SECRETS OF THE SACRED SAWA I LAU CAVES
From ten-headed Gods to romantic young love, Fiji's Sawa I Lau Caves are steeped in legend and beauty. It is said they are the home of the God Ulutini, described as an entity with ten heads, nine of which take on the form of snakes and the last, of an exceptionally beautiful human with a jewel-encrusted forehead. Folklore also claims that two fish and an eel reside here. Maintained by the cave’s magic, they do not grow or age.
I am eager for adventure as we push off with a crew of cave guides from the Fiji Princess, one of the Blue Lagoon Cruise ships. Although excited about the excursion, my anxiety heightens as we cruise through the northern part of the Yasawa Islands. We are on our way to the sacred Sawa I Lau Caves for a swim. But I'm more of a sinker than a swimmer. With a few near-drowning experiences in my life, the prospect of gliding through a water tunnel into a dark cavern is, in fact, somewhat terrifying. But I've heard that it's safe and after witnessing the stunning clear Fijian waters, I’m up for the challenge.
These remote islands were made famous from the The Blue Lagoon, a movie that launched the acting careers of Brook Shields and Christopher Atkins back in 1980. This popular flick also drew attention to the rugged tropical beauty of the Fijian islands.
As well as being home to this Hollywood romance, the caves were once the site for another love story. According to local tradition they had been the hiding spot for a young chief and his bride, who were to be married, in spite of another rivalling chief. The young man brought food and water daily to his bride’s hideout until the couple were able to escape to a neighbouring island where, reportedly, they lived together happily ever after. Although the young lovers are long gone, some locals believe the sacred cave continues to be the home to Ulutini.
I gather my snorkelling gear as we arrive at Sawa I Lau, an area that's known as the heart of the Yasawas, and climb a short stairwell into the cave. Vague inscriptions adorn the ancient limestone walls. Shafts of light, from an opening in the cave top, illuminate the crystal-clear waters. Once inside, a ladder descends immediately into the sea.
The cool water soothes both my skin and my anxiety. I lay back, floating and gazing up at the blue sky. This is my first cave swimming experience and I feel exhilarated. A Fijian boy climbs the steep mossy limestone walls of the cave and dives into the deep waters, thrilling all spectators. Locals swim with their families and the sound of children frolicking echoes through the cavernous space.
The experienced guides at Blue Lagoon Cruises are wonderfully patient as they reassure me that I can access the inner dark cave with little difficulty. I feel comforted knowing that they are all local and have years of experience with what they are doing.
My leader dives under the rock curtain and disappears into the water tunnel. As I build my courage to dive down, the second guide explains that the tunnel is very short and I just need to dive a little deeper. Fear takes over as I peer beneath at the dark rocky wall. I take a deep breath and commit to the water tunnel but soon realize I have not dived low enough. Before I have time to panic, a hand is on the small of my back giving me a forceful push downward. And after a few more strokes through the black water I've cleared the rock curtain and have surfaced to see another guide holding a flashlight and my much-loved floatation noodle. I did it!
The guide’s torch casts a dim glow on the ceiling of the cave as I float about. I’m relaxed and confident in my ability to exit via the water tunnel again. Just before making the return journey something brushes against my leg in the dark water. Likely it's just another snorkeler. But then again, maybe the locals are right and Ulutini, the ten-headed Fijian God, is still around. I decide it's time to leave and welcome the swim through the water tunnel and back into to Fiji's daylight once again.
IF YOU GO:
Fiji Princess with Blue Lagoon Cruises provides a memorable journey through the stunning Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. From a traditional Lovo meal to guided reef snorkeling tours; hiking, basket weaving or swimming with manta rays. https://www.bluelagooncruises.com/
PHOTOS by Donna Yuen
1. Kayaks and lounge chairs await guests on Blue Lagoon Cruises’ private island
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