Fijian Nautical Experience

by Holly Dukeson

Doug & Carla Dukeson headed to Fiji for a Nautical holiday, which included a dreamy blue lagoon cruise, an adrenalin rushing jetboat ride on The Sigatoka River and a romantic wedding. Blue Lagoon Cruises - MV Fiji Princess was purpose-built for boutique cruising and allows the exploration of tranquil inlets and bays, not accessible to larger cruise ships.

Once known as the home of fierce fighters and cannibals who walked on fire, Fijians these days go more than out of their way to welcome visitors to their islands. Greetings with wide smiles from flower-adorned women, and singsong greetings of ‘bula’ were the first things we saw and heard on our arrival. What a swing, from fighters and cannibals – to those, we believe, to be some of the friendliest people on our planet. It had been almost three years since we visited the beautiful islands of Fiji. On previous visits we had spent most of our time on the mainland in a variety of resorts, travelling with children in tow, and as many will know, Fiji is the perfect place for a family holiday. However, as our children are growing up and able to be left at home, it was time for us to revisit and experience Fiji in a different way – a chance to experience the culture of the outer islands, and being boaters at heart, soaking up the variety of nautical activities and experiences that this slice of paradise has to offer.
We left Auckland on a sunny but cold September afternoon. It had been particularly cold and wet leading up to our departure, which only made our trip towards the topics and the 30-degree temperatures more alluring.

Our first night was spent at the beautiful Radisson Blu Resort, which is located on Denarau Island. A five-star resort with lagoon swimming pools and lush tropical gardens set on 4 hectares of pristine beachfront property, the Radisson Blu was a great base from which to start our journey.

Our plan for the first night was to simply relax and unwind. Walking into our plush room with a huge king sized bed dressed in gorgeous fresh and sweet-smelling frangipanis was a welcoming and inviting pleasure for a couple of weary travellers.

Dreamy Blue Lagoon Cruise

Saturday morning arrived (seeming like only seconds after we closed our eyes) and it was time to head off for our first taste of the outer islands. After a five-minute ride back to Port Denarau we boarded ‘Ocean Dreaming’, Blue Lagoon Cruise’s 18.3m power catamaran. Still struggling to adjust to the heat, we made our way straight up to the air conditioned Captain’s Lounge, which made our trip even more pleasant – on the way soaking up the beautiful island scenery while listening to the beautiful sound of Fijian music, putting us right in the mood!

We headed out towards Drawaqa Island (midway up the Yasawa Island group), amongst a boat full of passengers all buzzing about heading to the huge choice of 30 or so island resort options – we were fortunate enough to be meeting up with the MV Fijian Princess, to enjoy a three-day cruise amongst the enchanting

 The 60m cruise ship MV Fiji Princess was purpose-built for boutique cruising (accommodating up to 68 lucky passengers) and allows the exploration of tranquil inlets and bays, not accessible to larger cruise ships. We could get so close to shore in some parts, that we could tie off coconut palms and swim to the beach! It didn’t matter which beach or island we visited, we felt like we were the only people there! Small ship cruising offers a very relaxed atmosphere and environment, with the opportunity to mix and mingle with others or just do your own thing. It was great that we had to unpack only once but visited numerous islands. The excellent on-board facilities included a well-appointed dining saloon, shaded sky deck bar and saloon bar, sun loungers, Senikai Spa and swimming pool. Once aboard, we began our magical journey through the outer Mamanuca Islands and the remote Yasawa Islands, a chain of 20 ancient volcanic islands. The Southern islands have dramatic elevations and further north around the Blue Lagoon area are ‘picture postcard’ tropical island paradises with long, white sandy beaches, fringed with swaying coconut palms.
It was a great feeling to get on board with a welcome “bula” from Walter, our cruise director. No sooner had we unpacked, when a mouth-watering lunch was served. Here we were sitting on board the Fiji Princess with a glass of cold sauvignon blanc and a yummy lunch – truly idyllic. The afternoon’s plan sounded interesting, a visit to the village of Soso, where we were welcomed traditionally, then shown around their village, followed by a kava ceremony – kava being Fiji’s traditional drink, made from the powdered root of a pepper plant mixed with water. It looks – and tastes – like dirty dishwater and is served with great ceremony and drinking it with the locals makes you an honoured guest. As we sat enjoying the kava we were told of legends and local stories, followed by a chance to purchase some local handcraft. On Sunday morning we awoke surrounded by sparkling blue oceans, islands fringed with gently waving palms and only the sight of the So-So village nestled into the hills. As Sunday is a day of worship and rest in Fiji, we followed suit, dressed in our sarongs and were welcomed again into the village to attend their church service.  

Monday morning, we arrived after a couple of hours cruising to Sacred Islands, another glorious day and more stunning scenery. Sadly, the day had arrived for us to leave the cruise but there was time for us to go ashore for one last swim and snorkel. Once back on board, we had lunch and prepared for the next part of our journey. We thoroughly enjoyed the idea of boutique cruising and we were certainly spoilt by the Blue Lagoon team; nothing was too much trouble – this is something we will definitely do again – although most certainly, for a longer stay (there is a three-day / four-day split – or the whole seven days) – the seven-day cruise appeals to us, offering a longer lasting taste of everything there is on offer in these idyllic South Seas. We were sad that we had to leave.

Adrenalin Rushing Jetboat Ride

A quick and comfortable trip back into Denarau Island on Blue Lagoon’s MV Cheetah on the Monday afternoon delivered us to The Terraces Apartments just 100 metres from the terminal, which was extremely handy. As sad as it was to leave the cruise, it was a good feeling having our feet back on land. The Terrace Apartments were fully furnished, so conveniently located and comfortable – a home away from home.

We weren’t late to bed that night, as our next adventure was just around the corner – we were being collected the next morning at 7 am to head out on the Sigatoka River Safari trip. After three days of island cruising and adventuring it was time for an injection of adrenaline into our Fijian adventure.

After an early morning breakfast, it was time to climb on our shuttle out to the base for the Sigatoka River Safari. This multiple award winning tour is the original jet boat safari, which takes us a good distance inland to an authentic Fijian village.

On our arrival at the base, we received our life jackets and a safety briefing by our jet boat “Captain Freddy’ (who had been trained by the Shotover Team in Queenstown, NZ). From there we loaded up and cruised our way up the magnificent Sigatoka River on a custom NZ-built safari jet boat. We stopped at various spots along the way for briefings on the various landscapes and the cultural history of the region, including its cannibalistic past! The awe inspiring Sigatoka River is the longest river on the island of Viti Levu, running from the hills of the Navosa Province right down to the sand dunes in Kulukulu, on the famous Coral Coast. The river provides locals with freshwater mussels (kai), fish, prawns, eels, water for agriculture and for drinking.

After about a half-hour trip at good speeds, and a short walk, we arrived at a ‘living’ authentic Fijian village where we were to become a “kai viti” or a Fijian for a day!

We had now arrived at the heart and soul of Fiji. We were welcomed into the village by the elders and chief, and then taken to the community hall for an entertaining welcoming and kava ceremony followed by a guided tour around the village.

On the way back Captain Freddy decided to ‘spice’ the trip up, throwing the boat into a few 360 degree spins – which certainly had the adrenaline flowing as the g-forces pushed us from one side to the other. What a day – a cultural experience and excitement all in one – one of the highlights of our Fijian adventure, with more memories that will last a lifetime.

Romantic wedding

Wednesday arrived and was a day of rest. This was much needed as we had seen and experienced so much. Thursday was looming and time to head out to the final part of our journey, Mana Island. We were excited, as I had heard much about this property and it was also a chance to catch up with friends who had already arrived for the wedding we were all attending the next day. An hour’s boat ride from the port the next morning took us to Mana Island Resort & Spa. We received the most memorable welcome we had experienced on the holiday so far – a quartet of singers and the sound of the ukulele playing at the end of the wharf as we approached was magical. Upon arrival in reception, we received a surprise that we had been upgraded to one of the traditional thatched bungalow honeymoon bures, which was a real treat! It is an amazing little spot, just on the outer part of the island, far enough away to be loaned a golf cart, but close enough to still be part of everything the resort had to offer. This was truly 5-star – a gorgeous bed, views, lounge, bathroom and even an outdoor Jacuzzi.

Mana Island is a hidden haven within the Mamanuca group of islands and offers a fantastic venue for the wedding, catering for all ages with plenty of variety, particularly for our group’s varied ages.

There were two restaurants, South Beach Restaurant and Mamanuca Restaurant, each offering diverse dining experiences. South Beach Restaurant is for fine dining and the Mamanuca Restaurant, with its alfresco-style dining with the magnificent view of the ocean, complements the dining experience. Both are equally enjoyable. There are three conveniently located bars and many cocktails were enjoyed around the poolside by our party.

Mana offers exciting daily activities beginning with cultural shows all the way to fun night-time entertainment – the activities change daily. We took full advantage of the pristine waters Mana offers and enjoyed snorkelling – the brilliant sights of the orange coloured fish, blue-green sea anemones and purple coral were something words can’t describe. Other water activities included kayaking, windsurfing and diving.

The big day arrived and what a place to get married! No worries about the weather – it was a stunning day! Couples can choose from the elegant Seaside Chapel, one of the 4 Romantic beaches on Mana or the gardens to seal their love. Our friends Grant and Caz Tibbits chose one of the beautiful beach spots.

We were all driven by an open-sided bus around to the spot as it was way too far to walk and way too hot! On our arrival, there was a choir to sing the bride down the leafy aisle – with white chairs set up on the beach with a beautiful arch made of flowers. A nervous groom waited under the arch. The music started and within moments the bride dressed in a gorgeous ice blue dress walked down with her children and everybody admired the beautiful scene – a very special moment.

The ceremony was fairly short (thank goodness, given the heat), everybody toasted the happy couple with a glass of champagne, photos were taken and then it was back to the pool for a cool-down, to be ready to join up with the happy couple later on for dinner, dancing and more celebrations – a memorable day for us all, especially the bride, groom and their families.

All in all, we had a fabulous time in Fiji and were sad to leave. We had experienced a variety of nautical and cultural experiences, savouring snippets of all styles of holidaying – relaxation, adventure and culture. We have memories that will last forever, from the turquoise ocean, the smell of frangipani, the taste of pina coladas, underwater shows of colour, and time spent with great friends, new and old – we couldn’t have asked for more!

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