Thursday, 18 December 2014

Stay Safe & Choose Vinaka Fiji Volunteering

Travel blogger Cynthia Thomas gives her top tips for staying safe on volunteering programs – and we couldn’t agree with her more. So we’ve taken those tips and put together some information about Vinaka Fiji to help you consider your safety and comfort while volunteering.

Research the organisation

Vinaka Fiji is a charitable trust, registered as a not for profit organisation and run by a Board of Directors. Price Waterhouse Coopers provide their services free of charge to audit the organisation. The accounts and a full report on activities are published annually and available on request.Vinaka Fiji was established by very well known, trusted and credible tourism operator, Awesome Adventures Fiji. It is now also supported by Blue Lagoon Cruises (a tourism operation with over 60 years history in Fiji’s islands) and South Sea Cruises (one of the country’s largest and most experienced marine tourism operators).

Choose your host community carefully

Fiji is known worldwide as friendly and welcoming place to travel. The Fijian people always wear a smile and welcome visitors from all over the world to their communities, especially our volunteers who they greatly appreciate. The crime rate in Fiji is low, and is extremely low in Yasawa Islands where Vinaka Fiji is based. You will have plenty of opportunities to interact with Fijian locals while volunteering with Vinaka Fiji which will give you a unique insight to their culture, as well as insider tips on how to stay safe and the best things to see and do.

Arrange your accommodation

When volunteering with Vinaka Fiji, your accommodation is included, so you don’t need to organise your own. The hardest decision you will have to make is whether you’ll share a dorm, have a room to yourself, or shout yourself a deluxe, private, tented bure! No sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere for our volunteers! Our base is Barefoot Manta Resort, on Drawaqa Island. Transport to and from your volunteering work site is provided each day, as well as all your meals. You’ll have plenty of time after ‘work’ in the afternoons and all weekend to enjoy the resort facilities and explore the surrounding beautiful islands and coral reefs.

Volunteer with a friend or family member

Vinaka Fiji welcomes single volunteers, couples, entire generations of families, or groups of friends – it’s completely up to you. It is definitely wonderful to share the experience with someone, however single travellers are always welcome. You will always have the company and assistance of your program leader – be it in the education, sustainable communities or marine conservation program. And there are plenty of travellers staying at Barefoot Manta to make friends for the night.

Take precautionary health measures

Always check with your GP about recommended vaccinations or other preparations you should undertake before travelling to Fiji. Generally the water is safe to drink in Fiji, but if you prefer, bottled water is widely available for purchase. (and how good is Fiji water!) It is wise to bring some insect repellent, and it’s vital to wear sunscreen!

Pack thoughtfully

While Fiji is not a third world country, you will be staying and working in remote islands, so access to the major hospital may be some hours away in the case of a medical issue. Be prepared with basic medical amenities and any specific medications that you might need. As you’ll travel to work via boat, it’s wise to pack a light spray jacket in case of sea spray – or you’ll spend the day salty. Check here for Fijian cultural dress requirements and pack accordingly. Barefoot Manta sells bottled water and snack foods, as well as all meals being provided. Please advise us of any special dietary needs when you book your volunteering program.

Read Cynthia’s full article here: Six steps for staying safe on volunteering programs

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Vinaka Fiji Volunteering On Location

The Vinaka Fiji volunteering program is based in Fiji’s magnificent Yasawa Islands. Getting to the islands is easy. Pre-book a Bula Fiji Welcome Pack from Awesome Adventures Fiji before you fly into Nadi International Airport. These packs take the hassle out of arriving in Fiji and include a meet and greet at the airport, coach transfers from Nadi Airport to your accommodation, one nights accommodation, Fiji Vodafone sim card for your mobile phone and a cooked breakfast in the morning.

Prepare for your volunteering adventure with your Vinaka Fiji welcome meeting and introduction at Nadi Bay Hotel (a Bula Fiji Welcome Pack property option) then spend the rest of your mainland time enjoying your accommodation and checking out the sights. In the morning your coach will transfer you from your accommodation to Port Denarau, where you catch your ferry to the islands!

The journey to Drawaqa Island, home to your resort and your volunteering base camp, is impressive. The Yasawa Island chain of 20 ancient volcanic islands is undoubtedly one of the most stunning regions in Fiji. Four of the islands have dramatic elevations with summits just short of 600 metres above sea level. The pristine beaches and dramatic monoliths provide endless photo opportunities enroute to base camp.

Once at Drawaqa Island, the Barefoot Manta team greet you with a friendly Bula Vinaka or song and if the volunteering activities have finished for the day, you’ll also meet your Vinaka Fiji Coordinator. Relax into the afternoon, meet your roommates and enjoy everything that the resort has on offer. Barefoot provides evening entertainment though you’ll probably want to have an early night and get ready for the next days volunteering.

Volunteering days begin early. Some of the volunteering projects are based on nearby islands so you might need to catch the Vinaka Fiji volunteering long boat – pack a light rain coat for this as the sea spray can catch you off guard and make you a little salty for the rest of the day. Once you get started, you’ll find yourself fully immersed into Fijian culture and you often get to work with the locals directly. You’ll find that time moves at a slower pace, ‘Fiji Time’. That’s all part of the experience.

When your volunteering working day is over, you’ll have the rest of the late afternoon to enjoy Barefoot and you’ll also have your weekend days off too. Aside from indulging in Barefoot’s famous milkshakes (bring some money for drinks) the resort has plenty to do when you’re not on the job.

Barefoot is a Marine Reserve with spectacular snorkelling or diving and if the season’s right there’s even the opportunity to swim with Manta Rays. Try your luck at fishing, explore by kayak or make the most of the warm waters and have a swim. Volleyball with the Barefoot staff is always a favourite and if you prefer something a little quieter, you can always find a shady place to relax under a palm tree or take charge of a hammock and laze away your day.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Fiji. The people lift you up with their beautiful singing, beaming smiles and kindness and the tropical surrounds are truly breathtaking. Vinaka Fiji volunteering is an extra special way to see Fiji as you get to experience the best of everything that it has to offer. You can immerse yourself into Fijian culture, meet new people, give back and experience a tropical island resort. Whilst you won’t want to leave, when it finally becomes time to say goodbye, you’ll leave knowing that you’ve made a genuine difference to the people living in the Yasawa Islands.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Getting Packed for Vinaka Fiji Volunteering

Vinaka Fiji volunteers are based at Barefoot Island Lodge on tiny Drawaqa Island in the Yasawas. As soon as you arrive at this picture perfect Island, you realise that its seclusion from the hustle and bustle of modern life makes it extra special. However there are no convenience stores nearby so this also means that it's a good idea to make sure that you’re well prepared before you arrive.

To make things easy and to ensure that when you’re not volunteering, you have some time for R&R, your meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are prepared for you. Water, non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks are available for purchase by cash or credit card at Barefoot. The milkshakes are pretty good too!

Along with your packing essentials and toiletries, here are some other items that we recommend packing.


If you’ve got a camera, underwater camera or even just a camera phone, bring it along. The number of great photo opportunities will blow you away. If you’re taking photos of individuals or small groups, it’s a good idea to ask their permission first. To help us in building Vinaka Fiji awareness, we encourage you to share your photos online and we’d love you to tag us in #vinakafiji #voluntour.

Medical Kit

We take health and safety seriously and have a medical evaluation policy in place as well as 24 hour in-country support. Travel insurance is an absolute must have and we recommend that you pack a personal medical kit to cater to your specific medical needs.


Pack your bathers because Barefoot’s known for its great snorkelling, diving, swimming, kayaking and swimming with Manta Rays (seasonal). There’s no better way to cool off than having an ocean dip at the end of a hard days work.


Also called Sarong and Lava Lava in other cultures, these are great for tying around your bathing suit and wrapping around your shoulders if it gets a little cooler. You’ll also need to wear a Sulu below the knee when you visit the village, kindergarten and school (men and women).

T-shirt’s and Shirts that Cover the Shoulders

Women and men are expected to cover their shoulders when visiting the village, kindergarten and school. We provide a Vinaka Fiji T-shirt but it’s always a good idea to pack some alternative options too. Choose fabrics that will keep you cool especially during the summer months when it gets extra hot.

Tropical Strength Mosquito Repellent

Mozzies are to be expected in the tropics and whilst the number of mozzies will vary at different times of the year, it’s always a good idea to protect yourself from insect bites by applying mosquito repellent frequently (daytime and night time).

School Resources, Tools and Materials 


We fundraise to provide tools and materials for our programs but the Yasawan communities are always in great need. You’re not obligated to assist in any way, but if you want to provide resources, tools or materials please do bring them along. For example, those doing the Education program could bring some age appropriate reading materials and coloured pencils.


Coverall Rain Proof Jacket

It’s a 30 to 60 minute longboat transfer from Barefoot to the Yasawa schools and villages. Sea spray can be a bit of a problem whilst onboard. Therefore we recommend packing a light coverall rainproof jacket for the journey.

A Little Bit About You

Vinaka Fiji volunteering becomes extra rewarding when you get to know the Fijian people your working with. It’s even better when they get to know you too. It might be nice to bring along some family photos to share. This will help to build your relationship and it’s also a great opportunity for the Fijians to learn about a different culture from their own.

Power Adapter

You may need to purchase a plug converter or voltage converter. The current in Fiji is 240 volts AC 50Hz with three-pin power points - the same as in Australia and New Zealand.

Digital or Paperback Journal

If you like to keep a record of your thoughts and travel experiences, bring along a Paperback journal or keep an online journal or blog. No doubt you’ll have plenty to write about. If you feel like it, share it with us too. We’d love to publish your Vinaka Fiji volunteering story.

Water Flask or Cooler

These are great and you’ll be so grateful to have cold water at your fingertips. Simply transfer your bottled water to your cooler at the start of the day.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Vinaka Fiji Volunteering Is Extra Special – Here’s Why…

Friendly Fijians

Fiji is well celebrated as being one of the friendliest nations in the world and it’s not uncommon for visitors to quote their interactions with the Fijian people as the highlight of their tropical holiday. Expect to be greeted with a friendly hello (‘Bula’) and a big smile whenever you encounter someone new. With Vinaka Fiji volunteering, you don’t just meet the locals at your resort like a traditional visitor. Instead you get to work alongside them and get to know them too. This cultural immersion enriches your understanding of Fijian culture and ensures that your volunteering experience is that much more unique and mutually gratifying.

Pacific Island Backdrop

Base Camp

Vinaka Fiji volunteering takes place in Fiji’s tropical Yasawa Islands. The Yasawas consist of a chain of 20 ancient volcanic islands in tropical Fiji. Four of the islands have dramatic elevations with summits just short of 600 metres above sea level. The pristine beaches and dramatic monoliths provide a beautiful environment in which to volunteer and enjoy the many activities on offer.

Comfortable Island Resort Accommodation

Volunteers call Barefoot Island Lodge their home for the duration of their volunteering experience in the Yasawas. Barefoot’s outlook is picture perfect. It’s positioned between two beaches on spectacular Drawaqa Island. One of the beaches overlooks the lagoon where the awe-inspiring manta rays come to feed each day. 

When you work hard, getting a good nights rest is especially important. The lodge has different room types to accommodate variations in budget, different ages and comfort preferences. Set amongst mature trees, just a few steps from the beach, are the standard double/twin bures and dorms with shared bathrooms and facilities. If you appreciate added comfort and privacy, the waterfront safari-tent-style deluxe bures with ensuite bathrooms are also available as an upgrade.

All your main meals are provided so when it comes time to eat, relax and re-energise for the next volunteering stint. Barefoot will provide night-time entertainment and it’s worth budgeting for the odd purchase, as you might want to treat yourself to one of their famous milkshakes or unwind with a sunset cocktail. 

Weekends At Your Leisure

All work and no play isn’t much fun. Vinaka Fiji programs are seven nights in duration – five days of volunteering (Monday to Friday) and two days (weekends) of relaxation. Fiji runs at a deliberately slower pace than what you might be used to and we call this ‘Fiji time’. Hence relaxation is big in Fiji and its quite acceptable to spend your weekends sun worshiping or napping in a hammock.

If you’re in the mood for a bit of action there are some incredible activities available. Experience some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving, kayaking, hiking, village visits, cultural activities, hand-line fishing, visits to caves… even swimming with manta rays depending on the season! Sunday is typically a ‘day of rest’ in Fiji so supervised activities are limited, but volunteers are always welcome to attend the traditional Village Church Service - generally a very moving experience.

Marine Conservation

If education, planting and construction aren’t your cup of tea, you might like to consider volunteering with Fiji’s unique Marine Research and Conservation Program. Comprising over 300 islands, 4,000 square miles of reef and 1,500 species of sea life, there are literally thousands of reasons to volunteer. Extend your dive and snorkeling skills in this incredible marine environment or take the opportunity to learn to scuba dive.

It’s a pretty spectacular feeling knowing that you’re playing a part in protecting Fiji’s stunning natural marine environment for future generations and travelers to enjoy. Not only will you complete hands on work to help research and conserve the environment, but also you’ll assist in passing on skills to the local villagers who are the day to day guardians of this beautiful marine environment.

* SCUBA DIVING REQUIREMENTS: You will spend time on this expedition both snorkeling and scuba diving and as such you need to be qualified to at least Open Water Level. Non-divers can join the program following completion of a diver training program (approx. 5 days) with Reef Safari in Fiji that will certify you up to an Open Water Level.

Partner Volunteering with a Holiday

Awesome Adventures Fiji
Make the most of being in this incredible part of the world, and add on some travel pre or post your volunteering program. Combining a holiday with volunteering is an enormously rewarding way to experience the Yasawas. Awesome Adventures Fiji offers a fantastic range of options for exploring these islands.

You can book a ‘Fiji Island Escape’ and chill at one resort for as long as you like (there are more than 20 resorts to choose from!), or you can island hop where and when you like with a ‘Bula Pass’. There are a selection of packages available, which feature a fantastic range of resorts and the region’s best activities. Or if you like it your way, you can Build Your Own Adventure.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Yasawan Culture

As we mentioned in our last post, it's always good to get to know us before you volunteer with Vinaka Fiji. We hope that this blog will give you a little bit of insight into village life, village structure and how to navigate your way around your visit to a Fijian village.

Social Structure

Fijian Social Structure
Every Fijian belongs to a hierarchical social unit or structure, which is usually attached to a village.

In a village you will have the following...
(a) Tokatoka – This is the smallest unit consisting of the family.
(b) Mataqali – Groups of tokatoka (families) form a mataqali (extended family).
(c) Yavusa – A number of mataqali forms a yavusa, which represents a geographical area with a collection of mataqali from different places or villages.

Village Structure

Turaga: Chief (pronounced too-rung-ahh). This mataqali descends from the original ancestor through primogeniture - inheritance of the eldest son in each succeeding generation. The chief of a village is always chosen from the Turaga mataqali.

Sauturaga: These are next in rank to the chiefs, support him and enforce his commands. They also have final say in the installation of a chief.

Dau (skill) and Matai: These are the crafts people and specialised skilled people of the tribe e.g.
• Dau ni vucu (poet / choreographer / composer)
• Dau ni yau (treasurer)
• Mataisau (carpenter or canoe builder)

Mata ni vanua: These form the official heralds of the village. They are also in charge of ceremonial functions.

Bete: This was the traditional priestly class. The kalou-vu was believed to speak through the Bete.

Turaga ni koro: Village Mayor (pronounced too-rung-ahh-knee-core-roo) is appointed by the village.

Bati: This mataqali forms the traditional warrior class.


Fijian Bure

There are few places in the world where visitors are as warmly welcomed as they are in Fiji. But there is a protocol to follow. In a Fijian village, a house is a home and visitors aren’t expected to poke their heads inside. If invited inside a bure (local cottage, pronounced boo-ray) it is considered polite to stoop, to take off your shoes, keep your voice down and sit cross-legged on the floor.

Shorts, swim wear, or hats are not allowed to be worn in the villages. The hats can be worn in work areas if requested. You should not put anything on your head (e.g. sunglasses or hats) when entering the village as the head is sacred to the Fijian people. If offered a bowl of kava, follow the shown protocol and drink it in one go, unless you have been advised not to for medical reasons. Kava drinking is an important ceremony and a past time.


Local dress in Fiji varies. Tidy casual, light clothing is recommended. Often you will hear people refer to “bula” attire, which is Fiji’s equivalent to Hawaii’s “aloha” dress code. You’re asked to be careful not to offend local sensibilities. Bikini and ultra-brief swim wear is acceptable at hotels and resorts but not in the villages. Women must cover their shoulders and wear a skirt or sulu, to below the knee in the village and schools. Men wear t-shirts and either a sulu or knee length shorts when in the villages and schools.

Bula Attire - Men and women wear sulus

Learn more about Vinaka Fiji by visiting our website:

Thursday, 3 July 2014

How to get the best out of Vinaka Fiji Volunteering

1) Get to know us

Volunteering in Fiji is really rewarding and it’s a plus that you get to learn about and immerse yourself in a different culture to that of your own. It’s always good to learn a little bit about life in Fiji before you arrive. This will give you some insight into what to expect and prepare you for interaction with the locals.

During your volunteering experience, take the opportunity to get to know the Fijian people that you’re working with or supporting. They love to tell you about their involvement in our projects and all of the things that make Fiji so unique. The more that you learn about Fijian culture, the more likely it is that you will make a lasting impact on it’s people and your project. Knowing who you’re helping and how they need your help also makes your experience much more gratifying.

 2) Teach a man to fish 

Vinaka Fiji Volunteering
Share the Knowledge
Remember the Chinese Proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? One of the key guiding principles of Vinaka Fiji is to work closely with the Yasawan communities so that together they may determine the needs, participate in the planning, contribute to the implementation and share responsibility for completion of the projects embarked upon. When you arrive, talk to our local team to find out what the greatest needs for your project are.

Use your skills to support the community in the best way possible and don’t be afraid to share your knowledge so that members of the local community can develop these skills themselves. To ensure that you make a lasting impact, pave the way for the volunteers that will be taking over long after you’ve gone. Passing on your knowledge and experiences during debriefing sessions and meal-time discussions with volunteers and Vinaka Fiji staff can be the best time to this. Always remember that the ultimate goal is to avoid any dependency on volunteers.

 3) Set realistic goals for yourself 

There’s no doubt that you’ll make an impact when you volunteer with Vinaka Fiji. All our volunteers are exceptionally enthusiastic and dedicated which is why we love having you here with us. We simply ask that you set realistic expectations for yourself. Whilst it might seem like your contribution is small, remember that you are building upon the work of the volunteers before you and that these projects will ultimately improve the lives of people in the Yasawas. Every contribution counts whether its getting a little girl excited about a book she’s reading, or laying the concrete foundation for a future water tank.

 4) Make time for work and play 

Barefoot Manta Accommodation
Barefoot Manta Accommodation
With the exception of the weekend, you’ll be working hard, so you’ll really appreciate time for a little rest and relaxation at the end of each day. Vinaka Fiji volunteering is a little bit different to many other volunteering projects because volunteer base camp is situated in paradise. Barefoot Manta resort has plenty to offer. Catch the sunset, find a quiet space on the beachfront, socialise with some of the other travellers that pass through or enjoy the evening entertainment. Weekends are to be enjoyed at your leisure so why not take part in one of Barefoot Manta resort’s daytime activities including hiking, snorkelling, diving, abseiling, kayaking, craft making, walks and volleyball.

 5) Sharing is caring 

Vinaka Fiji relies heavily on donations and the work of its volunteers. One way to make a huge impact on people in the Yasawas is to share the Vinaka Fiji story to your network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Tell as many people as you can about our projects and share your Vinaka Fiji experiences on social media. The more you share, the more likely it is that people will donate or consider volunteering themselves. We would love it if you tag us, so that we can follow your story too (#vinakafiji, #voluntour).

 6) Know your body and your limits 

Vinaka Fiji Volunteering
Know Your Body and Your Limits
It’s your responsibility to obtain advice on any medical precautions or vaccinations required before you travel to Fiji. You’ll be working hard each day and Fiji can get very HOT, so its important to stay well hydrated while volunteering. Water can be purchased at Barefoot Manta resort but we also recommend stocking up before you leave Denarau. All your main meals are included in your package but snacks and drinks are available to buy from Barefoot Manta resort.

All in all, you know your body better than we do. Rest when you need to, and make sure you let the Vinaka Fiji staff know if you need any medical assistance. We take health and safety seriously and have a medical evaluation policy in place as well as 24 hour in-country support. Travel insurance is an absolute must have and we recommend that you pack a personal medical kit to cater to your specific medical needs.

Learn more about Vinaka Fiji and visit our website: