It used to be that backpacking trips to Fiji involved a bus ride from Nadi to Suva, then a ferry to somewhere like Ovalau, Savusavu, Taveuni or Kadavu.
These days young budget travelers are lining up to go to the Yasawa Islands, a chain of 16 large volcanic islands (Hawaii resorts for volcanic islands) and dozens of smaller ones roughly 35 km off the west coast of Viti Levu.
The dazzling white beaches, clear warm waters, colorful coral reefs, and sunny dry climate make the Yasawa Group an ideal tourist destination, but until recently a visit involved a rough sea voyage from Lautoka in an unsafe village boat—or an expensive seaplane flight from Nadi.
Blue Lagoon Cruises has been plying the Yasawas since the 1950s, but passengers aboard those upscale vessels sleep in staterooms and local residents receive few benefits from their presence.
Until the 1987 Rabuka coups in Suva, it was the policy of the Fiji government that the Yasawas were closed to land-based tourism.
The long years of military-backed government brought few changes to the Yasawas, although Australian investors were allowed to construct the deluxe Yasawa Island Resort (www.yasawa.com) in 1991 and a couple of village-operated backpacker camps sprang up on Wayasewa and Waya.
Since the early 1980s, local families have operated three small low-budget resorts on Tavewa Island, thanks largely to Tavewa’s status as a freehold island beyond the authority of the Fijian chiefs.
For decades local church leaders have portrayed tourism as a corrupting outside influence to be kept at arms length from village life.
It would be hard to imagine anything more removed from real Fijian life than Turtle Island Resort on Nanuya Levu Island, Fiji’s ultimate hideaway for the US$1,500-a-night crowd.