Travel News

All aboard the Tui Tai

Written By : MARGARET PINCUS. WE are a motley crew, four sets of parents, eight teenagers and five younger children bumping along in a convoy of dilapidated taxis and vans.
05 Jun 2010 12:00

image Written By : MARGARET PINCUS. WE are a motley crew, four sets of parents, eight teenagers and five younger children bumping along in a convoy of dilapidated taxis and vans.
The humidity sticks us to vinyl seats as we chug through lush jungle valleys, past pretty villages and whitewashed churches shrouded in an ethereal mist.
Speakers blare tinny Bollywood music and we press our faces to the grimy windows. We are heading across Vanua Levu, the northern island of Fiji, towards Natewa Bay where our luxury adventure boat, the Tui Tai, awaits.
We have chartered it with three other families and the itinerary looks like a dream. For the next seven days we’ll be sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, mountain biking and hiking our way through some of the most inaccessible and idyllic islands in the Fijian chain.
It is not a cheap holiday, although travelling with a family of six is inevitably expensive. We justify it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience but we worry about inflicting our four cantankerous teenage children on a captive boatload of friends.
When we arrive at Natewa Bay, local children present us with delicate hibiscus necklaces while our luggage is whisked away; soon we are flying though the water in a huge tender boat.
We hear the crew singing before we reach the Tui Tai, welcoming us with a traditional Fijian song. It is strange to think that in only seven days the children will shed tears at leaving their new-found kingdom on the sea. This is where our adventure really begins.
Six o’clock and the day dawns soft and sultry, stirring childhood memories of the infinite potential for adventure that arrives with every warm daybreak. The Tui Tai moves each night, so every morning you open your cabin door to a new world.
It is quiet on the boat. The children are asleep and the crew is placidly starting the business of the day. In the distance, Rabi Island is serene and veiled in white mist so the lush mountain peaks disappear in the sky.
Every day begins with custom-designed Mana yoga (a yoga-Pilates fusion) on deck. One morning the skies open and we continue the class in warm plopping rain.
Breakfast is then served, platters of tropical fruit and omelets freshly cooked by the chefs on deck. The food is a highlight, featuring the freshest local ingredients. Days are free to explore and we return from our escapades weary but ready to dine on lobster and champagne under the stars.
With 18 crew dedicated to 21 passengers, we are well looked after. When we hike, food and chilled drinks appear on schedule, mountain bikes and kayaks materialise in the remotest locations and disappear where we leave. It is the ultimate indulgence not to have to worry about anything.
The days are packed and sometimes I find myself gazing longingly at my pile of books and the oversized daybeds. I could stay and relax for the day but the adventures on offer are just too good to miss. We hike through rainforest where lush foliage forms a shady pathway and the earthy aroma of decomposition and hibiscus permeates the air.
We tramp up a tree-rooted staircase and stroll along deserted beaches. We swim up rivers to thunderous waterfalls, and slide down them into lagoons.
We explore sunken volcanic craters by kayaks and fly along the coast on mountain bikes, greeting curious villagers with the mandatory Bula! We scuba and snorkel on some of the best-regarded and least-known reefs in the world.
After the chefs produce a gourmet lunch the massage table is set up in a private jungle alcove where the rumble of the waterfall and the call of the long-legged warbler in the distance lull us into a state of perfect relaxation.
Then there is a surreal situation. It’s late one evening in a remote village. The tropical rain beating on a tin roof is no competition for the drums and glorious harmonies sung with pride, enthusiasm and no little talent by the villagers. The young men are, to say the least, athletic, and perform an impressive war dance.
We meet the regional chief and dignitaries and are invited to join the villagers in dancing. You’d think the only thing more mortifying for teenagers than traditional dancing would be joining your parents in traditional dancing.
But here we are, in a remote village, on a faraway island, and everyone dances and laughs so much our chests hurt.
Not many tourists make it to these parts so the locals are curious about us, too. We are asked to introduce ourselves while they listen.
And that’s the thing about somewhere such as the outer islands of northern Fiji. The Fijians we meet seem so genuinely happy that Western anxieties start seeming a little peculiar.
I reread Paul Theroux’s jaundiced account of Fiji in The Happy Isles of Oceania before we left, so it took me a while to see how wrong he was as he made slow, ill-tempered progress in his collapsible kayak. Shame he never made it to the north.
Cultural exchange is one of our favourite parts of this adventure. Tui Tai calls its unique blend of philanthropic travel “contributionism”. Its charitable fund assists the far-flung communities we visit to deliver medicine to the hospital and present much-needed stationery and books to schools.
Instead of parading through a village like curious tourists we feel involved. The residents appreciate the support and welcome us like new friends.
Humanitarian work happens every week and passengers with a particular trade or skill are encouraged to contribute.
We are particularly encouraged to donate books because the villagers are keen readers but have no access to libraries.
Much to the delight of the surfers on board, the crew knows all the newly discovered surf breaks around remote islands and atolls: sunshine, glassy waves, secret breaks … epic.
We all … end up loving this holiday and the camaraderie of our adventures. By the time it comes to leave, the crew have become our good friends. So have our children.
Tui Tai expeditions cater for a maximum of 22 passengers and depart weekly on seven-night cruises (Monday to Monday); five-night cruises are also available (Monday to Saturday or Wednesday to Monday, as part of the seven-night itinerary).
Packages partnered with resort accommodation and private charters also available. More:
Pacific Sun flies to Savusavu and Labasa daily from Suva and Nadi.

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