Going Native on Kuata

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The final days of our Fijian trip were meant to be spent on the well reviewed Waya Lailai Eco Resort. I certainly saw a lot that was charming as we approached. The local piloting our boat from the Yasawa Flier to the island yawped wildly at the sea as we bounced over increasingly large swells in the stormy waters. There wasn’t a one of us who wasn’t drenched by the time we reached the shore, and all the while the driver had screamed “Happy New Year” with delirious joy.

Looking across from Kuata to Waya Lailai

The walk to the resort took us along a seaweed strewn beach by the local village, and kids in little more than their underpants rushed out to wave shyly at us as we lugged our belongings towards the more up-market part of the island. For an eco resort I spotted quite a few discarded bottles and wrappers along the beach, but I was prepared to give the place the benefit of the doubt.

But Waya Lailai’s charms didn’t extend beyond that walk – as we found they’d not only lost our request to upgrade our rooms to private rooms, but they’d lost our reservations entirely! Thankfully neighboring Kuata is run by the same village and had private rooms available, so we piled into the boat once again alongside a Frenchman and a cheerful German for the ride across the channel.

Much like Waya Lailai, Kuata specializes in offering a more ‘local’ feel to the resort. Children weave their way between bures while their parents string out washing to dry or work on the many renovations needed on the older buildings. The sole white employee, a mildly obnoxious American who regaled us with his belief that the US should invade Canada ‘for Canada’s own good’, seems to do little more than lounge around in a hammock and hit on drunk girls. Power to him – he’s clearly found his niche.

Our room. Not nearly as nice on the inside.

We hadn’t been expecting the lap of luxury from our private rooms, but Dominik and Bronte were less than impressed at what amounted to little more than a shed with a bed in it. The room was lit red like an Amsterdam cat-house, and while Leigh and I enjoyed slightly more lavish accommodations – the way the toilet violently vomited water whenever it was flushed rendered our bathroom useless. Not that either of us much fancied standing on the mossy tiles while ice cold water drizzled tamely from the nozzle.

The garishly colored meal hall. Site of good times

The meal hall is similarly extravagant. Sheet iron blockades one of the three exits, the bar is almost always out of something, and the motley collection of tables and chairs are what you’d expect to find at a community bake sale rather than an island resort. The food ranges from bland to decent – but it’s plentiful, and the locals hawk souvenirs available on the mainland for $10 at a steeper price of $20. The massage I paid $20 for was done with cooking oil that left me smelling like a dirty fry pan, and the village tour we signed up for never even went ahead.

The cave market features a 100% mark-up. Be warned

I’m painting a grim picture, and there’s a reason for that. I had a lot of fun on Kuata. In fact, I had the best time I had in Fiji there. But I don’t want you going there expecting luxury. Your bed will be comfortable enough, you’ll not starve, and you’ll get plenty of sun – but you’re not going to be pampered. If you flinch away from a dirty toilet or a potentially tetanus causing piece of metal – you’re going to hate Kuata.

Precocious Jack was a favorite with all of us

If you like friendly staff, partying with the locals, and bonding with the other guests because drinking is the best way to spend the day – you’re going to be in for a treat.

Heather and Lucy posing with their favorite local
Heather and Lucy posing with their favorite local

My first night on Kuata was a blur of cheap beers, kava shared with the staff, and ribald stories shared with two Germans and an Englishman. We four stayed up until the wee hours drinking and playing stupid games of “I Never” and “Truth or Dare”. The Englishman ran two naked laps around the meal hall; I damaged my knee attempting to chug while standing on my head; and the German gal tried her best to stave off the drunken advances of myself and the Englishman.

I’m ashamed to say she succeeded.

Although I did sweep her off her feet...

Our next day on the island saw the arrival of a massive group of University students on some kind of volunteer program. Individually a lot of them were quite lovely – including a Portuguese Australian gal who will be appearing on this site soon with her account of things, but as a group they seemed to steamroll over us laid back ‘locals’ and take control of the entire island. Those few of us who weren’t in the large group bonded over the experience – sneaking duty free liquor back to one of the dorms and drinking ourselves stupid until the crowd died down.

Then it was back to the meal hall for countless bowls of kava with the locals, some of whom then came down to the beach with us for late night drinks and canoodling. These local lads have it down to a fine art, and neither of them went home without at least a kiss from the starstruck girls they’d turned their sites on. Me? I stared up at the stars and played chaperon – and earned myself an open invite to stay with the families of the two lads in question should I ever return to Fiji for my troubles.

We're treated to a meke (or tribal dance) performance
Max prepares the kava

Our third day on the island dawned with me nursing a nasty hangover and wondering why I had a condom stuck to my back. A used condom full of a suspiciously white substance. With doors to rooms not locking I had suspicions that some drunken couple had partaken in some midnight delight in my bed, but the snickers of my brothers stopped me from filing a formal complaint. Their mixture of spit, shampoo, and hand soap had fooled me. Bastards.

My brother is a jerk

Still, we’d all grown tired of cold showers and passable food by this point and wanted something resembling luxury. We packed up our hand-made jewelry and over-priced souvenirs and bade farewell to the cool people we’d met on the island. Whether they were fellow guests or friendly locals, the experience had been made by the people on the island and not the facilities.

We might have traded in our final night there for hot showers at Smuggler’s Cove and a decadent meal at Hard Rock – but I’ll always have fond memories of Kuata. It was far from luxurious, but damned if it wasn’t fun.

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