Fiji: The sparkler of the South Pacific
White-sand beaches and emerald waters might make Fiji a travel agent’s dream, but it’s the friendly, welcoming people and laid-back lifestyle that ensure it’s a place you’ll never forget.
Located in the South Pacific, this island nation is a collection of more than 300 islands ‘floating’ in 1.3m square kilometres of ocean. Lush rainforests, secret lagoons and towering mountains make for stunning scenery, while traditional villages and a deep respect for ancient rituals promise an interesting cultural experience.
Fiji is a melting pot of cultures thanks to its rich blend of people from Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, the East Indies, India, China and Europe. All have a cuisine and culture of their own that ensures a myriad of contrasts.
Visit Fiji and you immerse yourself in ‘Fiji time’, where clocks are little more than decoration and the pace of the day is set by what you decide to do. Fancy lying on the beach? Fine. Want to explore unspoilt islands? No problem. Interested in scuba diving? That can be arranged. Whatever you decide, a smiling local will gladly help you on your way to the holiday of a lifetime. Bula!
Did You Know?
- Fiji has three official languages – English, Fijian and Hindustani.
- Almost 90 per cent of the country’s population lives on the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
- The University of the South Pacific in Fiji’s capital, Suva.
- Before Christianity arrived in the 19th century, cannibalism was common in Fijian culture.
How to Get Here
Nadi International Airport (NAN) is the largest facility in the region and a hub for flights from Australia and New Zealand. The airport is located on the west coast of Viti Levu, 10 km from Nadi Town. Almost 1.3 million international passengers, which is more than Fiji’s actual total population of 850,000, pass through the airport annually.
Upon leaving the aircraft, there are a series of procedures to follow before you may leave the airport. Arrivals Forms are distributed in the aircraft prior to landing. Be sure to fill these in before proceeding to the Immigration Area. Government regulations require two checks before entering the country. You will first go through Immigration Checks. After this, you may collect your luggage and proceed through Customs and Quarantine checks.
Taxis are available outside the terminal.
There is no special airport bus. Many hotels and guesthouses also provide transport; however, this needs to be pre-arranged.
Car rental kiosks are located on the arrivals level. The airport is located only 10 kms from town, and is clearly sign-posted. Suva is also clearly signposted from the airport, and is 144 kms away.
The currency is the Fijian Dollar F$. There are several international banks in the country with ATMs where you can withdraw money, but once you leave the main islands and tourism areas, ATMs are non-existent. If you do use ATMs in Fiji, you might be charged a fee by your bank. Contact your bank before you travel to ensure you can access your funds abroad.
There is a money exchange kiosk at the international airport in Nadi where you can get Fijian dollars when you land. There are other exchange houses in tourism areas and the bigger towns.
AUS$, NZ$ or US$ traveller’s cheques are readily accepted in Fiji. Travellers cheques can be exchanged for cash at banks, exchange houses and large hotels, or used to settle accounts in some, but by no means all, establishments.
Credit cards are accepted in most resorts and larger shops in Fiji. Be aware you may be charged a fee to use a credit card abroad. You should let your issuing company know which countries you are travelling to, as fraud departments can sometimes freeze cards used in foreign countries.
What will the seasonal weather be like?
Fiji has two seasons – a wet season from November to April and a dry from May to October. Even during the wet season there is plenty of sunshine and the rain often comes in short bursts, although tropical storms and hurricanes can occur.
Humidity can be high, but cooling trade winds are often present. Temperatures do not fluctuate much. The year-round average is between 25 and 30 Celsius.
Public bus services operate throughout the larger islands of Fiji. These fairly old vehicles with large open windows are an inexpensive way to get about, and mingle with the locals. You can flag them down anywhere in the street, and fares are only a dollar or two. Modern, air-conditioned buses operate between the larger resorts and major towns. In more remote areas, multi-passenger vehicles and small trucks can take you where you want to go.
Taxis are plentiful on the larger islands. Fares are inexpensive and urban taxis usually run on a metre, although those in more rural areas often have fixed fares for fixed routes. It is possible to bargain with your driver, especially if you’re going a long way and you allow him to pick up other passengers en route. You can flag taxis in the street, or get your hotel to order one for you.
As Fiji is a country of islands, ferries are often the only way to get to your destination. Different companies operate different routes, and services to popular islands are fairly frequent. It is also possible to fly between islands. Pacific Sun and Air Fiji are the two domestic carriers. Helicopters and sea planes can take you to the most remote locations.
Car hire is possible on Viti Levu, where there is a good bitumen road that runs around the island, but travelling may prove difficult on other islands. Car rental agencies will usually provide maps, but, investing in a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems today also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country.
What not to miss …
Attending a Kava Ceremony is top of the list for many visitors to Fiji. This non-alcoholic, mildly euphoric drink is a huge part of local life and a centuries-old tradition. Also called yaqona, it is made from the root of the kava plant, which is found in the Pacific region. The root is pounded into a powder, mixed with water, then strained through a cloth or cloth-like fibre. Presented in a wooden drinking bowl, it is passed around as you all sit cross-legged in a circle on the ground or floor. It’s a fairly acquired taste and looks a little like dishwater, but it is considered an honour to be part of a kava ceremony. It’s doubtful you’ll notice any effects after drinking kava once, but it can vary in potency, so be careful not to indulge too much. Don’t drive after drinking kava as it is an intoxicant.
At popular Pacific Harbour on Viti Levu, you’ll find the Arts Village. Here you can watch Fijians re-enact the way their ancestors lived, complete with warriors fighting a tribal battle in traditional dress, mock acts of cannibalism and firewalkers walking on hot coals. Daily performances of authentic Fijian dancing, pottery making demonstrations and a tour of the recreated Fijian village are all highlights.
For a look at the culture of Indian Fijian, visit the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple in Nadi. This colourful Hindu temple is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and highlights the cultural diversity of the country. This type of temple is rarely seen outside India and the detail of the intricate statues inside is astonishing.
Although the botanic gardens at Suva, called the Thurston Gardens, have been a little neglected in recent years, the Fiji Museum located in the gardens is still worth a visit. It houses the largest collection of Fijian artefacts in the world, as well as some fascinating relics from the infamous H.M.S. Bounty. Some of the archaeological material dates back 3,700 years, and there are many items of interest representing the different communities that have settled in the country over the centuries.
Several historical and cultural points of interest are in the area dubbed the Suncoast, in the north-east area of Viti Levu. This region includes many villages, some of which are steeped in history as the traditional house of Fiji’s ancestral gods. Highlights include Udre Udre’s Tomb, the final resting place of Fiji’s last known cannibal, who was said to have feasted on 99 other chiefs in his lifetime, and the Naiserelagi Catholic Mission, built in 1917 and famous for its Black Christ mural.
The Yasawas epitomise what many people think of as ‘Fiji’ – a string of 16 unspoilt islands blessed with white-sand beaches and azure waters, where Fiji Time rules. Their volcanic peaks stretch to the north west of Viti Levu and are reached by the Yasawa Flyer, a catamaran service. It makes the nine-hour return journey every day and stops at several islands. All are beautiful, but each has its own character. So whether you want to sleep in a hut by the beach on Nanuya Lailai, where the classic Blue Lagoon films were shot, or live in luxury on stunning Turtle Island, it can be an interesting experience.
Slightly closer to Viti Levu, the Mamanuca Islands are equally beautiful. So much so they’ve also attracted the attention of Hollywood – untouched Monuriki Island is where Tom Hanks was stranded in Castaway. Wash up here and you’ll see why … Other popular spots include tiny Beachcomber Island, where partying with backpackers is the order of the day, and stunning Bounty Island, which is almost too perfect to be true. This necklace of islands is protected by an outer reef, which creates ideal conditions for snorkelling, scuba diving and other water-based sports.
If you plan on staying on Viti Levu, be sure to visit the Coral Coast. With one of the largest fringing coral reefs in the world, it’s a heady combination of sandy beaches, turquoise waters and deep blue ocean. A landscape of traditional villages, sugar cane fields and fantastic scenery, with added attractions like the Kula Eco Park thrown in, it’s a must-see.
If you venture to Vanua Levu you’ll probably end up in Savusavu. Small and quaint, this bustling little place rests on a peninsula and is the main tourism destination on Fiji’s second-largest island. Labelled a ‘Hidden Paradise’, the town is surrounded by scenic bays, rainforest, coconut groves and colonial-style homesteads. Savusavu was once a caldera and the area still has plenty of geothermal activity. Head to the hot springs up the hill from the main street and you might see local women cooking pots of root crops in the bubbling waters.
The Sigatoka Sand Dunes are one of Fiji’s natural highlights and have been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Why? They are scattered with relics from the island’s earliest settlers, including stone tools, pottery fragments and human remains that are more than 2,600 years old. One of the largest and oldest burial sites in the Pacific is also here. The dunes lie within the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park.
For the kids …
Zip Fiji promises a unique experience for the family as you soar over a tropical rainforest. Feel a rush of adrenalin as you view the forest from above while swinging from treetop to treetop on zip lines seven to 45 metres above the forest floor. Get up close and personal with Fiji’s stunning flora and fauna – and enjoy the rush of adrenalin as you fly like a bird.
Bamboo Rafting takes you on a gentle route down river travelling in the way your guide’s ancestors did for hundreds of years before roads or cars made their mark on Fiji. This activity gives you the chance to get close to the country’s pristine natural environment.
A Village Stay will probably be one of your most memorable experiences, and is a favourite with children of all ages. If you sign up, you’ll spend a night or two with a family in a local village. You’ll sleep in their bure – traditional home with bamboo walls and thatched roof – and learn all about village life. Be prepared to rough it as conditions are often basic, but the warm welcome more than makes up for the lack of warm water. The kids can learn how to make traditional Fijian dishes, or perhaps weaving or pottery making will be an activity.
Being the capital city, Suva is the largest city in Fiji and also has the country’s tallest building – the 14-storey Reserve Bank of Fiji Building. It’s also where you’ll find the most shops. Victoria Parade is a popular spot, with jewellery, clothes, handicrafts, souvenirs and artworks on offer, while the colourful Suva Market is where to head to sample fresh-from-the-vine tropical fruits.
Nadi is a main shopping town as well. You can find everything you need here, from electrical goods to handmade souvenirs and international clothing brands. A good place to start for gifts is Jack’s Handicrafts, a famous Fijian store. In stores such as Jack’s, where prices are fixed, don’t try to haggle. However, in the smaller shops run by Indian Fijians, haggling is still very much a practice – and half the fun. You can usually offer 40 per cent less than what they ask and a happy medium will soon be met.
Sigatoka, the main town on the Coral Coast, is fun to browse through locally made handicrafts, taste traditional Fijian dishes and watch local life unfold in the marketplace. There are plenty of retailers selling quality fashion and jewellery.
Fiji after dark …
On the main island of Viti Levu, many visitors don’t venture much further than the bars and restaurants in their resort, which is fine if you want a delicious meal followed by cocktails by the ocean. Some of the bigger resorts have nightclubs, but if you want to mingle with someone other than the people in the next hotel room, you’ll need to head to one of the towns – namely Nadi or Suva. Nadi has a smattering of drinking holes frequented by locals and visitors, and you’ll probably meet an interesting character or two. Suva has a more varied choice, with basement bars, live jazz and hip hop clubs. It’s also possible to find some local eating places for delicious dining at a fraction of the price you’ll pay in the resorts.
For many visitors, Fiji is all about relaxing on the beach, drink in hand, as they watch the sun slide into the ocean. And if you’re staying on one of the tiny islands, that is pretty much what you’ll be doing. Many are only large enough to accommodate one resort, so you’ll quickly get to know everyone in the bar. Others have two or more resorts, and you’re always welcome to walk down the beach to the next place for a change of scenery.
A Fijian meke (pronounced meh-kay) is great fun to watch and an interesting way to learn a little about local culture. It is a traditional dance that involves men, women and children performing routines that tell stories of everyday life, or the battles and gods of ancient times. Spears, fans, authentic costumes and rhythmic, pulsing music make this a vibrant spectacle. Many resorts hold mekes and tickets often include a lovo – a traditional feast where food is cooked in an underground oven of hot rocks. You’re often expected to join in during the last dance of the evening, but don’t worry … It’s great fun and the dancers are used to visitors with two left feet.
Sports / Outdoor Adventure
Like many nations in the Pacific region, Fijians love their rugby. The Fijian National Rugby Union Team regularly holds its own against some of the strongest teams in the world, including New Zealand’s All Blacks and Australia’s Wallabies – which is not bad for a country with a population of less than one million. Players in the national team are considered heroes in Fiji, and there is great jubilation at the airport when they return home after a win overseas. If a game is on during your visit, be prepared …
Thanks to the coral reefs that surround most of the islands, Fiji is known as the soft reef capital of the world and is a top dive destination. The overwhelming diversity of marine life found in the waters here is mind-boggling, and although a quiet, unhurried pace rules on dry land, it’s a different story under the ocean. Here it’s always rush hour as schools of brightly-coloured fish jostle for space with a multitude of other fascinating creatures. There are hundreds of dive sites to be explored, whether you’re a beginner or more experienced. A couple of dive operators can even take you to feed sharks.
There are plenty of opportunities to scale mountains and hike through rainforest in Fiji, and Koroyanitu National Heritage Park is a prime example. It offers stunning treks among sparkling waterfalls, fascinating archaeological sites and native rainforest. Admission includes a full-day hike to Mt Koroyanitu and the remains of a fortified village. Alternatively, follow the two-hour hike to the terraced gardens of Tunutunu, then carry on for another hour until you reach the summit of Castle Rock for jaw-dropping views of the Mamanucas and Yasawas.
Local Customs and Etiquette
Fijians are fairly traditional in their customs and culture, and respect plays a large.
Although it’s fine to wear your usual holiday attire in the resorts, this is not so if you visit a village or Fijian home. If you make such a trip, dress modestly. It’s a good idea to keep a sarong handy at all times to cover bare shoulders and legs. Removing hats and sunglasses is seen as a sign of respect, while touching someone’s head is seen as disrespectful. Always take off your shoes before entering a building.
It is also wise to speak quietly, as raised voices are seen as an expression of anger.
When visiting a village it is customary to present the chief with some kava. If you stay overnight a useful gift is appreciated.
Fijians are rarely judgmental of others, but if you follow these basic rules of etiquette your welcome will be even warmer than usual.
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