When you hear the word ‘Fiji’, what is the first thing that springs into your mind? Swaying palm trees rising high from fine white sandy beaches, with sparkling turquoise waters lapping at the shore. While these beaches are certainly dotted around Fiji, ten months living on this island taught me that sun, sea and sand are not all Fiji is about. Fijians are always smiling – and it is easy to see why when you see just how much they have right on their doorstep.
So, set your watch to the notoriously relaxed ‘Fiji time’, amble at your own sweet pace, and soak up all that this beautiful South Pacific island has to offer. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:
Road trip around Viti Levu
As well as stopping off at the many beaches lining your path, taking a road trip around Viti Levu- the ‘mainland’- will offer many other spectacular landscapes, from Joske’s Thumb (a thumb-shaped mountain just outside Suva), to lush green pastures. My favourite sight en-route was always the numerous coconut sellers: these smiley Fijians will greet you with a mighty ‘BULA!’- Fijian for ‘hello/welcome’, before cutting the top off a young green coconut, sticking a straw in it, and handing it through your car window…all for $2 FJD. Not only coconut sellers will line your route…aubergine sellers, mango sellers, even crab and fish sellers will hold up their goods as you drive past. All in all, this is a fantastic introduction to Fiji before cruising off to the islands.
Diving/snorkelling in Kadavu
Diving enthusiasts, take note: Kadavu, Fiji’s third largest island, may just be the new Mecca of diving. The Great Astrolabe Reef, the world’s 4th largest barrier reef, has plenty of beautiful diving sites to offer even the most experienced diver. Eagle Rock is one of the many highlights, with its sunken boulders, pinnacles, narrow channels, sheer walls and a rugged, rocky sea floor. A bounty of tropical sea life awaits you, from graceful manta-rays, to turtles, to reef sharks.
Speaking of sharks, the Beqa Shark Dive- just an hour from Suva, Fiji’s capital- is a world-renowned encounter with these magnificent creatures. Reef sharks, tiger sharks, and even colossal bull sharks frequent Beqa Lagoon, and will often swim right up close to divers. Don’t be alarmed, they’re not looking for a human-flavoured snack- they will be much more interested in the food dished out by the divemasters. Witnessing these incredible creatures up close is a truly unforgettable experience; both you and your friends will be amazed at your bravery and the sharks’ splendour.
Sawa-i-lau caves in the Yasawas
After a few days relaxing on the stunning beaches in the Yasawas, you may be feeling the need to explore more of the beauty on these islands. Even the most ardent sun-worshipper will not regret taking a boat tour out to the caves on the island of Sawa-i-lau. The journey itself is worth the trip, as you weave through the northern part of the Yasawas; the lush green of the islands next to the perfect sea blue is something else. Prepare to be particularly spellbound by the waters lapping the shores as your boat arrives: in my opinion, probably the most exquisitely clear in Fiji. Brooke Shields also once graced these shores; the Sawa-i-lau caves featured in the iconic film, ‘Blue Lagoon’.
As you climb into the first and largest cave, lower yourself into the natural pool and marvel at the stunning, jagged limestone formations around you. Swim into the next cave through an exhilarating underwater tunnel, before your tour guide leads you along the pools that cut through the cave’s shadowy passages. Fusing adventure with natural beauty, nobody will leave these caves disappointed.
Wind-surfing in Nananu-i-ra
For a little island, Fiji’s weather can wildly fluctuate, and windsurfers will love the strong winds off the tiny northern Fijian island of Nananu-i-ra. Accommodation wise, Safari Lodge is the best for water-sport fans, providing free equipment for kitesurfing, windsurfing and snorkelling/diving trips. Personally, I prefer the beaches on the other side of the island; a dip into the calmer waters outside Betham’s Beach Cottages will leave you relaxed, and ready to relax in the beach-side restaurant for the evening. Nananu-i-ra has yet to be touched by the same backpacker crowds as the Yasawas; up at Sunset Point, you are likely to enjoy a sunset that is exclusively yours.
Horse-riding and surfing along Natadola Beach
Though the Yasawa Islands may boast some of Fiji’s most beautiful beaches, the mainland has a strong contender of its own. With its soft, golden sands and azure waters, Natadola Beach- often ranked as one of the world’s top beaches- was a regular haunt of mine. A horse-ride along the shore makes for a unique beach experience; make sure you are not getting charged more than $20 FJD. For those riding for the first time, the friendly horse-owners will lead the horse for you; regular riders can canter or even gallop across the sands.
For years, Natadola has been one of the country’s best surfing spots for beginners; since the major 2012 floods in Nadi, the higher waves now attract more experienced surfers. Whatever your skill level, every surfer will find a wave to ride along this beach, with boards easily rented from the nearby Intercontinental Hotel.
Though Fiji may seem just like a beach-holiday location, she also has much to offer both the adventurer and culture-seeker. Although this Pacific paradise is certainly the perfect detour for backpackers to Australia and New Zealand, Fiji is a quality destination in her own right. I found it very difficult to say ‘moce’ (Fijian for ‘goodbye’) to this island after ten months; I have no doubt that any holiday-maker will feel the same way.