Cruising beneath Fiji's waves

By Pamela Wade

On a small ship, free of the 'ra! ra!' bustle of big liners, Pamela Wade takes a dive.

The reef fish off Fiji's Mananuca and Yasawa islands put on a constantly changing kaleidoscope of a show for snorkellers.
The reef fish off Fiji's Mananuca and Yasawa islands put on a constantly changing kaleidoscope of a show for snorkellers.

I always thought I was too greedy to go on a cruise. Just the thought of all that lovely, paid-for food was enough to make my waistband tighten: I knew I wouldn't be able to keep from making a pig of myself. I would end up going home draped toga-style in a sheet. Off a king-size bed.

I was wrong. Not about being greedy, as the lavish buffets on my Captain Cook Cruise proved all too well. But because this was a small ship, we spent all of our time in sight of land and much of it either ashore or in the water.

Every day on our loop through Fiji's Mamanuca and Yasawa islands we had opportunities to snorkel over fabulous coral formations swarming with fish in psychedelic combinations of fluorescent blue, pink and green shot through with acid yellow.

Each snorkelling trip was different and accessible for every passenger, no matter how aquatically challenged: the man whose right-angled ankles flashed white above the water with each kick had as much fun as the woman in a sleek all-in-one who dived effortlessly to chase multicoloured parrotfish through the stags-horn coral.

Even those staying dry in the glass-bottomed boat could enjoy the show; although they, of course, were not virtuously working off the excesses of the last meal.

The snorkelling for me was the supporting act to the cruise's features: the best part was visiting the villages and seeing close-up how Fijian people live, which can be summed up in one word: easily.

With a sea full of fish, coconut palms fringing the beach and chickens scratching under breadfruit trees, most needs are met, and the priority is on the heart and soul. It was wonderful to listen to families on Sunday singing harmoniously in a church hall.

At another village the highlight was a concert by children from a four-classroom school. A plain building by a grassy playground where a single netball hoop stood in a circle of hard-packed dirt, the classrooms were straight out of the 1930s. About 20 enthusiastic children aged from 5 to 12 belted out The Wheels on the Bus even though boats were the only form of transport they knew.

I'd gladly swap cars and buses for the scenery these children see every day: dramatic volcanic peaks shrouded in cloud, sculpted limestone outcrops fringed in lush bush, cartoon coral cays with dazzling sand and a handful of leaning coconut palms, the seething white lines of distant reefs, all of it in jewel-bright colours.

Cruising round these islands really is a feast for all the senses and, best of all, even though I lapped up every bit of it, I was able to leave the sheets on the bed where they belonged.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fiji Airways flies daily from Auckland to Fiji.

Cruising: See Captain Cook Cruises.

Pamela Wade was a guest of Captain Cook Cruises.

- NZ Herald

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