Sunday, October 11, 2015

Island hopping in the Yasawas: Waya LaiLai and Naqalia Lodge (Days 29-31)

After leaving Navotua, we boarded the Yasawa Flyer once again to island-hop from the north end of the Yasawa group of islands down to one of the most southern ones, Waya LaiLai, to head to our next booked location, Naqalia Lodge.

We enjoyed another scenic boat ride with beautiful views of the islands before arriving at Naqalia in the late afternoon, to the friendly welcome of men playing guitars and singing to us as our boat pulled onto the beach!

We were given an orientation session to Naqalia with one of the very friendly owners.  He explained that the entire property is owned and managed by his entire family and extended family - him and his wife, siblings, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews.  It feels really nice to be supporting local families during our travels, and getting more of an authentic Fiji experience than if we had just done resorts.
He also gave us a rundown of the extremely dangerous creatures that live in coral reefs, such as giant clams that will clamp down on your foot or spiky sea creatures that cause extreme pain for 8 months if you happen to step on them.  The message: Don't walk out too far and don't walk on the coral.

We had a beautiful place with a lovely bedroom, living room, and porch that was right on the beach.  All meals were included in the cost of our accommodation, and on the first night we were shown how a traditional Fijian meal is cooked in the ground.   There was a also another kava ceremony of which I did not partake - J did, and can attest that it tasted like "watered down" kava for tourists, while in the village we experienced the real deal!

After an early night, we were up bright and early for breakfast.  Everything in Fiji happens on "Fiji time", as the locals will cheerfully tell you.  (One internet page even has an amusing "The loading is on Fiji time... please wait" message as you're trying to log on).  In the village, there were no set meal times, people just came to find you when it was time to eat, and you had to be ready in that instant, or risk being called late!  At least at this current lodge, there were set meal times which made it easier to plan for.  As I explained to J a few days prior, "I don't understand Fiji time.  I like '
clock' time"!

Today was a day for relaxing on the beach, swimming, more relaxing.  As we sat on our porch in the late morning, one of the boys from the resort brought us over a coconut with the top cut off and we sipped the cool sweet coconut water.  When we were done, he came back and cut it in half, and gave us two bits of chopped coconut shells as "spoons" so we could scrape out the delicious coconut meat.

After another afternoon of relaxing and beach time, we got ready for the Summit Hike.  Little did we know what we had gotten ourselves into!

The activity board listed the hike up to a lookout on their property at $20 Fiji per person, as it required a guide due to the numerous trails and the ease of getting lost.  It was just us plus an older couple from Switzerland.  We were all geared up with our hiking boots and bottles of water, while our guide cheerfully hopped ahead of us on the challenging upward terrain in bare feet.

It soon became apparent that there was no way I was going to keep up with him.  He and the Swiss couple bounded up the hills at lightening speed, while I struggled way behind with the upward terrain, and J tried to stay in the middle of us, one eye on the guide, one eye on me, so that I knew where to go.  The greenness of all the trees and plants on the hills against the backdrop of the ocean and shore views were beautiful, but I barely had time to look as I tried in futility to catch up to everyone else.  Eventually the speed and terrain became too much for J as well, and the both of us lagged behind together while the other three sped far ahead.  At one point in the bushes and tall grasses, we completely lost sight of them.  I called out "Hello!  Hello!" back and forth in the trails, not wanting to go any further on what might be the wrong path.  Eventually the guide came back for us and stayed closer to us, as he had let the other couple continue on ahead of him.

The hike felt never ending, but as we got closer and closer to the enormous rocks that were our goal, I started feeling more energized and excited about the view that awaited us.  Finally we reached them, and our guide told us to "just go up".  As in, there was no longer a trail of any sort, but you literally had to bare-handed rock climb your way up the giant boulders until you got to the top.  This was actually a lot of fun, and I scrambled up the boulders ahead of J.
"Um... I think we're heading up THERE" we said to each other earlier in the hike

The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular.  The ocean stretched staggeringly all around us.  We could see another of the nearby islands, Kuata, as if we were getting a perfect aerial shot from a plane.  And the lush deep green of the island that we had just hiked through for over and hour and a half was breathtaking.

Kuata island, viewed from the summit of Waya LaiLai

Definitely worth it.

This is the reward of hiking.  Incredible views and the satisfaction that you pushed your body to its limits and succeeded at a challenge you've set for yourself.  The five of us sat up there in silence and watched the sun slowly make its away lower in the sky.  We hadn't realized we'd be here for sunset, but were pleasantly surprised that we had this extra reward.

After enjoying the breathtaking display of colours as the sun dipped into the sea, it was time to make the return hike all the way back down.  This was a part of the experience we had not anticipated.
Welcome to hiking in Fiji, where we will take you up into the mountains on half-formed hiking trails that are slippery with rocks, unmarked, and require you to carefully clamber over giant boulders perched above impossibly high cliffs.  Even though we are your guide, we will bounce along way ahead of you and disappear into the Fijian wilderness while you struggle to keep up.

We will not give you any guidelines on what to bring, such as food, water, sturdy boots, or sunscreen, nor offer an explanation of the hike you are about to encounter, even if it is going to be an ardurous 3+ hour journey.  We will not explain that you will be hiking back down in absolute pitch blackness, nor will we advise you to bring a flashlight or headlamp, so they will remain safely in your room while you scramble down the perilous trails without being able to see where you are going.

It was certainly an experience we'll not easily forget.  Our guide did indeed bring a flashlight with him, but as he was always several metres ahead of us, we could barely see him, let alone the trail in front of us.  I tried using my cell phone as a dim light that would light up only the path directly in front of me, and J floundered ahead with no light at all, until one of the Swiss couple lent her one of their headlamps (how did they know?!) to use as a flashlight.  This helped immesurabely, and J would go forward several metres, then pause and light up the path behind her so that I could see where I was going.  We continued in this fashion for the entire hour or more that we hiked down, down, down the mountain, barely able to see where the path would lead and sometimes tripping over obstacles like unseen rocks or roots or vines, while our guide and the Swiss couple walked cheerfully way ahead of us.  "Are they part mountain goat?!" I exclaimed to J on several occasions, wondering how they could possibly be matching our native guide's speed while we carefully tried not to get lost, trip, or fall off the cliffs.

Finally, we made it to the bottom, where a delicious dinner of succulent rabbit stew and vegetables was waiting for us.  Battered, scratched, exhausted, and dirty, J sat down at the table while I went over to the bar.  "Two Fiji Gold," I ordered, and brought back our well-deserved cold beers, which we promptly drank after toasting to our incredible and insane hiking adventure to the peak of Waya LaiLai and back.

The next day we had a very late checkout since the Yasawa Flyer only runs once a day and it stopped near our island at 3:45, so we spent another relaxing morning on the beach and then went for a quick free snorkeling session about a five minute boat ride away from our accommodation.  It was my first time snorkeling, and I was fascinated by the incredible underwater world of coral and colourful fish that I was seeing.

After that, we had lunch and boarded the small water taxi over to where the Flyer would pick us up, but the Flyer runs on Fiji time so we had a bit of a wait.  Our water taxi left us on Kuata island's shore, where we walked around marveling at the pieces of washed up coral, shells, and the amazing purple starfish that I found.

Finally we were able to board the Flyer back to Nadi, where we had booked an alternate accommodation after the cancelled JetSet fiasco our first night.  This location, Bamboo, was considerably nicer than the first place we had stayed in Nadi, and we enjoyed the clean, well lit room and facilities, as well as our first HOT shower in over four days.

We settled in for a good night's rest, excited for our flight to Taveuni, Fiji's "Garden Island", the next day.


  1. When I saw the sun so low on the horizon at first I got excited for you, then realized how little light you had left to climb back down. Glad you made it in one piece! What an adventure :)

  2. When I saw the sun so low on the horizon at first I got excited for you, then realized how little light you had left to climb back down. Glad you made it in one piece! What an adventure :)