A trip to Mana Island, part of the Mamanucas in Fiji, left a lasting mark on the author's sole - and her soul
I really wouldn't recommend jumping off a pier at night. The moon is the only light to pierce the infinite blackness and it's practically impossible to distinguish between sea and sky. It feels as though you are walking the plank and Long John Silver himself is coaxing you.
In reality though, it’s your fellow backpackers, not pirates, and their sword is the litre-sized bottle of steel-cold Fijian bitter. I'd also advise that if you do jump, choose the side of the pier with water, not boulders. The inward gasp of shock and disbelief from the bystanders meant my jump has crossed the line from funny to “oooh, that’s got to hurt”. Embarrassment coupled with the excruciating pain of the yellow fat of my foot breaking through the skin made the response of “I jumped off the wrong side” rather redundant.
The nearest hospital was on the mainland of Nadi, a 45-minute trip by local boat that wouldn’t appear until sunrise. Luckily my injuries were tended to by some lovely local Fijians who put salt and iodine into the wound and cauterised it using a lighter, until I was sitting comfortably back in my hammock.
Ratu Kini Resort was the location where I had disembarked from a small, motorised boat in the vast South Pacific Ocean. It’s not exactly an imposing five-star beacon set on the southern tip of the island and looks more like a shed on an impressive expanse of beach but it immediately ignites an inner Robinson Crusoe spirit. Of course there is the five-star version only a hop, skip and a jump away, over the right side of the pier. If it’s a real sense of Fijian culture you are after then where better to discover it than next door to the local school and village?
Locals sing a welcome song as you heave your body, laden with luggage, through the radiant glass-like waters to the shore and present garlands of flowers collected from the island. There are cries of Bula Vinaka (welcome), vocalised by the gracious hosts. It instantly feels like you’re with family on this tiny 300-acre island that you can stroll around in under three hours.
The accommodation is basic but impeccably clean, flowers are left on your bed everyday and the longer you stay the more perks you receive. Returning to your room to find the entire contents of your backpack has been washed and ironed is a luxury most travellers would swap their treasured iPod for.
The whole of Mana island operates on “Fiji time” meaning laid back. The only restriction with staying at Ratu Kini resort is that you have your meals prepared and served at the same time every day. With the lack of any restaurants or shops on the island not eating what you are given means you simply don’t eat. This only makes the “family” stronger, much like the old adage says, “a family that eats together stays together”.
Mana’s three stunning beaches make the Caribbean look like Blackpool in comparison; they are Sunrise, Sunset and Dream beach. All the usual water sports available including PADI-certified diving lessons, parasailing and jet-skiing. But to unleash your inner Robinson Crusoe, there are some more unusual lessons on offer around the island including spear fishing in the immense ocean armed only with a snorkel and a sharp stick, or for a more relaxing afternoon, try crafting a pair of earrings out of a coconut shell.
Evening entertainment is spent in the village with the locals who treat you to Kava, a ceremony involving drinking the juice of a root plant from the shell of a coconut. You clap three times when you receive the cup have a sip, say “Bula”, then clap once as you pass on the cup. If you can remember this ritual by the third passing you must be part Fijian. The effect of Kava is to send you into a giggling state of blissful happiness. Never a bad way to end an evening and without the next-day hangover as you wake up to another day in paradise.
Laughter is the most common language used on this unique and unsurpassable island. Although a tiny dot in the world its gigantic character and superhero community make it a must for any bona-fide traveller.
As I bid an emotional farewell to my newly-acquired friends even the memory of my damaged foot could not conceal the realisation that it’s not just the island boulders, but the people who kept a part of my soul.