One thing I will admit is that planning a holiday in Fiji isn’t the easiest thing to do. Mostly because there are so many options, but not that much information. Also, Apple Maps is pretty much useless in Fiji and Google Maps is only slightly better. It’s hard understanding distances and getting directions (Apple Maps doesn’t even have the option to route things outifit can even find what you’re looking for). The only way to really know what to do is talk to other people who have been to Fiji or travel agents (who are most definitely trying to get commission from you).
My friend and I didn’t know much and were planning our trip based on three things: 1. Snippets of information we got from others (me from travel buddies I’ve met in NZ and my friend from her coworkers). 2. Saving money and being savvy. 3. My friend had never stayed in a dorm and she was willing to try, but didn’t want to be in a dorm the entire trip (understandable). To avoid a dorm and be economical we decided to stay at an Airbnb in Nadi for two nights, but then we realized it was kind of isolated and maybe not the best choice. When my friend and I met up we noticed there were hotels right by the port (this would have been so much more convenient). They also were about $200 AUD a night so splitting that cost it would have been a price I was more than willing to pay for the convenience and touch of luxury. That was my plan when I got back to Nadi after island hopping.
Waiting until the last minute, naturally, I booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Resort. I was once again blown away by the staff’s professionalism and kindness. The resort was gorgeous, breathtaking really with a very open and green/jungle/topical look. I was “upgraded” to a suite upon checking in. My room was massive with a kitchenette, enormous bathroom with a bathtub and washer/dryer, a proper separate lounge area, and a magnificent, clean bed. I’m not hinting that the other places weren’t clean, but I think they were “island standard” clean not “resort crisp.”
The resort had a spa, several pools including an adults only pool, five restaurants/bars on property, a mini market where you could by snacks, water, or even some groceries, a fitness center, and more. It was also located right on the beach so you could go swimming or have a go at the water sports. Honestly, this was a vacation location and I didn’t want to leave – I extended my stay an additional night.
I really loved the Radisson and may stay there again when back in Nadi at the tail end of my trip. That being said it didn’t completely outrank island hoping – so go to the islands and then treat yourself to a couple of nights here before flying out.
Beachcomber was the last stop on the island-hopping portion of my Fiji trip. Below the Yasawas are the Mamanucas. This is the closest chain of islands from Nadi, accessible by a 25-30 minute boat ride. Given their proximity from the main island it’s possible to do day trips to these islands and go back to Nadi in the evening. It was also the perfect area to stay on an island, but still give my friend time to catch her evening flight.
Beachcomber is known as a party island and the online video made it look like the place to be. After the week and a half of traveling around the islands I hadn’t met many (if any) people that have already been or planning to stay there, which was a little odd. We were greeted in the typical fashion we had become accustomed to on the islands – singing, smiling, and a huge bula. Walking onto the island something was a little off and that was a lack of people.
Check in didn’t go very smoothly, but I think the worker was maybe out of her element. We booked a four-person girl’s dorm and my friend and I were bunking with a girl we had met at Blue Lagoon. The bathroom was in the same building, but accessible by outside. The room was small, but would have been fine if there was proper air circulation (it didn’t and at night was very stuffy).
Upon exploring the resort we realized how massive it was. There were so many buildings and structures, as well as little areas with hammocks tucked in overlooking the water. I was told that you could walk the entirety of the island in about an hour and a half. In the middle of the property there was a small turtle enclosure where they were caring for a few turtles before they would be released back into the ocean. The main attraction to the island was the huge bar. I’m sure when the Beachcomber is actually full this would be poppin’ and hold true to the party island reputation, but they were only operating at 6% occupancy during our stay.
With the day-trippers there was a bit more life during the day on the island. The main free attraction was a snorkeling trip put on twice a day. They brought the group out on a boat and feed fish. Each night they tried to engage everyone after dinner with some games, but it was always under ten people and ended up being an early night. Our second night there was a limbo competition – which I won making my record three for three.
On our second day my friend and I decided to take a day trip to Treasure Island, which was a short boat ride away. Again we didn’t know what to expect, but thought it was going to be a little livelier than Beachcomber. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really the case. We also had crummy weather so overall it just wasn’t great.
That day we were also moved to a private room with twin beds, our own bathroom, and a proper fan. It was a nice treat.
The food was served buffet style for all the meals. Breakfast was pretty similar to Mantaray. Lunch was a tray buffet with a few hot options and salad. For dinner there was usually rice dish, a couple of meat options, fish, vege, and salad for dinner with dessert to finish off. The meal plan was $99 FJ per person per day. I would say the quality of the food was on par with the other islands, but the presentation and the lack of choosing your meal didn’t really compare to Blue Lagoon and Mantaray.
The biggest drawback of the island was how expensive everything else was. A water bottle was $8.70 (random not round number), drinks were $22ish, and the motorized water sports like jet skis were ridiculously expensive. I couldn’t understand why the water was so expensive, on more remote islands I had paid $5 for a bottle and at fancier resorts I hadn’t paid more than $6.
I hate to say it because the staff really did try with that they had, but this place just reminded me of the ghost or shadow of once was and it was sad. At night the grounds were borderline deserted. I can only hope that it may be a little better here during the peak season. As it stands currently I wouldn’t recommend stopping here.
The next island stop is Mantaray Island Resort. The resort is located on Nanuya BaklavaIsland in the Naviti group of the Yasawa Islands, but it’s nicknamed Manatay Island because of the abundance of sea creatures during the appropriate season (May-October). I unfortunately didn’t see any mantarays, but that’s all good because everything about the stay was perfect.
Every resort has a specific look. At Wayalaili the workers wore traditional, colorful clothes; Blue Lagoon had specific uniforms and they were all blue (naturally); at Mantaray the color of most of the staff shirts were red and black for the activity/dive staff. The red was such a good choice. It’s vibrant and therefore stands out next to the greenery of the island and the blue of the ocean. Right off the bat there’s a high air of professionalism. We are greeted with a singing Fijian welcome when coming ashore and then ushered into a beautiful outdoor bar/lounging area.
Tree House Bure
We were staying here for two nights and booked the tree house bure. The first night was my birthday and opted for the luxury of not being in a dorm on my birthday. However, the dorms at Mantaray really aren’t that bad. There are a lot of people in the room, but it’s designed that you only see three other beds from where you sleep. The room was also air-conditioned so very cool 24/7. However, for the two nights we didn’t have to deal with sleeping in a dorm. Woo! The room was pretty small with just enough room to walk around between the bed, side tables, and our luggage. It’s not a space you are meant to spend much time in because there’s so much to do on the island.
The rooms don’t have an ensuite bathroom and have a bathroom area. There’s three showers on the ground area, but to access the toilets they are up a set of stairs. This is because they are compostable toilets a.k.a. not flushing toilets. Pretty unique, but they are constantly cleaned so you barely notice. I actually liked them oddly enough.
Now lets talk about the best part of Mantaray. Again there was a compulsory meal plan of $ FJ /person per day. Notice this is only a bit more expensive than the others and it was so much better. The breakfast buffet had an array of cold options (cereal, yogurt, fruit, etc.) to hot options (like pancakes, beans, fried rice?, and more), and then an eggs station. For lunch you had your choice off of a menu of about 10ish options. Then dinner was the highlight – first course was a soup with bread, choice of starter, choice of main, and dessert. It was a generous amount of food throughout the day. Sure you had to walk up a lot of stairs to get there so you were working for it.
The activities staff was fantastic. They seriously created the energy of the resort and genuinely seemed happy to be there. In general people in Fiji are nice and helpful, but they turned it up a notch. I think it speaks volumes to the management at the resort. On my birthday we got so lucky with a traditional Fijian Dance performance after dinner. I can truly say this was possibly one of my favorite nights in Fiji. So many staff members threw themselves fully into the performance and it was fantastic. The second night was raining and the pulled through again with some games to pass the evening. There is quite literally something to do all day at Mantaray – village visits almost daily, snorkeling ($25 FJ for your entire stay whether it’s a stay or a week), jewelry making, crown making with leaves, fishing, etc.
Then most notably they have incredible diving. The location of the island gives them access to so many dive sites a few minute boat ride away. They are also incredibly professional in the dive shop. I had come to Mantaray knowing I wanted to do one of the dives, but after speaking with them I signed up for three. Not that they sold me hard on it at all – the opposite really – they were just chill, knowledgeable, and passionate. So I signed up for the 3 dives for $350 FJ.
I decided to get a massage on my birthday. It was one of those last minute, but why not decisions. So I signed up for a 90-minute massage for $108 FJ. Honestly, the best less than $50 USD I have ever spent (okay maybe being a tad dramatic, but the best in a long long time). I can’t remember a massage that was this good. I also opted for the 90 minute so it was optimal relaxation and it was perfect. One of my new friends from San Francisco had one a day after me and he was also raving. I tried squeezing in another one, but didn’t have enough time between the dives, meal times, and ferry ride.
I truly loved Mantaray. I would come back here easily if given the choice. It’s really close between Mantaray and Blue Lagoon, but I think Mantaray has a slight edge and it’s a bit closer to the mainland.
Blue Lagoon is one of the furthest sections of the Yasawas. Blue Lagoon Resort is located on Nacula Island. This is about 4.5 hour via ferry from Nadi. I can honestly say the journey is WORTH it. Staying at Blue Lagoon was comparable to other resorts and quality/value is so much higher. There’s again a compulsory meal plan of $119 FJ per person per day. We stayed in an eight person dorm for $44 FJ per night.
The dorm was super chilled and felt like a relief going in each time. All of the beds were singles (no bunk beds) and the layout was good. We ended up with all girls in the room and it really felt like summer camp for the two nights.
The food here was top notch. For breakfast there was a continental buffet and a hot choice from the menu (eggs varieties, pancakes, etc.). For lunch you were able to choose from about eight options with something for everyone. The standard dinner was three-course (choice of starter, choice of main, and choice of dessert). One of our dinners was a BBQ buffet so there were even more options available. The food and the options here were very good and definitely up to a resort standard.
One of the biggest perks of Blue Lagoon was all the little extras. You could rent standup paddleboards, kayaks, snorkel gear, etc. for free. They also offered yoga twice a day and a guided morning hike. You really didn’t have to spend extra on anything if you didn’t want to.
Of course there were the additional cost extras available too. You could go to a village visit, guided snorkeling trips (AM and at night), or a cave excursion.
We did the morning day trip to the Sawa-I-Lau Caves. It took about 20ish minutes to get there by boat. The first cave you climb down stairs and jump in. It was pretty open with lots of light. Then you swim under a small section to access the other cave. This one is narrower and a lot darker. The guides found out it was my birthday and I was sang to in a cave…how many times will I be able to say that? The sounds echoed and it was pretty epic if I do say so myself. After the caves you had the option of buying some souvenirs from the local who boated over to the area. I really liked this excursion and would recommend it.
If you are traveling the Yasawas I think Blue Lagoon needs to be on your list of places to stop. It was such a nice resort and I truly did not want to leave. The long ferry ride can be a little daunting so an alterative is that you can take the seaplane over one way and ferry back (or just take the plane both ways). This is obviously more expensive, but an option.
Fiji has always been one of those dreamy, far off destinations that seemed unattainable, especially coming from the US, for so long. Coming from Australia it’s much easier to get Fiji (and New Zealand is even closer)! So as my birthday was approaching Fiji was looking more and more appealing. I knew I wanted to venture off the mainland and explore the islands, but I didn’t have an exact plan. My first island stop was Wayalailai in the Yasawas.
Going to Wayalailai was recommended to me by someone I had met in New Zealand. It’s about 2.5 hours by ferry off the mainland making it about the halfway mark to where the Yasawa Island’s top point. From the ferry you take a small boat tender to the island immediately the beauty overtakes you. The water, trees, mountain are all absolutely stunning. You’re greeted by the workers singing and ending with a big BULA welcome. By dinner the first night all the workers knew your name and looked genuinely happy to see you around the resort.
On the island you can either do a homestay or at Wayalailai Resort. The resort is 100% Fijian owned and according to the website “all profits are shared amongst the villagers for school, church and village improvements.” I booked into a dorm, but they actually put me on my own in a room for two. It was nice to have my own room and bathroom. One main quirk of the resort are that there’s no electricity during the day. It comes on around 5pm and will stay on throughout the night into the AM and then back off. Not a huge deal, but that means no fans or charging anything during the day. Online it had said that there was Wifi, but there wasn’t and the service in general was sparse. The room was quaint with fresh hibiscus flowers all around, but it wasn’t luxe by any means. The best way to describe it is local islander comfort.
The rate was $140 FJ per day and that included breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. All the meals were started by drums beating and were buffet style. There was always a rice, meat options, and veggies. On the second to last night there was also a traditional Kava ceremony. After lunch local women came for a “craft market.” You could buy goods they were selling or make your own bracelet, anklet, or necklace for $10 FJ. It was suggested that the water wasn’t suitable for drinking and you could buy a 1.5 liter for $5 FJ.
Snorkeling right off the beach was beautiful. There were many hammocks all around to lounge about to read, nap, or just stare out at the ocean. I even woke myself up to watch one of the sunrises on a hammock. They had optional activities like a village visit, sunset or sunrise hikes, snorkeling with reef sharks, or a bull shark feeding dive.
Speaking of diving this is where I got PADI Open Water scuba dive certified. certification takes four dives, quizzes, and a written exam. I completed my dives in two days and the whole process took three days. It was pretty quick, but now I can scuba dive! My third training dive we did the bull shark dive. This was a surprise “bonus” to me. Usually this dive alone is $300 FJ, but as I rocked up for my training they told me we were going to go with the sharks. We ended up seeing a tiger shark (super rare for them), bull, lemon, blacktop, and nurse sharks. I couldn’t really differentiate the sharks apart from the nurse sharks and honestly I was terrified even though they did a really great job making us feel like we were okay.
I really enjoyed my stay at Wayalailai. It was the perfect first stop on this trip. I wouldn’t call the stay glamorous, but it was very special.
Stewart Island is situated less than 20 miles south of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s the southern most point of NZ. Apparently, in winter you can even see Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights. The island is accessed via ferry and let me tel you it is a bumpy ride. I don’t usually get seasick and I was feeling this boat trip. Some people in our group did actually get sick. The crazy thing is that we are told that our ride was “tame” compared to how bad it could get. I heard that orcas and dolphins were spotted by some on the ride, but I personally didn’t see any.
Once we arrived on land the town was relatively small so we could walk to the accommodation. On the island there are a few activities and some hikes. The main draw is a nighttime walk to spot wild kiwi birds. The island is the most kiwi populated area of NZ.
With Stray’s bus scheduled you could either stay one or three nights on the island. I think one night was too short, especially given the rough ferry ride, but three would have been too long. Two nights would have been a happy medium, but not a possibility. If you had bad weather there really wouldn’t be anything to do on the island. I didn’t see any Kiwis my night here, but we did see some penguins migrating in for the evening at the pier. The group spent the evening playing cards and we also had some puzzle action. Overall, I liked this stop because of the hang out sessions and bonding with other travelers. I would have liked to stay an additional night.
Accommodation – Stewart Island Backpackers
Small island = small choices. I really think this was the only accommodation option and overall it was a good one. The property was really nice and it was in a convenient location. I hate to say it, but the staff wasn’t the friendliest and definitely not by New Zealand standards. With the lack of accommodation options I guess people would be staying here regardless if Stray came so they didn’t have to go out of their way to be nice. I’ve heard that some other travelers had a hard time here, which is disappointing.
The rooms were cozy. We were in a three person room and for the most part all Stray passengers were roomed together. Unknowingly, this has become an important part of the perception of the accommodations we were staying at. After traveling and getting to know each other we didn’t want to be roomed with complete strangers – some spots understood that others did whatever was more convenient for them. The rooms were all single beds. The downfall of the room was that there was only one outlet between the three of us to use. All of the rooms had shared bathrooms reminding me yet again of camp or college dorms. They were fine but nothing stuck out as amazing.
Bonus Stop – Invercargill
Invercargill is the gateway to Stewart Island as the southern most city of the mainland of the South Island. If you weren’t ferrying over to Stewart Island you would be staying here. I was told there really wasn’t much to do here except for a cinema and Demolition World. I’m really not sure how to describe Demolition World asI’m still kind of confused by the whole experience. Basically it’s a junk yard that has been converted into a village…of scrap metal junk. Oh man it was so weird and still gives me the creeps. Everything in the village looked spooky including the creepy mannequins. Reviews can be deceiving because on TripAdvisor this place has a 4.5 star rating. It is free to enter, but you can donate if you feel inclined too. To me this was a hoarder’s dream come true. Skip it and Invercargill if possible.
I arrived in Sydney at the end of September. Much to my surprise it was shockingly cold. I knew it was technically the start of Australia’s spring, but I was not prepared. Thankfully, I did bring pants, a couple of sweatshirts, and a last minute jacket. I’m glad I had all of that and it helped me get through the chilly nights, but this was not the Australia I had in mind. Pretty much by the 5th day I was so over it that the wheels in my head started turning and I started researching and exploring things to do a little further north. Well Fraser Island was the obvious winner. If you haven’t heard of Fraser please know that pictures, descriptions, etc. really cannot do the island justice. It’s a little special piece of earth that doesn’t compare to anywhere else. I’m going to try to do the Island justice, but know that it just gets better.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. Okay so what does that mean because aren’t all islands made out sand? Why should I be impressed? Well because it’s just sand – no dirt or soil just a massive 75 miles of sand. Sand, which came from the depths of the ocean with algae and nutrients that somehow supported a rainforest to grow and flourish. Although, hundreds of tourists come to Fraser every day (I think a big thanks to Instagram for that), the island is still remote and feels untouched. There’s something so primitive and rich in the beauty of the island. There’s loads of different tours you can do, but I definitely recommend at least staying for one night if not two. There’s just too much to see and distance to cover just for a day trip.
I haven’t spoken to anyone who has gone to Fraser and who didn’t like it. I can’t compare the various trips yet, so I’m just going to speak of my trip with the caveat that I am totally bias. I booked my trip with Dingos. On top of the two nights on the island they include a stay at a hostel in Rainbow Beach the night before the trip and the night after (total of 4 nights and 5 days).
Arrive by bus to Rainbow Beach at 12:45pm and check in to Freedom Hostel. The bus conveniently dropped us off right outside. Score! I’m in a seven-bed dorm, but I’m the first one here so I get the single bed. I didn’t realize at the time, but nobody else ends up in the room so it’s like I have a private room. I go out exploring Rainbow Beach, but it’s a very small town with not a lot to see. I go hang out on the beach before heading back to the hostel to book a horseback riding activity for when we get back from Fraser. That evening we have a introduction and safety briefing and meet the other travelers. The hostel bar has a cool atmosphere and good drink specials (I sunk the ball behind the bar to extend happy hour to 11pm…thank you UCF).
Early wake up call, but we don’t get moving until almost 9:30am at that point we’ve all been up for at least 2 hours and are feeling a bit dusty and anxious to get going. Once on the road we only drive out of town about 10 minutes to get to the ferry. Then we are on the island and the fun begins. It’s hard to describe the feeling of pure joy, happiness, and freedom you get on the drive and surrounded by 9 other people who are also feeling it is so special. Most of the time if you looked at someone they just looked so happy. It made the uncomfortable seats and bumpy ride totally worth it. Driving on the sand is pretty epic, but it nowhere compares to driving through the rainforest. There are no actual roads just ones people make. It was not an easy ride, but we had a great guide who most importantly made sure we were all safe and having fun. The trees are enormous and some date back over 250 years (which is older than Australia was a country).
Lake Mckenzie (Boorangoora) – the most breathtaking lake (I would even say body of water) I have ever seen or had the opportunity to swim in. The water is so clear and blue and the lake is surrounded by beautiful white sand and lush greenery. Your mind really thinks you are on a beach, but you can take a gulp of fresh water. The lake holds significant meaning to the indigenous people so you have to be respectful and mindful of what your bring in and even wearing fresh sunscreen can impact the lake. Seeing something that beautiful you just want to make sure it continues to look that way generations after we leave the planet.
We head to our campsite (oh yes full on tent camping). We watch the sunset from the beach and then head in to cook dinner in our car groups and then just have the best night. The goon is flowing, card games are going, and one of our new friends starts singing. We don’t have any cell service so there is no other option, but to be present in the moment and talking to one another.
Another early start to the day and we head out driving. The staff breathalyze the drivers and everyone is cleared to drive. Our first stop is Lake Allom. This is a tea tree infused lake so the color looks like tea (aka brown)…not super appealing at first look, but then we spot four little turtles and realize we are in a special spot. When you touch the water it feels extra “wet” really hard to explain so you just have to trust me on this one. A group of us go in and we immediately feel invigorated. Any hangovers are wiped away after a swim in the tea tree lake.
Break for lunch and then on to stop #2, which is Indian Head. Named in 1770 by Captain Cook with a gorgeous view. We take pictures and really just take it all in because in every direction you look it looks untouched. Next on the agenda is stop #3, the Champagne Pools. Known as Fraser Island’s natural jacuzzi, but when we went it was not so much a jacuzzi and more like an ice bath. Okay it wasn’t that cold and if the sun had been higher it would have been refreshing, but we arrived towards the end of the day. That didn’t stop us from going in for a bit and then we were all just hanging out as we dried off. I attempted to teach some yoga to one of my car buddies and then it was time for us to head out and back to camp.
After getting to know each other over the last couple of days and this being the last night we knew it would be a fun one. Part of our group made dinner and the others would be on the dishwashing. After swimming in the tea tree water and then the ocean, showers were very much appreciated and worth the $2. Once it was dark a big group of us headed to the beach. I have never seen stars so radiant. On our way back to the campsite we finally saw a wild dingo! It was a little scary, but we wouldn’t feel like we got the full Fraser Island experience if we didn’t see one.
It’s our last day so after breakfast we pack and clean everything up before heading out. Our first stop of the day is the Maheno Shipwreck. Originally sailing back in 1905 and it was even was converted to a hospital ship during World War I. It ended up at Fraser Island when it was finally wrecked in 1935 after a cyclone and has been there ever since. Our final Fraser stop before heading back to the mainland was Eli Creek, a beautiful freshwater creek that feeds into the ocean. We had tubes to take us down the creek.
Afterwards, the remaining portion of the 75 Mile Beach back to the ferry was all bitter and not at all sweet. We couldn’t believe our Fraser Island adventure was coming to an end. Back at Rainbow Beach we finally had cell phone service again and took take proper showers, but there was a sense of sadness in the air because we knew that after we said goodbye tomorrow we would maybe never see one another again and definitely not as a group.
Pancakes were served in the morning and some people were off bright and early for their next stop because everyone had different travel plans. I hung around Rainbow Beach for two more nights. This was officially goodbye, but we would always have the memories.
So my thoughts on Fraser Island? I think it’s a must do when you are on the East Coast of Australia. There really isn’t anything quite like it. I thought our trip was perfect, but all travelers are at the mercy of the island and it’s tides.