Islands in the Sun
Mushy romantic has never been my style, but I admit it: I felt rather goo-goo. There we were, our first night aboard Tui Tai, a 140-foot schooner packed with mountain bikes, kayaks and scuba gear, sitting under the stars in a quiet cove off the coast of Fiji. The ship rocked gently in the purple water, its three masts swaying through the night in broad, lazy strokes. Ten of us sat at a long wooden table on the deck under a dozen lanterns.
I looked at my then-girlfriend (now my wife), Heidi, who could not have beamed any brighter. Cruising around remote Fijian isles, exploring rainforests thick with prehistoric plants, diving unknown reefs with unknown fish, kayaking to lonely beaches, mountain biking past villagers flashing smiles so big you can see every tooth: this trip had been my idea, after all. And now it was proving to be better than we both imagined. Heidi looked back and I could read her mind as clear as the stars reflected in the water below. Tim, she thought. You are so hot.
True, but the thing you should know about Fiji isn’t that it’s over-the-top romantic, which it is, but that there are few better ways to play here than by sailing on a boat. Fiji, like many of her songs, is all about the sea. The country has more than 330 islands and enough coastline to stretch from New York to San Francisco. The reefs are among the largest and most diverse in the world—390 types of coral, 1,200 varieties of fish, endangered giant clams. You can visit villages where tourists don't go.
The problem with many multiday boat trips here is that they’re either backpacker-type cruises with rowdy crowds, or diving live-aboards. A trip on Tui Tai offers the best of both. If you want, you can dive as much as your body can handle, but you also get moonlight swims, new harbors every day, and off-boat get-your-sweat-on adventure.
Each trip is different, depending on the seas, but ours started from Buca Bay on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Over the next four days, I logged five dives on world-class sites like the White Wall, where leafy white corals feed in the currents 90 feet down. We also dropped in on a reef off Kioa that has seen fewer people than the moon: on a “first descent,” we named Tim’s Terrace after our dive master. We got massages, kayaked to a white-sand beach for a hike under papaya trees, jumped off the boat for swims, and lazed under the sails lost in paperbacks. At Bouma National Park on Taveuni, “the garden island,” we jumped off cliffs and waterfalls into cool jungle pools fringed with ginger and cassava plants.
But just being on the ship is fun, too. Tui Tai has four staterooms and eight cabins with room for about 20 guests and 16 crew. It’s the kind of ship that turns heads: a gorgeous black and tan three-deck vessel with three 60-foot masts that fly bright orange sails. We booked the oversea veranda suite on deck three, a private 300-square-foot room with its own enclosed veranda, a shower with pebble floors and a queen bed. Down below you’ll find fish books, stacks of mountain bikes, snorkel gear and a bar, where a cold stubby of Fiji Bitter goes down smooth. The ship’s flamboyant chef stuffed us with grilled fish, Asian noodles and frittatas served outside on the deck.
Despite the back-to-back adventures, that first night would remain the highlight. I spotted a beach glowing orange in the sunset and the crew arranged to ferry Heidi and me there, alone, after dinner. Armed with a basket of wine, two glasses, and a radio to call for pickup, we sat on that beach gazing up at unfamiliar stars framed in the fronds. The crew’s songs drifted by like a sweet breeze over the waves. On a trip like that, it’s OK to get a little sappy.
A classic, five-night expedition starts from $2,567 per person, based on double occupancy. Fly into Savusavu (SVU) or Taveuini (TVU) via Air Pacific, depending on your trip. Tui Tai Adventures provides round-trip airport shuttle.