Day 2 in Fiji, I headed to the Denerau Marina where I was to take my boat to Barefoot Kuata Island. Denerau is actually an island, less than 3 square kms in size, attached to the mainland by a causeway. The golf course on the way in looked gorgeous as did the homes on the other side of the road. Few locals can afford to own them though and this is a distinctly tourist area.
The Marina was a relaxed yet busy place with all kinds of people heading off to the islands on our boat. I was slightly concerned at the way boats were being loaded- large boxes full of wine bottles for example being thrown from the jetty to someone in a boat, ditto for people’s bags and suitcases. It seemed at any moment injury could fall upon the poor guy catching the cargo… or a mistimed throw could see suitcases sinking in the sea. My bag made it on board without a hitch so I could relax and enjoy the ride. Staff for the various resorts and tourists from all parts of the world climbed aboard and we set off past the luxury yachts in the marina, the mangroves on one side and the beachside chalets of all the famous hotel chains on the other.
The boat stopped at various islands on the way to drop off tourists and staff at various resorts and pick up island hopping passengers heading to the next place. It was quite impressive watching the staff load and unload passengers, their bags (again thrown from a guy on one boat, over the water to another!) and supplies for the islands all make their way on and off the boat in a very organised way. Some of the islands looked like something off a movie… Beachcomber particularly cute. Actually one of the islands nearby was the home of Tom Hanks and Wilson in Castaway.
After two hours on the boat and a number of stops in the Mamanuca Island group, I got off at the first of the islands in the Yasawa group- Kuata, where the staff greeted us with music as we got off the boat. A few staff stay on site but there is no village on the island. It looks over to a bigger island Wayasewa, which has 3 small villages. Most of the staff live there.
Kuata has some beach front bures, a restaurant/bar area with small pools, tables, hammocks, wifi and sunbeds. I am staying in a dorm bure but opted for the delux dorm, so I could get a bed rather than a bunk bed.. am sharing the bure with a young German guy who arrived at the same time as me. It looks like it might be just us which is nice and quiet. I’m typing this sitting outside it, in the shade, looking out onto the sandy beach and the beautiful clear water. Some of the Fijiian staff are now playing beach volleyball on the other side of the hammock which hangs beside our bure. As seems the norm for Fijians there is plenty of laughter and lots of smiles.
I haven’t yet ventured in the water… it’s quite windy so am actually quite happy to soak up the views rather than go through the hassle of squeezing into my bikini, covering myself in sunblock etc etc. Maybe tomorrow. Too windy for a kayak which are available for free. I am resisting the urge to make a to do list for my time here… Having been so busy the last few weeks it is quite hard to just suddenly stop and relax!
Aside from using the free kayaks and snorkelling gear, there are walks on offer on the island and various dives and snorkel trips. Am contemplating doing a guided snorkel tomorrow where you jump off the boat, see amazing coral and fish and learn lots from the guide. Worth doing according to Philipp, my German roommate who did it today. He’s also off on the shark snorkel tomorrow where you snorkel above the reef sharks.. I’m told they are very friendly… am contemplating doing this too.. but we’ll see how brave I am!
Ok it’s a few days later… I opted for the shark snorkel after Philipp reckoned it was 100 x better than the guided snorkel. We took a boat out about 15-20 minutes from Kuata to a spot the white tipped reef sharks are known to hang out. We jumped in the water and snorkeled around watching the sharks below… they are rather friendly so at times got quite close, checking us out! Lots of fish a short distance away by the reef- some very bright little blue ones and all kinds of stripey and multicoloured fish. This was a fantastic thing to do and I’m so pleased I did it. If you had lots of money and a diving certificate there were plenty of different dives on offer near Kuata… including with big sharks. These reef sharks were big enough for me though 🙂
Other highlights of my stay at Kuata include the great lunch buffets and hanging out in the bar area – catching up on news and work in the shade there and almost falling asleep in the hammock doing nothing but enjoying the palms above and the sea below.
There were lots of friendly people to talk to and good food to enjoy – especially at lunch when the buffet offered for the vegetarian numerous salads, rice, noodles, stirfry veges, pasta & vege bakes and vegetable fritters. Breakfasts weren’t bad either with cereals, toast, pancakes, fresh fruit and a chef ready to cook eggs or omlette as you requested. I indulged in far too many pancakes but enjoyed the treat immensely. Dinner was a 3 course affair with French onion soup the entree the first night, salad for me the second (seafood chowder for the others), then a main for me of rice and stirfry vegetables. Regular eaters had a choice of fish and chicken or beef with accompanying vegetables, rice or potatoes. The first night I got just a salad but when I mentioned it wasn’t very filling, I was given a meal of my favourite part of the lunch buffet (ginger veges and noodle dish). Dessert was a pineapple cake first night, orange cake the second. I certainly didn’t go hungry! At every meal we had some of the staff sing and play guitars, entertaining us. So nice
Early on my second day on the island I headed up to the summit with roomate Philipp. It was a reasonably steep but short ascent- maybe 30 minutes. We had certainly worked up a sweat by the time we got to the top, even though most of the walk was in the shade. The temperature doesn’t drop below 20, even at night, and at a guess was mid to late twenties during the day. So even though it was early it was still so warm! Impossible to escape the heat here. The views over the island and other islands nearby made the sweaty climb worth it… fantastic views!
On our way down we checked out the lovely beach and a cave just on the other side of the island from the resort. The resort kept things very natural, using local materials for signage and coconut shells to line paths in the sand. It was tidy and well maintained. There were a lot of local staff there, some associated with the diving/ snorkeling/ kayak side of things, including at least one British and two Chinese staff members I think. Others worked in the kitchens, office, cleaning, entertainment, bar etc. They were all incredibly lovely. One, after asking my name and having an initial chat, would then remember it and use it every time we met. I unfortunately couldn’t remember hers. The staff seemed to know when to leave you alone but also when a friendly chat was appropriate.
There was a nice little lookout point just a few minutes walk above the resort, a perfect spot to watch the sun go down… which a few of us did one night. The moment was ruined for me however when I decided, while waiting for the sun to set, to check my phone for news… only to read that Metiria Turei had stepped down as co-leader of the Greens. I was gutted! I won’t get political in this nice Fiji blog post… but this news really was disappointing… for me as a Green supporter but also for New Zealand and what it says about our (not very) representative politics. Just when it seemed Maori, solo parents, beneficiaries, struggling New Zealanders had someone in parliament who understood them because she had been them… she resigned, having felt the intense media scrutiny on her family and the focus on her own history, too distracting from the real issues she sought to highlight. Sigh. The sun has all but set on Metiria’s political career but I hope her legacy will be that we do see what she fought hard for… an end to poverty in New Zealand.
I took up the oppotunity to visit the neighbouring island Wayasewa and the village Naboro with the island’s only school. The trip with a fellow tourist- a French labour inspector- and our two Fijiian guides was low key and very enjoyable. The village was beautifully located on the tip of the island, just a stone’s throw from the next island of Waya. You can see how close they are in the picture below.
The Naboro School playground and field has what must be the world’s most beautiful backdrop! It was right at the end of the school day when we visited, so lots of the children were playing rugby on the field while a few others did tidying up duties.
Naboro school was for 6-12 year olds. It had boarding houses, as seen in the picture above, so those from the other side of the island could stay during the week, just going home for the weekends. The school was simple with old school blackboards, desks and chairs, but the classrooms were full of interesting displays and children’s work. I noticed a display called ‘Depression Let’s talk’, another ‘What I can do when I feel sad’ and ‘What I can do when I feel afraid’. Lots of health and mental health messages as well as the odd inspirational quote like this one: ‘Education is the most important weapon you can use to change the world’.
The teacher we spoke to was really nice, a young guy from the mainland. He was looking forward to the 2 week break starting in 2 days time – a good chance to get off the island and back to the mainland. He, along with the other teachers, lived on site in the houses that were part of the school. Combine that with having responsibility for the kids who were boarding there, meant work- life balance was probably hard to find! School would have been all consuming.
After a look around the school we walked down the ‘road’ of the village. I had to remove my hat as apparently wearing a hat is not respectful. We saw women relaxing and working, saw the church, numerous fruit palms, washing drying on lines, houses all with open doors and a communnity hall. The village was very small. No shops. Apparently many of the men from the village are in New Zealand for up to 9 months of the year, working on the apple orchards. They are due back next month.
All in all, I can highly recommend a stay on Kuata Island. I had most of 3 days here (2 nights) and could have stayed longer, especially if Antony was with me. There was enough to do and plenty of nice ways to relax, by the pool, on the beach, in a hammock etc. Having free wifi in the bar/ restaurant/ pools area was great too… especially at night when most of the other activities are not options. Good to be able to do some work, read interesting blogs, write blog posts, upload photos and organise more of the trip.
It wasn’t cheap to get to or stay at, but cheaper than most of the other island resorts I looked into and compared favourably to others that guests I talked to had stayed at. For what you got (a slice of paradise!) I think it was worth it. For the interested here’s what it cost…. Fijian dollars $1 = 0.66 NZ. Boat (Awesome Adventures Fiji/ Yasawa Flier) $310 FJD return trip from Denerau to Kuata- 2 hours each way. Accommodation in delux dorm (shared with up to 5 others) $82 FJD per night. Compulsory resort fee which covers 3 meals, wifi, kayak and snorkel gear $99 FJD per day. Optional extras: shark snorkel $65 and Village trip $39. Dives started at $349 I think.
While my old friend Hippo kept me company, I hope I can return one day with Antony and stay a bit longer. It was really quite sad to leave Kuata! We were serenaded off the island by some of the staff and a warrior placed himself on a rock at the head of the island offering safe passage to the boat sailing past. Can’t wait to come back again…