Cruising the Yasawa Islands in Fiji

websizedDSCN0112It was in the Yasawa Islands that the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon was filmed and we visited the site after swimming in the Sawa-i-Lau caves. I didn’t like being in the cave, felt very apprehensive, and only stayed in the first cave for a few minutes – later I even forgot to ask the brave ones who dived through and under the rock that joined the two caves. Sounded even more scary to me!

Tourism is growing in importance and apparently permission is required to visit all, or at least many of the islands in the group.

As one of the outer island chains, options to get to the Yasawa Islands is more limited than to islands near Nadi or Denarau; the Yasawa Flyer connects Port Denarau with the Yasawa Islands and is ideal for free independent travellers while The Fiji Princess that I was cruising on is an ideal and easy way to cruise these remote islands.

my first view of the Fiji Princess
my first view of the Fiji Princess

I was very fortunate to be a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises.

The Yasawa Group is an archipelago of about 20 volcanic islands in the Western Division of Fiji, with an approximate total area of 135 square kilometres. It stretches in a north-easterly direction for more than 80 kilometres from a point 40 kilometres north-west of Lautoka on Viti Levu (the 2nd largest town in Fiji).

Apparently British navigator William Bligh was the first European to sight the Yasawa’s in 1789 following the mutiny on the HMS Bounty, but they were not charted until 1840. The islands were largely ignored by the wider world until World War II, when the United States military used them as communications outposts.

My father was part of a small Fiji Defence Force that had been sent in the last quarter of 1939 and some 3,053 men where there late 1940 and began fortifying Viti Levu. His time there made an impression in him in that Isa Lei (Fijian farewell song -see video below) was one of his party songs  and I he refused to eat the ‘terrible bananas’ we got in New Zealand ‘they are picked green and sent here – they are so much tastier when fresh and ripened on the plant’ he would say. And he’s right, the local fruit tastes great.

Dad bought this home for  his fiancee: they married 1944 after he was invalided out of the army
Dad bought this home for his fiancée: they married 1944 after he was medically discharged from the NZ army

Another family connection to Fiji was recalled by M when she knew I was going there:

“Hi Heather, The Yasawa Islands are where we spent some time way back in 1978 or 79 with S and G. We visited a village on Waya Island and spent a week camping on an uninhabited island which I think must be among the ‘Sacred Islands’ mentioned in your itinerary. I think the Blue Lagoon Cruises may have just been starting up then, though we didn’t see them. Things were very basic back then. I remember G gave some aspirin to a poor woman suffering from tooth ache on Waya. She was so grateful. Have a great trip! I hope the cruises are beneficial to the villager.

 We were on S and G’s little yacht, Spirit of Breaker Bay and the 45 foot yacht, Wayward Wind. Wayward’s crew were (future) Home Port friends and a new friend who worked at the Uni of the South Pacific. We were taking him around looking for a certain type of seaweed which produces heaps of agar jelly. At the time the University was trying to find a location where the seaweed could be commercially harvested. There was also a young Fijian man who said he knew where to find this seaweed near his village on Waya. It turned out he had no idea, he just wanted a free ride home to his village. We never did find a big quantity, but we got to taste the delicious jelly salad the villagers made with the seaweed and coconut milk.- it been fun to remember that time!” M

 

Morning tea on the beach after visiting the cave
Morning tea on the beach after visiting the cave – home-baked goodies for all morning and afternoon teas

Here is a video of the crew sing the farewell song to us as we prepare to disembark at Port Denarau

 

 

Fijian feast is cooked underground

 

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Our catamaran, the Fiji Princess, gets tied to a coconut tree: the Yasawa Islands setting idyllic, and we are to have a Fijian feast onshore, followed by a concert by the local village.

Coconut has a special place in the Fijian diet and, grown in most coastal areas, it’s not only for food, but plays an important role in the economy. It is also used in many ways in the lovo (earth oven); as a basket, as the steam producer then to cover the food.

These photos are of the demonstration we saw of a food basket being made.

Some of the foods cooked in the lovo were Taro (dry starchy root crop), Kumala (sweet potato) whole chicken and a large leg of pork. After the burning wood was removed the meat, and vegetables placed in the hole in top of the hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and cooked for about 3.5 hours. It’s considered a healthy meal because of the lack of oil – it is quite similar to the (Māori) hangi or the (Hawaiian) luau or (Samoan) umu and has a smoky flavour.

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After showering, washing off the salt water we had played in, we return to the island, where a kava ceremony was being held, and before long we watch our dinner being dug up.

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While the pork was dry, the crackling on the pig was fabulous (I think it had been grilled somehow after being cooked in the lovo) and my favourite dish was the entre. It’s a ‘raw fish’ dish made up of Walu (sometimes called Spanish mackerel) with ‘miti’ – a coconut-based sauce. The fresh fish is marinated in lemon juice and left to “cook” for several hours. The thick coconut milk is added after it is “cooked” together with finely diced tomatoes, chillies and salt – this is the ‘miti’.

the pork is carved
the pork is carved
Raw fish (kokoda)
Raw fish entree (kokoda)

Dinner over, we move to seats in a clearing among the coconut palms – by now it’s very dark and before long we are entertained by beautiful singing and dancing at the ‘meke’. I often feel uncomfortable joining in traditional dancing anywhere, but the Fijians seem to love a conga line, making it easy for all, including me, to join in!

 

NOTE: Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific.  In Fiji a kava ceremony often goes together with social event and while on ‘the Princess’ it happened three times – including a ritual presentation of the bundled roots as a gift and drinking the ‘grog’ is accompanied by hand-clapping before and after drinking from the coconut shell. It is made by pounding the sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water.

Apparently the effects of a kava drink vary widely depending on the kava plant used, and amount drunk. Most on board didn’t drink it but for those who did their eyes became droopy or sleepy looking it seem the active ingredients have a half-life of about 9 hours.

New Zealand is concerned about the risk of driving after mixing of alcohol and kava. On the other hand, it seems a national league team uses it after games to unwind.

Note: the KiwiTravelWriter was a guest of Blue Lagoon Cruises

 

50 shades of green and blue in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji

‘They’ say, one picture is a thousand words: if this is so, sit back relax and enjoy this 2,800 word slideshow about the 50 shades of green and blue in the northern Fijian waters and the Yasawa islands.

Recently I was invited to cruise, for 4 nights, five days on the Fiji Princess – a boutique catamaran that can host a max of 64 guests – I loved the days of relaxing, sailing, eating, beach visits, snorkeling, visiting a village for dinner then the next day the only High School in the islands, eating Fijian food, and enjoying an eclectic group of fellow travellers from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Belgium, UK, Germany – and maybe others.

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To see more of my travels and lifestyles of the people of these remote island sign up to follow my blog (top right – no spam ever, only an email when I publish a new blog)

 

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