I can't think of a more enjoyable day trip to take in Fiji (or more value for money either), than the Whales Tale island day cruise. For fj$209 per person, we decided to try it out. We returned back to our resort tired, slightly sunburned, but filled with a sense of contentment. A fantastic day out, and we would have been happy to pay more for the experience.
The day began with a pickup from our resort at around 7.00am. Times will vary according to your pickup point...the further you are from the Denarau marina, the earlier you get collected. You will be advised when you book the tour as to collection times. After an hour and a half in the minivan, we arrived at Denarau and boarded the schooner. We were staying down the Coral Coast.
The Whales Tale is a 100 foot, two mast sailing schooner...something you don't get to travel in every day. The maximum persons per trip is (I believe) around 40, though it's unlikely that you will have that many on any given day. 20-30 people is probably average, which is plenty of room for everyone.
Once we boarded, we had breakfast. A good selection of fruits and scones, along with a tea or coffee, and juice or Champagne! We were given a thorough safety briefing after breakfast, and then began our slow motor out of the marina area.
Once out on the open ocean, if the winds are right, they will hoist the sails (we were lucky on the day we went, as the sails went up). Sit back and enjoy the experience! Every time your glass is empty, a crew member is there to ask if you want a refill. Oh yes, all you can drink, for the entire day. Beers, wines, spirits, you will never have an empty glass.
You thread you way through the Mamanucas on your way to Schooner island. The crew will point out the islands as you pass them, and if you ask nicely enough, they will let you steer the boat.
After an hour or two of sailing, you get to Schooner Island. Anchoring 200m offshore, the boys in residence on the island will come and collect you using a small tender. It will take a few trip to get everyone over...and now the fun begins!
I don't suppose any Fijian tourism operation would be complete without a Kava ceremony. And that's what we did shortly after arriving. For those new to the ceremony, it's great. For someone that has seen it all before, perhaps not so much fun. And of course, you get the watered down tourist version of the drink.
For me, this is one of the highlights of the trip. The island is not surrounded by an enclosed lagoon, such as you find along the coral coast. So if you don't feel confident in open water, perhaps this is not for you. But your guides are strong swimmers and accompany you out to the reef. For those that feel more secure with a life jacket, those are provided.
Don't swim, or perhaps feel uncomfortable when you are out of your depth? No problem, the tender boat is glass bottomed, and they run this out to the reef, so you get a great view of what's down there! A great way to see the marine life if you aren't much of a swimmer/diver.
There was a fantastic lunch provided. All sorts of hot meats, chicken, traditional Fijian vegetables such as Taro, Cassava, etc. As much as you can eat, all washed down with cold drinks (or in my case, a Fiji Gold beer). Beautiful!
After lunch, you can do whatever you like. The island is free to roam (takes all of 5 minutes to walk around it), and you can use the snorkelling gear, sea kayaks, or just have a game of volleyball on the beach. I found after a big meal, I was happy just to take a paddle, and then snooze in the sun, soaking up the atmosphere.
About 3.30pm, we went back to the schooner, for the sail back to Denarau. Actually, as there were now high winds and large waves, we motored, not sailed. Some of the passengers enjoyed themselves right at the front on the bowsprit. Each time the ship dipped into the waves, they would get covered in spray. Looked like they were having fun, but I'm not sure it was really my thing. I preferred to sit at the back with a drink, and just relax after a tiring day. One of the crew had his guitar, and played for us...a lovely voice and a great way to end the cruise.
The drinks kept flowing the whole way back, and more than one passenger was a little worse for wear by the time we docked. We were dropped back at our resort at around 7.30pm. 12 hours of fantastic fun, and well worth the cost.
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