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



Longboats, bats and beds in Mulu National Park: Malaysian Borneo

A day in a longboat then sleeping in the best bed I’ve ever slept in was my introduction to the World Heritage  Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

Gunung Mulu World heritage Area
Gunung Mulu World Heritage Area

My adventure started with a 4-wheel-drive trip from Miri (I’d been at the fabulous Borneo Jazz Festival) during which we travelled along back roads, through oil plantations, over potholes in the snake-like, gravel road, over bridges, and on two vehicle ferries  until we reached Marudi some 2 hours later.

We're off
We’re off

Planet Borneo  had arranged an early lunch for us, then, after a safety briefing, we boarded our longboat – home for the next five or six hours – a journey time that’s water level dependent.

A local woman on the boat tells me she did this same trip some 20 years earlier. She and her family were attending the opening of the national park and had gone up the wrong tributary  and spent the night on the boat lost in a side stream! I’m expecting our local boatman to know exactly where he’s going on this curvy watery highway and that we won’t need to get out to push it through any shallow parts.

During the boat trip (on which many of the locals slept!) I saw monkeys on the riverbanks, some small hawk-like birds, the beautiful white herons and a couple of pairs of hornbills. We didn’t get lost, but we did hit a submerged log once, and had motor issues briefly. At our only toilet stop – at a small village – our bags are moved together and covered – it is obvious rain was imminent. I put my camera in its waterproof bag and get my plastic poncho ready – five minutes later its on as the tropical rain hits. We still have over an hour to go and soon we passengers transfer to two smaller boats to cope with the shallower water while our luggage remains in the original traditional longboat.

I’m one of two westerners on board, and because we’re larger, where we sat is vital to the balance! I sit where I’m told and stay still especially when we go through small rapids.  Travelling along these three rivers, each one smaller that the previous one has certainly been an adventure which few travellers experience – and that alone is a recommendation! I love to get a little off the well-worn trails. (I returned to Miri by plane  – 30 minute trip)


At about 6pm , after leaving Miri about 9am, we arrive at the Royal Mulu Resort happy to check in and remove our plastic ponchos. I’d have been even happier had I known this was to be the home of the best bed in the world!  Next morning, over breakfast, one of the others in the group said, “I want to marry those pillows” so it was not just me who loved sinking into the soft luxury of the beds. I even looked under the sheet to see what the secret was … a lovely thick topper pad.

The Royal Mulu Resort is being upgraded and their website says:

The 101-room Royal Mulu Resort in Sarawak, Malaysia is set to be rebranded as the Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa in late quarter 4, 2014. With an ethnic design resembling longhouses, the resort rest on 15-foot wooden stilts rising over lush vegetation and linked by a series of walkways. Each guest rooms comes with its own balcony overlooking the scenic Melinau River, and modern amenities such as flat screen TVs and high – speed Internet access. 

The resort will feature an all new lobby lounge with open-space business center and library. Guests can dine in all-day, three – meal restaurant with an outdoor seating for al fresco dining. A private dining room and bakery / deli will be located next to the restaurant, while a riverside bar completes the resort’s F&B service.

Other recreational amenities will include a new spa, an outdoor swimming pool, gym and Activity Center, meeting facilities, and Marriott Kids Club. The resort can even arrange exciting outdoor activities such as night cruise, rafting, kayaking and jungle hiking and many more activities available at Mulu National Park –” 

Just so long as they don’t change the mattress and pillows I’ll be happy with whatever they do!

I sleep in the best bed in the world
I sleep in the best bed in the world

After dinner, it was great to have a good nights sleep as the next day we had some 26ks to walk, about 300 steps to climb, and a boat trip, as we explore the area, visit some caves, meet the locals, and watch the bats on their evening, syncronised, aerial display.

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