“ Type: Sailing day trips around the lagoons of the Mamanuca Islands / Contact: Port Denarau, Nadi, Fiji / Tel: +67 9 675 0500 „
Mamanuca Islands on the Sea Spray
We really wanted to have a chance to explore some of the other smaller Fijian Islands and there were a number of different options, some cruises just sailed passed the islands while some called in briefly. We opted for the Sea Spray tour as that offered a stop on two of the islands.This 83 foot two masted sailing schooner Seaspray (of the famous television programme - Australian I believe) is operated by South Sea Cruises and you spend a day exploring the crystal clear waters, beautiful beaches of the Mamanuca Islands with all food and drink included.
.We paid $185 per person about £62)which included a transfer from our hotel on Denarau to the port of Denarau which wasn't that far but further than you would want to walk and it cost $6.50 Fijian on the shuttle bus to get there.
Once we arrived at the port there appeared to be organised chaos as people were queuing to check in to various transfers. We were booked on the 9am departure on the high speed catamaran Tiger IV to Mana island. This catamaran called at South sea Island resort, Bounty Island resort and Beachcomber Island which was also a resort. Some people had booked for a day outing to these islands whilst others had booked to stay on these resorts. Depending on where you were disembarking the catamaran you were given a different coloured arm band. This band also had the name of your departure point and the announcement on the catamaran gave the name of the island and the colour of the armband that you should be wearing if getting off at that point.
Mana Island also had a resort and was a possible day visit destination. When we arrived at Mana we were met by the tender boat which belonged to the Sea Spray and after it had made three journeys we had our full quota of 44 plus we picked up 6 more from another island on our way.
Once we were all aboard we were welcomed with a glass of champagne or in my husband's case a can of beer. They then came around with a huge tray of fruit prepared ready to eat. On our way to our first island stop the crew sang us songs with a guitar and a tiny guitar playing banjo style, the percussion was clapping or plastic bottle on the deck. It was really lovely and they sang in harmony local songs or other songs with a local take.
The Sea spray's first stop was Monuriki Island which was where they filmed 'Castaway' with Tom Hanks. It took about 45 minutes of sailing to get to the island where we anchored off shore. Some braver people jumped or dived in off the boat but it was quite a long drop so I chickened out and my husband gallantly agreed to come ashore in the tender with me. Snorkels, masks and fins were provided. You had to sign for them and then sign them back in with the threat of a charge should you lose them.
We didn't bother with the fins but snorkelled for about 45 minutes alongside the island which had a small coral outcrop around it. The coral was amazing and the fish ranged from quite large to tiny and very colourful. You had to be careful getting out of the sea as the coral went quite close to the island shore so you could easily scrape your knees or bang your toes. What was amazing was that although there were fifty of us on the boat once we were snorkelling it was as though we were by ourselves and it was so quiet.
After we had had our fill of snorkelling we got out onto the island itself. There really wasn't much there at all, a golden sandy beach with a rocky point at either end. The island came out of the sea like a small volcano with a hill in the middle and quite a few trees, palm trees and other which gave a decent amount of shade while we waited for our lunch to be prepared by the crew on sea Spray.
A loud siren told us they were ready with our lunch and then they came to collect us in the tender or you could swim back to the boat as it was not that far. I was surprised that quite a few people came on the trip and did not go in the sea at all except for getting their feet wet as you got out of the tender onto the beach.
Lunch was set out on the boat with bread rolls, salads and barbequed fish, chicken skewers and sausages followed by fresh fruit. We were offered drinks from wine through to beer and a variety of soft drinks including bottled water. It was a really good lunch and once everyone was aboard and had their lunch the boat set sail for our next island stop.
This island was not deserted, it had a village of about 650 people and there was also a boarding school where the pupils were weekly boarders. Unfortunately this island was quite badly hit by a hurricane last year and the damage was still evident. They also only have one very small spring and apart from that they have no water supply except from collected rain water in tanks. So far this year they have had virtually no rain for about 5 months so they are struggling a fair bit. The villagers grow their own crops and catch fish so are pretty self- sufficient in many ways.
As we arrived on Yanuwa Island we came in the tender on to the beach and waited in an open hut with coconut leaf roof. Once everyone was off Sea Spray our guide from the boat explained that we were taking a gift of a packet of Kava. This is a drink made from an infusion of a ground root in water. This is a ceremonial drink which is shared to welcome people to the village in a special ceremony in the village hall. It is always accepted that visitors bring a gift when visiting a village and it is usually kava.
We all went into the hall having taken off our shoes. Women have to have their shoulders covered and they should wear a sarong or have their knees covered. Women are not supposed to sit cross legged, we had to sit knees together with or feet tucked beside us. Two people were chosen to do the kava ceremony. The officials from the village had the kava made in a special bowl which stood on little feet. The kava is served in coconut cups and the drink has to be drunk in one go.
There were a few speeches welcoming us then the two volunteers had to be offered the drink, they had to say 'BULA' and clap once then when they finished they had to say 'THANK YOU' and clap three times. We then all clapped three times too. This is done for each person being welcomed but in our case two people went through the ceremony but if anyone else wanted to try the drink then they too had to do the ritual. I decided as my tum can be a bit dodgy that I would not try it in a village that had a dubious water supply. My husband who is always game to try anything had some but couldn't really describe the taste other than it tasted earthy. It looked like muddy water. We did buy a few packets so I will try it once we have a clean water supply and we will share it with our children so they can have a try too.
We were then walked through the village and invited to take photos before being invited to visit their shopping stalls. There were mainly shell and mother of pearl necklaces and bracelets varying in price from $5 to $20. There was absolutely no pressure to buy but most people bought something.
After this island visit we returned to the Sea Spray. By this time the wind had built up and getting back on board was quite a challenge as the boat and the tender leapt about on the waves. Once everyone was back on board all the land lubbers stayed firmly seated as we sailed back to Mana Island. I ventured down below to use the toilet while the boat was till anchored and even that was a challenge but there was no way I would have made it once we were sailing. The crew were much better at getting around and kept offering to get people drinks and brought around some cakes as well.
On the return journey we were once again entertained by the crew singing to us. It could have been really corny but was really lovely and very soporific being lulled by the music and the waves. Fortunately they did not start asking us to join in as I find audience participation cringe worthy and highly embarrassing. It was lovely just sitting being rocked by the waves and listening to their beautiful voices harmonising so effortlessly and they were obviously just enjoying singing.
Timing was perfect and we arrived back at Mana Island with about ten minutes to spare before the Catamaran was due. Just before we got off the Sea Spray the crew sang a farewell song then each one of them came and shook our hands and thanked us for coming with them on the Sea Spray. There was a box for tips and even though they say it is not necessary to tip in Fiji we did put some in the box as they had made the day so very pleasant for us.
We were taken by tender on to the beach and then we were able to use the toilets and changing rooms on the resort before going back to the quay to board the catamaran back to Port Denarau via the same small islands we passed before to collect people who had spent the day at these resorts.
As we sailed back the sun was setting behind us and there was a slight breeze which we enjoyed while sitting on the outside deck. Once back in the Port we disembarked and found the correct bus to return us to our hotel. That was the biggest challenge of the day as there were about six buses with no signs to indicate where they were going so you had to ask the drivers.
The bus returned us to the front of our hotel and we retired to our room to shower and sit on the balcony to think back on the really lovely experience we had enjoyed sailing through the Mamanuca islands and stopping on the deserted Monuriki Island to snorkel, a wonderful lunch and then visiting the village on Yanuwa Island. It was a great day, well organised so timed to perfection with all inclusive drinks and plenty of delicious food. I would thoroughly recommend this day trip, it is quite tiring and you have to be able to cope with getting on and off boats that are bobbing around but the people working on Sea Spray were delightful, so friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and interesting.
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