Alison Bone visits Fiji’s Yasawa Islands to follow in the footsteps of the celluloid dreams of the South Pacific. She explores the delights, above and below water, of an aquatic paradise.
Who can forget teenagers Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins frolicking in the turquoise sea in the 1980 survival blockbuster, The Blue Lagoon? Evoking the magic and the romance of the South Pacific, much of the filming took place at Turtle Island – now an exclusive resort. Yet the iridescent expanse of water that includes The Blue Lagoon gently laps the shores of several palm fringed isles, where a smattering of laid back resorts create the perfect opportunity to wander barefoot in the sand and indulge in your own castaway fantasy, while never being too far away from a pina colada (made with fresh coconut cream of course), a hot shower and a comfortable bed.
Tourism came late to these far flung volcanic islands found in the northern reaches of the Yasawas. While the occasional cruise ship laid anchor at The Blue Lagoon, visitors were forbidden to set foot on shore until the 1950s and the region remained closed to tourism ventures until the 1980s. The result is a pristine, unspoilt beauty and a traditional culture barely touched by the modern world.
It’s all about the ocean here. If you aren’t in it, or on it, then you are bound to be gazing at it, spellbound from a sun lounger or a hammock thoughtfully strung between the palms. The sea shimmers and sparkles in a kaleidoscope of blues, with colours so vivid and so clear, it hardly seems real. Walking into the water is like wading into a postcard of paradise.
Things to do
Dozens of reefs can be found in and around The Blue Lagoon, each with its own unique attraction, from coral encrusted bommies to vibrant table corals and purple branchy staghorns. Crystal clear mornings are best for snorkelling, the water is so translucent that at times you won’t even need a mask. Electric blue starfish cling to the seabed, tiny orange nemo peek out from the corals and, in the deeper water, you can see large trevally, red snapper and the occasional turtle cruising the water.
Divers are treated to a world class experience, with around 30 dive sites in the region. The Maze has epic swim-throughs, The Chapel gives you the chance to dive with black and white tip reef sharks, while Cabbage Patch does indeed resemble a giant underwater cabbage.
Blue Lagoon beach, with its perfectly contoured white sandy shore, tropical palm groves and crystal clear water, is the perfect tropical beach. Yasawa Island Resort offers ‘Blue Lagoon’ trips that include beachcombing, snorkeling and fish feeding. Being immersed in the water while thousands of tiny fish dart about you in a mad feeding frenzy is certainly a unique experience. This is the most popular destination in the area, providing anchorage for Blue Lagoon Cruise ships and a handful of sailing boats, but if you come early in the morning or late in the afternoon you will probably have the beach all to yourselves. There are better reefs within the lagoon, but its still a wonderful place to swim and you can wander down to The Boat House for a drink or a bite to eat.
On the water
Resorts provide complimentary kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards, ideal for exploring the rocky outcrops, sandy bays and tiny coral fringed islands in and around the Blue Lagoon. Gliding across the glossy water in the soft early morning light is a humbling experience – the sky seems so big here and the ocean so endless. Table corals glimmer just below the surface, while soft pastel hued corals gently sway with the current. Pull up on a sandy beach to explore an uninhabited atoll, or bring snorkelling gear and dive in.
The heart of the Yasawas
Heading north of the Blue Lagoon, you eventually come to the towering rocky island of Sawa i lau. The ancient limestone caves hidden within have been carved by the water and make a cool and refreshing place for a dip. The steep white walls turn the water into a vivid shade of aqua and a large natural skylight sends beams of sunlight dancing across the water. A second cave can be reached by diving through an underwater tunnel. According to legend, this labyrinth of caves is home to a ten-headed snake god, known as Ulutini. One of the heads is said to have a human face of such angelic beauty that it is almost too much for any mortal’s gaze to behold; the shimmering diamond embedded in its forehead is believed to be the source of the great mana (blessings) which protects the Yasawas.
Where to stay
Yasawa Island Resort
A real fantasy island experience, arriving by private plane, this is the place to be pampered beyond your wildest dreams. Get dropped at your own beach for the day, a choice of 10 in fact with a bottle of Champagne and a picnic lunch. www.yasawa.com
Navutu Stars, Yaqeta Island
An adult-only eco luxe resort, Navutu Stars is just outside The Blue Lagoon, with 10 spacious beachfront bures spread over three beaches. A peaceful, intimate and deliciously private atmosphere makes it popular with honeymooners and those looking to escape it all. Lots of activities are on offer including complimentary yoga each morning, but it is also a lovely spot to just ‘be’. Good dining and cocktails draw foodies, while friendly staff will welcome you like family. www.navutustarsfiji.com
Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula Island
Set on one of Fiji’s finest white sand beaches, just north of The Blue Lagoon, a wide sandy channel means great swimming conditions at all tides. The reef out front is a great place to see healthy coral and big fish, while an in-house dive shop makes it a good base for avid divers. Accommodation varies from dorm rooms to simple lodge rooms and beachfront villas and the relaxed social atmosphere means it’s a good choice for families, couples and groups of friends. www.bluelagoonresort.com