We loved Fiji and Navini.
It was a trip unlike any other we've taken. Being on an island for 10 days could have been a nightmare I guess had the circumstances been different, but this island was so lovely and the people that worked there were so wonderful that all my fears of being "stranded" on a desert island were quickly put to bed.
The owners of the resort have lived on the island since they started the resort back in 1980 and have managed to cultivate a real "family" feeling on the island. Many of the employees have been there since the beginning and there is even a second generation of employees working there now. The owners, Australians Arthur and Helen are lovely people. They show up for cocktail hour every evening and then host dinner most nights in the dining area. Everyone eats meals together, which also could have been a disaster, but ended being fun. It almost felt like you having meals at a friend's house instead of in a restaurant.
If you ever get the chance to fly Air New Zealand, do it! We flew from LA to Auckland in a gorgeous 777 that was spotless. Even economy was a pleasure to be in. The seats were very comfortable and seemed larger than normal economy seats. United looks like a bus in Mexico compared to this. The flight crew was impeccably dressed and provided the best service I've ever had in economy. Free booze, a full breakfast, tea AND dinner were served. It was great. Because it was such a long flight (13.5 hours), I got to enjoy all those things AND still be able to take an ambien and konk out for about 7 hours. I was really dreading this flight, but it couldn't have been better. We had a 4 hour layover in Auckland. The 3 hour flight to Fiji was uneventful.
So...we arrived in Nadi, Fiji after being on the road for 32 hours (Martin calculated it, my brain wasn't working). Fiji is a poor country and the airport reflects that. It wasn't awful, but it has that "stopped in the middle of making something" look to it. It is a small and slightly airport and gratefully our flight from New Zealand was the only arriving flight at the time so the lines for baggage and customs were not terrible.
One of the reasons I picked Navini is that they meet you at the airport, drive you to the marina and shuttle you across the sea to their island in their boat. Most other places have you take a public ferry or a really expensive private plane or helicopter.
The moment we walked out of customs and baggage I cringed there was mild chaos and confusion and no clear way out. Disorientation set in. Just when I was starting to panic, a gentle giant of a Fijian man approached us, smiled, and said, "You look confused, tired and lost. You must be Martin and Bill! Bula! Bula! Bula! I am Henry and I will take you to Navini!" A little halo appeared above his head and I suddenly relaxed. This was the first of many promises Navini made that were fulfilled. He loaded the luggage and got us in. He laughed and commented that we looked pretty awful, but said that Navini would cure that. How true he was!
The 30 minute van ride with Henry to First Landing from the airport gave us a brief glimpse into life in Nadi on the main island of Viti Levu. When planning this trip, most of what I read said to get out of Nadi as quick as you can once you've arrived and from what I saw, I'd say that was good advice. It does not appear to be a very attractive place. The condition of the road was pretty awful and we rode past some very dilapidated buildings, homes and more than a few old, rusting cars. The terrain and look of the island reminded me a lot of Kauai because of the jagged mountains, but Kauai is prettier. Nadi is on the drier side of the island however, so the other side with capital city, Suva on it is wetter and lusher. Henry drove very slowly, which at home would have aggravated me, but at this time a slow ride was just what we needed.
Navini's boat is docked at the marina in a place called First Landing, which is north of Nadi. It is a quiet, small, and very tidy little marina. Because of my numerous days spent boating and sailing with my dad, I consider myself to be a good judge of marinas and even my dad would have given this one a thumbs up. Lots of gorgeous motor yachts and sailboats are docked here.
We pull up to the dock, get out and I immediately notice the deep blue color of the water and the calm, still air. Ahhhhhh. There is Navini's boat waiting for us with the engine running! It is a 30 foot ocean going motor boat with a cabin below just big enough to stow luggage. Henry handed us off to Ari, the boat captain and we boarded, sat down and promptly got underway. We pulled out of the marina and took off out to sea. It was late afternoon, the sun was low in the horizon, the breeze was warm, and there were white puffy clouds in the sky. It was gorgeous. I got a huge lump in my throat and my eyes welled up. I am sure the travel fatigue had some something to do with it, but I was overcome with emotion and got all choked up. It would not be the last time that would happen to me on this trip. I could tell that Martin was feeling the same way.
Ari became a familiar sight and companion over the next ten days as he is Navini's principal boatman. Like all the native Fijian's we met, he was friendly, warm, smiled a lot and had a great sense of humor. As Martin and I both exclaimed how beautiful it was, he smiled and told us that it had been storming and raining the day before and it had been that way for two or three days. He said it had been sunny, calm and dry all that day. He laughed and congratulated us on our good timing.
In the midst of this tropical bliss a scary thought popped into my mind (typical). I hadn't thought about it up until that moment as we skimmed across the shiny waters towards a tiny blip in the horizon." F*#k! What the hell did you I get us into? We are in a relatively tiny boat in the middle of the ocean five thousand miles from home, headed towards an island in the middle of nowhere. I am putting us totally at the mercy of a bunch of people that we don't know. CRAP!" Then I remembered all of those favorable reviews and comments about Navini on trip advisor (and we know how accurate those all are) and I felt much better. LOL! I recovered my composure and resumed enjoying myself.
As we motored towards our destination I was interested to see all the other islands of the Mamanuca Islands laid out in front of us. I had done considerable research about which island to visit, so it was sort of fun to see if I could guess which was which. I asked Ari all about them and finally Martin asked which one was Navini. Straight in front of us off in the distance was a little green dot that was quickly getting bigger and bigger. Just behind it was the largest island of Malolo. For those of us used to islands the size of the Hawaiian Islands, these islands were tiny little pieces of rock, sand and coral. They truly look like deserted desert islands.
We both were getting pretty excited by the time we starting approaching Navini and could make out buildings, boats, people and a bright white sand beach. Ari slowed the boat down as we started gliding over the coral reef that surrounds the island. He turned off the big engine and started a tiny outboard motor that is used for negotiating in the water when the tide is low. Wowee! The water was so clear that we could see all the way to the bottom. Fish! Bright blue starfish! Bright blue, purple, yellow and red coral! Was that a shark that I just saw!? Ari turned the boat around and backed the boat right up to the beach. On the beach were a woman and two or three guys. They produced big smiles and shouted, " Bula!" and helped us off the boat and onto the beach. They took our bags. The woman come up and introduced herself as Julie, and welcomed us by name. She was the welcoming committee and it was her job to show us the island and tell us all about it. It is all a bit of blur now; Martin and I were both in a bit of state of shock as Julie started walking us into the island. We both had big shit-eating grin on our faces.
The island is beautiful. There are a maze of white sand paths winding through the interior of the island past palm trees, hibiscus plants, papaya trees, plumeria trees and other tropical plantings. It is surrounded by white sand beaches. Julie shows us the office bure, the dining bure and then takes us to our bure, number 1. It was what they call a deluxe bure, which means it has two rooms, a private enclosed courtyard and a Jacuzzi tub. There are only 9 bures on the island and all of them are beachfront and have their own thatched roof beach umbrella and beach chairs. Number 1 is located just above the beach on the north side of the island. This is the side that gets the sunsets and it is a good reason to stay on this side. We would be moving in a couple days to #5, another deluxe bure on the south side of the island. We would end up liking #5 better as it is larger, had a bit more privacy and had a better beach front. Navini is not a fancy place, so the bures were simply furnished, but the beds were really comfortable, the views were spectacular and the access to the beach was perfect. If you are expecting a luxurious love nest for a honeymoon, this would not be the place, however being that we were on our PRE honeymoon LOL, it worked out fine. People that come to Navini don't come for luxury; they come for the snorkeling, the service and the peace and quiet. Perfect fit for us!
Julie showed us the complimentary sulus that they supplied us. A sulu is like a sarong and in Fiji sulus are worn by native men, women and children most of the time. We ended up wearing ours a lot. Other than our bathing suits, our sulus become the "go to" article of clothing while on Navini. She also explained to us that meal times were 8:00 - 9:00 for breakfast, 1:00 for lunch and 7:00 for dinner. We would hear the dinner drum when it was time to eat. Funny, but our lives for the next 10 days would be centered on when that damn drum was played. We hardly looked at Martin's watch at all. Julie left us and we spent the next few minutes exploring the bure and the beach. Ahhhhh...this was heaven!
Life on Navini
I chose Navini because it apparently had the healthiest of reefs and the best snorkeling of all the resorts in the Mamanucas. Some of those "experts" on trip advisor even went as far as to say it has the best snorkeling in all of Fiji. Anyhow, a nice beach, warm water and great snorkeling we extremely important to us and I was hoping that Navini would deliver. OMG! It delivered in spades! The reef was gorgeous and snorkeling over and around it was like being in a frigid aquarium. It was jaw dropping amazing. The numbers and variety of fish and corals were staggering. I had never seen anything like it before.
One thing we had to get used to here that affected when we could snorkel was the tide. The tidal changes here were much more substantial than other places we have visited, so much so that much of the reef became inaccessible during low tide and you could not go out. In the dining bure there was a message board where they listed the day's activity and when high and low tide would be, so not only did we mark time by when the meal times were, but we also ended up planning our days by when we could or couldn't snorkel! The tides were every six hours, so we usually ended up being able to go out in the morning and the afternoons. The portions of the beach also got exposed and turned rocky at low tide as well.
Another thing that we had to get used to that was new to us was the presence of sharks! The waters around Navini were full of little black tip reef sharks and not-so-little black tip reef sharks. They are pretty much uninterested in people and therefore harmless, but it took a little getting used to. The reef around Navini is a bit like a nursery for sharks, so the largest one we saw was around 4- -5 feet long. The cute little ones (12 to 24 inches long) would swim along the shoreline. It was a little disconcerting at first to look at the water and see these little black fins cruising back and forth along the waterline, but like I said, you get used to it and it just became part of life on the island. I must tell you though, when I saw my first 4 footer swim within a few feet of me while snorkeling I sought land quickly! Other large, scary-at-first fish that we saw around the reef were barracuda, grouper, Spanish mackerel and the largest parrot fish I have ever seen. Another remarkable sight was the giant clams that dotted the reef. They varied in size between 12 and 36 inches long! They were gorgeous, but a little creepy looking at first. The really pretty thing about the clams was the membrane that stretched between the sides of the shells. Some were bright greens and blues, some were brown and some were purple. All had very interesting designs on them. When they sensed you getting close, they would quickly clamp shut. A highlight for Martin was the gigantic manta ray he saw one day. The wing span from tip to tip was easily 8 to 10 feet! He watched it glide around the bottom of drop off for a few minutes. What you saw depended on when you went out and where on the reef you were. It seemed like there was the most fish activity during mid tide. We usually saw larger fish on the northeast side and better coral on the south side. There was a cyclone in Fiji in January that created huge surf that not only destroyed a fairly large area of coral on the north side, but also moved the much of the beach from the north side of the island to the south side. Sikeli, one of the staff took us out snorkeling around the island one day and he showed us where much of the damage was and also how already the coral is starting to come back. That was very interesting. Snorkeling there was an incredible experience and one of the highpoints of our trip there.
Eating on Navini
"Was that the eating drum I just heard being played?" "Let's go!"
The food was surprisingly good and surprisingly plentiful. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. For each meal time you are given a choice of 3 or 4 entrees plus appetizer, soup and dessert. I ended up calling it Tropical Comfort Food. Lots of fresh fruit and wonderful freshly caught fish were on the menu every day. I had no intention of eating all 3 courses every day, but that is exactly what we both ended up doing. Amazingly enough after ten days of meals there remained lots of variety with very little duplication of menu items. There were lots of things like curries and samosas that reflected the IndoFijian influences, as well native dishes that used kasava root, taro and sweet potatoes. Several of the returning guests told us that some of the cooks have been there since the early 80's. Martin and I got to be favorites with the cooks because before and after each meal time we would stick our heads into the kitchen, wave and yell "Bula, Vinaka!" and they'd all smile, wave give us a "Bula" back. We got hugs and kisses from them when we left.
Dinners were lots of fun. We'd gather for tropical drinks in the bar area, chit chat with Ana and Kathy the bartenders and other guests who were ordered drinks. Then everyone moseyed over to a sitting area in the open air dining area for more chit chat amongst all the resort guests. This was always presided over by with Arthur and Helen, the owners, or Adrian, the manager or Julie, the lady who really ran the place. At its most crowded there were around 20 guests and one day there were only four of us guests on the island. It reminded me of an old fashioned cocktail party. It was very casual, but there was this undercurrent of formality that was very characteristic of the native Fijians we met. Especially when Helen and Arthur were there it felt as if you were guests of theirs being entertained for the evening. After about 20 minutes of that, one of the girls would announce "Dinner is ready to be served" and we'd all get up and got sit down together at a long table.
Not sure if I've mentioned it, but all guests sit together and eat together at meal times. I knew this going in, so it was not an unexpected and unpleasant surprise, but it might not be for everyone. Martin and I both liked it, even though some mornings I protested about having to eat with other people when all I wanted to do was to be left alone (grumpy in the morning). On those mornings I just smiled and ate silently and got up and left as soon as I had finished. Not a big deal. As the group grew larger they made table pods of 8 guests each. You can always request dinner for two either on the beach or on the patio of your bure too. We did dinner on the beach one night and it was really romantic and wonderful. There was another couple doing it the same night further down the beach. Turns out they were celebrating an anniversary, so most of the staff came down to the beach and sang them Fijian love songs! It sounded so great. This was another "choked up" moment. Dining under the stars with a slight breeze blowing the palm trees, the sound of waves lapping at the sand and sweet music in the background is the kind of foreplay I could get used to!
"Didn't you get bored on such a small island?"
No, no and no! Relaxation and rejuvenation were the goals of this trip and for those purposes Navini was perfect. In case you wanted some activity the resort has one organized event every day and most are trips off the island to other places. Some days we went to the main reef for snorkeling and fishing, other days it was a trip to another island or to the village that owns Navini Island. They left at 9:30 and you returned before lunch. While it was fun to get off the island and do something, I preferred to spend time just lollygagging around the island and doing nothing. Lethargy has never been so pleasant! Martin went on twice as many of these trips as I did.
One trip I was looking forward to was a visit to the village on Malolo Island. I had brought a suitcase of school supplies that I had planned to drop off at the village school. Months before our trip I had the idea to bring some things to a local school that might be in need. I contacted Simone at Navini and she encouraged me to do that, so I packed a duffel bag full of crayons, markers, pencils, pens, erasers and paper that I would deliver to the school when we visited the village. We made the trip with Dominique and Petra, a German couple who we became very friendly with. They are a couple in their mid 20's that had arrived a few days before. Dominique's grandfather lives on Viti Levu on a ranch in the mountains, so they had spent the week before visiting him and seeing that part of Fiji. We had a ball with them. Dominique was always tell jokes and Petra had always had a funny story about something they had done. The trip to the village was okay, we really didn't get to see that much of the village, only the portion on the beach where vendors had set up shop to sell Fijian things. Cha-Ching! They were selling lots of chatchkas and touristy things. I bought a few interesting looking shells and we got a carved wooden mask that is pretty. None of this stuff would be seen in fine art galleries or museums, LOL.
An older gentleman approached us and identified himself to us as Tevita, the village caretaker of the school. He would be our guide over to the school. The school is removed from the village by a few hundred yards and seems to be purposely isolated from the village. It was extremely well tended to and very tidy. Tevita explained a little bit about the school, but he seemed more interested in the duffle bag that had the school supplies in it. He wanted it. He came out and said that we would like the bag, that the school wouldn't need it and made me agree to give it to him in exchange for letting us into the school. The teachers and administrator at the school got a big laugh out of that when I told them later the bag went to Tevita.
The school was obviously expecting us. We went into a room where several people were sitting down having a meeting. They were having a staff meeting! LOL. A teacher's least favorite thing to do! Anyhow, we were welcomed warmly and greeted by the principal, who seemed nice, but more than a little stern. He was obviously the enforcer and the discipline guy. I wouldn't want to get in trouble with this guy! It is all a bit of blur now, but the whole teaching staff was there and I got to meet them all. I gave them the bag of stuff and said this was a gift from my school and I hoped that there were things that they would find useful. They wanted me to take out each and every item and show them. That was a bit weird and awkward and I felt a little like a salesman showing a customer what they were buying, but what the hell...The things that they seemed most impressed with were the reams of white construction paper and the boxes of pink pearl erasers. They seemed very happy, but the whole lot was very reserved and very polite about accepting the items. Most of them spoke impeccable English with a British accent. The head teacher gave a very nice speech thanking me for the things and formally welcoming me to the school. They had me sign a visitor book too. After that they brought in food and served us lunch and tea! I got a chance to talk to some of the teachers, particularly the second grade teacher. I poked my nose into some of the classrooms and met some of the children too. The children were immaculate in their uniforms, extremely polite and very cute. I was amazed at how familiar some things seemed, but I was also struck and surprised by how formal and structured the whole set up was. I wonder what they thought of me! I hope to maintain correspondence with the school and maybe even do a pen pal thing with the second grade class there. This was my first experience of this sort and it was a little strange, but fun at the same time. I would love to know how those crayons and markers are being used!
Other than snorkeling and eating, Martin's main activity on the island was reading and mine was shell collecting. Every day, several times a day, I would circumnavigate the island combing the beach for gifts from the sea. I love wandering beaches searching for things where ever we go. It relaxes me to no end. I was amazed by the amount of shells and the variety I was able to find. Hundreds and hundreds of the most unusual and beautiful shells were washed up or uncovered on the shores of Navini every day! I could have filled my travel backpack with all the shells I found. I ended up bringing back just a few of my favorites and tossed the others back the day we left. I look at those shells today and it was a great reminder of our fantastic trip. I am also inspired by them to create using clay. I can see it now...Bill's "shell period"...LOL.
Serendipity and it's a small world...
I spent a fair amount of time on tripadvisor's Fiji forum researching Fiji It is a fairly vibrant community of Fiji travelers and was a great source of information, not only about Navini, but Fiji in general. One of the long time Fiji posters that helped me a lot back then was someone who called herself HOOKED ON FIJI. She had been to Navini several times and seemed like a very experienced Fiji traveler. She always answered my posts and gave me lots of information. We even exchanged a few private e-mails on tripadvisor. She stopped posting several months ago and I wondered what had become of her.
One day at lunch, a new group of guests arrived. They were an Australian couple and a friend who had been traveling in Fiji for about a week prior to Navini. They sat down at one end of the table and started chit chatting with some people down there. I wasn't really eavesdropping, but I heard the new woman say something and then she said, "Hooked On Fiji" and then something else. Hmmm... Now I can tell you that I did start eavesdropping at this point. Long story...short. This woman ended up being the poster HOOKED ON FIJI who had helped me so much!
After a while she actually remembered me and my endless questions! LOL. She and her husband and their friend would be there for another week. What a fantastic coincidence that the one person who helped me to decide on Navini should be there while we were!. I think she was a little shocked that someone actually took her advice! LOL.
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Navini Island Resort - iamq & Martin in Fiji