WE ALL love to travel and for most people, their first overseas holiday will have a special place in their hearts.
Although it took 27 years for me to catch the travel bug, after nearly two weeks touring the Fiji Islands, I can truly say it was worth the wait.
When I was invited last month to join about 120 passengers cruising the islands aboard Captain Cook Cruises' small ship, Reef Endeavour, I made it my mission to participate in as many of life's firsts as possible.
I had no intentions of stretching my comfort zone slowly. If there was something going on, I was determined to be part of it.
It is no surprise why Australians have fallen in love with Fiji - the lush green mountains, stunning white sand beaches, crystal clear blue waters and beautiful reefs make it a tropical paradise.
But this meticulously planned cruise is not a regular holiday; it is an expedition where you can expect the unexpected. This is just the second Lau Group Discovery Cruise Captain Cook Cruises has done, with a third cruise to set sail in November and three more scheduled next year.
The beauty of the 11-night cruise was the chance to explore some of Fiji's most remote islands which are rarely visited by tourists.
You are guided through the culture of the "real" Fiji, jumping from one island to another, discovering the diversity of life in these oceanfront villages.
Every village we visited we felt welcomed, often greeted by songs and dances by children.
Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces was so heart-warming. It was easily the highlight of my trip.
Some of my favourite nights were spent sitting around the kava bowl with the crew; they went to great lengths to make the cruise a fun and memorable adventure.
Kava is a drink made from the kava plant. The roots are crushed into a powder and mixed with water. I had heard kava tasted terrible and made you hallucinate, but still I couldn't resist. After all, I was on a mission. There are strict rules when drinking kava - one clap before you drink, slurp the drink down and then three claps when you return the cup.
Straight away my tongue went tingly. Another few gulps and my face was numb. Some nights during a long kava session I couldn't feel my legs. A bit of dancing fixed that.
The big upside is I have never slept better. And, boy, did I need it.
Every day there was a new adventure to be had. Learning the history of Makogai Island during our visit to the former leper colony was fascinating. Hiking through rainforests and jumping off the top of a waterfall was exhilarating.
Discovering a colourful and vibrant world just beneath the water's surface was mind-blowing. One gentleman said the snorkelling off Totoya Island "leaves the Great Barrier Reef for dead".
I was relishing being out of my comfort zone and crossing off as many new experiences as I could - things I never thought I would have the chance to do.
Like many of life's firsts, my first overseas holiday will be an unforgettable trip and Fiji will forever hold a special place in my heart. From the people to the spectacular scenery, Fiji is a breathtaking tropical escape best explored up close and personal.
The writer was a guest of Captain Cook Cruises and Tourism Fiji.
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