Located in the heart of the South Pacific, Fiji is blessed with 333 tropical islands that are home to some of the happiest people on Earth. From North America, Fiji can be reached in 10 hours from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. After sleeping through most of the flight, I landed in Nadi at 5:45am Fiji time.
Fiji’s Main Island: Viti Levu
As I disembarked the airplane, tropical warmth and humidity greeted me, which was a very welcome change from the freezing cold January temperatures that I left behind in Canada. I took a cab into the small city of Nadi from the airport and had breakfast at a local restaurant. I was eager to get to a beach and relax so I took a taxi to a secluded resort called the Namuka Bay Lagoon, located along Viti Levu’s ‘Hidden Paradise’, the Coral Coast. My driver was eager to tell me about the town, the food, industry, school system, and taught me my first Fijian words, BULA (which can mean Hello, Welcome, Come In) TAO (friend), and VINAKA (thank you). Upon arrival, I was checked in for 2 nights in a traditional thatched hut called a Bure, right on the beach. First on my list of tropical to-do’s was snorkelling – a small boat took a group of 6 out to a reef where I hopped into the refreshing, salty ocean and was promptly greeted face-to-face by my first reef shark, over 1 m long! Upon returning to the island, I walked along the beach looking at sea creatures when the tide went out. Namuka Bay’s host Voni, prepared delicious fresh Fijian meals, and I was surprised at how much Indian cuisine has influenced the traditional Fijian dishes. After my first couple of days, I began to notice a distinction between the Fijian language and a Fiji-Hindi mix. I enjoyed the self-sufficiency of this small and quiet resort; there were cows, goats, chickens, and a garden full of produce. There isn’t 24 hour power, but a generator powers the Bure’s lights and fan in the evening and the rooster serves as alarm clock!
When it came time to leave Namuka Bay, instead of a taxi, I opted for the local transportation system, FIJI EXPRESS, which are small busses that will stop to pick you up along the Island’s main road, at a fare of between $1-7 Fiji dollars. I set off along the South coast of this main island towards the town of Sigatoka, where I hiked a 3-hour trail through the Sigatoka National Park, whose feature is 50m high sand dunes. I found lunch in the easily walkable town at RAJs curry house and checked out the shopping. There was all kinds of discounted Roxy and Quicksilver gear for half the price that it is at home, yet a 100ml bottle of sunscreen will cost you $30. I spent the night at The Crow’s Nest Resort, which offers beautiful hillside villas with ocean views. The resort welcomes all guests including families. It was a great place to stay when breaking up the drive along the coast, and they offer many tours from this easy pickup location. It is not beachfront however it does offer a nice pool.
The next day, I continued via the FIJI EXPRESS bus to Suva, the capital. As the only non-local on the bus, some of the ladies were eager to engage in welcoming conversation. In fact, every person I passed greeted me with, Bula! Once in bustling Suva, I visited the National Museum and walked around taking in some sights including the University campus, markets, and some familiar franchises too such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, before taking a taxi over to my accommodation for the next 2 nights, the Colo-i-Suva Rainforest Eco Resort. As Fiji’s first purpose-built eco resort, it stands on the remnants of an ancient volcanic plug. Known in the Fijian language as Naulukaroa, which means the head of the clan. There was much to enjoy here, such as the hiking trails, natural hot springs and swimming in waterfalls.
When it came time to turn around and begin my return to Nadi, I stopped again along the coral coast, this time checking in to The Fiji Beachouse. This was a great affordable resort to spend my last 3 nights on the main island. They offer an extremely relaxed atmosphere, from the sandy beach bar with happy hour, open air restaurant, and some good breaks out beyond the reef for those interested in surfing. The best part was the sound system wired throughout which constantly played Ben Harper and Jack Johnston which you could hear at all times, even swaying on a hammock in the shade of a palm tree. Paradise!
Fiji’s Mamanuca & Yasawa Islands:
To explore some of the smaller island from Nadi, a short transfer to Port Denarau is in order, where you can catch a variety of high-speed ferries. I took the Yasawa Flyer, which visits several of the Mamanuca islands on the way to the Yasawas (those Mamanuca islands are South Sea, Bounty and Beachcomber). The marina at Denarau is most likely your last chance to get money from an ATM, post anything or buy items like personal hygiene products, bottled water and packaged snacks. Prices here are inflated though, so I loaded up on some large bottles of water at a small local variety store near Nadi beforehand. It was a long boat ride as I wanted to start at the furthest point North and make my way back South through the week.
My first stop was Nanuya Lailai Island, where I chose the Blue Lagoon Beach Resort; a friendly budget property offering semiprivate beachfront Bures with ensuite washrooms. The beach has gorgeous white sand and the water has a lot of reefs so there was some great snorkelling. I took the opportunity to hike across to the other side of the island, where the movie “Blue Lagoon” was filmed. I wasn’t sure which rainforest trail to follow, but the resort’s dogs are only too happy to accompany guests on a trek and lead you in the right direction! Nanuya Lailai has no roads (hence no cars), telephones, electricity, restaurants, banks, or shops – perfect for getting away from it all. The place had a laid-back atmosphere, described as having “a touch of real Fijian village charm” and I agree. The resort works closely with the people of Nacula village who share their way of life with you. My accommodation included three homemade meals a day, cooked by the women of the family that ran the resort. The family was also happy to have you inside their own home to see how they live, and meet the children; it is a very intimate atmosphere as there are not many guests on the island at one time.
Breakfast consisted of papayas, bananas, home-made bread or pancakes, and porridge. Lunch was either curry and rice, or fried fish and cassava, or sandwiches. Dinner was a meat stir-fry with some cassava and rice, sausages, served with the fish that the men had caught in the afternoon. A short walk down the beach brings you to Lo’s Tea House, where you can have mid-day tea or do some souvenir shopping from her small selection of local handicrafts.
The next island was Nanuya Balavu where I stayed at Manta Ray Island Resort. I had a great time at Manta Ray; their location boasts a marine reserve teeming with life, and the opportunity to swim with the manta rays which cruise the channels between islands. I participated in guided “drift diving”, where the diver is transported by the currents, giving the impression of flying and allowing the diver to cover long distances underwater, possibly seeing more habitats and formations than usual. It was really neat to enter the water on one side of the beach and not really feel as though you are swimming or making an effort to go very far, only to resurface half-way around the island! The elevated bar and dining area on the hillside offered beautiful views, and the resort provides wonderful nightly entertainment including the cultural experience of a kava ceremony.
I had such an amazing time exploring Fiji, and I intend to return with my husband & kids to see different islands!