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Touring Fiji by Boat and Bus

Fiji was just one of the destinations we visited during our South Pacific trip.

Our time in Fiji was split between three main days.

After arriving in the early morning from the mainland, we spent the first day at our resort on Denarau Island near Nadi, with nothing planned but to rest and acclimate to the time change. That day happened to be our three year anniversary—the first we’ve celebrated in a “prime” destination. The next morning, we’d fly out to visit American Samoa for a few days, followed by a couple days in the nation of Samoa, before returning to Fiji.

Back in Fiji, we spent a day snorkeling on one of those small, uninhabited islands that Fiji is best known for. And the final day, we cancelled our original plans to rent a car and find our own adventure and opted instead to book a tour that focused more on Fijian culture and the interior of the island. It was a good call.

Snorkeling off a private island

Like many of the day trips from Denarau, ours was aboard a fancy boat—a 100 ft schooner called Whale’s Tale—and destined for a small “private island.” Breakfast and booze were complimentary, and once on the island, we’d be greeted with a kava ceremony.

In true Fijian fashion, the uninhabited island was not much more than a few buildings on a wide sandy beach surrounded by some coral. While an idyllic setting, it’s more impressive as a mental construct of a “tropical island” than it is as an actual physical location. That said, we were happy to have arrived and looking forward to the experience.

Sandwiched before and after lunch, the day was comprised of two primary “play” periods, which consisted of either a guided snorkeling trip, a ride in a glass-bottomed boat, or free time on the small island, which meant either playing sand volleyball, relaxing with a drink, or paying extra for a massage. We, of course, had arrived ready to snorkel—though we were disappointed to learn we’d have to stay with the guide.

Grumpy fish
Yeah grumpy fish, we feel the same way about snorkeling in crowds. ?

The first snorkel was somewhat as we expected. If you’re a seasoned snorkeler and are used to snorkeling on your own, getting stuck in a large crowd of first-timers can be a bit disappointing. People carelessly scare fish away, and the guide spends all of his energy trying to keep everyone wrangled. At best, it’s much harder to get a clean photo without a random arm or leg in the shot. So we did our best to stay at the fringes of the crowd, and occasionally succeeded.

After a buffet lunch, we headed back out for a second snorkeling tour. With everyone else either drunk, opting for the glass bottomed boat, or playing volleyball, there were just a handful of snorkelers this time. Even better, the three others in the water with us quit after just a few minutes.

That meant it was just the two of us and the guide. Once he figured out that he didn’t have to worry about us in the water, we pushed on much further than before. We were the only two Americans on the tour, so anytime the guide wanted to get our attention to show us something interesting, he’d call us America, as in “Hey America, come see this.”

We swam much further from shore, even skirting deep water at the reef’s edge. Covering more water meant the opportunity to see more species of both fish and coral. And since it was just the three of us, our guide could even point out specific things in the water.

This second snorkeling session was night-and-day better than the first, both in terms of the fish and coral we saw, as well as the general experience. In fact, the guide seemed to be having quite a bit of fun too, and apparently lost track of time—we hurriedly returned to the island later than we should have.

Just minutes after returning to the beach, we were back on the main boat, sipping drinks and enjoying the scenery on our return voyage.

Touring the “Jewel of Fiji”

Our last day in Fiji was dedicated to the “Jewel of Fiji” tour. This was an all-day tour that brought us halfway across the island to a small traditional village. It was a long shuttle ride—nearly three hours each way—but it also gave us an opportunity to see quite a bit of the countryside.

The waterfall

From the village, we shuttled up the Navua River in motorized wooden longboats. For a solid hour, the otherwise lush canyon walls of this gorgeous river canyon were punctuated by a number of waterfalls, of both impressive and diminutive size.

After a short hike to avoid some minor rapids, we arrived at a side canyon, with an intriguing trail leading into the dense forest. We docked, and a walked few minutes into a narrowing canyon. The interesting but awkwardly constructed trail followed a creek, which was interrupted by several small cascades and chutes eroded into the rock.

The trail ended at a substantial waterfall, with a pool large enough for swimming. We snapped some photos, dumped our stuff, and made our way into the clear pool. The water was colder than you’d expect, but still worth the chill.

Had we not just completed an amazing swimming tour of Samoa that sported similarly scenic waterfalls, this might have been the highlight of our trip. Instead, it nearly seemed old hand, like a favorite hike you’ve been doing for decades—a rather unexpected feeling for a desert dweller like myself who doesn’t exactly swim in tropical waterfalls very often.


After the swim, we hiked back to the longboats and made our way back downstream. Part of the way back, we stopped and transitioned into a traditional bamboo raft—the primary means of local transportation prior to motors.

The raft was buoyant…but not quite enough to prevent us from getting bit wet. And of course, it was much slower and clumsier. And there were several harmless spiders doing their best to stay dry, which the other tourists were less than thrilled to notice. The lesson wasn’t lost on us; things are easier these days.

Eventually, we loaded back into motorized long boats and returned to the village. The trip back was just as beautiful as the trip upriver, giving us new perspectives on waterfalls we had seen before—as well as revealing some we had missed.

The village

Back at the village, we were greeted by ceremony—the primary feature of the second half of the day. We first congregated under a fale where a lovo was being unearthed, containing a portion of our lunch. While the finishing touches were put on the meal by the women of the village, we entered the bure (the main village meeting house) to take part in an extensive welcome and kava ceremony—this one was quite a bit more involved than during the snorkeling tour the previous day.

unearthing the lovo
unearthing the lovo

The kava ceremony was followed by a war dance performance, and eventually by what’s known as taralala and tuboto, or snake dance, which resembles a conga line. More entertainment followed, as did lunch itself.

After lunch, we congregated under a fale outside, where we learned several lessons about coconuts and a few village women demonstrated traditional weaving and tapa painting techniques.

Fijian women
Local Fijian women demonstrate weaving and tapa painting techniques

Nearing the end of the day, we returned to the bure, which now sported handcrafted goods spread across the floor, the village woman who made them sitting behind her jewelry and souvenirs. It immediately reminded me of the roadside craft vendors on the Navajo Reservation. We perused the offerings and eventually purchased a souvenir bamboo mask, our only souvenir of the trip.

After a rendition of the traditional Fijian farewell song, Isa Lei—which is surprisingly enchanting—we returned to the shuttle bus.

Our time in Fiji was coming to a close.

What did we think of the tours, and how was our resort? Check out this post for more (coming soon).

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