After spending time on the northern island of Savu Savu and on Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu, it was time to head out to some of Fiji’s purest islands for some quiet beach time, underwater exploration, and surreal turquoise waters. Saving the best for last, we headed out to the Mamanuca island chain, just off the western coast of Viti Levu. Island hopping to the Mamanucas is easy and if you keep traveling north, you’ll hit the adjacent Yasawa Island chain, which is even more isolated and rugged.
The Mamanucas include roughly 20 picture-perfect islands with charming nicknames like “Party Island,” “Magic Island,” and “Daydream Island.” They feature a treasure trove of world famous surfing and diving, and are home to sea turtles, reef sharks, and a stunning array of tropical fish. These islands are also perfect for all kinds of water-sports, and beach bunnies will be in paradise too, nestled upon the many white sand beaches, or swaying in a hammock by the waves. To give you an idea of how gorgeous these islands are, the movies Castaway and The Blue Lagoon were both filmed in this island chain.
Nadi and the South Pacific’s Largest Hindu Temple
While passing though Nadi on our way to Port Denarau to catch a cruise out to the Mamanucas, we couldn’t resist a stop at the largest Hindu temple in the South Pacific. Donning a sari, and removing my shoes, I stepped into the temple which was filled with bright psychedelic murals depicting various Gods and Hindu scenes. There were small temples surrounding the main building dedicated to different deities, and the outside of the temple was a rainbow of colorfully painted sculpted embellishments.
South Seas Cruising
We boarded our South Seas Cruise ship bound for Mana Island and settled into the “Captain’s Lounge,” which came with complimentary snacks and drinks. The cruise was unbelievably gorgeous—these islands are the turquoise and white sand wonderland people spend a lifetime dreaming of. To get to actually see these islands in person took my breath away.
The first two islands we stopped at were just tiny specs on the horizon—you could literally walk across each of them in 5 minutes. The first one was so small, there wasn’t even anywhere to stay on the island, it was just a day trip destination. I couldn’t get over the bright white sand and swaying palm trees all ringed by turquoise and aqua. What a slice of paradise. Before we knew it we were approaching Mana Island, which consisted of just two humps of green rising from the aqua sea. Fijian musicians met us on the island’s long wooden jetty and whisked us away to the island’s resort where we were greeted with a fruity drink adorned with coconut shreds and a flower, before settling into our luxurious two-story oceanfront digs facing the bright blue sea. Every surface in the place was adorned with fresh picked flowers: plumerias, hibiscus, and bougainvillea—all arranged inside shells.
Hermit Crabs on the Beach
The sea looked unreal with stripes of dark blue and turquoise up against each other highlighting the change in depth of the water. We headed out to the beach with its white coral sand and white lounge chairs next to thatched umbrellas. I loved how tiny little hermit crabs with shells that blended in with the sand stopped scurrying when you approached and retreated into their shells completely. Once they thought you were gone, their two bulging eyes would pop out, then slowly their little crab legs would emerge and begin to carry them forward again.
Fiji is well known for its underwater wonderland and I’d been waiting my entire life to explore below Fiji’s surface. We donned our gear and swam out away from Mana Island. The thick sea grasses eventually gave way to white coral and bright yellow butterflyfish. As we continued further out the ocean was transformed.
The fish grew brighter and bigger. The coral changed from dead white to glowing bright purple with dazzling bursts of electric blue and hot pink at the tips. We swam over giant brain coral and past bright ultramarine-blue starfish. There were angelfish, paper-thin discus, and majestic fish shaped like swords. There were fish so neon they appeared to be glowing. Schools of brilliant blue fish with iridescent stripes would swarm around me, unafraid unless I made a quick movement, which would cause them to scatter in an instant. It was sheer magic.
There were huge parrotfish with rainbow markings all over their bodies, alongside neon-purple fish, and big clownfish. As we swam over the reef, the scene would change, as if we were passing from one city to another. The fish would change, and the landscape would change. There were huge gorges full of life and endless drop-offs where the reef would plunge 100 feet down along a sudden cliff. All you could see in these deep waters was endless blue punctuated by swirling schools of fish. The coral was so colorful and the fish were so bright that it was like swimming through a movie.
I loved seeing every detail up close—curious fish with their bulging eyes swimming in front of my face, the neon-colored coral, and the big fields of brain coral. Tyson and I would have entire silent, underwater conversations as we swam along hand in hand and pointed out the unique sea life around us. It was so spellbinding we lost track of time and by the time we got out of the water 4 hours had eclipsed like nothing, and we both had stark tan lines. My body felt heavy as I crashed on the beach in an exhausted heap. Famished we headed for the resort’s restaurant where I devoured a huge plate of squid in butter, an entire bucket of steamed mussels in white wine sauce, and a spicy Indian curry with rice and dahl, plus plenty of piña coladas.
With my energy regained, I found an empty lounge chair on the beach. Surrounded by palm trees overhead, flowers all around, the sound of waves, and the big blue sky above, I felt content to just sit and gaze at the scenery. Eventually the sun began to lower in the sky and set the clouds aglow with golden hues. I watched in disbelief as the scene grew more and more radiant and the water caught the sun’s last fiery light across its glossy surface, breaking up the continuous mirror of sky on the ocean. In the distance nothing but tiny islands separated sky and sea, creating a picture-perfect scene ringed by golden fluffy clouds.
Way out on this tiny island…in this little chain of atolls…in this small cluster of hundreds of islands that make up the nation of Fiji…just a spec on the map in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean…I felt connected and blessed and content. After all, isn’t this the way life was truly meant to be lived?
Stay tuned as we continue island hopping in the Mamanucas to the most stunning spot of all: Castaway Island. Or if you missed our other adventures in Fiji, click here.