The fourth of many stops by the Fiji catamaran waterbus Yasawa Flyer, Beachcomber Island Resort in the Mamanuca Islands is just 45 minutes from Denarau port off Viti Levu ‘mainland’. Beachcomber is a budget resort and party island that gets quite a lot of day-trip visitors as well as those staying a few days. There are some issues with food and showers but huts are a good basic standard. Note that Beachcomber is probably better suited to teens/twenties party people that enjoy LOUD music than older visitors looking for a quiet life.
Viti Levu island
Viti Levu island is where most travellers arrive and hosts many attractions, including golf, fishing and boating for the more affluent, or cultural tours, village visits, sand boarding, Highland hiking, rafting, tubing and bathing in hot mud pools for the rest of us. The Botanical Gardens of Thursten in Suva, Sigatoka Sand Dunes, and Colo-I-Suva Forest Park also make popular day trips.
Nadi, an Indian-dominated town, is good for shopping but little else including accommodation.
Viti Levu also offers some decent beach resorts to suit all pockets, though the actual beaches and coral are not nearly as good as on other islands such as the causeway-connected, well-developed beach ‘paradise’ of Denarau. The Coral Coast to the south is the usual starting point for beachgoers.
Some popular and extensive island bus tours cater specifically to backpackers.
Moana bay beaches in Fiji’s Nadi region of Viti Levu. Photo by Stemoc.
Suva is Fiji’s capital, on the other side of Viti Levu from Nadi and a cosmopolitan high-rise city that is short on interest for most travellers.
Vanua Levu, the other big island, north of Viti, is more wet and less developed than Viti, with few tourist-oriented options or transport, but much more of a feel of the old South Seas. The south side of the island with its coconut plantations and relaxed villages is particularly redolent of a bye-gone era.
Although the countryside feels primitive there are many excellent resorts in North Fiji with scuba diving as the top attraction.
The Somosomo Straits between Vanua Levu and Taveuni offer some particularly spectacular coral. Visibility is best May-October.
Fiji’s high-speed, low cost Yasawa Island’s ferry, the Yasawa Flier.
Getting to Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands
Ferry: The normal route is to hop on board the Yasawa Flyer from Denarau Island’s marina (in Port Denarau), a small island connected to Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, by a short causeway. It’s 5 kms from Nadi town and 10 kms from Nadi International Airport.
Denarau is a resort island that encompasses a grand gold course, many upmarket hotels, a shopping mal, restaurants and so on.
Seaplane: Short rides by seaplane to most of the islands are now available, shortening a 5 hour boat trip to just 30 minutes at not a lot more cost than the Yasawa Flyer.
Private plane: Yasawa Island, a super-resort island in the Yasawa Islands chain is often reached by private plane or private water taxi.
A typical Denarau island beach resort. Photo by Fijiisparadise.
The Mamanuca Islands
The Mamanucas en route to the Yasawa Islands and just off Viti Levu (kind-of mainland) are perfect for the time short or sea sensitive tourist.
These thirteen tiny inhabited islands (another 7 disappear at high tide) are moderately sophisticated and comfortable – sometimes with air conditioning and mains electricity- and can work as a day trip or overnight stay.
The seas around them are clean and clear, the sandy beaches usually fringed by coconut palms and active coral reefs just a little offshore offer terrific snorkeling.
The Yasawa Flyer only takes 30 mins to South Sea, 5 more minutes to Bounty and Treasure, another 10 minutes to Beachcomber Resort (pictured at top). Easy peasy.
The next island, Kuata, takes another hour.
North and West coasts are drier due to prevailing winds, so choose a beach resort on one of those coasts if travelling in the wet season.
Visas: A 4 month visa is available on arrival to just about anyone owning a passport and a return flight ticket.
The Yasawas Islands
The Yasawa Islands are a chain of a dozen coral islands up to four hours from Viti Levu by the Flyer are – with the exception of the furthest, Yasawa Island itself – low cost and low profile places, providing basic services and activities, with snorkelling and kayaking topping the list. The islands are visited daily – (again, not Yasawa Island) by the Yasawa Flyer catamaran, lugging backpackers and flashpackers to and fro, some staying their entire time on one island, others hopping from one to another every couple of days.
For those prone to seasickness the waters around the Yasawa Islands are partly protected and the ride not too bouncy; maximum trip time to/from the furthest island is four hours.
The Yasawas are mostly powered by electricity generators so lighting is limited and air-con nonexistent; islands mostly offer simple thatched bungalows and communal meals. Beaches are generally small and unmanicured but pleasant, with pretty fair coral right near the beach, though these are not by any stretch of the imagination the world’s best beaches.
Wayalailai resort is in a particularly stunning location and partly protected from the prevailing winds by the island’s lumps so beach going is a comfortable business.
Wayalailai is a decent place for taking it easy though active people on a budget may get bored as all activities cost extra including hiking on your own to the rocky peak. The beach is quite short and there are no roads, so jogging is limited too.
The beach is good for swimming, but lacks colourful coral or marine life.
The bures are a fair size with generally good views, ceiling fans and a fridge though electricity goes off a lot so the fridge is not much use.
The food is basic and limited but reasonable, varied and serves meat eaters as well as vegetarians, though if you’re a bit slow at getting in line the food might run out before you get any. Breakfasts are pathetic unless you’re 5 years old and really like white bread and jam.
There’s no wifi or phone on the island and the resort is run by the local village which means you get to meet real-life Fijians (yay! ) but they can be inefficient, lazy and ill-mannered if they’re having a bad day (boo! ).
Blue Lagoon Beach Resort
The Blue Lagoon’s sand is incredibly soft and palm-fringe backdrop perfect, though thick seaweed frequently takes the sheen off the tropical paradise look, even if it does provide a home and larder for local marine life. The lower part of the beach is reserved for the people using the Blue Lagoon cruise ship.
Blue Lagoon on Nacula Island in the Yasawas is a success for more reasons than just an old movie tie-in. It’s small enough to be personal but relaxed and expensive enough to know that visitors are either having a one-time blow-out or rich/celebrities, giving all parties a glossy interest-makeover. That being said the Blue Lagoon does offer a 16 bed air-conditioned dormitory so it’s not all about splashing out.
Rooms – bures and public rooms – are all impeccably clean and decorated in a Fijian-modern, the bar and restaurant are both bohemian comfortable and serve interesting foods and drinks in an exclusive environment with panoramic views over the curving white crescent of sand and blue lagoon, which becomes a black lagoon as soon as the sun sets, setting off the nightly Fijian music performances perfectly.
One outstanding feature of the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort is the cheerful, energetic and on-the-ball management and staff, sadly lacking in many of the smaller beach resorts that are run by local villagers and consequently lack professionalism.
Yasawa Island (note: not Islands plural) hosts a couple of the best beaches in Fiji and possibly in the world, with its northerly beaches coming out on top and visited by the famous and costly Blue Lagoon Cruise ships. Otherwise Yasawa Island is home to an expensive hotel, the Yasawa Island Resort that needs to be reached by plane, seaplane or via several hours on a water taxi.
Botaira Beach Resort
Botaira Beach Resort on Naviti island in the Yasawas, welcoming guests with the usual tuneful island song, but unusually afloat.
Botaira setting is spectacular with a massive crescent beach looking out to the reef and seafront ‘bures’ (cabins)that are very popular, especially with the young. The place is quiet, with no internet, no air conditioning, sea-water showers and friendly Fijian staff.
There is a panoramic hour-long ridge hike above the resort up the hill from where visitors can see a view of the whole Yasawa chain.
Sadly the coral reef that was one of Botaira’s main attractions is now mostly dying and bleached by climate change, a plague of starfish and probably run off from the island’s primitive facilities. There is still some fish action for newbie snorkelers but not for the more experienced floaters.
Recently tales of poor management and tedious dining options are becoming commonplace, but not with the young folk!
Mantaray Resort Island
Mantaray is a resort where partying hard is the main event in the evening and swinging in a hammock on the beach is the daytime action, though the off-beach coral is good here and kayaks are popular.
Mantaray offers good facilities and accommodation – especially in a jungle bure which is ironically on the beach, though up a tree, or in a beach villa. Dorms are available and cheap but, needless to say, somewhat short of key facilities like no flush toilets or hot water showers.
There’s excellent snorkeling immediately off the beach, fair beginner diving nearby and swimming with Manta rays everywhere! (in season)
Mantaray is not the cheapest island in the Yasawas but food is varied, interesting and costs extra, they have their own desalination plant on the island meaning the water supply works well unlike other budget operations, the atmosphere is lively but relaxing, the reef here boasts the best snorkeling in the budget Yasawas and views are spectacular. Wifi is available but expensive so buy a digicel sim from the airport when you land. They work fine in most of the Yasawas.
Coralview Resort Island
Coralview Island Resort bures on Tavewa Island.
One of the older and more primitive but nevertheless pleasant establishments in the Yasawa Islands, Coralview Resort offers smallishbures but meals are large and they have no shortage of fresh water. Dorm rooms are clean and spacious.
The resort is well organized regarding activities – boat trips, diving trips, volleyball, snorkel kit rentals and more. Snorkelling is excellent just off the jetty and good free snorkelling trips are run every day. In the evening take a sunset walk to the top of the mountain if you’re moderately fit and watch the clouds chase the sun over the horizon.
Food is good at Coralview with large portions of mixed western and Fijian food, though be warned that you will not get lunch on your last day if you had dinner and lunch on your first day and breakfast on the last day, as the deal is three meals a day.
‘Fijian nights’ evenings are a lot of laughs with traditional foods and dancing.
Wifi is available but slow and expensive, accommodation is clean but basic and the solar power shower is erratic.
Fijians are a relaxed and friendly people, cheerfully shouting the greeting “Bula! ” (Health! ) to any foreign traveller, a far cry from a hundred years ago in their cannibal era when they would shout “Dinner! ” if they saw a white face, and reach for their four-prong, human flesh forks. Missionary eyeballs were especially succulent when barbecued, apparently.
Nearly half of Fiji’s indigenous population these days are of Indian extraction, brought in by the British to work in the sugar cane industry in the late 1880’s as the relatively enlightened colonialists did not wish to exploit the local Melanesians.
Unfortunately the ‘Fiji for the Fijians’ system, while permitting Melanesians to continue owning their land and governing their own villages didn’t do much for the rights of the Indians, an inequality that still burns today.
The upside of the racial mix is that the Indians are often more industrious than the laid-back Melanesians and have helped to develop and maintain the country’s infrastructure, particularly with relation to tourism, though the Indians can be aggressive in their pursuit of the dollar. When changing money here tourists would do well to carefully check and double check rates and cash handed over.
Fortunately, though these two racial groups maintain fundamentally different life styles and rarely intermix, they co-exist with reasonable harmony and the country benefits from both attitudes.
Oarsman’s Bay Lodge
Nacula island’s Oarsman Bay. Photo by TobiasK.
Nacula is one of the largest islands in the Yasawa chain and hosts a handful of mid-level resorts, native villages and brilliantly clear lagoons and lively reefs.
Oarsman Bay Lodge (OBL) is locally owned and operated, with a superb sandy beach (seen above at high tide) that permits swimming at any time – unlike many resorts where coral outcrops interfere during mid/low tides. A coral reef protects the beach but has not infiltrated it.
Years ago the beach here was declared a marine park with no fishing allowed so now there are masses of fish around and the coral is looking healthy. Among the fish seen recently are lion fish, barracuda, rays, eels, sea snakes, cuttle fish, star fish and giant clams.
It’s delightful that OBL is owned and operated by the local village and staff sing traditional songs during dinner but as there is no professional management the standards of service and quality can – and do – drop over time. Currently the bures need renovating and showers are temperamental but the rooms are just 5 meters from the best beach in Fiji and the views fantastic.
The meal plan provides tasty, healthy food on a dining deck facing the bay, but there is little choice of foods (gluten free is possible) and meal times are set.
If you want a vacation at a quiet resort with a local flavour, a great beach and outstanding snorkeling nearby then OBL is for you, but if you need a large bed, good shower and variety of meals it’s probably not.
Best months to visit Fiji and the Yasawa Islands: May, June, September, October. The South Pacific lies in the tropics so all islands are warm and humid year round. The dry season is climatically best, May to October, with less humidity, cloud cover, rain, wind, rough seas and seaweed on beaches. However, July and August get very crowded with visitors, especially Australians and Kiwis escaping winter back home.
Beware the November to April wet season. Don’t believe travel agents who tell you it only rains for an hour a day. Not true! It may rain for an hour, it may rain for days on end, and even when it doesn’t cloud cover could spoil the sunshine, winds make boating unpleasant, choppy water makes snorkelling water murky and beaches wear a coat of seaweed. Hurricane force winds (cyclones) may also occasionally make an appearance.