*This Guest Post was written by Millie Aldrich of Millie Goes.
One of the many island chains in the South Pacific, Fiji is famed for white sands, sunshine, relaxation, diving and their rather attractive rugby players. I managed to hit this island chain for three glorious weeks last year, spending a week on the mainland in village home-stays and island hopping the rest of the time. As I’m sure you can imagine, spending a few weeks living in a hammock with a fresh coconut in hand is not a hard way of life, especially when spending a few days with some locals learning how to fire dance. I also managed to hone in on some island survival skills such as be taught how to shuck a coconut in case I’m ever deserted on one and need to live in a palm tree hut.
One of the islands I spent time on was Mantaray Bay, which is about two hours by ferry away from the main island. Of course, the clue is in the name with this one and it’s famed for the giant oceanic manta rays that swim in the straight between the two islands nearby. In season (May to October each year), these ocean creatures are known to swim past at least once a day bringing in travellers from around the world to swim with them.
What I truly loved about this island is that it catered to backpacker and luxury travellers alike, with private rooms and a massive dorm hut. Regardless of budget, everyone is able to partake in this magical experience. The island also run a Padi dive school so that you can swim on the nearby pacific reefs or get ready to take a plunge and feed full-sized tiger or bull sharks down below – not for the faint hearted!
Swimming with Manta Rays in Fiji
They have a system on the island where scouts head out to the straight and keep a lookout for the manta rays, then once spotted, they shoot a message back to the island. You have to be ready because when this happens it’s a sprint to the boat on the beach and off you go! I would permanently keep my mask and snorkel with me so that I could always head out on the boat each day to spot the rays. I ended up a little obsessed with going for a dip in the blue with these guys as they really are incredible! You cannot believe the size of them until you are in the water with one swimming right towards you before ducking down so it can cruise above your head. Growing to around 7m wide (23 feet), you can only imagine what a shock it is to see one near you.
The local guides are wonderful too – the currents in Fiji are super strong and there is no fighting it, so they ensure that everyones drifts together until the end of the straight, then help us hop back in the boats to be taken back to the top again. Each group has one guide who would make sure that everyone was okay, help out if we weren’t, point out other fish and sharks below us if we were interested, and one even saved me from getting a nasty sting from a jellyfish. For those of you who don’t follow me on twitter, I’m ashamed to say my biggest fear in the world are jellyfish – one of the few animals in the world without a brain or an ability to direct themselves. I am scared of a mindless animal that just floats around… I’ve swum with sharks and crocodiles and wasn’t fazed at all. A jellyfish comes to play and I’m out the water before you can say a word.
With three days on the island, I clocked about six hours total in the water with the manta rays, and I loved that I didn’t have to worry about their wellbeing. You touch one and you weren’t allowed to come back – the guides were really strict on this. We were to get out of their way if they were coming past. and were only able to look, not touch. The boats would drop us in the water far away from the mantas and pick us up a safe distance away. They would also only head out once a day, even if the rays were swimming past a lot more so that they weren’t harassed or made to feel panicked. We were sharing their space and it was made very clear to us that we were to respect these magnificent animals.
I cannot recommend Fiji enough, and this experience isn’t the only adventurous activity you can try on this island chain. But if the wild side isn’t for you, there are also 332 islands full of beaches for you to relax and tan on.
Leaving school I had no intention to go anywhere other than 5* resorts, drink fantastically delicious champagne and be the epitome of class in all aspects of life. Three years on, aged twenty one, I am very different to the person I used to be. I’ve thrown away the heels and donned the hiking boots. Sure, I still frequent the champagne bar (when it’s free!) but I’m less concerned about how I look and more concerned about how I feel. For all the girls out there who always say ‘I can’t’ – You can. The only person stopping you from achieving your dreams is yourself. I have skydived, surfed, trekked, swum with massive crocodiles, kissed a komodo dragon, been shot at, tackled tumbling falls and raging rivers, camel raced and sipped cocktails in over a dozen countries. When it comes to stepping out of your comfort zone; I know my stuff. It doesn’t matter how you do it; in a 5* resort or camping on a beach. Trust me, trust yourself, hit the road, it will change your life. Want to know more? Check out her website!
Header CC image from Flickr: Manta Ray by Kaz2.0