My luggage is immediately wrapped in a green tarp...Which feels like an ominous sign. But aside from one or two monster waves, our ferry glides through the Koro Sea effortlessly.
I’m halfway between Taveuni Island and Qamea Island, islands within the Vanua Levu Archipelago, when the ferry’s skipper, Junior, turns to me. “Ropate,” he shouts above the chugging sound of the ferry’s motor, “that is your Fijian name!” Junior erupts into laughter as we arrive on the shores of the Maqai Beach Eco Surf Resort.
There’s something to be said about a resort run by Fijians, particularly a Fijian family. Cathy and her husband, Wani, are the first Fijian resort managers on Qamea Island. They stand proudly on the beach, joined by the rest of their local staff, strumming ukuleles and guitars.
I’m serenaded with warm smiles and a welcome song as I trudge through shallow waters. “Welcome home, Ropate!” I’m handed a chilled coconut and escorted through the sand bar, and then cheered onto the beach volleyball court, joining the afternoon staff game. They’re right. Home is how this resort feels.
But lovely staff and beachfront bures aside, I was here for a surf break. And I couldn’t wait to get in the water.
Rauli, Maqai’s surf instructor to the stars (naming Demi Lovato among his mentees), waxes his board as our small boat is rocked by the aftermath of two-metre swells. With land a few kilometres behind us and an endless expanse of turquoise ocean in front, we have this entire wave to ourselves.
A few hours of being knocked about by Maqai’s surf break felt like child’s play compared to the washing machine I found myself in at Natewa Bay. Natewa Bay is the largest bay in the South Pacific and is a hot spot for scuba divers, snorkelers and kayakers, and apparently, manta rays.
With little time to think, I’m thrown my goggles and flippers, and before I can say, “hmm, that water seems a little rough,” I’m neck-deep in a swell and kicking out towards the current – and the squadron of manta rays that have congregated in search of plankton.
Slightly disorientated and unsure where to look, I duck my head underwater. When I turn to face my fellow thrill-seekers, I’m met with a gaping, wide-open mouth. Imagine a creature out of a Ridley Scott alien flick, and you’re close. My heart beats out of my chest as the majestic black sea blanket nears closer, its sheer size enough to leave anyone speechless. As it glides over me, I catch a glimpse of a couple of remora fish, who have hitched a ride on the manta’s underside.
My heart beats out of my chest as the majestic black sea blanket nears closer, its sheer size enough to leave anyone speechless.
Any Australian will understand how liberating it is to swim in open water without the worry of saltwater crocs, famished Great Whites or poisonous jellyfish. In fact, I’m told that nothing in Fiji is poisonous, and although I’m slightly dubious, it’s a comforting thought as I snorkel Rainbow Reef. Which could easily be mistaken for the set of Finding Nemo.
Discovered by Jacques Cousteau and situated in the Somosomo Strait between the Fijian islands of Taveuni and Vanua Levu, Rainbow Reef is known as the soft coral capital of the world. Strong tidal currents provide a healthy supply of nutrients to the reef, paving the way for a diverse and abundant marine scape. I traverse the reef, zigzagging through schools of fish, turtles and small reef sharks who chill out in the currents below.
No marine reserve is more dazzling than the one that lines mainland Vanua Levu’s south coast in Savusavu. Known as ‘the hidden paradise of Fiji’ and famous for being the source of Megan Markle’s pearl necklace, Savusavu is home to bustling local markets and Kokomane, a boutique cocoa farm selling scrumptious, handmade Fijian chocolates. A short but stunning trek through the jungle takes you to Nakawaga Waterfall or you can kayak the waters of the Qaloqala River past mangrove forests to the stunning Salt Lake.
“Would you like a traditional Bobo massage, Ropate?” asks my masseuse politely at the Koro Sun Resort. Now back on dry land, I’m slathered in coconut oil as I listen to the soothing soundscape of a waterfall trickling through rainforest.
Later I lay crescent-shaped on my beachfront bure’s hammock and drift peacefully off to sleep, listening to the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing onto the crystal clear Vanua Levu shores. It’s the perfect soundtrack, a closing regale to my Fijian sea experience — a country as beautiful underwater as it is on its shores.
With direct flights from Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, Fiji Airways is our preferred airline to Nadi, Fiji. From mainland Nadi, Fiji Link, a subsidiary of Fiji Airways, offer flights in and around Fiji’s 330 islands. For those feeling adventurous, the perk of flying a Twin-Otter is low altitudes which offer breathtaking aerial views of mountainous ranges and coral reefs.
Maqai Beach Eco Surf Resort is a set of humble (but comfortable) beachfront bures run by locals Wani and Cathy. Surrounded by palm trees and with a restaurant that is literally on the beach, it’s difficult to imagine being closer to mother nature than this boutique stay. Delicious local cuisine is a highlight, and an inclusive return local transfer includes a 30 minute taxi ride from the airport and a 30 minute boat ride to the resort.
Naivivi Bay is known geographically as a hurricane hole — a natural shelter from hurricanes.