June 17, 2016
Geography check – North west of Viti Levu islands lie the Mamanuca (pronounced Mama-nuda) Islands and the Yasawa Islands. Each of these group of islands is comprised of hundreds of small islands which represent the lush white-sand and clear blue water islands you and I have come to recognize Fiji for. Mamanuca Islands are about a 2 hour boat ride north of Denarau port, whereas Yasawa Islands are about 4 hours north of Denarau. According to locals, the further north you go, the better the islands get.
Having returned our rental car, we reserved day 4 in Fiji to explore the renowned islands of Fiji. Prior to our arrival in Fiji, we were under the impression that the island of Viti Levu was home to all the Fijian beaches we typically see on TV. Turns out that Viti Levu/Nadi is truly an entrance point for most visitors to the country and Denarau is home to world class resorts. The white-sand beaches and exotic islands are off of the northern coast of Viti Levu in the islands of Mamanuca and Yasawa. Akshita and I decided to spend the day at Beachcomber Island, part of the Mamanuca Islands.
We headed off to the Denarau port early in the morning only to find out that Akshita had forgotten our tickets in the hotel room. Though the tour company had our names on the list, the physical tickets with the bar codes needed to be presented. Thanks to the brown connection (at least what we think), the lady of Indian origin allowed us to board the boat and requested that we present the actual tickets upon our return in the evening. Finally out of panic mode, we were on the boat and on our way to Mamanuca Islands. The boat stopped at various Mamanuca Islands including Mana Island and Treasure Islands. We saw multiple helicopters hovering over Mana Island and soon learned that the island was the current season’s location for the hit TV series, Survivor. We even saw what appeared to be contestants practicing/competing in one of the many obstacle courses.
Words can’t explain the beauty of the islands and the crystal clear blue water that we witnessed as our boat cruised around the Mamanuca islands. After about 2 hours on the boat, we finally reached Beachcomber island. The small island (barely the size of a football field) was unlike anything we had seen before. Though the sand was a little rough, the water was crystal clear.
We put on our life jackets and hopped on a small boat for some snorkeling. The crystal clear water meant amazing views of the marine life including schools of fish, jelly fish, sting rays, baby sharks, and turtles. We managed to take a couple pictures and videos of the ocean creatures using our GoPro.
After snorkeling, we spent some time kayaking around the island. The water was so clear that we were easily able to see the ocean floor/coral reefs 10 feet under us. We even managed to see a lot of vividly blue/purple color star fish. Akshita was super excited to see the star fish and made sure to point out every one she saw while kayaking. Poor planning on my end resulted in the GoPro dying and we were unable to capture our time on the kayak. Nonetheless, we had a great time and wished we had more time in the water. After a quick shower, we enjoyed some local lunch organized by the tour and the few people who lived on the island. The habitants of the island also performed a dance for the visitors and posed for some pictures.
Back on the boat, we were off to Denarau via other islands in the Mamanuca. We went past Castaway Island, named after the movie Castaway which was shot on the island. The small island is home to a hotel with 8 rooms today and offers its guests the perfect feeling of being on a private island. Next, we drove past the Likuliku Lagoon Resort, which happens to be the only accommodation with over-water bungalows in all of Fiji.
The trip today was a good learning lesson – one should plan a stay at either one of the Mamanuca or Yasawa Islands instead of Denarau. The islands offer a true Fijian experience whereas Nadi/Denarau are more of a spot for tourists (mostly Australians and New Zealanders) to relax and party in the many resorts. Think of Cancun, Mexico as the party spot for American/Canadian tourists and Tulum, Mexico as the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands of Fiji. After docking at Denarau, we walked to the hotel and grabbed our tour tickets. As promised to the tour lady, we walked back to the port and presented our tickets. We ended the action filled day with dinner at the hotel restaurant.