Editor at large: Relaxing on the beach in Fiji, then returning home

    The view of the beach from Natalie’s bure in Fiji.

    Fiji is something of a family destination for Australians.

    We didn’t find out about that until we were at the Melbourne airport waiting to board our plane to Nadi and looking around the seating area near our gate. There was the two of us, one single woman, maybe two or three other couples and the rest were families of at least four, with kids ranging from teenagers to infants.

    It was only a four-hour flight, but I was more anxious to get off that plane than I was the 14-hour plane from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. We could barely hear our in-flight entertainment over the screams of children in front of and behind us. A boy I estimated to be nine years old sat directly in front of me and kept trying to grab my iPad, which was on the tray table attached to his seat.

    Coconut water is served right from the source.

    Though we were made especially anxious to get off of our plane because we would have to go through customs and immigration in Nadi before checking into our domestic flight to Suva, on the other side of the main island of Fiji. That flight was set to take off two hours after we landed. We were told two hours would be ample time, but it’s hard to feel confident when you’re standing in the immigration line. We ran to the domestic terminal after about 40 minutes in line, and immediately felt silly when we walked right up to the check-in counter.

    There aren’t many domestic flights in Fiji, and most of them are between Nadi, Suva or Suvasuva, or private charter flights. Now, we had a full hour and 15 minutes to wait around in the heat before we could get on our plane.

    The heat. It was chilly in Melbourne, and we were not adapted to the 85-plus degrees in Fiji, plus humidity. It wasn’t horrible, but it was enough to make us excited to be on a beach rather than inside an airport.

    By the time we landed in Suva, it was dark outside. We collected our bags and found a taxi driver with a sign that said “Toberua Resort.” He escorted us to his vehicle, a well-used black vehicle of a make I did not recognize. It didn’t have any marks on it indicating it was a taxi. He drove us about 20 minutes down a narrow two-lane road that serves vehicles, buses and pedestrians. Several people were walking with their arms full of groceries. Our driver swerved to the wrong side of the road to avoid them.

    We pulled up to a small, dark dock, where a small boat was tied up, waiting for us. Two tall gentlemen took our bags and guided us onto the boat, handing us towels to cover our laps before we sped up down the river.

    It was a 20 minute ride to the mouth of the river, and 20 minutes to our island after that. When we pulled up, a group of five Fijians gathered on the dock, playing guitar and singing a welcome song. A short walk to the bar revealed two fruit punches waiting for us. Zac the bar tender eagerly shook our hands and welcomed us to the island.

    Islanders play guitar, wave goodbye and drive the boat back to the mainland as Natalie and Chris made their way back to the Suva airport. It was cloudy and windy that day, but still warm.

    Toberua was small. It took maybe five minutes to walk around the whole thing. On the island, we got our own bure, or Fijian-style hut, which has its own hammock and beach area. There are a total of 15 bures on the island, each with a maximum capacity of two adults and two children, and the island was nowhere near full capacity during our stay there.

    A lizard had already made himself at home in the rafters of our bure when we checked in. At dinner, we saw our first of many black-and-white banded sea snakes, which are extremely venomous, but rarely bite humans.

    This was our chance to relax after two weeks of crazy traveling–and relax we did. We spent much of the first day laying on our hammock. We went on several snorkeling trips and visited red-footed boobies on Bird Island. Unfortunately, we were unable to go scuba diving because I caught a cold on the second day in Fiji, and it is unsafe and painful to dive with congestion.

    The ocean in Fiji is very still. The area where we were is surrounded by many islands and reefs. It felt more like a lake than the ocean.

    Since it was so flat, during low tide, the water would recede quite far, revealing hundreds of tide pools. Small crabs ran whenever you got close. Spiny sea stars moved surprisingly fast to get out of the sun.

    The sunset from the city of Suva on the main island as Natalie and Chris rode in a taxi to the airport on their last day. The water here is the longest river in Fiji.

    Fiji is just as beautiful an island paradise as you would expect. Palm trees peek out over the top of the forests that crowd the islands. The water is clear, blue and warm. Hermit crabs of all sizes walk along the beaches in the morning and cross the human walking paths at dusk. Herons, cranes and sea birds peck at the sand during low tide. A guitar trio or quartet (depending on the day) serenades island guests during lunch and dinner, providing a relaxing island twist to popular music.

    The trip to Fiji was a huge change in pace from the wild adventures of New Zealand and sightseeing in Australia, but it was a good chance for us to spend some quality time together.

    After six days, we left our island paradise to return to the United States. First stop was Los Angeles to visit my mom, then San Diego to visit my dad and pick up the dog. Then we loaded the car full of wedding things and made the 20-hour drive back to Seattle.

    It was the trip of a lifetime, and the perfect time of our life to go. Now, we are returning back to the rhythm of normal life, which means you will probably be seeing me out covering stories in town sometime soon, if you haven’t already.

    Thank you to the readers who have followed my adventures on the other side of the world. I will miss traveling, as I always do when I return home, but I’m also excited to be back.

    – Story and photos by Natalie Covate

    Just-married MLTnews editor Natalie Covate is writing about her honeymoon adventures.

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