If you can't be happy in Fiji then I don't think you'll ever be happy. The place literally screams happiness, the locals walk around smiling, calling 'Bula', Fijian for hello, to everybody in sight. Waves are exchanged by every car driver and pedestrian. It's a good job it's not over populated otherwise their arms would constantly ache from all the action!
At first it's hard to get use to, friendliness is a pretty alien thing where I'm from. You're only friendly (sometimes) to the people you know. So being surrounded by unknown smiling people who just wanted to chat, learn your name and hear your story was pretty strange at first. But it didn't take much getting use to, and now on every journey I take I think I meet somebody new to exchange a few pleasant words with.
It's true what they say, you find out more about yourself as you travel to new experiences. I've definelty found at that I enjoy a more friendly, social side to life.
We spent our first week in the Yasawa's, a set of tiny islands that are filled with backpackers. Crystal clear blue, turquoise and green waters surround each tiny island, a sea of lush green Coconut Palm trees makes up the majority of land with hot golden sands topping it all off for good measure. The views are amazing, holiday brochure style - it's no wonder the people are so happy! We spent our week island hopping, jumping on and off tiny boats in the middle of South Pacific to experience our very own new island adventure every couple of days. The time was spent watching perfect sunsets, mixing with locals, snorkelling amazing reefs and diving inside natural caves. It's a hard life but somebody has got to do it, as they say.
A few days later we found our way to the 'Garden Island of Fiji', Taveuni. It offered something else that the Yasawa's couldn't, a taste of real life Fiji, you know away from the tourist bustle and into a local community. A place we loved so much we spent 2 weeks! The locals were amazing and the island beautiful, living up to its name. We spent hours wondering aimlessly on coastal treks that each offered picturesque views of endless sun, sea and sand on one side and dense rain forest on the other. There was even the added bonus of jumping into the water and swimming around a corner to find the hidden Lavena waterfall.
Forest treks also filled our days, hiking up mountains to scenic viewpoints that looked across the island the lush green island. Not a bad journey when you also climb to find 3 separate waterfalls and spend hours diving in and out of their pools to cool off.
The island even has its own naturally formed waterslide, I don't know who found it but they are braver than I am! A short trek took us alongside and across a free flowing rapid. We came to what is claimed to be an entry point, no more than a flat wet green mossy rock, when Joji (pronounced George) told us we had arrived. I looked an laughed, Joji on the other hand lit his fag and jumped in. Sliding down a 'path' that had been naturally carved by the water. Naturally we followed; the water was rapid but every so often I found myself immersed in a mini whirlpool. Just as i thought I'd found a resting point the water washed me down yet another bumpy slide, not in the slightest way elegant but fun all the less. It was all over when Joji decided to catch me at the bottom and pull me to one side. 'Once more' he said.
It wasn't long before we took one of the locals, Joe, up on his offer to go to the island of 'Nanuku', a privately owned island 2 hours off the coast of Taveuni. These people are so friendly you cant help but trust them put your entire life in their hands. Untouched by tourism, it literally has a shack to live in. Getting there was definitely a story in itself, an hour and a half into a pretty rough ride, the island came into sight and we managed to break down, not surprising since waves had been coming over the sides since we set off. Joe, being the son of a local chief, was pretty well connected and help was quickly called. 'Will be here in about half an hour, aye!' Joe told me. But my sea legs couldn't quite handle the bobbing up and down, before long I was turning a nice shade of green and feeling pretty sick. So I decided on a quick dip in the sea, quick being the key word as I didn't fancy coming across my first shark encounter in these circumstances. As I hauled myself back into the boat, by hauled I mean hanging one leg over the side and rolling in by flopping onto my back, I found Jeff and Joe attempting to fix the boat themselves. Fair enough I thought, until two minutes later something caught light. A spark of some description and the water around us went up in flames, petrol had somehow leaked and the fire engulfed us. From bad to worse is a pretty fair description. The engine caught light from the flames and next the fire crawled its way up the middle of the boat. Within seconds the 4 tanks of fuel we had on board had started to burn on the outside. Now this was getting very extreme. Joe jumped into action, picking up each tank he launched them, with himself, into the sea, so much for the captain is last to leave his ship! But hey he saved us and I still now don't know how he managed to react so fast. Jeff also jumped into action pouring buckets of sea water onto the fire that had made its way inside our boat. Whilst I pathetically attempted to put it out using bottles of drinking water! The whole thing lasted no longer than a minute, with Jeff managing to put the flames out using his bucket and endless supply of ocean water. The irony of filling your boat with water to save yourself still makes me smile! The next 10 minutes felt like hours bobbing up and down as we waited to be rescued, but it arrived and we live to tell the tale. And I even managed to throw up over the side of our rescue boat, not the best way to say thanks.
But anyway, 2 hours later, disaster averted, boat fixed, we spent the next hour crashing into more rough waves before making it to the island. It started as a small set of coconut palm trees but soon turnt into a sandy beach haven in the South Pacific and boy was it all worth it, all the trouble it had caused had been worth it! We had left behind any sign of civilisation and were well on our way to living the simple life. The island is that secluded you can barely see anything but ocean when you look out! Think, Tom Hanks 'Cast Away', which was actually filmed on a neighbouring island. 7 of us inhabited the island, there won't be many other times I can say that in my life. We spent the days living cavemen style; collecting firewood, catching fish, eating and drinking coconuts. Whilst our evenings consisted of making bonfires, being mesmerised by sunsets and the highlight of it all; watching 100 year old turtles nest.
Our two nights blissfully came to an end before we returned to Taveuni. And that was Fiji, onward to our adventure in our rented camper-van in Australia.