After getting the boat back from Beqa, I catch the bus to Nadi with Clementine and Zoë, two of the other volunteers. We are staying at a hostel called Smugglers Cove before being picked up early the next morning to catch the boat to the Yasawas, a chain of seemingly idyllic islands off of Fijis west coast.
The boat ride is part of the fun, providing spectacular views as you wind your way around the islands. Some islands are mountainous and covered in rainforest whereas others are little more than some sand peeking out of the ocean scattered with palm trees.
Our first stop is Naqalia Lodge. We have to climb out of the big boat into a little one to reach the shore, where the staff introduce themselves. They are an extended family from the nearby village and even those who dont work there hang out at the resort, so it feels as though you are staying in their village. Weve arrived just in time for lunch, a lovely meal of rice, noodles, and vegetables, which we eat before heading to the beach.
The next two days pass in a semi-comatose haze of sunbathing, swimming and eating. There are only around 15 people staying at the resort so we get to recognise names and faces, and the staff do the same with us which makes it feel very friendly and homely.
We are sad to leave Naqalia on the morning of day three, but excited to discover Barefoot resort, which is about an hours boat ride away. The water around the island is beautifully clear and I can see the coral underneath. The welcome onto Barefoot is much more formal, with a tour around the island and some forms to sign, but then our interest is peaked by the member of staff giving us our introduction. He tells us that although its not yet the right season, the past few mornings there have been manta rays in the channel between Barefoot and the next island, giving guests the opportunity to have a snorkel tour and swim with them. Their arrival will be signalled by drums in the morning, and we resolve to wake up early to see them.
We spend the afternoon sunbathing on the beach, and when its time for dinner we find that tables have been set up on the rocks by the shore, so that we can eat overlooking the ocean. Candlelight creates a very atmospheric setting and dinner is three courses, which makes us feel as though were in a posh restaurant.
Before bed we set our alarms early to make sure were awake for the manta rays, but it reaches 8am and theres still no call for them. Suddenly we hear the drums and staff shouting, so we throw on our swimsuits and race to the boats to grab snorkels and flippers. Once weve piled in the boats speed towards the channel where we jump into the water. The current will apparently push us towards the sea creatures as they wait for it to push their food towards them.
The staff in the water gesture and point, and as I look down I see a dark shape glide under me. Its a manta ray! However, as soon as I see it its gone again. We are assured that there are more further down and sure enough we soon come across one barrel rolling, a move they perform to stir up the plankton so that they can eat it. I find myself floating directly above the manta as it somersaults gracefully, its enormous mouth gaping wide open only feet from my flippers.
After the excitement of the morning we are all ready to see some more marine life, so we hire kayaks and paddle round the island to a secluded beach only accessible by boat. Once weve pulled the kayaks onto the sand we pull on our snorkels and venture out into the ocean. The water is beautifully warm and clear and only metres from the shore a coral reef stretches out as far as the eye can see. I have never seen coral so colourful the spiky alien shapes are an assortment of neon pinks, lilacs, blues and yellows. Some of it seems to bloom off of the sea bed like flowers whilst some is more like pointy twigs. There are hundreds of fish of all shapes and colours darting amongst the coral and Ive never seen anything like it.
By the time we reach lunch we all acknowledge that weve been far more active than on any other day in our Yasawas trip, so the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing and napping on the beach. It is our last night on the islands so after another stunning three course meal we treat ourselves to some cocktails and chat by the sea.
On the boat back the next day none of us want to leave paradise. As I take a look around the islands passing by the boat I am certain that I will return to the Yasawas as soon as possible.