Fijian Adventure

The rain is pelting down, flooding the roads, and I am chilled to the bone as I head for Adelaide airport, to head north for warmer climes. I am due to meet the One & Only in Brisbane, before flying overnight to Fiji. Twelve hours later, we arrive at the dock at Denerau, feeling soggy from lack of sleep. We are met by a reception committee of about a dozen staff (henceforth to be known as the Boat Fairies), armed with chilled towels, a coconut drink, and a hearty welcome. “Oops! I forgot to pack my tiara!”

SuRi

We are the first guests on board, which gives me time to shower and change after a sleepless night, and pry the grit from my eyes, before everyone else turns up. Revived, it is time to settle into a week of wining, dining, and adventuring. We are one of seven couples aboard the SuRi, a magnificent and incredibly well-stocked cruise ship, set to sail around the Fijian islands for a fortnight…

At the end of two weeks afloat, the dinner table conversation revolves around holiday highlights. But how on earth can we choose? SuRi is a truly ‘fantastical’ boat, and during our time on board, every day has provided a highlight of some sort or another. A particularly delicious meal, a new water sport, a walk to a waterfall, a helicopter ride…

A route around the islands had been planned in advance by our kind, generous and incredibly well organized hosts, but storms and rough weather dictate daily alterations, so that “where are we now?” becomes the standard question over breakfast. Generally, the answer is “somewhere in Fiji!” For most of the trip, we are happily oblivious. On the last day, however, we have a tour behind the scenes and see the map of where we have been. On that first day, we set our clocks to SuRi Time – two hours ahead of Fiji Time – to ensure we didn’t waste daylight hours sleeping. Thus, 6am became 8am, and many of us are up to salute the sun, either as a yoga pose or with coffee cup in hand. It also means we can watch the sun set as we gather for sundowners and dinner on the top deck. The boat was apparently baptised by its original owners, Su(san) & Ri(chard), but as the One and Only suggested, Su(n)Ri(se) captured it better, as I suspect our combined photos of orange skies number in the thousands.

For those travelling from the UK, the weather may have been a little disappointing. Often overcast, calm seas notable for their absence, and little chance of sunburn, it was nonetheless perfect weather for those of us escaping an antipodean winter and wary of the full brunt of summer sun and equatorial humidity. The wind blew away the worst of the thick, tropical air, and the clouds only added to the beauty of the sunsets. Our Boat Fairies kept our rooms spotless and the kayaks and jet skis at our beck and call. We were fed and watered so regularly and so well, I feared we would burst. French wine was the new water. When in need of a little exercise, our French Physio Fairy had us stretching above and beyond our flexibility, and to recover, we queued to see our New Zealand Massage Fairy. And our Cruise Director produced an endless stream of activities and adventures. Talk about a holiday of abundance and self-indulgence! I kept a diary, but I won’t transcribe it verbatim, for fear of turning you all green with envy and never reading this blog again. But I will try to capture some of those highlights for you…


Our second night out, the Captain anchors near a sand spit that emerges from the sea at low tide. The staff sets up tables, chairs and flares, and Chef cooks dinner on a huge barbecue, like a firepit. We paddle in the warm water, waves lapping at our ankles, champagne in hand, watching the sky transform from azure to every imaginable shade of orange, until we are summoned to the table to eat. As the sun drips down the sky and drops behind a nearby island thick with jungle, we nibble on lobster tails and a touch of South Africa: boerewors sausages and sosaties (kebabs).

Nananu-i-ra

Another day, another bay. And a helicopter ride. ‘Where are we, exactly?’ Just off the north shore of the main island Viti Levu, our pilot tells us. ‘Oh! So, were we anywhere near Nananu-i-ra?’ I ask. (Some of you may remember a trip down Memory Lane last year, when I described our time on this little island almost thirty years ago, with a very small daughter.) He simply points below us, some 200m from SuRi. I shriek with excitement as we fly lower, trying to pinpoint the house of the Almost-Relatives we had stayed with when our tent pole broke in a storm and left us homeless. Sure enough, it is still there, and someone is at home, watching us hover overhead from the broad veranda. Back on SuRi, I descend incautiously from the helicopter, and race to inform the One & Only. Borrowing a jet ski, we tear off to inspect ‘our’ island, and, against all odds, find our former hosts in residence after a three year covid absence, more than happy to welcome us back after all this time and share a bottle of Chardonnay. A truly amazing coincidence.

Somewhere else in Fiji, and we take a speed boat ride across the reef to explore some caves. The waves are rowdy and obstreperous, and the One & Only and I are sitting at the front of the boat, bouncing sky-high to the sound of Queen (‘Fat-bottomed Girls?’) through the speakers. At last, shaken not stirred, we back into a rocky cove and clamber out onto volcanic rock and coral sand to meet the villagers. Guides take us up steep, concrete steps to a door in the cliff. (The western door into the mines of Moria? A gateway to Narnia?) Beyond the door is a deep, clear saltwater pool. I dive in and float into the centre, gazing up as the sunlight peeps in through a fringe of green ferns growing around the edge of a natural skylight at the top of the cliff. In a sliver of rock is another secret entrance to an underground pool. To enter, we must duck down and swim under the water for a few seconds, through a low, narrow tunnel, before emerging into a pitch black space. A torch throws some light on the surroundings and a large epiglottis hangs down from the ceiling – are we in the mouth of a giant whale? Turning around in the water, I spot a stalactite stretching down the rock like a Maori tongue doing the Haka. We are definitely in the mouth of a rock monster! We swim bravely into the nooks and crannies of the cave, our guide occasionally slapping his hand on the water like a whale tale to set the cave vibrating with echoes. A pair of Fijian girls holler through the secret tunnel to ear-splitting effect. Now we know the way, swimming out is easy. We are reluctant to leave, but the water is cold, and we begin to feel chilled, so its back out to the beach to rediscover the sun and inspect the wares of the local ladies.

There is a Seventies night on board, complete with a local band, and we dance till we drop and my toes have blisters, dressed up in outfits we have brought with us for the occasion. The band is great, and happy to sing all our old favourites. Dinner is also in keeping with the era: hors d’oeuvres of bite-sized sausages, cheese and pineapple skewers and a prawn cocktail, followed by Boeuf Bourguignon and salmon with hollandaise sauce, and crepes Suzette for dessert.

water lily

Despite a minor injury (serve me right for showing off on the water slide), the One & Only has persuaded me to join him on an island walk on Wakaya. It’s an early start, and we are off across swelling seas to the bus stop, and a bumpy ride to a village in the national park. There, we reply “Bula vinaka” to every passing child, inspect the cava roots drying in the sun and the heaps of pandanas leaves for weaving into mats, before heading off to walk three miles along the edge of the shore, beneath the mangroves, passing a multitude of unfamiliar plants along the way: a small bed of Taro plants, another of cassava; a bed of watercress in a shallow stream; strange fruits and nuts, both edible and inedible; the odd splash of colour from blue/purple bindweed and red ginger flowers. We find a box fruit tree, where the flowers have fallen to the ground – frangipani-like petals from which blossom long white filaments tipped in yellow. The fruit itself is a strange brown skinned parcel like one of those “pick-a-number” paper toys we made as kids.
At some point, we have to shuck off socks and shoes to wade across a river. It’s a bit hair-raising, as we struggle over slippery rocks, but we make it over only slightly damp. The last lap to the waterfall is up and down crazy wooden staircases along the edge of a river, before stripping off to clamber oh-so-gracefully over large boulders into the first of two deep, cold pools. It is almost painful immersing our hot bodies into the water – I’m sure I saw steam rising from my shoulders – but I submerge myself bravely, and then swim upstream to a further barrier of rocks, slipping over them into another pool that sidles between high cliffs into a bottomless, round pool, where the water cascades down the rocks at 9 o’clock and over the rim of the cliff at 12 o’clock. Trying to swim against the double current is a challenge. Eventually our guide, watching me struggle, tells me to cling to the rock wall and push myself around the edge to the falls, where the water pressure knocks the wind out of me, and I swallow tremendous amounts of water. Almost drowning, but not quite, I find the knack of backing in with head bent to experience a serious pummelling on my back and shoulders. I dive into the centre and the current drives me back towards our group, already digging into backpacks for sandwiches and fruit. After our picnic is done, we trudge slowly back to the coast where a ‘fibre’ (as in fiberglass boat) is waiting to take us back to the village. Five minutes out, we glimpse a pod of dolphins playing beyond the reef. Our driver circles them, once, twice, while they bob and dive around the boat, riding the bow waves and leaping into the sky. Magic.

And I can’t forget to mention the fishing expedition, when the One & Only, after numerous outings, finally made a catch, and was delivered of a large Spanish Mackerel, known to the Fijians as ‘walu’. He proudly posed on the deck, and after the photo shoot, Chef waved his magic wand to produce a platter of sashimi and a red curry.

It’s our last day. SuRi had backed into a beach somewhere, so we can swim across the last few metres. The crew are busy setting up a sophisticated picnic area under the palm trees, complete with the ubiquitous and beautiful table setting. Chef will be providing a BBQ lunch, but in the meantime, there is snorkelling to be done. I come upon a small coral mound only metres off the boat, a nursery of tiny reef fish dashing about, in rainbow colours. Further on, we find ourselves surrounded by a school of black and white zebra fish (not their real name) who occasionally nip at our legs, testing us for taste. Lifting our heads, we notice several translucent fish, long and lean with sword-like mouths and blue trim, swimming around us in circles, at a safe distance from our splashing flippers. Among the coral, we admire countless varieties of fish and several rubbery-looking electric blue star fish, a chunky sea slug and a clam. A nondescript brown reef fish, the size of my palm, glares into my goggles and darts at me bravely, as I swim too close for comfort. It is riveting. I could float out here for days. But Chef beckons. Lunch awaits. Lamb chops, pear and prosciutto, broccolini and beans, everything chargrilled on the BBQ.

And then a final 80s & 90s night celebration on board, with the band who came over for the 60s & 70s night. I patch together a Flash Dance outfit – or is it Jane Fonda? – with psychedelic sweatbands and leopard skin leg warmers courtesy of our Decorations Fairy. Cyndi Lauper and Adam Ant show up. And could that be Joan Collins and Linda Hamilton in padded shoulders? And there’s the team from Top Gun! The boat sets sail as the band plays our favourite disco tunes and we dance and sing into the sunset. It is surreal. The water begins to churn, and the wind turns us all into Bridget Jones sans headscarf. We stagger indoors, windblown and sweaty, to dine on a variety of fondues, dipping crusty bread into melted cheese and strawberries into liquid chocolate. It is a fun and fitting way to end two memorable, magical weeks aboard this glorious ship. We stagger off to bed, where the fairies have turned down the sheets and left chocolate kisses on our pillows. Wherever we meet again, there will be so many wonderful memories to share. “Motay and Vinaka!”

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