Islands of Intrigue

Imagine waking each morning to a panorama of luscious emerald islands sprinkled upon a silken turquoise sea. Well, that’s just one of the pleasures of cruising amidst Fiji’s outer islands. 

With its sigh -inducing landscapes, warm people and fetching tropical mindset, Fiji has become a byword for paradise.  And although best known for dreamy resorts, there’s so much more to this accessible Pacific getaway. Beneath the brazen beauty lies an approachable and intriguing culture and a seemingly endless array of thriving reefs.

The most relaxing way to see a lot of Fiji is aboard a Captain Cook Cruises voyage.

If you’re a solo traveller who’s shied away from cruising, it’s time to reconsider.  In addition to being the most affordable and logistically realistic way to experience otherwise inaccessible locations, cruising is a very sociable style of travel.

Longer distances are traversed overnight, freeing up days for exploration and aquatic bliss such as snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, diving uncharted depths or simply lazing on idyllic beaches.

Fellow passengers are typically well-travelled and curious and thanks to the relaxed vibe, you’ll inevitably meet like minded people.

Feeling lonely is pretty much impossible whilst travelling amongst Fijians. In the villages locals are genuinely warm and welcoming, as are the crew of the Reef Endevour. 

However, one of the joys of solo travel is the scope for quality me time and this is where the spacious Reef Endevour excels, thanks to the profusion of lounging zones on each level. Comforting touches, like being able to make my own coffee in the morning –ideally enjoyed in meditative solitude on the top deck – create a homely feel.    

Captain Cook Cruises have a series of voyages to distinct parts of the vast Fijian archipelago: the rugged and dramatically beautiful Yasawa group, the far – flung Lau islands, as well as a journey that visits the most extant colonial settlement in the Pacific – the wondrously picturesque Levuka. 

For a deeper insight into the lives of people on islands largely untouched by the 21st century, I recently hopped aboard the Reef Endevour for the 4 Cultures Discovery Cruise, which takes in untrammelled islands around Vanu Levu whilst highlighting Fiji’s multiculturalism.      

After a chilled, chatty evening spent lounging on the main deck, I awoke to a voluptuously green vista of rugged islands near Fiji’s ‘garden island’ of Taveuni.  Unlike most other ‘small ships’ the Reef Endevour’s staterooms are accessed by  external walkways  – providing a fresh feast for the senses as soon as I opened my door in the morning.

Gifts of floral garlands signalled our welcome to hilly Kioa island. Also adorned with oversized frangipanis and bougainvillea, the islanders – Polynesians originally from Tuvalu- treated us to resonant songs and powerful percussion. After dancing up a floral storm, the women sold appealing homewares and jewellery.  

Just a short sail away is Rabi Island, an erstwhile copra plantation. Originally from Kiribati, the Micronesian Barnabas people moved here when their home  was damaged by phosphate mining and invading Japanese. This time the dancing costumes feature shells, feathers and pandanus leaves and the moves have saucy undertones.

Nearby are reefs famed for their psychedelic colours, which we float over gleefully after the Reef Endevour’s marine biologist picks an optimal snorkelling spot.

From a distance Kia Island resembles a volcano leaping out of the water. At the candy-coloured school, children hand out frangipanis and sing for us.

Previously a sandlewood hotspot, strikingly beautiful Kia now features a slumbering village of gelato hued timber cottages tucked under gargantuan breadfruit trees. A delicious buffet is set up on the island and we dine under the coconut trees whilst chatting with friendly locals.

Afterwards, the crew continue to sing, dance and drink kava in the Reef Endevour’s main lounge – with guests invited to join in.  

Popping with the colour that befits an Indian town, Labasa is a sugar hub ringed by mountains. In a colonial -inspired hotel, we’re treated to a delectable Indian lunch and Bollywood dancing, before hitting shops overflowing with Indian textiles.   

Evenings aboard the Reef Endevour are a relaxed, affable affair, with activities such as quiz games, moonlit movies and live entertainment ensuring there’s always something to do.

There’s a refreshing lack of the contrived formality, although some guests enjoy  dressing up for dinner. I felt so at home on the Reef Endevour, I spent the entire week in thongs; a mindset that reminded me of indulgent resorts in the Maldives where guests are encouraged to forgo footwear.

As we trace a path around the convoluted shores and mountain backdrop of Vanua Levu, the landscape morphs from lavishly lush to stark and sculptural. Snorkelling each day of cruise, more eye-boggling variety unfurls each time I get wet.

Cruising presents a temping contradiction: so much to see, yet you’d be hard –pressed to find a more relaxing way to travel.

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Especially passionate about getting away from the crowds and discovering unsung gems, Melissa (pictured here with her trusty editorial assistant) has been writing about travel, architecture and health for a wide range of magazines and newspapers for more than 15 years. She's shamelessly addicted to spending time underwater and seeking out the world's most eye - boggling snorkelling.