorts. This helps the villagers to sustain their traditional way of life as well as opening up other opportunities such as access to education and a chance to work overseas and on the main island: dreams that would have been hard if not impossible to accomplish before the arrival of tourism to the islands.
Nacula Island is the third largest island in the Yasawas and is home to four traditional villages as well as four backpacker resorts, clustered at the southern end of the island.
We chose to stay at Blue Lagoon Resort after reading great reviews of it in Lonely Planet and on Trip Advisor. Not a luxury resort but not as basic as a lot of the Backpacker Resorts in the Yasawas, the Blue Lagoon Resort sits somewhere in the middle. The only resort on the island with a pool, Blue Lagoon also had meal choices instead of set meals, 24 hour power and hot water. The bures were also of a better quality and offered Air Con.
Nacula Island is one of the last stops on the Yasawa Flyer, the catamaran that transports passengers from Port Denarau on the main island. Getting to Nacula was definitely part of the fun. We sat on the top deck, admiring the beautiful islands that we passed. Some of the Mamanucas that we passed at the beginning of the trip were just tiny dots of green jungle fringed with white sand.
As we got into the Yasawa group the islands became larger as well as mountainous, but the beaches were just as beautiful. All of the resorts that the boat dropped guests off at looked stunning, I started to wonder if Nacula Island would match up.
Our arrival on the island was like something out of a Hollywood movie from the 1950’s: Old school South Pacific charm. For what we were paying I hadn’t expected a five star greeting. Once we stepped off our transfer boat, we were greeted with a fresh tropical juice and a beautiful Fijian song, accompanied with the melodic harmony of guitars. When I looked down the perfect crescent of beach I knew I had picked the right island for us.
The setting was just beautiful. A mountain peak towered over the small resort. Coconut palms with hammocks strung between them lined the white sand beach. Sun loungers and palm thatch umbrellas dotted the sparkling sands. The water was translucent: liquid blue-tinged glass. There were so many different shades of blue. It was even more beautiful than I could ever have imagined it to be.
After signing in and handing over our vouchers of prepayment, we were shown to our dorm room along a sandy path. The difference in price between the dorm and the basic Bure (beach hut) was quite a jump. As we had booked private rooms for the rest of our stay in Fiji we decided to save the money at Blue Lagoon. The dorm was clean and quiet as Blue Lagoon is not a party resort, so we had no trouble during our four nights there.
We had arrived just in time for lunch so after dumping our bags, we headed along the sandy path to the onsite Restaurant to order.
I was really impressed by the Restaurant. It had a beautiful setting, looking out over the pristine beach and multi-hued sea. The sand floors and decking made it feel relaxed and there were bean bags scattered along the front deck. It opened up onto a gorgeous pool surrounded by day beds and there was a wrap-around wooden bar where you could plonk yourself down and order cocktails. My favourite was the Toblerone, essentially a chocolate thick shake with Frangelico, Kahlua and Baileys thrown into the mix. I had a few of those during my stay. Worth every calorie, and I imagine there were a lot.
At pretty much all of the resorts on the Yasawas, it is compulsory to purchase the meal plan from the onsite Restaurant as there are no other options for buying or cooking food. The food at Blue Lagoon wowed us from the start. There was a menu with around ten a la carte dishes as well as another four-five dishes that change daily. As well as being able to order more traditional Fijian food such as curries, taro, cassava and fish in coconut milk, there were also popular Western meal choices such as pizza, burgers, chicken wraps, sandwiches and fish and chips. My favourite lunch dish was the Tandoori chicken wrap with cassava fries – so good!
Dinner was usually an a la carte affair as well, with the menu changing every two days. Three courses were served and the food was spectacular. We also had a Seafood buffet one night and a BBQ on another. I don’t know if I have ever eaten so well in my life. My favourite dinner was baked polenta with roasted vegetables, feta and a balsamic drizzle. It was hands down the most impressive polenta dish I have ever eaten, with such an incredible harmony of flavours. Most of the ingredients used in the meals are fresh, with many of the fruits and vegetables grown locally on the island and the seafood is locally caught.
Breakfast was a plentiful buffet with traditional Fijian treats such as coconut muffins and Fijian donuts, which are small squares of fried bread dusted with icing sugar. There was also fresh tropical fruit, cereals, fresh breads for toasting, pancakes and an omelette and egg bar.
Unfortunately because all of the food was so good, I felt stuffed a lot of the time, in particular after the three course dinners. We always made sure to stick around for the nightly activities before heading to bed for an early night though.
Evening activities while we were there included watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ on a screen tied between two palm trees, hermit crab racing which was pretty hilarious and very competitive, and Survivor Fiji which involved various quiz questions and puzzles about Fiji. Our team didn’t do so well (mainly because there was a guy in the other team who had been living in Fiji for three months: Cheater) but as there were only two teams competing, we still got second place and a bottle of champagne to share. I loved how to open the evening, they played the music from ‘Survivor’ and lit four tiki torches, cheesy but fun.
Before dinner each night there was a Kava ceremony. We had heard about the infamous Kava before travelling to Fiji. It is a mildly sedative drink made from a root that has been ground into powder then mixed with water. It looks and tastes like muddy water but I liked the way it made my tongue tingle and I did feel more relaxed after drinking it. Maybe I should get some for flying as a natural alternative to valium.
There are customs associated with drinking Kava for the first time, you start by clapping once and saying ‘Bula’ (Hello) before drinking, then clap three times and say ‘Mothe’(see you again) after. After drinking the muddy concoction out of a half coconut shell, we were serenaded with local songs accompanied by a ukulele. As soon as I hear a ukulele it takes me back to Hawaii. Now it will remind me of Fiji as well.
We met so many amazing people during our stay and meals were a social affair. Sitting at communal tables was a great way to meet other guests and the guests staying at Blue Lagoon while we were there were a great mix of backpackers, couples and families. The staff were incredibly friendly, welcoming and warm. I loved that they could joke around and have some fun while working, while still maintaining a high level of professionalism. Fijians are just able to do that. There were also some friendly dogs that I presume were stray but were used to people. One in particular was very friendly and jumped up on us in the hammock a few times and even stole Trav’s bean bag.
Our days at Blue Lagoon were a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. We were up around 7am every day to catch breakfast at 7.30am before getting started on the day’s activities. There were a few activities that cost money such as diving, a cave visit and hand line fishing, but we mainly did the free stuff such as snorkelling offshore, swimming in the crystal clear waters, sunbathing and hiking.
Snorkelling was probably my favourite activity. The reef was literally steps away from the beach and despite its easy access, the coral was spectacular and there were tons of colourful fish. I bought my own snorkel and mask so it didn’t cost me anything. The water was so clear so the visibility was fantastic and I had the reef practically to myself the few times that I went out. Some kids at the Resort saw a sea horse, which would be one of my dream marine life sightings, but unfortunately I didn’t see any.
I have always wanted to give Paddle boarding a try but have been put off in the past by the high rental cost. I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for something I wasn’t even sure I would enjoy. At Blue Lagoon it was only FJD$10 to take out a paddleboard so it was finally the right time (and price) for me to try it. After watching another guy try it and fail miserably to even stand up, I started to think it would be harder than I thought, but I turned out to be a natural.
Believe me, I am usually so uncoordinated that this was a massive surprise. I got the hang of it straight away and Trav and I took the boards around the reef. Getting back was much harder and I fell off trying to turn my board against the current. We found that kneeling gave us more traction and we managed to make it back to shore, albeit with sore arm muscles. I really enjoyed it and it is definitely something I would like to do again as long as I don’t have to pay through the nose for the privilege.
Hiking different paths in the south of the island was another highlight. I will write more about our hiking adventures in Fiji soon.
There were also a lot of cultural activities on offer at Blue Lagoon and most of them were free. I learnt how to weave my own flax bracelet and we watched a coconut demonstration and tasted it in various forms including deep fried with sweet chilli sauce – yum. I went along to the Kokoda cooking demonstration where the Resort’s Chef showed us how to make the traditional fish dish which is similar to ceviche. The fish is marinated in lemon juice and the acids from the lemon juice ‘cooks’ the fish. It is then added to coconut milk and various salad ingredients. It is fresh and delicious and I liked it a lot more than ceviche.
One cultural activity that I felt was important to participate in was a traditional Village visit. It ended up being a definite highlight of my time in Fiji and it is something I will be writing about in more detail soon.
There was also Fijian story-telling, basket weaving and a local Church visit on Sunday which we unfortunately missed. We did get to hear the Church Choir sing though as they came and sung a few hymns in Fijian for us before dinner on Sunday night. The Fijians are known to be good singers and I can definitely attest to that.
All of the activities we did were so fantastic but there was nothing like lying in a hammock with a cocktail, waiting for the perfect orange sunset with the soothing sounds of the ocean in my ears.
I loved this island so much that I felt a strong sense of loss when we left. I guess you can expect that though, when you have to leave paradise.