Another gem of the Yasawas—the caves at Sawa-i-Lau. One of the northerly islands in the chain, Sawa-i-Lau is unique as a limestone island in a group that is primarily basaltic. The island got its name because the caves within, the island’s primary attraction, are rumored to extend all the way from the Yasawas on the western edge of Fiji to the Lau group on the eastern edge.

Before we explored its caverns, though, we soaked in the islands aching beauty, all translucent lagoons, white beaches, and staggering rock formations.

We anchored in Sawa-i-Lau just after noon and spotted a group of 15 tourists leaving the small beach near the entrance of the cave. Dominic and I dinghies ashore to chat with Abraham, the local village elder managing cave tours. We haggled the price for a group of six (our friends Craig and Karene aboard s/v Il Sogno joined Dominic, me, and my parents for this adventure) and promised to return with waka root and cash, cash for shopping. The local ladies lined the beach, selling shell necklaces, coconut cups, and various cannibalism paraphernalia (Dad and I received a brief tutorial as to the tools used for head-bashing, throat-slicing, disemboweling, and forking) in 15 minutes.

We made it back in time, and Abraham performed the most cursory of sevusevu ceremonies; he chanted at us in Fijian, clapped his hands over the waka, informed us we owed home an extra ten dollars per guide, and sent us to the caves.

We climbed a short flight stairs that had been cemented into the lagoon-face of the rock. Our guides, two men appearing in their early twenties, Max and Eesie, guided us to a descending staircase that passed with two feet of clearance below a rocky overhang. With a little crawling, we made it to the ladder at the base of the stairs and dove into the deep pool inside the cave.

Rising around us was a 100-foot limestone cathedral, bright with diffused light from leafy skylights running along the seam of its vault—stunning surroundings that were exceedingly challenging to photograph.

The vaults:

Eesie, Craig, and Karene climbing the wall of the cave:

After a few minutes of swimming with our heads craned back, we ventured into the second series of caves, the entrance to which was underwater. Eesie dove first, and guided the rest of us through with a flashlight. Max dunked our heads so we didn’t collide with the overhang.

These caves were completely dark, and we hung on to a pvc floatie as Eesie swam with us through a network of contoured limestone caverns, the vaults and domes giving the soundscape a quaking echo. We stayed in the cave for ten minutes, arriving eventually at a shallow platform where we could stand and yell “bula” as loudly as we could.

Returning to the original chamber, Eesie and Dominic took turns scaling the sides of the largest cavern and jumping into the water. 

Dominic in flight:

And all smiles!