Island hopping in the Yasawas

Island hopping in the Yasawas


A peaceful hammock overlooking Sunrise Beach on Drawaqa Island at Barefoot Resort, Fiji
This was the view from my dorm at Barefoot. Take me back? Please?

The Yasawa Islands in Fiji has to be one of the most stunning places in the world. The archipelago of volcanic islands arcs away from Fiji’s mainland in a graceful curve to the north-west. The Islands lie in bluer-than-blue waters, ringed by yellow and white sandy beaches shaded by bright green palms. Under the surface lies some of the world’s best coral reefs where a thousand species of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and things I simply can’t name are waiting to be discovered.

And the best part? Getting there couldn’t be simpler. The Yasawas is not only one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s also one of the easiest places to travel.

The really amazing thing about island hopping in the Yasawas is that it combines all the best parts of independent travel – freedom to explore, setting your own pace, meeting fascinating people, doing whatever strikes your fancy – with the wonderful convenience of all-inclusive package tours – transport that doesn’t take a second thought, helpful staff who can organise anything for you, seriously, you don’t even have to carry your own bag. And it manages to boast all of this while retaining a pristine natural environment, not feeling overcrowded, and with hardly a whisper of modern commercialisation.

Um, sign me up please?

I spent a week island hopping in the Yasawas at the start of last month. Admittedly I have a bit of a head start on most people getting there, because I’m actually residing in Fiji at the moment, so getting to the departure port was a simple matter of four hours on a public bus one Friday evening after work. But if you’re coming from further afield, it’s almost as simple – the boat leaves from Nadi, which also hosts Fiji’s main international airport.

So bright and early Saturday morning, I rocked up at Port Denerau ready to board the Yasawa Flyer, a big yellow catamaran that does daily trips up and down the Yasawa archipelago. In fact, the company who runs the Yasawa Flyer, Awesome Adventures, actually picked me up from my hostel and took me to the port as part of my ticket – like I said, this could not be simpler. I checked my bag and grabbed a roti parcel (my favourite Fijian street food) while we waited to board, enjoying the sunshine and the variety of sailing ships docked at port – there was even a 1920s vintage wooden sailing ship!

Before long, we were cruising out into the Pacific. The Yasawa Flyer route goes through the Mamanuca Islands first, then heads north-west to the Yasawas. This means that your transport is basically a beautiful sight-seeing tour as well. The gorgeous sand atolls of Beachcomber, Bounty and South Sea Islands are emerald specks in a turquoise ocean, and the blue water all around looks so inviting you almost want to dive in from the sight-seeing deck. As you head north to the more mountainous Yasawas, the terrain gets more rugged, with jagged, volcanic hills reaching up towards the sky. Depending on the season, these will either be jewel green, or an interesting dry brown as the deciduous trees shed their leaves for winter, ringed by the evergreen palms just behind the many pristine beaches. I was there during (southern hemisphere) winter, and though the brown landscape wasn’t what I had expected, there was a rough, rugged beauty to it that I fell in love with.

Before I knew it, two and half hours had passed and it was time for me to disembark. There are resorts scattered right along the archipelago, and the boat stops at all of them. At each one, a small flock of water taxis greet the big yellow catamaran, offloading passengers and their luggage, collecting supplies, and accepting new guests in a well-ordered, almost clockwork fashion. All you have to do is point your luggage out to a crew member, and they’ll make sure it gets on the right boat – no worries about trying to swing your backpack out over the ocean! (Admittedly they do occasionally leave a bag behind, but they’ll get it back to you when they come back past in the afternoon.)

Now at this point, let me say: if the idea of a resort brings forth ideas of screaming kids, plastic mini-golf, sitting by the artificial pool, and you can’t work out why I’d be advocating such an inauthentic experience, relax. The resorts in the Yasawas are nothing like this.

My first stop was Barefoot Island resort, on Drawaqa island about half way up the archipelago. We boarded into our little tinny and the captain expertly steered us through the shallow reefs around the corner to a gorgeous yellow-white sandy beach. Half a dozen staff members stood front and centre, flowers in their hair,  grinning and singing us the Fijian welcome song. On instructions from our captain, when the song was finished we all yelled, “BULA!” to delighted expressions from the group serenading us.

I was assigned to a dorm room in a basic but gorgeous little beachside bure (cottage) on the Sunrise Beach. The other two girls in my room were both staying on the island for a few weeks volunteering with the Vinaka Fiji voluntourism project. Voluntourism is a topic with mixed reviews, but I think Vinaka Fiji seem to be one of the groups doing it right. The volunteers and staff I met were certainly great people with a great attitude. (I’m planning on a voluntourism post in the future explaining exactly what I think “doing it right” means and offering tips on how to avoid operators that exploit local communities and volunteers alike and do far more harm than good. But that’s another story.)

For the next five days, I did whatever I felt like doing. I got my open water diving certificate, swam with manta rays, helped out with marine conservation, walked to the top of the island for an incredible view, partied with new friends, lay on the beach, got an EPIC sunburn, floated in an inner tube across the reef, snorkelled, spent hours talking to people, lay in a hammock and read, and just generally had an absolute ball. When the drums were beaten, I went to the bar and ate. When I wanted a beer or a cocktail, they were always available. When I wanted absolute privacy, all I had to do was choose my own beach.

Seriously, it’s basically heaven.

Life here moves at a different pace. There’s no commercialism or up-sell, no touts or shops or anything. The staff are chatty and friendly, happy to tell you about their village, their families, their plans for the future. The most complicated decisions of the day revolve around choosing a bit of sand to park yourself on, deciding to go with Fiji Bitter or Fiji Gold, picking between another pancake or a big helping of tropical fruit. Meals are set and all included, with special needs happily catered to.

After a few days, I decided I wanted to see the northern Yasawas. Honestly if I could, I would have stayed for a month, but sadly this time I had an office to get back to after my week away. I’d heard the Sawa-i-Lau caves were spectacular (and I really like caves), and people rave about the blue lagoon, so it was time to go see them.

Continuing on my Yasawa island hopping adventure was incredibly simple. I went to reception and asked them to get Blue Lagoon Resort on the phone – they were absolutely happy to. Blue Lagoon were full up, it turned out, so I asked them to call Oarsmans Bay for me instead (which shares the same beach as Blue Lagoon anyway). I booked in over the phone for the following night, then simply boarded the Yasawa Flyer when it arrived the next morning. You can buy tickets on board the Flyer, they just require you to have already booked your next accommodation too (and if you haven’t they can do it for you from the boat).

Can you say easy?

Saying goodbye to Barefoot was actually really sad. Although I’d only been there a few days, it felt like much longer, and it was sad to say goodbye to my new friends. But further adventure awaited me…

The boat ride up to Nacula Island in the northern Yasawas was even more beautiful than the trip to Drawaqa had been. The ocean sparkled, and what people say about the blue lagoon turned out to be entirely true – I have never seen so many shades of blue. It was just incredible.

I boarded my water taxi to Oarsmans – the only new guest arriving this time. I was greeted with a drink, a song, lunch and the news that I had been upgraded to a private bure with my own double bed – sweet! And once again, I had some difficult choices to make – which piece of pristine sand would I relax on first?

Oarsmans was quieter than Barefoot, but with a lovely community vibe. It’s owned and operated by a local village, and the people are absolutely charming. But the real standout here is the beach. Long and white with gently lapping waves, the sand is so soft you almost want to forgo the bure and camp out right there. Kat and Matt, an awesome German couple I met there who had been travelling Fiji for several months, proclaimed it the finest beach in Fiji – and they were comparing it to beaches in more remote places such as Savusavu and even the Lau Group. Pretty high praise – and totally deserved.

Another highlight of my time on Nacula Island was my stop at Traveller’s Tea House. I spent an afternoon hiking up the ridge and over the island to Nabua and Safe Landing resorts, which was a really interesting walk, to find myself at Traveller’s Tea House. It’s the only cafe outside of the resorts in the whole Yasawa archipelago, and it’s utterly charming. It’s run by Bill, who bakes a cake every day sells big slices with mugs of tea and coffee between 3pm and 5pm. The day I visited, it was a banana and chocolate cake – a big slice still warm out of the oven, with gooey chocolate icing. Sitting at the tables under the basic roof, gazing out at the ocean and soaking in the sunlight, it was probably one of my favourite afternoon teas ever.

All too soon, my week island hopping in the Yasawas was drawing to a close and it was time to head south again. Back to the Flyer once again, as it cruised its way down through the islands, past beaches of unsurpassed beauty. To cap off the ease and simplicity of the trip, they even shuttle you back to the hostel or hotel of your choice, saving you the bus fare and the need to think about how to get there. This really is as simple as travel gets, and yet you still never lose the independent, do-it-my-own-way feel.

My top tips for island hopping in the Yasawas:

  • Book the first resort and the first leg of your boat trip in advance, then make it up as you go along.
  • Don’t bother with a Bula Pass unless you want to change resort every day or two. If you’ll be staying put more than moving around, it’s better value to just pay as you go. (But absolutely do travel with Awesome Adventures on the Yasawa Flyer – it’s a really, really great experience.)
  • Talk to everyone – other travellers, but also locals and resort staff. They’re really interesting! (And please, don’t patronise them by speaking overly simplistically as I saw some people do. They may have an accent and speak with different sentence structures, but they understand your English just fine.)
  • Enjoy the relaxed pace. Allow time to move slowly, and make the most of it.

Do you have anything to add to the list? Or any questions I could help with? Let me know below! 🙂

18 responses to “Island hopping in the Yasawas”

  1. Hi Martina,

    Wow!!!! You weren’t kidding when we were chatting via email. Stunning, stunning spot. Looks like we’ll run out of time before we make it that way, to the Yasawas, but I’ll be blogging from paradise for years, so it may just be on the list in the future.

    The shades of blue there, and here in Savusavu, on the South Side of the island, are unlike anything I’ve ever seen on earth. The beaches here aren’t as beachy, with the wide, white sand areas, and a few too many rocks, but the beach in Nagigi village in particular was just jaw-droppingly pretty (it’s the cover on my Commenting book, I linked in up top through my post).

    We think blue waters, or clear waters, when the word “paradise” comes to mind, yet here in Fiji, you’ll see clear water, then progressive shades of blue, lighter to darker, until you make your way out to the reef.

    Again, I’ve not seen anything like it, even in the movies, and of course, during my journeys through the world and its many paradises.

    Martina, thanks for the mini-vacay! I felt like you summed up the Yasawas so well.

    Tweeting soon.

    Signing off from Savusavu.

    Ryan Biddulph has been writing about… Download My New eBook to Rapidly Promote Your Blogging SuccessMy Profile

    • Hey Ryan

      Thanks for the comment – and the tweet and fb share! Very much appreciate it.

      Glad you loved the pictures – it really is just that magnificently blue. I love that you said I took you on a mini-vacay, that’s really what I want – to be able to take people with me, even if they can’t actually get there.

      You should definitely try to go though. You’ll have to go through Nadi to get to Bali, so if you were to leave Savusavu just a few days early, it would be the easiest thing in the world to jump onto the Yasawa Flyer and take in a gorgeous island or three on your way through. And as I said – the beach at Oarsmans on the western side of Nacula was called the best in Fiji, by people who have really spent a while seeing everything these islands have to offer. Well worth checking out. 🙂

      I’m excited to see Savusavu at the end of this month too – will def be blogging about what I find! Shame our itineraries won’t line up, but life is imperfect that way.

      Have a great weekend. 🙂


  2. Thank you for this great article. I am Planning to visit Fiji as well and also found the yasawa flyer really interesting. However I haven’t stumbled about the info that you do not need to buy the Bula pass to go with them. How much was a single ride? And did you book your accommodation with the rates offered by awesome adventures or directly with the resorts?
    Thanks a lot again also for te beautiful pics. They really make me what to go there!

    • Hey Judith 🙂
      Great to hear you’re planning on coming to Fiji!! It’s a stunning place, especially the Yasawas.
      Yeah, they don’t make it 100% clear on the website, but you can actually just buy the fares as you go. In August, they quoted me $160 FJD to get from Denerau (the post in Nadi that they leave from) to Barefoot Island one-way, $85 FJD to go from Barefoot to Coralview, and $170 FJD to get from Coralview back to Denerau. I don’t remember exactly what I paid, because I didn’t end up going to Coralview and chose Oarsmans instead, but they’re pretty close to each other so it would have been similar.
      I think if you’re planning on changing resort every day or every two days, then the Bula Pass is a useful idea, but if you’re just going to one place or planning on staying a little longer, then it’s better to book direct. I only booked my initial trip to Barefoot in advance, and paid a deposit online then the remainder when I got to Denerau. The other transfers I just paid when I got on the boat – there’s a travel desk inside.
      As for the accommodation, I booked direct with the resorts because it seemed easier to me. I think the rates that AA offer are pretty comparable though. The resorts are pretty easy to get in touch with – you could send them an email for a quote and compare the rates. 🙂
      Have an AMAZING trip, and let me know if you want any more suggestions or help planning it!

      • When I went the first time to Fiji I stayed at a Couchsurfer’s house in Nadi, where some members of the family were working as travel agents. I booked my accomodations through them, because they were like bargaining with the resorts on the Yasawas to get a good price.

        • That’s awesome! It’s totally true that the locals always get the best prices at the resorts. Fiji is one of those places where everyone knows and/or is related to everyone else, and they always want to do a favour for their friends.

    • Haha 100% Silvia! I don’t think I’ve ever seen water that many shades of blue. I’ve been to Southern Thailand, Borneo, Cambodia… none of them hold a candle to the Yasawas!!

  3. Hi Martina – I really love your blog. I have been tossing up whether to go to the Yasawas in March. I know it’s the rainy season and I am wondering if the weather will be ok generally – I would really love to see the islands looking their best ie blue water etc, rather than grey and overcast and miserable – thoughts?

    • Hi Louise

      Thanks so much!

      It can be really hard working out whether the weather is going to work for you or not. I’ve been to the Yasawas twice now – in September, which is dry season, and in December/January, which is supposed to be the height of the wet season and cyclone season. I was a little worried about the possible wet weather, but luckily enough, I managed to get perfect weather both trips – it was amazing!

      The biggest difference I noticed between wet and dry seasons was that the landscape was much greener in the wet season. You can see from some of my pics in this post that the land is pretty dry and brown in winter. It was a little warmer in the wet season, but not by that much. A big difference is that in winter you’ll get to see the manta rays – they’re not generally around in summer.

      The thing about the weather is that it’s just so hard to predict. If it helps, the Yasawas tends to be dryer and clearer than the rest of Fiji. They’re also in a bit of a drought at the moment – not good for them of course, but kinda handy for tourists. So if you’re tossing between going to the Yasawas in March or later in the year, I’d go later in the year solely because of the manta rays. If you’re tossing up between the Yasawas and somewhere else in March, def go for the Yasawas – you won’t regret it!! And fingers crossed the weather will be great.

      Let me know if you want any more suggestions for where to go or how to get around. You’re going to have an amazing time!!

      Martina 🙂

  4. Wow, Martina, I have just found your website, it’s really engaging and just out right brilliant, your images of the beaches and ocean are out of this world, that blue is somthing else! I’m going to be honest, I have never heard of a place called Yasawas but now I’m looking forward to visiting and reading more on your site, have fun, you seem like such a lovely person xxxxx Tina
    Tina has been writing about… Visiting Moscow ZooMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Tina for your lovely words!!! You definitely head for the Yasawas – please let me know if you want any advice or suggestions about how to get there and what to do! 🙂

    • Hey Laura ? haha – you guessed right!! While the Yasawas is certainly good value for what you get, it does NOT compare to SE Asia when it comes to price!! And unfortunately it’s also one of the more expensive parts of Fiji. For a dorm, a good Yasawa backpackers like Mantaray or Barefoot should set you back something like FJ$75-110 including your room, a water taxi to get there, three all you can eat meals, use of things like snorkel gear and stand up paddle boards, and some activities like maybe a trivia night, bonfire or coconut jewelry making. On top of that you’ll need to book a boat trip with the Yasawa Flyer to get there and back – that will set you back maybe FJ$300 return. Keep in mind that there are no towns or facilities in the Yasawas, and fuel is really expensive in the South Pacific – everything has to be transported in by boat and unloaded by hand. Unlike SE Asia, all the backpackers in the Yasawas are fully inclusive. That’s because there are very simply no other options on the islands. There are no towns, and foreigners are not permitted to enter Fijian villages without an invitation. There are no local eating places where you can get cheaper food, and many of the islands where the backpackers are are uninhabited. I wasn’t sure about the idea of all inclusive before I went there, but it’s actually really good. The food is authentic and yummy, and there’s plenty to do.
      If you’re after a cheaper Fijian experience, try a different part of the country. FJ$6 will get you a bus to the Coral Coast which has a few cool places to stay and options such as local restaurants where you can get curry and taro for a few dollars. Or head north and bus up to the far side of Viti Levu. If you have more time, I had a great time exploring Vanua Levu, which was very inexpensive too. Hostels on the larger islands are around FJ$20-30 per night, and you’ll easily eat for under FJ$10.
      I hope you have a great time!!!!!

  5. Love your post hoping to travel to the yasawa islands in June !

    one quick question about you blog how do you get your captions to pop up over your photos (would you be kind enough to help me add this to mine)

    thanks!! jess

    • Hey Jess! 🙂 That’s awesome! You’re going to love it. With the captions, make sure you add captions in the media library to each image, then when you add them to your post, add them as a gallery not as individual images. The overlay style is the the wordpress default as long as your images are a gallery (I use the mosaic gallery style). Hope it works for you! Martina 🙂

  6. I love your photos!This blog was so helpful 🙂 i’m planning on going to Fiji with my mum in the beginning of November,I was wondering is it better tobook in advance or book at the harbour once you are in Nani?i’m quite confused and unsure on how to decide,we have apron 7 days.I think Yasawas is a great option!Should I book the ferry in advance?I’m sorry for all my questions.Thank you
    and all the best :))
    Valeria 🙂

    • Hey Valeria 🙂 I’m glad you found the post helpful! There’s a few more on my blog about Fiji so take a look and see if those are handy too. The Yasawas is one of my favourite places in the world, you’re going to love it!! As far as booking in advance goes, it just depends on how you like to travel, either works fine. If you’re lazy like me and suck at booking in advance, you can definitely just rock up. The boat should be fine, but occasionally your chosen resort might be full – you should definitely phone at least a day ahead if you don’t feel like booking online, because there are no towns and so no other accomodation options on any of the islands. (You can buy a local sim card at the airport in Nadi if you’d like to be able to make phone calls while you’re there.) If you’re good at being organised, booking in advance is easy too. You won’t pay more because you booked in advance. The first time I went, I booked my first boat and first island in advance, then booked the rest as I went, choosing to move on when I felt like it. When I went the second time, I didn’t book anything in advance, because my travel companion was sick so we weren’t sure how long we’d spend in Nadi. The day we decided to leave, I made a few phone calls to our chosen island and we got our boat tickets at the harbour, no worries. 🙂 Fiji is a very flexible place, and a friendly “bula!” will get you a long way. Have a great time!!

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