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Resorts in the Mamanuca Islands

The Mamanuca Hotel Association, Private Mail Bag, Nadi Airport (tel. 670 0144; fax 670 2336; www.fijiresorts.com), has information about all the resorts.

They all have watersports and scuba dive operators on premises. Subsurface Fiji Diving and Watersports (tel. 666 6738; www.subsurfacefiji.com), a PADI five-star operation, staffs more than a dozen of the resorts, while Awesome Adventures Fiji (tel. 670 5006; www.awesomefiji.com) is at Mana Island Resort.

Also here is South Sea Island (tel. 675 0500; www.ssc.com.fj), which like Beachcomber Island Resort occupies a tiny islet. It has accommodations, but it is primarily a day-trip destination.

Near the main pass through the Great Sea Reef, the American-operated Tavarua Island Resort (tel. 805/687-4551 in the U.S., or 670 6513; www.tavarua.com) caters to anyone but is still Fiji's best-known surf camp. Tavarua has enjoyed recent upgrades, including the addition of an outdoor pool, so "surfing widows" can enjoy reasonable luxuries while their other halves are out riding the waves.

Another small islet off Lautoka is home to the 10-unit Navini Island Resort (tel. 666 2188; www.navinifiji.com.fj), which does its own transfers rather than rely on the Tiger IV. It's on a small sand islet.

Ask About Meal Plans -- Except on Malololailai Island, where you can walk among Musket Cove, Plantation, and Lomani resorts, you will have no choice but to dine in your resort's or hostel's restaurant. Be sure to ask if it has meal packages available, which usually are less expensive than paying separately for each meal.

Eluvuka (Treasure) Island -- This tiny atoll-like islet is nearly surrounded by a white-sand beach (a stroll of 15 min. or less brings you back to your starting point). The name Eluvuka is seldom used, since locals call it simply "Treasure" because it is completely occupied by one resort.

Kadavu (Bounty) Island -- Not to be confused with the larger Kadavu Island south of Viti Levu, this one is near Treasure Island and Beachcomber Island resorts. It's a flat, 19-hectare (48-acre) island, of which 14 hectares (35 acres) are a nature preserve with ample birdlife, a sea turtle nursery, and the remains of an ancient Fijian village.

Malololailai Island -- The closest island to Nadi, boomerang-shape Malololailai faces a shallow bay. This is the one Mamanuca island where you can stay at one resort and wander over to another for dinner or drinks. As I noted under "Seeing the Islands on Day Trips from Nadi," above, you can also shop at Georgie Czukelter's Art Gallery, dine at the barbecue-oriented Anandas Restaurant and Bar (tel. 672 2333) near the airport, and play a short 9-hole golf course. The dirt airstrip divides the island into two, with Musket Cove Island Resort on one end, and Lomani Island Resort and Plantation Island Resort on the other. Lomani and Plantation resorts share one of Fiji's best beaches (shallow though the lagoon may be at low tide), while scores of cruising yachts put into Musket Cove from April into October.

Qalito (Castaway) Island -- Off the northwestern corner of Malolo, Qalito is usually referred to as Castaway because of its resident resort. Its northern point is flanked by a very good beach.

Malolo Island -- Joined at low tide to its smaller sister, Malololailai (Little Malolo), this island is one of the largest of the Mamanucas. Malolo is a hilly island with a serrated coastline dotted with beaches. Fijians live in traditional villages on the eastern side, while the west coast is occupied by resorts in all price ranges. You can hike into the hills but not from one resort to the other to have a meal or drink.

Mana Island -- A long, rectangular island, Mana is half occupied by Mana Island Resort and half by Fijians, who operate backpacker-oriented accommodations. All of them share one of Fiji's best beaches, which runs along the island's southern side. A barrier reef offshore creates a safe lagoon for watersports.

The backpacker lodges include Mana Island Lodge (tel. 620 7030; manalodge2@yahoo.com), on the beach about 180m (600 ft.) south of Mana Island Resort. Rooms in simple bungalows cost F$180 to F$250 (US$117-US$162/£60-£83), and dorm beds are F$60 (US$39/£20), including meals.

Next door is Ratu Kini Backpackers (tel. 672 1959; www.ratukini.com), offering dormitories (F$38/US$25/£13 per person), units with bathrooms (F$100/US$65/£33), and rooms with shared facilities (F$85/US$55/£28); prices include breakfast. Ratu Kini's restaurant virtually hangs over the beach. Guests at these accommodations cannot use Mana Island Resort's watersports facilities, but both hostels have their own dive shops. Facilities are much more basic than at Funky Fish Beach Resort, Beachcomber Island Resort, and Bounty Island Resort.

Matamanoa Island -- A small rocky island with two steep hills, Matamanoa is the westernmost -- and thus the most remote -- of the Mamanuca resorts. The island terminates in a small flat point with a beach of deep, white sand, one of Fiji's best. The reef shelf falls away steeply here, resulting in great snorkeling even at low tide. For scuba divers, this is the closest of all Mamanuca resorts to the outer reef.

Tokoriki Island -- At the end of the line for the ferry shuttles from Port Denarau, Tokoriki is another hilly island with two good beaches. Heads up: I must point out that it sporadically has a problem with seaweed creating an unpleasant odor, though hopefully this will not be the case when you visit.

Tai (Beachcomber) Island -- Back in 1963, Fiji-born Dan Costello bought an old Colonial Sugar Refining Company tugboat, converted it into a day cruiser, and started carrying tourists on day trips out to a tiny piece of sand and coconut palms known as Tai Island, which he renamed Beachcomber Island. The visitors liked it so much that some of them didn't want to leave. Some of their grandchildren still love it.

Vomo Island -- An unusual clump of land, Vomo features a steep, 165m-high (550-ft.) hill on one end and a perfectly flat, 80-hectare (200-acre) shelf surrounded by a reef edged by brilliantly colorful corals on the other. Offshore, Vomolailai (Little Vomo) is a rocky islet with its own little beach. Vomo is the northernmost of the Mamanuca Islands and is almost on the border with the Yasawa Islands.

Wadigi Island -- Off Malolo's northwestern side, 1.2-hectare (3-acre) Wadigi (Wah-ding-ee) appears like a single hill precipitously protruding from the colorful lagoon. It and its two beaches are owned by Australians Jim and Tracey Johnston, who allow no one to set foot on Wadigi without advance permission, making it one of the best places in Fiji to get away from it all -- as certain celebrities can testify.

Resorts in the Yasawa Islands

Once quiet, sleepy, and devoid of most tourists except a few backpackers and well-heeled guests at Turtle Island and Yasawa Island Resort and Spa, this gorgeous chain of islands has seen an explosion of accommodations in recent years, many of them owned by villagers and aimed at backpackers and other cost-conscious travelers. In fact, the Yasawas are one of the hottest backpacker destinations, not just in Fiji but the entire South Pacific.

West Side Waters Sports (tel. 666 1462; westside@connect.com.fj) provides daily dive trips for all of the northern Yasawa retreats and teaches introductory and PADI certification courses. Reef Safari (tel. 675 0950; www.reefsafari.com.fj) does the same for those on Naviti and nearby islands.

We have organized the islands below in the order in which you will come to them on the Yasawa Flyer, that is, from south to north.

Waya Island -- Near the southern end of the Yasawas chain, Waya is one of the most beautiful islands in Fiji. You can see the jagged outline of Mount Batinareba soaring over Yalobi Bay from as far away as the Viti Levu mainland. Trails over the mountains link Waya's four Fijian villages and make it the best place in the Yasawas for hiking.

Naviti & Nearby Islands -- About halfway up the chain, Naviti is one of the largest and highest of the Yasawas. Soso, an important Fijian village, is on the east coast, while three basic backpacker establishments -- Korovou Eco-Tour Resort (tel. 665 1001), Coconut Bay Resort (tel. 666 6644, ext. 1300), and White Sandy Beach Resort (tel. 666 6644, ext. 1360) -- share a long beach and shallow lagoon on the western side. Korovou Eco-Tour Resort is the pick.

Also on the west coast, the midrange Botaira Resort (tel. 666 2266; www.botaira.com) has 13 modern Fijian-style bures, all with bathrooms.

South of Naviti, the small islands of Nanuya Balavu and Drawaqa islands are a favorite gathering ground for manta rays between March and November.

Nanuya Levu Islands -- San Franciscan Richard Evanson graduated from Harvard Business School, made a bundle in cable television, got divorced, ran away to Fiji, and in 1972 bought Nanuya Levu Island. Growing lonely and bored, he decided to build Turtle Island on his hilly, 200-hectare (500-acre) retreat. He had completed three bures by 1980, when a Hollywood producer leased the entire island as a set for a second version of The Blue Lagoon, starring the then-teenage Brooke Shields. Clocks were set ahead 1 hour to maximize daylight, and the resort still operates on "Turtle Time," an hour ahead of the rest of Fiji. The movie's most familiar scenes were shot on Devil's Beach, one of Nanuya Levu's dozen gorgeous little stretches of sand wedged between rocky headlands.

Nanuya Lailai Island -- Sitting next to the Blue Lagoon, Nanuya Lailai Island has a fantastic beach on its southern and eastern sides. Nanuya Island Resort sits on the western end of the beach, which then wraps around a point draped with coconut palms. Blue Lagoon Cruises expeditions stop around the point to let passengers enjoy the sand and sea.

Nacula Island -- On the northeastern edge of the Blue Lagoon, Nacula possesses one of Fiji's finest beaches, a dreamy stretch of deep white sand bordering a lagoon that is deep enough for swimming at all tides. Oarsmans Bay Lodge shares this magnificent setting with Nalova Bay Resort (tel. 672 8276; www.nalovabayresortfiji.com), which we do not recommend.

Tavewa Island -- Before storms and tides took away much of its sand, Tavewa had a long, gorgeous beach facing the Blue Lagoon and was a favorite backpacker hangout. Two of its hostels, David's Place (tel. 672 1820) and Otto & Fanny's (tel. 666 6481), have been around since the 1980s. Both are basic by even backpacker standards, and we do not recommend them. Their lodging is uncomfortable, the food is mediocre, and the wind often sweeps over the grounds so fiercely that guests must watch out for falling coconuts. Better is Coral View Resort (tel. 922 2575), on a small beach on the other side of a headland. It has two hotel rooms with bathrooms and several thatched bures without, plus a dorm and campsites.

Yasawa Island -- Long, skinny Yasawa Island stretches from the Blue Lagoon area all the way to the top of the chain. Its north end forms a hook bordered by a long beach, one of Fiji's best. Big black rocks break the beach in two parts and separate two Fijian villages. It's worth taking a Blue Lagoon Cruise just to see this beach, because that's the only way you can get there.

How to Choose Your Offshore Resort

Fiji has one of the world's finest collections of offshore resorts -- small establishments with islands all to themselves. They have lovely beach settings and modern facilities, and are excellent places to get away from it all. The major drawback of any offshore resort, of course, is that you've done just that. You won't see much of Fiji while you're basking in the sun on a tiny rock some 40km (25 miles) at sea. Consider them for what they have to offer but not as bases from which to explore the country.

You can check your e-mail, but you're unlikely to have a television in your bungalow at Fiji's offshore resorts, and you may not get a telephone, either. If you must be in touch with the world every minute of every day, stay on the mainland of Viti Levu. Come out here with one goal in mind: relaxation.

Although the Mamanuca and Yasawas have more offshore resorts than anywhere else in Fiji, others are on Vatulele Island off the Coral Coast, Beqa Island off Pacific Harbour, Wakaya Island off Suva, Namenalala Island off Savusavu, and Qamea and Matagi islands off Taveuni. If you decide to stay at one of them, I suggest you read all my descriptions before making your choice.

Pay attention to what I say about the resorts' styles. For example, if you don't enjoy getting to know fellow guests at sometimes raucous parties, you might not like Vatulele Island or Turtle Island resorts, but you might love the Wakaya Club or Yasawa Island Resort and Spa. If you like a large establishment with lively, Club Med-like ambience, you might prefer Mana Island and Plantation Island resorts. Many other resorts offer peace, quiet, and few fellow guests -- and no children. In other words, choosing carefully could mean the difference between a miserable week or a slice of heaven.

In most cases, you'll have no place to dine other than your resort's restaurants. Be sure to inquire about meal plans if food is not already included in the rates. All but a few of the island resorts provide free snorkeling gear, kayaks, and other nonmotorized watersports equipment. They charge extra for scuba diving and motorized sports.

Keeping You Entertained -- Don't worry about staying busy at the offshore resorts in the Mamanucas and Yasawas. The range of activities depends on the resort, and you can participate in as much or as little as you like.

Not surprisingly, most resort activities center around, on, and in the ocean. In addition to snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing, most resorts offer PADI-certified scuba classes. Snorkeling itself offers incredible glimpses of electric blue starfish, zebra-striped fish, and underwater plant life.

Cultural activities include village visits and church services. Many resorts partner with local villages, providing jobs for the villagers and money for their families. The visits usually include a stop at a school where children will sing and teachers explain the children's daily activities. Toward the end of the visit and depending on the village, women lay out homemade wares for tourists to purchase. Worship services are always at a Methodist church, the predominate religion here. Remember: Female visitors must wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees, and no one wears a hat in a Fijian village.

Most resorts have a Fijian meke night, usually on Friday. The resort staff performs traditional Fijian song and dance, and guests are asked to join in later in the show.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.