To be honest: it didn’t look like there was more to Fiji than lying on a beach with a cocktail. Every Google search that contained a boat and Fiji brought me to the so-called Yasawa Flyer – a catamaran packed with tourists that get dropped off at one of the islands in the Yasawa’s. When you buy your boat ticket you can make it a package deal with meals and accommodation from one to three coconuts. One coconut stands for basic accommodation and food. Three coconuts stand for a more luxurious place to stay with more fancy food. Needless to say: two coconuts stand for something in between. Although it sounded like a great experience it just didn’t feel right. It maybe had something to do with the fact that it felt like this was our only choice. All the tourist information and different Google searches seemed to want that we would only visit the Yasawa’s. Even if we asked/searched for something different.
We decided to not listen to Google and all the tourist information centres. We would find a different way to discover Fiji ourselves! We found a guy via Youtube with a private yacht. He was a French man living in Fiji for several years now and if you would stay more than 4 nights he would also do sailing trips. This is cool! This would definitely be a way for us to discover Fiji and so we got in contact. The only thing we had to do now is finding 8 other people that would like to share this holiday with. They were easily found. Everything was almost set and than Zena, the tropical cyclone hit Fiji. More than half of the people that agreed on going backed out. They didn’t want to go to Fiji anymore and I had to cancel the boat trip with the owner. Such a shame! This is something that now is still on my bucket list.
Will we end up on the Yasawa Flyer after all?
Again I asked myself the question what I wanted to experience in Fiji. Was it just white sandy beaches and resorts? The answer was no. But it seemed that taking the Yasawa Flyer would give me exactly that. And so I started looking for a more local experience. What I found was a homestay in Viseisei, a village close to Nadi. I contacted lovely lady Finau. She was very welcoming and invited us to her house in the oldest village on the mainland. She offered us a place for free and told us that she works in tourism. We decided that we wouldn’t organise everything for our 10-day trip on the first day in Fiji at the homestay. We will figure out together with Finau where to go. That way we’ll escape the tourist route and we will help a local business (which at that time was even more important than other times after the cyclone). We didn’t know what to expect from our trip, but let’s see when we get there!
Fiji in 10 days
Homestay at Viseisei village – we’ve got picked up at the airport by Api, the husband of Finau. We arrived at sunset what made the first sight of the Fijian landscape overwhelming pretty. Along the road, people were waving at us. We drove 20 minutes along the coast and passed several small villages. We stopped at the little village of Viseisei. This is where we met Finau for the first time after being invited for this homestay over Facebook. She was sitting in the middle of the floor preparing dinner. Her daughter, Kalesi came over to welcome us. We gave her a hand but she gave me a hug. Ten seconds later we were playing a card game on the same floor where the food was prepared and where Api was watching television. Finau explained that Fijians live on the floor. This is where they cook, eat, sleep, relax and socialise. So that’s what we did too (except the sleeping. For guests Finau has a small separate room with three beds.)
A morning in the village and the city of Nadi – the next day Kalesi showed us around in the oldest village of the main island. She took us to the church and showed us how it works when there is a ceremony on Sunday. “Here is where all the girls sit and all the boys sit on the other side. All the children need to sit here” she was explaining. She also took us to a special building in the middle of the village where the “boss of the village” lived. He passed away and he hasn’t been replaced yet. After our private tour, we got a local bus toward Nadi. It was fun to be on the local bus with all the Fijians and it was nice to see all the villages we had to pass. It was fun to just stroll the streets of Nadi and see how a Fijian city looks like. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of Indians here and there was clearly a battle between the Indians and Fijians. People would ask us if we wanted to see their Fijian store and they would explain that we shouldn’t go to the other side of the city where all the stores are owned by Indians. We walked through the Indian side not only because we were curious but also to reach the Hindu temple. Other than that we stayed mostly on the Fijian side. We visited a market and tried some street food. Nadi is nice for a few hours but really there is not much more to do than try local food and have a look at the temple.
The islands that I didn’t want to explore by Yasawa flyer all-inclusive package I ended up going anyway. But the big difference is that we’ve booked it with a local and she booked her favourite places for us in the Yasawa’s. One of those spots was at the Naqalia lodge on the Wayalailai island. The friendly people of Fiji made it a sport to make you feel welcome. But this place really made us feel like family. At any random resort there will be a guy with a guitar singing you a welcome song when you arrive, but here it was different. On the beach surrounded by green mountains, the Naqalia lodge is a small family owned business. There are four little private huts on the beach and one dorm for backpackers. There is a shared space where the ladies of the family cook and where the guests have dinner. Whenever the guys feel like it, they will take you on a snorkelling or fishing trip. You can hike the mountain or watch the sunrise after a small walk on the other side of the island. One time we didn’t have dinner on the table because that night is was Fiji night. And remember: when it’s Fiji night, you live on the floor! With ten other guests, we found a spot on the floor. The food for that night was cooked in the earth. It’s called a Lovo dinner. Vegetables and meat it wrapped in leaves will be put in a whole in the ground. Then, all the food gets covered with smouldering coals and soil. After a good 5 hours of cooking, we got the food out together and brought it inside. As a great feast, we gathered around the big plates filled with this freshly cooked meal. We didn’t have any cutlery because Lovo you don’t only eat on the floor, Love you also eat with your hands.
The boys from the Naqalia lodge also took us out on a trip to the reef. Here they went spearfishing and that attracted a lot of reef sharks. In no time we were surrounded by almost ten sharks. I wasn’t really afraid, but I must say that these sharks would come a little to close for my taste. I even had to push one away when he was swimming right towards me! The sharks were not that big and although it was a little bit scary this was one of the coolest experience that we had on Fiji.
We were here for 3 nights and 4 days, which was the perfect amount of time – it gave us time to see the environment and make friends with the lovely Naqalia family. When we left the whole family was on the beach to sing our good-bye song. It was weird but after only 4 days it felt sad that we wouldn’t see all these beautiful people probably ever again.
After the Waylailai island, we took a boat to Bounty Island, one of the smallest islands in the Yasawa’s. You could walk around the island in 35 minutes and snorkel around it in about an hour. Besides those two activities, you could chill around the pool, sip your cocktail during happy hour or go kayaking or supping. It’s needless to say that this spot in the Yasawa’s was a bit more touristic and resort-style than all of the places we’ve been so far in this country. But it was good! We wanted to have this experience too and we had a private cabin right on the beach. Our front yard was the reef and we looked over the sunrise every morning in our hammock between the palm trees. What I really liked about this island is that is had a sea turtle programme to help baby turtles to grow up. The guests on the island can volunteer in helping in this programme. And so we fed and cleaned the baby sea turtles during our stay here.
Back to the main island
Our last few nights were on the South coast of the main island. We went to the beach house. This is really a typical backpackers hostel with party nights, fun games and mostly dorm rooms. This is a good place to be when you’re doing Fiji Backpacker style (although I think it would be a little overpriced and I guess you can find more interesting places to stay). It’s easy to meet people, they organise events for their guests and you can go on snorkelling, shark and surfing trips. For me, this was a place we could have skipped.
Are you going to Fiji Soon?
Our Fiji trip was perfect and a good mix between meeting locals and finding out about the Fijian culture and chilling and relaxing on the white sanded beaches that Fiji also have to offer. The only thing what I have done differently is that I would rather have gone to Mantra Ray Island than go to the beach house. Other tips that I would give:
- The homestay definitely added something to our Fiji Experience. We did one in Viseisei. We found it through a backpackers group on Facebook. I saw that there is also a website with other homestays you can do in Fiji. You can find that site here.
- Even though I didn’t want to do what almost every tourist is doing in Fiji I must say: the Yasawa’s are pretty awesome. So if you’re going to Fiji and you don’t want your trip to be too much of a tourist trip I would recommend booking a local boat. We took a boat from Bounty Island to the main island which had nothing to do with the Yasawa flyer. It was a Fijian family (a father, his wife, his child and his mum) with a small speed boat. He brought us back to a deserted beach on the mainland. From there we took a bus (that was organised with the boat trip) to the bus stop to take a local bus to the South coast of the island. It may sound like a hassle, but it really was a lot of fun! The funniest part when he stopped 20 metres off the shore and left the boat. We had to carry our luggage above our heads while we were up to our knees in the sea. We were ok with this, but a rich family from America was very indignant that they had to carry their bags themselves through the water.
- Connected to the last tip: if you want to experience the Yasawa’s with local boats you will need to organise them before you go to the islands. The American family I mentioned they didn’t do that and they paid three times the prize because they organised it on Bounty Island.
- Talking about the prize: how further you go off the main island the more expensive drinks and snacks get. So if you like some crisps, wine or beer during the day. Think about bringing your own. The same counts for water. To be honest we only brought a bottle of wine and some snacks. We bought beer and water at the bar in the resort. The prices in our two resorts were reasonable (and they both had happy hours). Personally, I thought it was quite a hassle to go on different boats with not only my backpack but also with heavy alcohol supplies. But yeah, I saw a lot of people that did this and they were managing fine. So depends on if you want to pay a little extra for your drinks or rather spend this on something else!
- If you get the chance to get into a local community try to experience a kava night. Kava is the local drink made of the roots of a Kava plant. The roots will get squashed into a powder and the powder will be mixed with water. People would gather around a big bowl with Kava and drink it together. When you drink it you will get a numb feeling in your mouth and will help you relaxed. Kava can be addictive. We heard a story about a German girl that laid in bed whole day with a Kava hangover. She would only come out of bed at night to drink Kava.. I didn’t think it was addictive, but it was interesting to see the rituals around this social event. Finau, the lady from our homestay she sold Kava to the whole village and at Naqalia lodge they would do Kava every night with the family. If you want you could also join as a guest.
I hope this helps you to plan your trip through Fiji! It is really a beautiful country and I would love to go back one day. When I would go again I would go and see the top part of the main island and discover the other islands that are close to the North-East side of the Republic of Fiji. Please let me know if you have questions or if you have any tips for a Fiji that is off the beaten track. I would love to know about them!