The original Blue Lagoon

the Blue Lagoon image  fiji-princess loungeTucked up in the bar of a little cruise boat in the Blue Lagoon area of Fiji’s Yasawa Islands, a few dozen passengers – and a handful of Fijian crew – are watching the movie Blue Lagoon.

It’s an odd experience to watch the young Brooke Shields discovering herself, and the boy actor whose name no-one can remember, whilst anchored in the location the movie was filmed.

A few hours ago it was us, the passengers aboard Fiji Princess, lolling in the crystal waters and frolicking on the white sands of the Blue Lagoon. (Well, perhaps not. The beach scenes in the 1980 movie were shot in several locations, not all of them in Fiji. But why ruin a good story?)Sea and rock formations, Sawa-i-Lau Island, Blue Lagoon

The previous day Fiji Princess had been moored at an island called Nanuya Lailai, also known as Blue Lagoon Island because this too was a location for parts of the movie. The beach here is possibly the perfect tropical island dream beach. Pristine sand and sea. Swaying palms. Tropical fish and coral an easy snorkel from shore. Deep water at all tides beckoning novice paddle-boarders and kayakers. And the whole scene enhanced by a crew member serving cocktails from a pop-up beach bar.

Our 55-metre catamaran theatrically ties up to a palm tree at Blue Lagoon Island, and we spend a day and a night in paradise. (Of course, the stern rope tied to the coconut palm is supported by a hefty man-made mooring holding the other end of the boat. But again, why ruin the story?) The beach is only a boat’s length away, so swimming ashore is an option.image

From the Captain down, the whole crew of Fiji Princess is Fijian. They are masters of multi-tasking. For example, Aggie the masseuse doubles as pastry chef. In between getting top marks from her clients for health-restoring massages, she turns out Fijian pancakes and tropical cupcakes for afternoon tea. And the man in grey overalls who spends his days in the engine room is the best vocalist aboard – in a nation where everyone is a good singer. He leads the entertainment in the evening.

The crew are always ready with witticisms to gee-up the passengers.

“The more you smile, the better the weather,” the boat-handlers assure us. And in the dining room it’s “The more you eat, the better you float”.

Floating in fresh water is rare in the Yasawas, but we do it at the Sawa-i-Lau caves, considered the heart of ‘blue lagoon territory’ in the northern Yasawas. Sawa-i-Lau Island is a limestone outcrop with steep hillocks and sheer bluffs, a novelty in the otherwise volcanic archipelago. Inside one rock outcrop are the caves, reached by steps up and stairways down. Within the caves are freshwater pools, lit by natural skylights. From the first little lake, it is possible to swim underwater, below a rock ledge, and surface in a second one.Sawa-i-Lau Caves

Sawa-i-Lau Island was the prime location for the original Blue Lagoon movie, starring Jean Simmons, filmed here in 1948. Its sculptural limestone rocks feature in both films. On some days, in different light, the Blue Lagoon might just as easily have been named the Green Lagoon, or the Turquoise Lagoon. In any hue, it is extraordinarily beautiful.



The Fiji Princess carries a maximum 68 passengers and is the only vessel operated by a company called, of course, Blue Lagoon Cruises. The history of Blue Lagoon Cruises is itself the stuff of movies. A young New Zealand stockbroker, Captain Trevor Withers, ‘went troppo’ here in the 1940s. He set up a fishing business which failed, then founded the cruise company in 1950, with a partner who went on to establish Fiji Airways. The only passengers Captain Withers attracted to his first sailings were Yasawa islanders getting a free ride home. The first person to buy a ticket was an American colonel, but he had to be returned to shore when he became stuck to wet paint on a newly spruced up toilet seat.

Blue Lagoon eventually prospered to the point of running three cruise boats at its peak. Today, new owners are hoping the refurbished Fiji Princess will attract enough business to allow a second sship, the retired Mystique Princess, to be brought back into service.

The beach at Nanuya Lailai and the caves at Sawa-i-Lau are two highlights of the cruise, but there are more, including swimming with manta rays, sunset over the Sacred Islands, and a visit to the school at Naviti Island.


*Blue Lagoon Cruises offers three, four and seven night trips, ranging in price from NZ$1,300 per person in a double room, to NZ$3,900 per person in a double room

*Meals and most activities are included, scuba diving and alcoholic drinks are extra

*Family cruises are available on selected dates, other sailings are adults-only. Whole-of-boat charters are suited to weddings, birthday parties, and corporate events.

* Tourists will find a donation to Vinaka Fiji added to their bills on the Fiji Princess (NZ$100 per cabin on a 7-night cruise). This is voluntary and can be reduced or removed. Vinaka Fiji is a charitable trust improving basic amenities in villages in the Yasawas. The islands were isolated until 2002 when the Fijian Flyer ferry service began, and the 27 villages on different islands remain impoverished. Lack of clean drinking water is a major issue, along with poor health, inadequate education, and no jobs. Vinaka Fiji also runs a volunteer programme where visitors pay to live in resort or backpacker accommodation and help in villages daily.

*Unless you have unusually poor sea-legs, sea sickness shouldn’t be an issue. The captain often deviates from the itinerary to seek out sheltered anchorages, and sailings are never longer than four hours.

*Take Fijian cash for shopping at village markets. There are no banks or ATMs in the Yasawas

* Pack a smile, and perhaps your ukulele, you need little else.


  1. Sounds like my sort of trip!