Taveuni Island – Fiji

Taveuni is known as the Garden Island of Fiji. It’s the third largest island full of rich volcanic soil and covered in thick, dense rainforest. 

The island can be reached by ferry or plane. Taking the ferry from Suva takes an average of 16 hours overnight, but it is a fraction of the cost of the flying. Most locals will take the ferry. Flights to Taveuni fly from Suva and Nadi multiple times a day. From Suva the flight takes about 20 minutes. Be warned it is a small, sixteen-seater plane. 

Taveuni is known as the Garden Island for the lush greenery and abundance of beauty. Bouma National Heritage Park takes up more than a third of the island. Hiking throughout the park is very popular. There are many birds and animals exclusive to the island that can be found here making it a nature lovers dream. During October to December, you can hike further up to Des Vouex in search of Fiji’s unofficial national flower, the Tagimoucia. The beautiful flower is found on Fiji’s $50 notes and has a love story/legend around it. Many Fijians see coming to Taveuni to find the flower as a right of passage or bucket list item.

Bouma  Falls are also found in Bouma National Heritage Park, and they are deemed the most iconic waterfalls in Fiji. The first waterfall is a short walk from the park’s visitor centre, followed by two other falls a longer trek away. Seeing the falls is worth the effort and after basking in their beauty you can cool down in natural swimming pools. 

Hiking Lavena Coast is a winding track which leads off the end of Lavena village to breathtaking beaches, across rock-strewn rivers, and into the jungle. The trek ends with a dip at the bottom of waterfalls. 

Many people come to the beautiful island of Taveuni not for the jungle, but for the water and the diving. The Rainbow Reef and Somosomo Strait are found off the island’s coast and filled with countless dive sites which are easily accessible. The Great White Wall is one of the top diving sites in the world. The water and weather conditions have to be perfect to dive the Wall, which limits the amount of days you can reach the site monthly. If you’re planning on diving in Taveuni reach out to local dive sites beforehand to see when the best diving is expected to be and plan to give yourself some extra days in case of weather delays.

Beyond exploring the island and surrounding waters there’s also several boat day trips to smaller more remote islands. These tours will be offered at your accommodation and will usually run with a minimum amount of people signed up.

Taveuni is absolutely gorgeous and a highlight of my Fiji trip. It’s not easy to get to, but I think the voyage out here is totally worth it. You could easily spend a week or more if you’re planning on diving. It’s truly paradise. I was here in March and the weather was perfect. The mosquitos were not as prevalent as they were on the mainland. April and May leads into cyclone season and heavy rainfall. If I get back to Fiji I would love to come to Taveuni between October and December and try to find the Tagimoucia flower.

Mantaray Island – Fiji

The next island stop is Mantaray Island Resort. The resort is located on Nanuya Baklava Island 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.

Food

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. 

Entertainment 

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. 

Spa

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. 

Wayalailai Island – Fiji

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.