Experience Fiji: Land, Sea, and Stars
What criteria are paramount for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation? Beautiful beaches, beautiful snorkeling, world-class food, and some adventurous excursions too? We were searching for all of this, and thought, how about Fiji? The only problem, which some would argue isn’t a real problem, is that finding all of these criteria in Fiji automatically had us looking at resorts. There are resorts in Fiji that certainly provide their own piece of paradise, but what if you want more than one piece? At the end of the day, you’re isolated to their beach, their food, and their tours for the duration of your stay. Not that the experience provided would be bad. Of course it would be incredibly relaxing, but what if it could be better? What if you could have all of the relaxation, the beautiful beach and world-class food, while getting out and exploring wherever you wanted to go? Seeing things few will ever get to see?
This is what we found with Vacala Bay Resort. The promise of a luxurious vacation with the benefit of exploring Fiji’s lesser known, rarely visited spots on their catamaran Looping, the only charter offered in this part of the world. The plan was to spend all of our time on the water, sailing among the Lau Island Group to the southeast of the main Fiji islands. The Lau group is rarely visited, and contains some of the most pristine, untouched islands and anchorages in the world. To say we were excited is an understatement.
Landing on Taveuni’s small strip of a runway, we were greeted by overcast skies and rain, but thought nothing of the weather as we were simply happy to be in paradise. Our host, Paul, graciously picked us up at the airport, but immediately delivered the bad news: a cyclone off to the northwest was set to bring stormy weather for the next week, and we were grounded. Our dreams were dashed in that moment, and the feeling of disappointment in the car was palpable. We headed to their resort to freshen up and discuss a plan.
Paul, and his wife Helena, are simply amazing people. Forget being wonderful hosts, that skill seems to come naturally for them, but on a deeper level they are truly lovely, genuine spirits. Their kindness, hospitality, and generosity cannot be overstated. They gave us a royal welcome, which seemed to last the entire duration of our vacation with them. Anything we desired, they made happen, and more. The storms keeping us off of the boat quickly became an afterthought as we were enjoying the stunning beauty of Taveuni, hiking and swimming to waterfalls, snorkeling in Vacala Bay, relaxing in the resort with in-house massages and food and drink the likes of which we have never seen before, plus adventures to the international date line and even to a local Fijian mass service. Helena drowned us in love, and food, which to her must be one and the same. To state it plainly, the company of Paul and Helena is worth the trip alone.
Recently named the Global Winner of the 2018 Luxury Contemporary Villa award by World Luxury Hotel Awards, Vacala Bay Resort needs no introduction, yet when you stay here you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a last unknown corner of the world, where unrivaled beauty, serenity, and adventure is yours alone to enjoy. Perched upon a hill overlooking what may as well be its own private bay, complete with catamaran teasing you to come explore world class snorkeling and diving, the resort spares no comforts.
Architecturally, the resort is a wonder. Reclining on the patio with a cold drink you’d never know it was built with the best materials to withstand the strongest of cyclones. Nor would you realize a completely eco-friendly, off-the-grid resort is providing all of the luxuries you’re enjoying. Solar panels provide all of your power, water collection systems all of your water, and the natural bounty of tropical fruits, vegetables, and fish are on offer all around you. Swing open the floor-to-ceiling glass doors on every “wall” facing the ocean to let in the tropical breeze, slip straight into the infinity pool off of the couch, and enjoy every meal with one of the best views in the world. If the feeling strikes you to get out and explore, just remember you’re in a prime location to explore Fiji’s “garden isle” and all of its incredible beauty. And of course, that catamaran is still waiting to whisk you away to even more paradise...
Soon, the storms cleared, and we were provisioning the boat for a 5 day sail. Though not enough time to go to Lau and back, we were happy to be on the water with the sun and warm wind guiding us out. We would sail around Rabi island, just to the north of Taveuni. As a sendoff, Paul, Helena (Heli for short) and a few of their staff that we had come to know over the last few days, put on a traditional kava ceremony to wish us smooth sailing and say goodbye. Kava, a delicacy in Fiji, is prepared with the dried root of a kava plant in a ceremonial bowl carved from a single piece of wood. The dried, ground root is then filtered through the water and served in halved coconut shells. Prior to receiving your cup, you are to clap a few times, followed by exclaiming “Bula!”, then gulp down the entire serving. To us, the taste is like you’d expect: earthy, with a pinch of pepper, are the kindest words we could think of. But our Fijian hosts couldn’t get enough of it. Must be an acquired taste. After a couple of cups, we began looking at each other strangely until one of us asked, “does your tongue feel numb?” Apparently kava has mildly sedative properties, among others, so we decided to stop and let our Fijian hosts enjoy the rest.
The next morning we found ourselves finally out on the sailboat. Cutting through the deep blue water, we quickly realized why a little rain and overcast skies kept us from sailing. You can be cruising in 300-400 ft. of water one minute, and nearly skimming the top of a coral reef the next if visibility isn’t good. The waters around the Fiji islands are famous for coral for a reason. Reefs and atolls spring up from the depths without warning, this coupled with a decent tide change producing a strong current makes for prime conditions for all sorts of ocean life. Thankfully, Paul has been navigating these waters for years and knew just where to guide us. We took the one entrance into Prince Albert Cove on the north side of Rabi island, and had the entire bay to ourselves. We would snorkel the bay, comb the beach, and take some stand up paddle boards for a cruise. The next day we ventured back out to the outer reef on the dinghy for more snorkeling. The outer wall sets up perfect conditions with deep water rising up on the reef walls. Pictures cannot do this place justice. Corals on top of corals on top of more corals. You could cruise over it all and enjoy he kaleidoscope of colors, or stop and focus on a square meter for half an hour and still not see all of the amazing detail. We had never seen anything like it, and doubt it will be topped unless we can make a return trip someday.
Moving on from our first anchorage, we caught some favorable wind and sailed around the west side of the island. Though our anchorage would have no beach, it was ringed with a thick mangrove jungle, which at high tide produced a small channel we would take up into the jungle. Ducking under webs of mangrove branches, as well as doing our best to avoid the large hand-sized spiders hanging from them, terrorizing us by their presence alone, we wandered through the maze of mangroves to a small village. Though we couldn’t stay long for fear the tide would go out and leave us no way back, it was striking to find indigenous people living so deep within the jungle, still living off of the land and sea. We may have been the lone foreigners they would see for years. For some, would they ever even venture off of this island? These thoughts filled our minds and left us feeling a bit strange, almost sad they were missing out on so much of this world, yet knowing they were likely still quite content with their little slice of paradise.
Our final day sailing before returning to Taveuni, we rose early to catch the tide change just out from the entrance to our bay. This particular spot, we were told by Paul, creates a natural funnel pushing large amounts of water through at the change of the tide. This strong current my only carries a lot of plankton, but also brings out the larger fish that feed on it. Specifically, we were looking for manta rays. Climbing in the dinghy, we cruised back and forth, scanning the water for the ripples of mantas cruising the surface. We nearly gave up until, from the catamaran, Heli blew her whistle and pointed us in the direction of a manta she spotted. Paul captained the dinghy up the current above the ray, and instructed us to quietly slip into the water. “Don’t even slap your fins on the surface,” he said. “You’ll only spook it. Also, the current here is strong, so there is hardly any use trying to swim with the manta. Let the current take you to it, then I’ll pick you up and circle back up to drop you off again.”
We slipped in the water, and were immediately faced with the gaping mouth of a 10ft. + manta ray coming toward us. Exhilaration, as a word, is an understatement. We completed a few circles, gliding past the manta, Paul picking us up, dropping us off in front, and gliding past again. Except Summer. She swam with the manta the entire time. How she could keep up with such a large animal swimming against the current we have no explanation, other than she was having the time of her life.
Back onboard Looping, we would now sail for our final stop before returning to Vacala Bay Resort: Rainbow Reef. Aptly named, Rainbow Reef is one of the most famous snorkel and dive spots in the world for its amazing formations and variety of soft corals. Sitting in the large channel between Taveuni and Vanua Levi, similar conditions of current and underwater formations come together to create the perfect habit for coral here. If you have the chance to snorkel these waters, do not pass it up. There is nothing else like it.
Still on a high from the most incredible snorkeling of our lives, we cruised back to Vacala Bay to clean up and do a little more relaxing before our flight home the following afternoon. What had begun with such a dreary, disappointing rainstorm ended up being one of the most relaxing, yet adventurous trips of our lives. We experienced beauty on land in tropical jungles and waterfalls, under the sea with stunning coral and sea life, and in the sky, every night stargazing on the deck, peering deep into the Milky Way with zero light pollution, not even the moon. If beauty, relaxation, and adventure are what you’re after, Fiji, and Vacala Bay Resort, have it all.