Tales Of The South Pacific
We were excited to finally set foot on the South Pacific island of Fiji: big, challenging waves, tropical setting, and legendary friendliness. We were not disappointed. Fijians have a well-deserved reputation for being the friendliest people in the world. Everywhere you go, the locals greet you with warm smiles and genuine interest in who you are and how you got there.
We stayed at the very affordable Bamboo Hostel, across the street from Wailoaloa beach, on the main island of Viti Levu. Wailoaloa beach is about 10 minutes away from Nadi airport. The facilities were clean and comfortable, if not super luxurious. The atmosphere was social, with most guests being backpackers in their early to mid-20′s. The staff, who live on site, are incredibly friendly and helpful in a genuine way. There were daily impromptu beach volleyball games and nightly kava sessions with music.
Kava is a traditional South Pacific drink, made from pounding or grinding the dried root of the kava plant, and mixing it with water. It’s served in one large bowl, with a smaller bowl used to scoop out a serving for each person in turn. It’s a social ritual, and there are steps involved, in which you and your hosts clap three times and say bula, which means “welcome” or “hello”. Kava isn’t alcoholic, but it does have a strange numbing effect on your tongue, and it supposedly gives you a stronger buzz the more often you drink it.
We didn’t join in the kava sessions at Bamboo, but we did get pulled into a souvenir shop in downtown Nadi that led us a through a kava welcome ceremony before promptly unleashing high-pressure sales tactics on us. We didn’t end up buying anything as it was all overpriced and probably made in China, but we were basically strongarmed into paying $15 US for two necklaces they put around our necks as “gifts” to us. Consider yourself warned: don’t bother visiting the “made by locals” souvenir shops in Nadi town! The souvenirs are most likely not made by locals, as they are the exact same things you can find for a quarter of the price at a souvenir store that’s part of a chain (which I won’t name) located on the main street. Don’t get me wrong; anywhere we went EXCEPT Nadi town, people were genuinely friendly and helpful to us without it being a sales scam.
The beach at Wailoaloa isn’t like the beaches you think of when you hear the name Fiji. The sand is gray-brown and the water is murky. There’s no snorkelling and there are no waves out front of Wailoaloa beach. There are a few small and medium-sized hotels, but not much else. If you want to stay on a beach with clear blue water, white sand, and tropical fish tickling your toes, you have to head to some of the other islands in the Fijian archipelago. The accommodation on the white-sand islands ranges from a little to a lot more expensive than the Wailoaloa beach options. It made the most sense for us to stay at Wailoaloa, since our main priorities were affordable food and lodging, and being able to catch speedboats to the world-class surf breaks. We’ve seen enough pristine beaches in our travels that we were OK giving them up in Fiji, as long as we could still surf the best waves.
To get to the best surf breaks, you have to take a boat out to the reef passes, which are about 40 minutes offshore of Viti Levu. Along the way, you do pass a few of the small islands that boast dazzlingly white sand beaches:
To us, Cloudbreak is legendary, and it was a little daunting paddling out there the first few times. It’s one of several waves in the world, along with Teahupoo in Tahiti, Zicatela in Mexico, and Pipeline in Hawaii, that’s often showcased in surf videos and magazines.
Up until 2010, the three waves located directly off of Tavarua resort island, which charges around $4000 US per person per week, were off limits to non-Tavarua-guests. Tavarua resort had exclusive access to Cloudbreak, Restaurants and Tavarua Rights; if you weren’t able to stay at the resort, and if you didn’t get lucky with a free spot in the lineup on Saturdays when the Tavarua guests normally fly home, you would never get to surf those waves, which happen to be a few of the best and most consistent ones in Fiji. Surfers on a tight budget like ourselves would never have had a chance. Lucky for us, in 2010, the Fijian government issued something called the Surfing Decree, which opened up all waves to everyone. No more “exclusive rights” to waves for expensive resorts. No doubt the waves may be slightly more crowded than when only Tavarua guests had access to them, but we didn’t find them crowded at all. It was always fairly easy to get waves.
We were only in Fiji for 9 days, because with the cost of daily boat rides to the breaks at 120 Fijian dollars per person (about $65 US PER PERSON!) , it was way beyond our budget. However, there was big swell in the water the entire time we were there.
When Cloudbreak was too hairy for us (as in the above photo) we would surf other breaks that translated the swell into more manageable waves, such as Swimming Pools and Restaurants:
We surfed Cloudbreak on 4 different days. When the waves get big there, the takeoffs are very steep and the water is very shallow. We both bounced off the bottom a couple of times, but luckily, didn’t incur any serious injuries. Michael was surfing with his broken toe the whole time!
We went out every day with the boat company Island Surf Fiji, located in Smuggler’s Cove resort on Wailoaloa beach. The owner, Ian Thomson, is a great guy whose priority is getting customers to the best surf conditions. He’s knowledgeable and honest about whether the waves and wind will be good on any given day.
The only touristy, non-surfing thing we did was visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, a large outdoor garden with an impressive orchid collection, that originally belonged to Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame. We love botanical gardens.
We watched a few traditional fire dancing shows that are put on almost nightly by the hotels and hostels; for us, the most spirited and entertaining of them, if less professionally polished, was the one at Bamboo Hostel:
In Fiji, we felt like we were short-term travellers. Spending only 9 days in a place was a little strange for us, but we hope to go back to Fiji one day and find the fickle-but-perfect-and-empty wave that we heard about while we were there.
Our last (!!!) destination for our 2-year trip was Kaua’i, in Hawai’i. Back in our home country, if not exactly our home turf.
We chose Kaua’i over the other Hawaiian islands, because everyone we know who’s been to Hawai’i has loved Kaua’i the most, and the several Hawaiian travellers we’ve met during our journey have happened to all be from that island.
Kaua’i has a great small-town feel, and it was so enjoyable for us to spend our days exploring gorgeous beaches and natural wonders, surfing, driving very slowly (maximum speed anywhere is 40 miles per hour) and sampling the abundance of mouthwatering tropical fruit that grows everywhere. The population of the entire island is only about 66,000, and there is just one main road that doesn’t even run all the way around the island, only about 3/4 of the way around it. The portion of the coast with no roads is the famous Na Pali coast, which is reachable only by hiking or by the sea. It’s a tough 11-mile hike on the Kalalau trail, one that we couldn’t attempt this trip with Michael’s broken toe.
Our friend Monica brought us to visit the peaceful and lovely Hindu monastery. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and conducive to meditation and contemplation:
Upon entering the monastery grounds, we wrote our worries on strips of paper and burned them in an altar. I have to admit, after surfing around the world for two years, I didn’t have too many worries on my mind, but I burned away whatever small worries I had.
Another friend, Freddie, showed us two natural wonders that became our favorite places on the island; the King’s Bath, which is just beside the Queen’s Bath:
The second place Freddie showed us was Turtle Cave, which is a horseshoe-shaped cave that you enter by swimming up to a little cove, and you can walk all the way through the pitch black cave to the other side, which ends in another secluded cove.
In no particular order, here are just a few of the other things that made us fall deeply in love with Kaua’i:
Wailua Falls, to which you can drive right up — no hiking involved:
Spouting Horn, a natural blowhole carved in the cliffs by the power of the sea:
Unreal tropical flowers for sale at ridiculously cheap prices — one of these would have cost at least $10 in New York:
Mount Wai’ale’ale, the wettest spot on Earth:
The abundance of farmers’ markets (there are 2 or 3 markets A DAY at different locations on the island!) selling, among other things, many tropical fruits that were completely new to us:
Sweet-smelling leis made of real flowers sold for $3:
The numerous food trucks, a great option for eating out affordably:
‘Opaeka’a Falls, which we would see every day on the way to and from one of the places we stayed:
Fun summer swells at Pakala’s:
The big, mysterious wet and dry caves on the north shore of the island:
The Kalalau Lookout in Waimea:
The grilled wahoo burgers at the Fish Hut, in Kapa’a:
The wild chickens that run loose everywhere on the island (even the shopping centers!):
We loved every minute of time we spent in Kaua’i, all 18 days we had there. It was like being on our honeymoon all over again. There’s just nowhere that’s not easy on the eyes anywhere on the island, and there are endless fun and outdoorsy, active things to do that are all free.
We returned home on August 2nd, although “returned” and “home” are both misnomers. Before leaving on this incredible adventure, we decided that we were going to move from New York City to Santa Cruz, California. In October of 2010, we departed on our adventure from New York, and at the end of our voyage, we “returned” to California. We currently have no permanent address until we find our new apartment; right now, “home” is just where we happen to be at the moment. For the next six weeks, “home” will be the 2008 Toyota Prius we just purchased a few days ago, because we’re heading out on a cross-country road trip to visit our friends and family whom we haven’t seen for the past two years. There won’t be much surfing involved apart from couch surfing, and perhaps a few days in New York if we get lucky with swell. For this portion of our travels, we’re focusing on reconnecting with our loved ones.