Rugged, remote and more dramatic than the sugardrop islands of the Mamanucas, the mighty Yasawas were once off-limits to all but those determined to play out their Robinson Crusoe fantasies. Today, ferries, cruise ships and seaplanes make daily deposits of sun-and-fun-seekers keen to explore both its looming landscapes and eminently diveable depths.
The chain is composed of 20 or so sparsely populated and surprisingly barren islands. There are no roads, cars, banks or shops, and most of the locals live in small remote villages, surviving on agriculture and tourism for their livelihoods. Most resorts help make the tourist dollar go further by buying local crops or fish, supporting village schools or sponsoring older kids to get further education on the mainland.
While the majority of the Yasawas’ beaches are uniformly divine, the quality of accommodation deviates dramatically: a bure could be anything from a hut that you could blow down with a hair dryer to an upmarket villa with an outdoor shower. The variety of digs on offer – nightly stays range from $40 all the way up to $4000 – now attracts families and well-heeled couples to what was once the sole stomping ground of backpackers. Whatever the budget, it doesn’t take long for guests to fall into ‘Fiji time’, where two snorkels and a bash on the volleyball court constitutes a busy day at the beach.
Apart from ubiquitous island pastimes – book reading, hammock snoozing, cocktail sipping – the must-dos of the Yasawas include swimming with manta rays (in season) and a jaunt out to the mysterious Sawa-i-Lau caves.
The Yasawas are mostly hilly; four of the larger islands have summits close to 600m above sea level. While the relatively dry climate is a plus for visitors, the land is prone to drought. During such times, the need to conserve water is a priority, and you may be asked to take fewer and shorter showers.