Getting to the Islands
While a few run their own transfer boats, the Mamanuca and Yasawa resorts arrange third-party transfers for their guests. All of them require reservations, and most leave from the Port Denarau marina.
By Plane & Helicopter -- The quickest, easiest, and most expensive way to the islands is via seaplane or helicopter. Pacific Island Seaplanes (tel. 672 5643; www.fijiseaplanes.com) provides seaplane service to the islands; the flights are on a charter basis arranged by the resorts, which will also quote you prices. Even more expensive, Island Hoppers (tel. 672 0140; www.helicopters.com.fj) flies its helicopters to most of the moderate and expensive resorts. Expect to pay about F$450 (US$292/£150) round-trip per person via helicopter, or F$350 (US$227/£117) by seaplane.
Only Malololailai and Mana islands have airstrips in the Mamanucas, both served by Pacific Sun (tel. 672 0888). There is an airstrip on Yasawa Island, but it's a private affair for Yasawa Island Resort and Spa.
By Shuttle Boat -- Most folks take one of the fast, air-conditioned catamarans providing daily shuttle service from Port Denarau to and from the islands. Only a few offshore resorts have piers, so be prepared to get your feet wet wading ashore.
The Malolo Cat (tel. 672 0774) is a catamaran that runs daily runs between Port Denarau and Malololailai, home to Musket Cove, Plantation Island, and Lomani resorts. One-way fares are about F$50 (US$32/£17).
Most travelers take one of three fast catamarans operated between Port Denarau and the islands by South Sea Cruises (tel. 675 0500; www.ssc.com.fj). The Tiger IV and the Cougar depart for most of the Mamanuca resorts three times daily, usually 9am, 12:15pm, and 3:15pm. The Tiger IV normally serves the closer islands to Nadi, while the Cougar goes to Matamanoa and Tokoriki islands.
The bright yellow Yasawa Flyer makes one voyage a day to the Yasawas and back, departing daily at 8:30am. It goes as far north as Nacula Island, a 4 1/2-hour voyage from Port Denarau, then returns along the same route.
Round-trip fares range up to F$130 (US$59/£40) per person to the Mamanucas, F$220 (US$100/£67) to the Yasawas. For a bit extra you can ride up in the captain's lounge and have someone bring you refreshments. You can sightsee through the Mamanucas on South Sea Cruises vessels. The half-day sightseeing-only voyage costs about F$75 (US$34/£23). I prefer taking the morning voyage, getting off at South Sea Island, Malolo Island Resort, Castaway Island Resort, Mana Island Resort, or Bounty Island. These sailings include a buffet lunch, swimming, and sunbathing. Depending on where you spend the day, these cost between F$75 and F$195 (US$34-US$89/£23-£60).
It's a long day (8:30am-6pm), but you can ride the Yasawa Flyer (tel. 675 0500; www.ssc.com.fj) on its daily voyages through the Yasawas and back for about F$135 (US$61/£41) round-trip and includes a packed lunch. ; The cruises range from F$150 to F$185 (US$68-US$84/£46-£56), depending on where you board, the day includes morning & afternoon tea, BBQ lunch and unlimited beer.
A subsidiary of South Sea Cruises, Awesome Adventures Fiji (tel. 670 5006; www.awesomefiji.com) has a "Bula Pass" allowing unlimited island-hopping via the Yasawa Flyer for 7, 14, and 21 days. These cost F$270 (US$175/£90), F$390 (US$253/£130), and F$420 (US$273/£140) per person, respectively.
SeaFiji (tel. 672 5961; www.seafiji.net) provides 24-hour water taxi service to the Mamanuca islands from Port Denarau.
Take a Big Boat -- Some inexpensive properties will offer to take you to the islands in their own small craft for less money than you would pay on the Tiger IV, the Cougar, or the Yasawa Flyer. These rides take at least an hour to the Mamanucas, several hours to the Yasawas, and the boats can be small, poorly equipped, and perhaps lacking covers to protect you from the elements. One of them sank a few years ago, fortunately without the loss of life. Take my advice and board one of the fast catamarans.
Seeing the Islands on Day Trips from Nadi
Even if you're laying over in Fiji for just a short time, you should get out to the islands for a day from Nadi or the Coral Coast. Most of the trips mentioned below depart from the Port Denarau marina on Denarau Island. Bus transportation from the Nadi or Coral Coast hotels to the marina is included in their prices (you'll pay more from the Coral Coast). Children pay half fare on all the day trips.
My favorite is Beachcomber Day Cruises (tel. 666 1500; www.beachcomberfiji.com), which goes to youth-oriented Beachcomber Island Resort. Despite the advent of so many inexpensive properties elsewhere, Beachcomber still is a most popular stop for young people seeking sand, sun, and suds -- but beware if you have fundamentalist eyes: Young European women have been known to drop their tops at Beachcomber. You'll pay F$82 (US$53/£27) for bus transportation, the cruise, and an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch on Beachcomber Island. Swimming is free, but snorkeling gear, scuba diving, and other activities cost extra.
You can sightsee through the Mamanucas on the Tiger IV. The half-day sightseeing-only voyage costs about F$90 (US$58/£30). I prefer taking the morning voyage, getting off at South Sea Island, Malolo Island Resort, Castaway Island Resort, Mana Island Resort, or Bounty Island. These sailings include a buffet lunch, swimming, and sunbathing. Depending on where you spend the day, these cost between F$120 and F$135 (US$78-US$88/£40-£45).
It's a long day (8:30am-6pm), but you can ride the Yasawa Flyer (tel. 675 0500; www.ssc.com.fj) on its daily voyages through the Yasawas and back for about F$125 (US$81/£42) round-trip. You won't be able to luxuriate on any beaches -- the boat stops at each property only long enough to put off and pick up passengers and their luggage -- but it's the only way to take in the Yasawas in 1 day. Or you can get off at beautiful Waya Island in the southern Yasawas for lunch and a guided tour of a Fijian village, which will give you more of a glimpse into Fijian life than the Mamanuca day trips.
Malamala Island (tel. 670 2444) is a 2.4-hectare (6-acre) islet studded with palm trees and circled with white-sand beaches. The only inhabitants will be you and your fellow passengers, who will use Malamala's big thatch bure (bungalow) for a barbecue lunch. The F$89 (US$58/£30) price includes lunch, a beer or drink from the bar, snorkel gear, and coral viewing.
You will have more options on Malololailai Island, home of Plantation Island, Musket Cove, and Lomani resorts. You can visit them on a day cruise via the Malololo Cat (tel. 672 0744) for about F$50 (US$32/£17) round-trip, or fly over on Pacific Sun (tel. 672 0888) for F$122 (US$79/£41) round-trip. You can hang out at the two resorts, shop at Georgie Czukelter's Art Gallery (no phone) on the hill above Musket Cove, and dine at Anandas Restaurant and Bar (tel. 672 2333) by the airstrip. You can book at the restaurant to play the island's short 9-hole golf course; fees are F$20 (US$13/£6.70).
Seafari Cruise is what South Sea Cruises (tel. 675 0500) calls its rent-a-boat service at Port Denarau. You design your own cruise to the Mamanuca Islands, such as picnicking at a deserted beach or picking your own snorkeling spots. Prices depend on the size of the boat, with the largest holding up to 20 passengers.
Sailing Through the Islands
I hesitate to use such a well-worn cliché as "reef-strewn," but that's the most precise way to describe Fiji's waters -- so strewn, in fact, that the government does not allow you to charter a "bareboat" yacht (without a skipper). It's just too dangerous. You can rent both boat and skipper or local guide for extended cruises through the islands. The marina at Musket Cove Island Resort is a mecca for cruising yachts, some of whose skippers take charters for a living. Contact the resort for details.
On the other hand, you can easily get out on the lagoons under sail for a day. Most interesting to my mind is the MV Seaspray (tel. 675 0500; www.ssc.com.fj), a 25m (83-ft.) schooner that starred in the 1960s TV series Adventures in Paradise, based on James A. Michener's short stories. Based at Mana Island, it sails through the outer Mamanucas and stops for swimming and snorkeling at the same beach on rocky Monuriki Island upon which Tom Hanks filmed the movie Castaway (Hanks, by the way, did not live on the islet all by himself during production). The cruises range from F$140 to F$175 (US$91-US$114/£47-£58), depending on where you board, including morning tea, lunch, beer, wine, and soft drinks. You pay more to come out from Port Denarau to Mana on the Tiger IV, less from the Mamanuca resorts.
The Whale's Tale (tel. 672 2455; email@example.com), a luxury, 30m (100-ft.) auxiliary sailboat, takes no more than 12 guests on day cruises from Port Denarau through the Mamanucas. The F$170 (US$110/£57) per person cost includes a continental breakfast with champagne on departure; a buffet lunch prepared on board; and all beverages, including beer, wine, liquor, and sunset cocktails. The Whale's Tale is also available for charters ranging from 1 day in the Mamanucas to 3 days and 2 nights in the Yasawas. Rates vary according to the length of the trip.
Captain Cook Cruises (tel. 670 1823; www.captaincook.com.au) uses the Ra Marama, a 33m (110-ft.) square-rigged brigantine built in Singapore during the 1950s and once the official yacht of Fiji's colonial governors-general, for the 1-hour sail out to Tivua Island, an uninhabited 1.6-hectare (4-acre) islet in the Mamanucas. A traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony greets you at the island, where you can swim, snorkel, and canoe over 200 hectares (500 acres) of surrounding coral gardens (or see the colors from a glass-bottom boat). Lunch and drinks are included in the F$97 (US$63/£32) charge. I've never done it, but you can stay overnight on Tivua for about F$300 (US$195/£100) per person, double occupancy, including meals. Accommodations are in two bures with cool freshwater showers.
A subsidiary of Captain Cook Cruises, Fiji Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (tel. 670 1823; www.fijisailingsafari.com.fj) has 3- and 4-day "sailing safaris" to the Yasawas on its tall-ship Spirit of the Pacific. It sails during daylight but deposits you ashore at its Barefoot Lodge at night. Safaris start at F$535 (US$347/£178) per person, with a double-occupancy room.
Cruising Through the Islands
Blue Lagoon Cruises (tel. 818/554-5000 or 666 1622; www.bluelagooncruises.com) is one of the South Pacific's best small cruise lines. Captain Trevor Withers -- who had worked on the original 1949 Blue Lagoon movie starring Jean Simmons -- started the company in the 1950s with a converted American crash vessel.
Newest of Blue Lagoon's vessels is the Fijian Princess, a 60m (196-ft.) catamaran with 34 air-conditioned cabins and a spa. The 47m (155-ft.) Nanuya Princess, carries up to 66 passengers in 33 staterooms, while the sleek 56m (185-ft.) Mystique Princess, looks as if it should belong to a Greek shipping magnate; the 35 staterooms do indeed approach tycoon standards. Oldest is the 38m-long (126-ft.) Lycianda, which carries 54 passengers in 26 air-conditioned cabins.
Most cruises range from 3 to 7 nights through the Yasawas, with one of the 7-night voyages designed especially for scuba divers. Trips depart Lautoka and arrive in the Yasawas in time for a welcoming cocktail party and dinner on board. They then proceed to explore the islands, stopping in little bays for snorkeling, picnics, or lovo feasts (featuring food cooked underground in a freshly dug pit oven) on sandy beaches, and visits with the Yasawans in their villages. The ships anchor in peaceful coves at night, and even when they cruise from island to island, the water is usually so calm that only incurable landlubbers get seasick. In the one major variation from this theme, the weeklong "historical and cultural" cruises go to Northern Fiji, with stops at Levuka, Savusavu, Taveuni, and several remote islands.
Rates range from about F$2,000 to F$5,200 (US$1,299-US$3,377/£667-£1,733) per cabin for double occupancy, depending on the length of the voyage, the season, and the cabin's location. Diving cruises cost more. All meals, activities, and taxes are included. Singles and children staying in their parents' cabins pay supplements.
A less expensive alternative is Captain Cook Cruises (tel. 670 1823; www.captaincook.com.fj). This Australian-based firm uses the 120-passenger MV Reef Escape for most of its 3- to 7-night cruises from Port Denarau to the Mamanucas and Yasawas. The Reef Escape has a swimming pool, spa, and sauna. Compared to the sleek vessels in the Blue Lagoon Cruises fleet, it's more like a floating hotel. Prices begin at F$1,450 (US$942/£483) per person double occupancy.
Pickups by Blue Lagoon Cruises -- Blue Lagoon Cruises picks up passengers from some Mamanuca resorts at the beginning of each trip, but the ships always return directly to Lautoka at the end. In other words, you can stay at one of the resorts and depart on your cruise directly from there. If you do it the other way around, you have to get from Lautoka back to Denarau Island to catch a ferry to the resort, thus wasting money and valuable time.
How to Travel in the Yasawa Islands
You might think you're a time traveler to the 1980s as you lounge on the top deck of the Yasawa Flyer, listening to a strange mix of hair bands and Paul Simon (if you don't know the lyrics to "You Can Call Me Al" before heading to Fiji, you can be sure you'll have them down pat by the time you depart). Even with these songs running through your head, you'll be inspired to burst into song, belting out "Bali Ha'i" as you sail past tall, skinny mountains shooting out of tropical waters, scenery straight out of South Pacific. Travelers immediately pull out cameras to the sounds of oohs and ahhs as they get a first glimpse of breathtaking tropical islands bordered by white-sand beaches giving way to a patchwork quilt of variegated blue water.
For someone who wants to escape from it all, the Yasawa Islands are the place to do it. In the fast-paced modern world, where Blackberries and iPhones buzz constantly and people are linked-in 24/7, the Yasawas are a stark contrast. While many resorts provide Internet access and some have phones, there's very little reason to bother logging on because connection speed is slow, computers are in offices tucked away from the ocean -- which is why you are here in the first place -- and it's sometimes difficult to buy Fiji Telecom cards.
On that note, beware of hotels selling phone cards for more than their face value. That's illegal but almost impossible to enforce because these little islands are far removed from the center of government. You should stock up on phone cards while in Nadi.
A convivial atmosphere usually prevails on the Yasawa Flyer, and your fellow travelers can be valuable tour guides by suggesting things to do and warning you against resorts based on their own experiences.
Because you'll find many young backpackers throughout the Yasawas, the atmosphere on the catamarans and throughout the inexpensive resorts is casual. A swimsuit and cover-up are entirely appropriate for traveling within the Yasawas. There's plenty of time to lay out when you reach your resort. On your way there, though, keep your hat and sunblock close by. You don't want to be burned to a crisp before the adventure has even begun.
The Yasawa Flyer has restrooms on board, and a concession stand sells beer, soda, and ice cream. If you're prone to seasickness, bring your own medicine before boarding. Staff announce resort stops about 15 minutes before arrival time, and you can follow along with a schedule, which is usually on time. The resorts and the cruise company handle luggage, which you won't be able to access while traveling.
When you arrive at your resort or hostel, the staff will orient you and often serve a fresh, tropical drink. Meals are served during set hours, either buffet style or by waitstaff. The better resorts serve a variety of dishes, including vegetarian fare; but if you have strict dietary restrictions, notify the resort, which can likely accommodate. Depending on the resort, guests will pay a mandatory per diem food charge, which includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other resorts charge a la carte for lunch and dinner but usually include a continental breakfast with the room fee.
Yaqona (welcoming) ceremonies are held each night for guests who have arrived earlier that day. If you're uncomfortable participating, simply forgo the ceremony of introductions and lots of clapping.
Tropical escapes conjure up images of calm, still waters, but the South Seas can be surprisingly choppy. Keep that in mind when deciding where to stay. If you're looking for a steady stream of ocean swimming and laying out, choose a resort like Nanuya, where waters are calm and beach chairs are comfy. Navutu Stars doesn't have the best beach, but it has a saltwater swimming pool that gives a great view of an inlet that can be crossed on foot at low tide. Mantaray Island Resort, while more of a budget place, has another great beach, but the sand is a bit pebbly.
Travelers hitting only the higher-end places don't need to worry about packing shampoo, soap, and towels. Even Octopus Resort -- a combination budget/midrange property -- provides plush towels, soap, shampoo, and lotions. Otherwise, bring your own towel because they are a big part of vacationing in the Yasawas. Some resorts don't provide lounge chairs, and a towel is all you have between your body and the sand.
Tap water at the mid-to-upper range resorts is purified, and guests don't need to worry about drinking it. But think twice about drinking nonpurified water at the inexpensive places, since it can cause diarrhea and general malaise. Stock up on bottled water before leaving Nadi, or avoid the low-budget places altogether.
Postal service on the islands is nearly nonexistent. Wait and mail your postcards from Nadi.
There is no electrical system in the Yasawas, and while midrange to upscale resorts generate power round-the-clock, the inexpensive resorts shut theirs off when night falls. You'll want to pack a flashlight regardless of the resort.
The resorts are self-contained, and while you will be able to buy personal supplies, it's best to prepare in advance and pack what you need, rather than expecting to find necessities here. You'll definitely pay a premium for them. In fact, all prices in the Yasawas are a little higher than on Viti Levu because so many supplies must be shipped to and from the resorts, including fuel. Similarly, you won't find much to buy for friends back home; purchase your souvenirs on the mainland.
If you have only a week in the Yasawas, spend it on one island. Otherwise you'll waste valuable time planning, packing, riding the boat, and unpacking instead of using it to really enjoy all these beautiful islands offer.
A Package Deal Worth Your Money -- Awesome Adventures Fiji (tel. 670 5006; www.awesomefiji.com) has packages including transportation on the Yasawa Flyer and accommodations at several Yasawa Islands resorts and hostels, which are thoroughly inspected for cleanliness and safety. Frankly, several Yasawa hostels are operated by Fijian families and can be very basic. One of us became ill when staying and eating at one such Yasawa establishment, and we have heard similar stories about others. We like to recommend Fijian-owned businesses whenever possible, but we would stick to those approved by Awesome Adventures Fiji. The packages are easily arranged at any Nadi area hotel or hostel, but since the choices are many and complicated, check the website or pick up a current Awesome Adventures Fiji brochure (they're widely available at the airport tour offices and at many hotel activities desks).
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.