This down-to-earth cruise offers a taste of Fiji’s untouristed isles

A four-night, soft-expedition cruise around the Northern Yasawa islands onboard Captain Cook Cruises Fiji’s’ newly acquired MS Caledonian Sky offers an idyllic short break

As I discovered last month, a pre-Christmas escape to Fiji is just the thing to get you relaxed and ready for the festive season. And what could be a more idyllic preamble to a fabulous four-day cruise than a stay at the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa.

One night at this glorious resort on Fiji’s Coral Coast, just under an hour’s drive from Nadi airport, provided a taster of what you could expect from a longer stay – which I would highly recommend. Our small group is welcomed by tribal drummers in the vast foyer that offers tantalising glimpses of the ocean beyond, before we’re whisked off in electric buggies to watch a thrilling fire dance performance.

A late supper at the Club InterContinental showcases an array of exquisite dishes artfully created from the best local produce, and the following morning we take a whistlestop tour of the main beachfront and poolside dining venues, the award-winning spa and a variety of suites. Even the smallest suites, at 60 sqm, are huge, and all feature an outdoor Cleopatra bath.

The sophisticated resort, spread over 14 hectares of tropical gardens, appeals to everyone from golfers to experienced and novice divers, spa aficionados and anyone looking for a luxurious break. Accommodation, pools and activities are cleverly zoned to suit both family groups and child-free adults.

On board MS Caledonian Sky

There’s much more to explore, but we have a ship to board. At Port of Lautoka, the crew of MS Caledonian Sky greet us with ‘bulas’, beaming smiles and refreshing cold drinks.

After checking in to our spacious balcony suites on the Promenade Deck we gather in the Caledonian Lounge to meet the Fijian expedition team for our first briefing. The 114-guest ship carries 10 zodiacs, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks – some with glass bottom – and snorkelling gear. Guests can take PADI certified dive classes with two onboard instructors and experienced divers can pre-book up to four dives on a three-night cruise, six on a four-night cruise and 10 on a seven-night cruise.

A leisurely afternoon on Captain Cook Cruises Fiji’s private island, Tivua, is a wonderful introduction to the next few laidback days. Guests can join marine biologists for the ‘Buy a Coral, Build a Reef’ program and plant a coral frag – marine conservation and education has always been a high priority for the company. On select itineraries throughout 2024, distinguished scientists will join the ship to share their knowledge of marine biology and reef conservation, onboard and in the clear waters surrounding the beautiful, reef-fringed islands of the Yasawa, Mamanuca and Southern Lau groups.

Snorkelling every day in a totally untouristed area is my idea of bliss, whether from a beach or further offshore – the expedition crew keep a careful eye on you from zodiacs. Beach and water activities are interspersed with visits to villages, so remember to bring Fijian dollars with you to buy handmade tapas, baskets, wooden carvings and shell jewellery. And if you’re visiting a school, gifts of writing materials, children’s books and anything related to rugby or netball are much appreciated.

We met the headmaster and a handful of students (it was during school holidays) at Yaqeta village school and gleaned some insights about everyday life in these remote areas. The headmaster spoke about how MS Caledonian Sky ’s guests bring the world to the students, who ended the school walkaround with a round of beautifully harmonised songs.

On another occasion, a traditional lovo feast (cooked in an earth firepit) was prepared for us at Matacawalevu village on the island of the same name, followed by a powerful song and dance celebration (meke) performed by the villagers.

CCC Fiji has been operating cruises in the region for 27 years and both the company and the ship’s crew have long-standing relationships with local chiefs and communities. MS Caledonian Sky’s resident musician, Manasa, for example, carries out the traditional sevusevu ceremony at every community the ship visits, bringing kava to the chief and asking permission for guests to enter the village.

Indeed, the fabulous all-singing, all-dancing Fijian crew add a very special element to the onboard ambience – there’s a lot of genuine warmth and laughter as well as a professional level of expedition expertise and hotel experience. Guests are encouraged to visit the bridge and Captain Peter Martin is an entertaining speaker who has a wealth of knowledge about all things maritime (and the entertainment industry – and Captain Matthew Flinders).

The ship has a rich history. She started life in 1991 as Renaissance VI, was renamed Hebridean Spirit when she sailed for Hebridean Cruises, spent a few years as the private vessel of a Saudi royal, and then as MS Caledonian Sky cruised for Noble Caledonia and APT before CCC Fiji chartered her last year.  As Captain Martin said, “She’s very easy to handle, has lovely lines and I love the fact that she’s in such good nick. She has been very well kept.”

Immaculately maintained wood panelling, gleaming brass railings and comfortable, if not flashy, public spaces make the ship supremely comfortable in a traditional, country-house style. CCC Fiji’s executive chair, Allison Haworth West, has added a collection of Fijian tapas and weavings created by some of the country’s most renowned artists to the décor, along with historic photographs and retro posters.

During the four-night cruise we enjoyed breakfast and lunches on the al fresco Lido Deck, dinner in the formal Main Restaurant and Lido Deck, and afternoon tea and 6pm cocktails and canapes in the Caledonian Lounge. Memorable dinner dishes included cream of rourou (taro leaf) soup, excellent beef and prawn curries and pan-seared mahi-mahi served with locally sourced coconut plantain, fiddlehead fern and salsas. Soft drinks, wine and beer with lunch and dinner are included in the fare.

Although I didn’t use the compact gym, I booked in for a facial in the spa. The one-hour treatment with the willowy Wilma expanded to nearly an hour and a half (that’s Fiji time for you) and the coconut and dilo oils she applied to my scalp, face and hands worked miracles that months of medicated treatments had failed to achieve. I left that room floating and best of all, there was no upselling of products – in fact I had to beg for information about them –that’s luxury in my book.

As is seeing no other ships or tourists for four days, which, when you’re on Fiji time, feels like much longer. As well as its regular three-, four- and seven-night cruises, CCC Fiji is offering 14-night voyages to Tonga and Samoa in August 2024 and March 2025.

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Fiji Airways’ direct flights from Sydney to Nadi take just under four hours, which makes a short cruise very do-able – no jetlag to contend with and the airline’s fleet includes the very comfortable new 334 seat Airbus A350-900. Fiji Airways also flies to Nadi from Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane.

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