Robinson Crusoe Island, Fiji: Remote Island Paradise or Overrated Tourist Trap?
After three long months of roughing it in Hawaii, I was headed for new adventures in New Zealand. It was time to regain my freedom to roam wherever the breeze swept me. I booked my flight through Air Pacific and to my surprise was given the great gift of a mandatory stopover in Fiji!
What an inconvenience . . .
So . . . I did what any sane person would do and extended my stopover as long as I could — two weeks in Fiji! Thank you Air Pacific for giving me exactly what I needed after slaving over compost and overgrown weeds and sleeping in a tent for longer than I find comfortable.
When I think of Fiji, my immediate thought is ‘island getaway’. With over 333 islands skirting the main island of Viti Levu in the South Pacific, I was eager to get myself off the main island and onto a smaller, more deserted one where I could relax, sunbathe and bask the days away.
I booked my flight only two weeks before departing and had limited access to internet and information to research a plan for my new-found vacation. Since I’m a bit (lot) of an organizational freak, not having some sort of plan just wouldn’t fly with me, so when I found somewhere that accommodated for backpackers, I booked it; a 4-day stay on Robinson Crusoe Island Resort after spending the first night in Nadi.
The name says it all — castaway, remote, tropical . . . I’ll take it!
A long bus ride from Nadi dropped us off on a patch of grass leading down to a rickety dock on a murky river. As our bus sped away, one-by-one we scrambled ourselves down to the river bank, eagerly awaiting our water taxi to the island.
A short boat ride later, we could see a small island in the distance with a group of Fijians swaying on the beach, clapping their hands, and welcoming us to the island with a Robinson Crusoe themed song. It was my first glimpse of a group of people who would prove to be funny, talented and ever-so-kind over the next few days.
I have mixed feelings about my stay on Robinson Crusoe. There were things that I really liked, and things that I didn’t like so much. I’ll go into more detail on the not-so-good, but first . . . the things I liked:
The whole gang at Robinson Crusoe are incredibly friendly, attentive, fun people. They hold a traditional kava ceremony every night that newcomers arrive and welcome you as an islander for the time that you are there.
They stay up late into the evening, hanging out with everyone on the island, singing songs, playing guitar, and giving you cup after cup of kava until your tongue goes so numb you’re worried it might have fallen off.
They have an impressive fire dancing show that all the staff participates in, which knocked the socks off the one I saw my first night in Nadi at Smuggler’s Cove. It went on for what felt like hours and they pulled acrobatic tricks only the most athletic and talented fire-dancers can get away with.
A few of the staff play on the Fiji National beach volleyball team and they’ll challenge you to a fun match of dodge-the-volleyball-flying-at-your-face. They also have kayaks you can take out at your leisure. It’s a great way to stay active on an otherwise small and action-less island.
Riko is the chief of daytime activities and island fun times. One afternoon he taught us how to make hula skirts out of palm fronds and we painted our faces as close to resembling primitive warriors as we knew how.
We then split into two teams and played a series of tribal Olympics consisting of an egg and spoon race, a three-legged race, a potato sack race (with a coconut in one hand), a kayak race and a tough game of tug o’ war. We topped it all off with a game of beach volleyball which secured my team’s fate of being locked in a cage made of sticks while the other team consumed victory cocktails. We accepted defeat as water was poured over the cage, soaking us from head to toe.
Finally, we were released so we could drink away our sorrows into the rest of the evening.
One day another islander named Tuks took over the island activities and led us into the trees, he said we were doing a craft project and that we had to find coconuts. The ‘medicine man’ climbed up a palm tree and hacked a bunch down for us to grab. He used a sharp-pointed stick to husk them and then hand-sawed each end off so we were left with the inner cylinder of a coconut. Afterwards we had to scrape out the meat with a knife and sand down the outside and inside until it was smooth and soft.
Only a few of us women had the patience to follow through, the sanding took hours to complete, but for those of us that did, they engraved a memo on the outside, dipped it in varnish (you’re not allowed to take raw produce out of the country) and we were left with a hand-made souvenir to don on our wrists.
On our last evening we were taken out for a booze cruise at sunset. We all piled on the small boat and drank beers as the staff played guitar and sang “the only man on the island” at the back of the boat.
We jumped into the ocean for a final swim as the setting sun flooded the water with hues of purple, orange and blue.
A few of us stayed up long into the night, laying on the beach, watching shooting star — after shooting star fall out of the sky, disappearing far into the atmosphere.
The hibiscus tree holding up the hammocks bloomed, filling our noses with the heavenly aroma of fresh flora. It was one of those moments . . .
The next morning we were whisked away in the small boat we arrived in, as the islanders serenaded us . . . clapping their hands and swaying to their song . . . just as when we arrived.
The island faded into the distance . . .
. . . it was a sombre goodbye to some lovely new friends.
Okay, so my trip wasn’t all flowers and sunshine . . . there were a few things that weren’t to my liking:
When I first got to the island I was slightly disappointed because I was imagining the bright azure waters and powder white sand that you see in their brochure and on their website. The water is not-so-blue and the sand is not-so-white. There was a forest of seaweed lining the ocean floor off the main beach which is okay . . . but I don’t like being fooled by Photoshop-savvy marketers.
The island lies very close to the river mouth so if the weather has been wet, the water is quite murky. When you walk around the island, the other side is a swamp so your swimming is restricted to the main beach area (which is quite small).
I stayed in the dorm room which is quite simple and sleeps at least 30 people. It was a quiet time when I went (early December) and there were only about 10 of us in there. The facilities are separate and this is an eco-friendly resort so the showers are bucket and pulley, and the sinks are water pumps.
They also have private bures and lodges. They both have private bathrooms but only the lodges get hot water.
I didn’t mind the accommodations, having been living in a tent, it was pretty good. If the dorm room was full I could see it being a little bit less enjoyable and the bathrooms quite dirty.
They host day tours a few times a week, referred to as the invaders. The crowd is more family friendly than the typical backpacker crowd that was staying on the island. Call me anti-social but my best memories from the island are when only the residents were there. The day-trippers were somewhat of a buzz-kill when you wanted to relax in the sun only to realize all the hammocks were occupied or the beach was the site for a new game they were playing.
I feel like such a grouch saying this but hey, I wanted to be stranded on a peaceful island — not go to Disneyland.
I joined in one day when the day-trippers were taken out for their snorkeling excursion. There really wasn’t much coral to see, it was quite grey and colourless — perhaps because the water was a bit rough, we weren’t able to reach the reef. I’ve seen much better snorkeling and wouldn’t recommend this location for primo coral viewing.
The food is included in the price and was usually sub-par. It was served buffet style, but portioned out by the spoonful, and sparse on the meat which some people complained about. They didn’t serve an abundance of fresh fruits either, which you think they would being a tropical country.
When day-trippers came to the island they would cook fish and chicken in the lovo (earth oven) which was delicious and the food was more plentiful. It wasn’t gourmet but it wasn’t terrible either.
Breakfast was simple, toast, fruit, etc.. They have strict eating hours and if you don’t get there on time the food might be gone by the time you arrive.
I wished I had brought snacks because they had minimal selection behind the bar (which you have to pay extra for) so if you get the late-night munchies, you’re buggered. You also need to pay for bottled water, there is no drinking water available.
The location is good if you’re short on time because it is so close to the mainland so transit doesn’t take a whole day. I think the amount of fun you can have here is very dependent on the type of people who are also staying on the island. I was lucky and had a group of backpackers from Estonia, Scotland, Germany, United States and Australia and we all got along swimmingly and had a good laugh.
My time there was thoroughly enjoyable and I’m happy I went, that being said I probably wouldn’t have chosen that specific island had I known in advance that the beach wasn’t as it let on to be in the photos. I know that there are many beautiful islands in Fiji, so I would have opted for an actual picture-perfect beach for my vacation.
What do you think? Remote island paradise or overrated tourist trap?
Dorms: AUD$31 pp/pn, Bures +$26, Lodges +$32
Meal Plan: AUD$51 pp/pd — compulsory