Adventure Sail around Vanua Levu
|House on the Pacific: The orange-sail beauty that is the Tui Tai (courtesy, Tui Tai Adventure Cruises)|
Admit it: From time to time the thought of being a castaway on a remote South Pacific island doesn't sound so bad, especially if you could take a mountain bike, a kayak, scuba and snorkel gear; have a bamboo-frame bed to crash in at night; a cook to make you tangy shrimp with lime; and a barmaid to keep your hands stuffed with an endless supply of cold beer. And what if instead of being actually marooned on one island with all your toys, a three-mast schooner with bright-orange sails ferries you between islands festooned with tropical corals. You could stop at villages, inaccessible by anything other than a boat, where people come to greet you with song and dance. Or you could hop a ride to places infested with bizarre red flowers and braided with jungle trails winding past waterfalls that rain into cool mountain pools. Heck, you wouldn't really be marooned at all, but the beaches would still sport only your footprints.
Such is the life aboard the Tui Tai, a 140-foot three-deck boat that sets sail weekly from Fiji's second-largest island, Vanua Levu. Billed as an adventure cruise, the Tui Tai is hands down the coolest thing you can do while in Fiji. Why? The boat holds about 25 guests and 16 crew and comes fully loaded with a dozen open-deck sea kayaks; scores of Kona mountain bikes, dive tanks and scuba gear; and has only one purpose: to make sure you go to sleep each night swearing you just spent the best day of your life. To do that, the captain and crew chart a five-day, four-night course that leaves the laid-back home port of Savusavu in the south of the island and heads out to islands where you can bike, hike, dive, or just wander along the beach. Each night you'll eat on the upper deck under the stars, watching the masts sway across the sky, or go for swims, jumping off the boat into moonlit waves. And once the days pass in a blur of joyous activity, you'll return to Savusavu, ready to do it all again.
Highlights on my trip included diving world-class sites like the White Wall in Somosomo Strait, a heavenly stretched of water between Vanua Levu and Taveuni fully responsible for Fiji's oft-proclaimed status as the soft coral capital of the world, and dropping in on a reef that had never been visited by divers before. We biked to Bouma National Park on Taveuni, Fiji's "Garden Island," and then hiked up to waterfalls and dove off into freshwater pools. Once, the crew gladly ferried my girlfriend and I over to a deserted island armed with a bottle of wine and blankets. We stopped at a couple of villages where the locals plied us with kavaa spicy ceremonial drink that's mildly euphoricand had us dancing until the moon came up. The dolphins playing in the ship's wake would have been a highlight, too, except that we'd just swum with a ten-foot-wide ray. Yes, you'll get spoiled.
The ship is currently upgrading its berths to offer more private rooms, but you can book one cabin with a king bed, a private shower, and air-conditioning. The other accommodations are dorm-style bunks, but considering you'll likely be too tired at the end of the day to care for better digs, they're a viable option. Either way, plan on spending at least one night on the deck under the stars to catch the sunrise as it comes up over a new island each morning. Though fluctuating storms and seasons dictate the exact itinerary for each trip, rest assured that each day will end with the same thought: There's no way tomorrow could be any better. But of course, you'll be wrong.
A five-day, four-night trip on Tui Tai Adventure Cruises (877-682-5433; www.tuitai.com) runs around $U.S. 600 per person for a bunk to $1,600 per person for the luxury cabin, including all meals and activities except diving, which costs $379 per person for up to eight dives including all gear. Prices do not include a one-time fuel surcharge of around $55.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication