Posted by: Tommy | September 13, 2011

Caqalai by Guest Blogger Sarah Halloran

Day one in Fiji was fun: hiking, rainforest, rope swings with locals. But the second day was what I was waiting for: small almost deserted island, white sand beaches, crystal clear water. We took a taxi from the rainforest to the pier where the people from Caqalai were going to pick us up for a 30 minute boat ride to the island.

The “pier” was an abandoned wood structure along a river and a cement slab with a powerboat (with no seats) pulled up to it. Ok. We waited about 15mins and another taxi came by with a few Fijians from Caqalai from a shopping trip.  As we boarded the boat, Ben, our driver, began pulling on deep sea fisherman waterproof gear and commenting “it is going to be rough in the open ocean”. Okkk.

The first 10mins of the ride were lovely, on a calm river going by locals in wooden boats. Then we hit the ocean: about 25mins of getting soaked and banging our backs against the side of the boat as we went through the waves. Through my growing migraine, I kept thinking “what did I get myself into?” and “should I take 3 advil or 4 when we get there?”

Luckily the migraine went away as soon as I saw our little paradise. We were greeted by the villagers singing and playing their guitars.

Caqalai consists of the island “resort” and that is it. The 3 of us were very kindly put in the 4 person dorm which was then marked as private. Our first order of business was to walk around the island, which was supposed to only take 20mins. We were accompanied by Cy and Reena, the Caqalai dogs, who acted as our guides. The walk took us exactly 29mins, taking in the beautiful beach, perfectly turquoise ocean, and teasing the hermit crabs. We quickly realized our 2 planned nights were not enough. We ditched our plans for Levuka (about the only culture and history part of the trip for me) and stayed 4 nights.

The view that convinced us to stay...even better when the sun is out in full force.

The schedule for every day was the same: breakfast at 7:30am, lunch at 1pm, tea and cards at 4pm, and dinner at 7:30pm. Every dinner was accompanied by the Fijians signing both local and American songs. I am a beach lover and very good at doing nothing. Caqalai was perfect for me.  Our most strenuous beach activities were sand castle building and coconut bocce. I have never seen water so clear. The first time I went under I was startled by the fact it was salt water, which mentally I knew but I connect with the churned Atlantic. There was a hammock and 2 chairs on the beach which we claimed as ours for our stay, the perfect set-up for sunbathing, reading, and playing cards on the beach. Our first full day we did little more than lounge on the beach.

Tommy, lounging the day away under a palm tree.

Day two was probably our most exciting in Caqalai, but not in a good way. Off the back side of Caqalai is tiny Snake Island which you can walk to during low tide and snorkel back. Low tide was first thing in the morning so we set off right after breakfast. In hindsight, this was never a
good idea. The walk out to Snake Island was through rocks and live coral. We had missed true low tide so everything was covered in a few inches of water.  It was a tricky walk and after 25 minutes Tommy and I were a bit ahead of Anna when we heard her slip. After a few beats she
started crying out in pain. Tommy rushed back and quickly realized she had stumbled into a Crown of Thorns, a poisonous starfish that looks exactly like its name.  She had stepped on a rock to go around the menace but it shifted and slipped her into it.

We got back to Caqalai as quickly as possible and got Levi, who is essentially the “concierge” of the island. Apparently the Fijian way of dealing with a Crown of Thorns is to flip it over and use the suckers on the bottom side to suck the poison out. (How did we not know?) Levi and Tommy spent some time looking for any spines still in Anna’s feet but there didn’t appear to be any.  Anna was nauseous that day (from the poison ) and in a lot of pain for the rest of my trip. She did get validation, however, from every Fijian we told about her injury; all made an awful face and said, “Those hurt SO MUCH.”

After lunch on day two, with Anna resting in the hammock, Tommy and I went snorkeling. Tommy was a good teacher and I LOVED it. It is amazing to me how much beautiful life there is in the ocean right off the beach. Apparently they are common but Parrot Fish are amazingly colorful, and I never got over seeing them. We also saw quite a few Trigger Fish, Anna and Tommy’s nemesis. We went snorkeling 3 different times in Caqalai, one time
practically getting trapped in a maze of (awesome) coral at low tide.  The water was so clear the visibility was like being on dry ground. I am probably screwed for anywhere else I try to snorkel, having learned in Fiji.

I also learned that I do like coconut, which I always thought I hated. Turns out I only hate dried coconut (think a Mounds bar). One day before lunch we speared coconuts, which is exactly what it sounds like: stand back with a wooden spear and throw at coconuts on the ground. You spear one, you win it. I didn’t win but luckily the Fijians share. Fresh coconut meat is actually quite tasty and filling, sweet and crunchy. Coconut milk is refreshing and tastes a little bit carbonated (and goes great with rum). It was also a lot of fun to watch Levi open the coconuts. He would literally chop at them in his hand with a machete. It was not nearly as easy as Levi made it look, as Tommy learned when he tried.

Loving my first green coconut!

After long days in the sun, each night we were treated to a bonfire and/or Kava ceremony by the Fijians. The bonfires were on a point on the island and, if you blocked the fire out with your hands, it felt like you could see every star in the sky from Caqalai. It was so peaceful to be sitting on the beach with the fire going and Fijians singing and dancing. If it was a Kava night, we would sit on straw mats and take turns drinking the slightly narcotic drink, prepped in a large wooden bowl by Levi. Kava makes your mouth go numb, in (for me) a not unpleasant way. Again, lots of signing and dancing with the Fijians. Both were perfect ends to the perfect days on a practically deserted island.

Caqalai was fantastic (other than Anna’s injury). The island was the perfect introduction to Fiji. The people are extremely , extremely nice. The beach was as white as the pictures you get when you google Fiji. The water was perfectly clear and blue, framed by mountains on the much larger island next door. And Caqalai was a bit off the beaten track, away from tons of
tourists and backpackers. While it was a resort run for holiday makers, it had an authentic feel, being all run by Fijians from a village on a small neighboring island. When we finally left, I had a pang in my stomach; shouldn’t we just stay here where we know it is awesome? I could be content on the Caqalai beach with a few good books for days on end. It was the perfect place to start my Fiji adventure!


  1. Poor Anna and her injuries. At least they are near the end of the trip. Caqalai sounds so lovely as do the people.

  2. Oh my, how peaceful and relaxing your time must have been (except for Anna’s injury).

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