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Explore Fiji: 50 Shades of Blue

I spend time with the locals on Nacula, the the last island stop in Fiji's Yasawa Island chain.

Fiji’s Yasawa Islands aren’t exactly "off the beaten track". There’s a steady stream of tourists beating a well-worn path via the island-hopping ferry from Nadi to the door of their beachside bungalow.

After we leave Nivitia and the last of the "Barefoot" resorts fade out of view the boat thins out pretty fast. By the time we reach the Naculas - the last island group in the Yasawas - there's only a handful of the more intrepid travellers left. Those that do make the journey are met with spectacular islands and a coral reef to die for. The colours of the sea are every hue of blue and green making the bright summer sky a dull grey in comparison. Coconut palms pepper the sandy beaches and the islands soar to granite peaks.

I'm the last to get off. This coral reef is the last drop off point before the boat heads back to Nadi on the return run. I, and a group of four from Uruguay climb down into the rustic tender that floats on the clearest blue water I've ever seen. The boat glides over the sandy blue lagoon, one of the spots claimed to be 'the' blue lagoon of the movie legend.

The waters of Fiji #50shadesofblue


There are only two resorts on the island of Nacula. They sit next door to each other on this long stretch of white sand beach and clear aqua water. One is the upmarket, foreign-owned, "Blue Lagoon" resort. The other, where I'm staying, is the locally owned "Oarsmans".

The Oarsmans claims to be the jewel in the indigenous crown. It's in a gem of a spot alright on the sandy shore of this breathtaking coral sea. The big open deck restaurant is set a few meters back from the beach with a view over the lagoon. All the bungalows have their own table and chairs and a sea view. It's comfortable and clean but have a more rustic aesthetic, worn by the salt air and time. They could do with a lick of paint and updating the decor but that's easier said than done. Everything on Nacula needs to be shipped in, often from overseas, and this family from the local village don't have the funds to compete with the foreign syndicate owned business next door which can order in a cargo ship full of construction materials from Australia on a whim. The Oarsman's makes do with what is locally sourced from the mainland and can be made without tradesmen. It may not be the shiny and slick resort like the 5-star next door, but they built this themselves. Every foundation post, every tile, every faucet.

For a backpackers price, I get a single room bungalow a few meters from the beach. Which is sweet until I find out there's a tsunami warning for tonight. They don't expect it to get much more than a meter high so suggest I put my luggage on one of the high shelves in the cupboard. Sure my luggage may not get wet, but what about me? The Tsunami is predicted to come through at 1am and, predictably, I can't sleep. Curious, I look out the window towards the eerily black sea. There's no moon and I can't see anything. 1am comes and goes. My feet don't get wet. I go back to bed.

During the day, I alternate between lazing on the picturesque white-sand beach and swimming in the crystal blue coral waters. The water isn't particularly deep with sandy bottoms and pretty coral reefs. Fiji has some of the nicest water in the Pacific, and that's a tall call. The sand and coral cause the water to reflect every known shade of blue, but its so clear you can see well down into the depths as if you are looking through air. The coral is populated with colourful fish and even a banded sea snake swims past all ignoring me and the few, very few, other tourists and locals who have made it to this furthest end of the archipelago. On the surface, local village men sit in their boats taking in the horizon view as they fish. Children leap into the sea. The water is exactly the right temperature so that it's cool enough to be refreshing in the equatorial heat but warm enough you could swim all day. Which is perfect, because I think that's exactly what I will do.

Leon, one of the owners, tells me there is no real rivalry between the two resorts that occupy the island. Though they sit side by side they cater to completely different guests and experiences. The Oarsmans is a family run business with a host family feel. After dinner, Leon sits around and chats to his guests about all things Fijian so that people staying here take away more from Nacula than just a suntan.

The history of tourism in the Yasawas goes back to World War 2 when Kiwi pilot, Trevor Withers and his Australian aviator mate Harold Gatty flew reconnaissance missions over the Yasawa’s. As they looked down from their aircraft they fell in love with the place and began to develop an idea to start their post-war ventures here. Their tourism startups are still running today but it hasn't always been plain sailing between tourism operators and locals. In the past, there have been disputes over rent payment and the indigenous people's right of ownership of the waters. The locals don't mind the resorts being here, after all, they pay the chief rent and employ more locals than the family businesses can. But the Naculas have, and always will, always be Fijian. They have, and always will, belong to the Chief.

An island resort in the Yasawas, Fiji


One afternoon we go with Orni, one of the Oarsmans family, to the village.

School's out when we arrive and, as it's Friday, the teachers and kids are hanging around waiting for the boats that will take them back to their island homes. Nacula has the only school in this island group so the children board here during the week and return on weekends and school breaks.

Some boys are kicking a football with their teachers. The older kids are pulling pranks on each other. Two young teen girls want to know who I am and where I am from. They take me to meet their friends who are hanging out in one of the classrooms waiting for their boat home. The kids start fooling around again, dancing a funky silly kind of dance with strutting bird steps and making each other laugh. The girls want me to take their picture and hug their arms around each other. There's a definite 'schools out' vibe going on.

Walking around the village we run into Orni's grandfather and Cindy, his bride-to-be. Cindy is a health care worker from Hong Kong. The pair met when she was a guest at the Blue Lagoon resort next door to Oarsmans. In two weeks Cindy's visa expires and she will have to go back to Hong Kong. The wedding will take place as soon as she can return. She intends to give up big city life for the tranquillity of island living where there is only solar power electricity and clean water needs to be hauled from a well.

Cindy isn't the only foreign wife in Nacula. Before his brother died leaving him Chief, the current chief was living in New Zealand with his kiwi wife and children. The kids still study over there but he's required to live in the village. Not without satellite television though. To ensure everyone gets to watch the Rugby World Cup the chief has bought the village a widescreen plasma T.V.

The sun is setting as we walk the long long stretch of beach back to the resort. It throws up interesting shades of purple that are unique to Fiji. With small rowing boats instead of cars and only the once a day drone of the seaplane. Back at Oarsmans the guys are uncovering the lovo - a sort of underground oven heated with hot stones. The meats and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves are all coming out steaming and smelling of smokey BBQ flavours. The chef, who is the chief's sister, has her special kava sauce at the ready and Leon has his guitar.



WHERE: The Yasawa Island chain is North-East of Fiji's capital Nadi

GET THERE: The Yasawa Flyer departs daily stopping at all islands. Buses collect and drop you at your Nadi accommodation and boat tenders collect you from the boat to your island accommodation. Easy As.

STAY: I stayed at "Oarsman's Bay Lodge" but there are loads of options.

ARRANGE: Want the easy option? Book your tickets or island hopping pass and accom all through Awesome Adventures They run the Yasawa Flyer and list all Yasawa accommodation options (it can be hard to get in touch with accommodation directly). Choose a package or build your own Yasawa adventure. I don't always spruik an operator but it's not often you find a country so darn easy!



FLICKR 00 | Fiji



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