How I Embraced My Inner Mermaid in Fiji

When a skeptical swimmer takes the plunge in Fiji, she discovers a whole world she had been missing—underwater.

How I Embraced My Inner Mermaid in Fiji

A beachside villa at Kokomo Private Island

Courtesy of Kokomo Island

Planning a wedding is stressful—that’s why honeymoons were invented. Newlyweds need a chance to escape, ASAP if they wish, to a destination far away from family, friends, and endless thank-you cards to rediscover the person they fell in love with before all the madness started. For my husband, Greg, and me, that place was Fiji.

Aside from the fact that it was remote, Greg and I wanted to honeymoon in Fiji because we had heard of its swoon-worthy tropical beaches and that its locals were the friendliest in the world. Picking our daily activities, however, was another story. I dreamed about lounging on a beach chair while sipping piña coladas—I’m a sun lover who’s getting over her fear of the ocean (a recovering thalassophobe, for you trivia fans out there). He wanted to snorkel, paddleboard, and swim, like many Southern Californians do. But, hey, marriage is about compromise, so he promised me a daily drink by the pool while I vowed to get a bit more comfortable sticking my face in the ocean.

The first day of our two-week trip, we checked into our villa at the InterContinental Fiji and immediately headed to its beachside adult pool. After about an hour of lounging in the sun, I begrudgingly donned goggles and flippers, waded into the water, and put my face beneath the waves. Schools of convict tangs and cornetfish swam while coral swayed in perfect focus in front of my eyes. The water was clearer and the wildlife more abundant than what I had seen in Hawaii, where I learned to snorkel and initially began to overcome my fears—even at one of the country’s most popular and trafficked resorts. I was hooked.

The writer's husband explores Namale's tidepools, which are brimming with life.

The writer’s husband explores Namale’s tidepools, which are brimming with life.

Photo by Danielle Walsh

Each place we stayed offered a new way to explore Fiji’s storied waters, and sometimes I was even the one to drag Greg into the water. We took our first organized snorkeling trip with a local guide from the InterContinental, and we spied a riot of soft corals through the boat’s glass bottom then plunged into the water to see them up close. We took advantage of the resort’s free kayaks and glided over the surface until we were far away from shore, yet still able to stand in knee-deep water and observe what was below. I snatched the gear rental shack’s waterproof fish identification guide after each session and excitedly looked for each colorful creature I’d seen.

Three days later, at Namale Resort, we strolled the tide pools to watch from above as tiny eels and electric-blue fish darted around pocked volcanic rock. After a lunch of vegetables and local grilled fish, we climbed aboard a fishing boat stocked with Fiji Gold beer and boated out to a reef—my first deep-water snorkeling experience. Although the water was unusually choppy and it started to rain, I held my own among the parrotfish and kept calm. My snorkeling confidence was boosted, perhaps, with the help of the beer I drank en route. After we docked, we walked back to our honeymoon bure, dipped into our private hot tub, and popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate my progress conquering my fear. I marveled, propped up by my folded arms on the side of the tub, over the gorgeous view of the cove and the misty afternoon light.

But the best view came at the end of our trip. We were at Kokomo Island, a private resort encircled by the Great Astrolabe Reef. Our villa had a plunge pool and world-class snorkeling 50 steps from our bedroom, but we decided to embark on one of the resort’s guided snorkeling trips. Our guide took us to “Wonderland,” a stretch famous for its swimmable nooks, rainbows of tropical fish, and diverse patchwork of coral that drops nearly 100 feet into the cobalt depths. The name was apt: I’d never seen nature produce such stunning colors and patterns, all in graceful motion. And it was all ours to explore.

In the middle of the session, we’d been trailing a school of black-and-yellow butterflyfish with our snorkeling guide when my husband excitedly motioned toward a five-foot-long reef shark circling below us. I had never seen a shark outside of an aquarium before. The shark seemed at peace as it took in its surroundings, and we hovered above, breathing our air yet existing in this creature’s underwater world. As we emerged from the water afterward, my approach to seaside vacations was solidified. The beachgoers can take their comfy chairs and piña coladas—I’ll swim with the sharks.

>>Next: Far From the Tourist Trail in New Delhi, a Traveler Finds Magic

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