FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Fiji: Good Things Come In Small Packages

Feb 1, 2006
2006 / February 2006

Fiji’a renowned reputation is true: The people of this 300-island South Pacific archipelago are undeniably amiable. Fijians and Indo-Fijians (ethnic Indians have been in Fiji since the late 1800s) are not just going through the motions. Their friendly nature is not part of some grand marketing strategy to attract visitors. These people are genuinely happy and kind. Consider this: A guest at Nadi’s Tanoa International Hotel was so sad to leave that she cried at checkout. In an attempt to make her feel better, the clerk gathered a group of staff to sing “Isa Lei,” or “Fond Farewell.” Such acts of generosity and warmth are commonplace here. The local greeting, “bula,” is heard countless times each day, but never gets old. Instead, it inspires visitors to adopt the same carefree benevolence.

While Fiji’s good-natured ambience is infectious, visitors from all walks of life — families, business travelers, backpackers — will discover that it delivers an experience to suit just about anyone’s idea of nirvana.

Located in the heart of the South Pacific and totaling just more than 7,000 square miles, Fiji boasts a number of resorts — most of them large, sprawling complexes located on the main island of Viti Levu. Though certainly prime spots for R&R, they are also quite formulaic: All offer various cultural and water activities, and most are equipped with spas, tennis courts and golf courses, as well as a number of dining venues.

If you’re looking to balance resort life with a sense of Fijian culture — which is fascinating in its differences from northeast to southwest — it may be best to select a resort that’s close to a major town or city. Denarau is close to Nadi Town, Fiji’s third largest city, located on the northwestern side of the island of Viti Levu. Nadi Town is a mini metropolis with international fine dining and new, marble-floored shopping complexes — all of which look somewhat out of place amid the many smaller shops and restaurants on Main Street. Currently one central strip, the city is slowly growing, thanks to tourism and its position as gateway to Fiji.

First Landing Resort offers ready access to the well-known gold-and-green sugarcane fields of Lautoka Town, also on the northwestern side of Viti Levu. Tour a sugar mill or meander through the city’s municipal market. Larger than Nadi, Lautoka is less affected by tourism, and visitors might find it easier to peruse goods and handicrafts without constant hounding from local shop owners or vendors.

Farther south, and easily accessible from the Shangri-La Resort on Yanuca Island, Sigatoka Town is reminiscent of a place you might find in India. Sardarjis (Indian men in turbans) sit barefoot on benches while Hindi music blares from speakers hanging outside box-size music shops. An assortment of small, family-run eateries offer a taste of authentic Fiji-Indian food — transcendent flavors you will never find in more-established dining venues.

Suva, Fiji’s capital and largest city, is the only place in the country where the buildings are taller than the palm trees. It is also the most culturally diverse, with a population that includes Fijians, Indians, Europeans, Chinese and representatives from many other South Pacific islands. Ironically, Suva is very clear about its identity. By day, Suva is lazy and quiet; at night, it’s a city that likes to party.

For the traveler who wants asylum from the rigors of daily life and seeks to avoid any sort of urban stimuli, a holiday on one of Fiji’s smaller islands is the ideal escape. Unsullied corners of paradise are few, but Fiji has a significant number of them. Turtle Island, the original, was the inspiration for other, similar resorts that soon followed. The focus is on couples seeking a quiet, personalized getaway. Visitors to Turtle Island expect the world to fade away — and it does. There are no televisions, no telephones and only 15 traditional Fijian houses, called bures, to accommodate a maximu m of 30 guests at any given time.

Still, there’s plenty to do. Champagne is abundant, as is exceptional cuisine. Activities include deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, horseback riding, private picnics and trekking. On Sundays there is a screening of the 1980 movie The Blue Lagoon, which was filmed on the island. Some nights, the staff hosts a crab race. Other nights, guests are escorted to a mountaintop for sunset cocktails followed by a moonlit dinner.

In addition to its reputation as one of the world’s most luxurious resorts, Turtle Island — and others like it — is environmentally friendly. It’s owned by a pleasantly eccentric millionaire, Richard Evanson, whose goal was to restore vegetation after Cyclone Bebe virtually destroyed the 500-acre island in 1972. To that end, Evanson planted more than 300,000 tropical saplings, which also served to protect the surrounding reefs from the sediment that was constantly trickling down into the sea. Even now, more than 30 years later, Evanson remains mindful of the environment, constantly thinking of new ways to protect the island.

Other parts of Fiji are equally tranquil, but far more rugged. A visit to Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu, is like stepping back in time. Fire-walking is real pastime, electricity is locally generated and you can chew on sugarcane pulled straight from the field. The culture has been preserved for generations. There are no bottles of Moët & Chandon here. This is an island best explored by the backpacker.

Fiji is more than white sand and coconut trees — though these things have their value. It is a place blessed with impressive diversity, and this affords the people of Fiji a deep sense of pride. Perhaps this is the source of their much-heralded good humor.


LODGING

SHERATON ROYAL DENARAU

Soon to be rebranded as the Westin Resort and Spa, the hotel has undergone a major refurbishment to transform it into a five-star luxury resort. In addition to the new tropical pool area, lounge and lobby, each room has been redesigned in traditional Fijian fashion, with simple artistic handicraft pieces lining the walls, furniture made from dark vesi and palm wood, and brilliant white linens. Amenities include high-speed Internet, 32-inch LCD TVs and Bose DVD players and sound systems. The new spa — featuring 10 treatment rooms, two spa suites, a sauna and steam room, a “geisha bath” pool and outdoor showers — is surrounded by a landscaped tropical garden. Adjacent is the workout gym and lap pool. Activities are abundant, including a variety of water sports, volleyball, tennis and cultural shows. Also, the hotel is only a short cab ride into Nadi Town, for local cuisine and shopping. $$$$
SHERATON ROYAL DENARAU
Denarau Island North
tel 011 679 675 0000, fax 011 679 675 0259
www.starwoodhotels.com

SHANGRI-LA’S FIJIAN RESORT

Last July, all 436 rooms at this property were modernized. The new decor features soft earth tones, subtle lighting and private balconies overlooking either a lagoon or the Pacific Ocean. There are also 12 executive suites and four beachfront bures for those interested in more-luxurious accommodations. The resort houses five restaurants and six bars, including Bilo Bar and the Black Marlin Bar and Bistro. Activities include a nine-hole executive golf course, tennis courts, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, scuba-diving and nature walks. In addition, the hotel has several new venues for conferences: the Davui Hall conference facility, a pavilion for events and (to be completed this summer) the Davui Event Centre, with the latest audio-visual technology for larger meetings. $$$$
SHANGRI-LA’S FIJIAN RESORT
Yanuca Island
tel 011 679 652 0155, fax 011 679 650 0402
www.shangri-la.com

TURTLE ISLAND

Vovosa malua mai vei au. Here, life really is like a beautiful song. Only 15 bures line a white-sand beach on this small, privately owned island. Step out of the hot tub and into the large, open shower. Wrap yourself in a robe and walk to the refrigerator for some chilled Moët & Chandon and fresh fruit, then lie down to relax — either in the plush, king-size bed, or in the full-size outdoor bed — while it rains on the tin roof overhead. When the weather clears, request a private beach lunch, call your bure mama (your personal car etaker) and arrange to go snorkeling, diving or deep-sea fishing. $$$-$$$$
TURTLE ISLAND
tel 360 256 4347 or 877 2TURTLE
fax 360 253 3934
www.turtlefiji.com


DINING

CHEF’S THE RESTAURANT

Fiji boasts only a handful of swanky dining venues, but Chef’s is undoubtedly one of them. Customers dine in a softly lit aqua-and-coral room, where a waterfall cascades smoothly over a rock wall. The international menu, which changes with the season, includes a variety of burgers, a pan-fried snapper topped with sweet brown applesauce and grilled beef tenderloin.
CHEF’S THE RESTAURANT
Sagayam Road, Nadi
tel 011 679 670 3131/3322
fax 011 679 670 3486

CURRY HOUSE
The food in this small eatery — which features Chinese, Indian and Fijian cuisine — is delicious. The Indian dishes are definitely worth a taste, served on traditional Indian tin plates with pickled mango and chili; it becomes very clear that Indians have left their culinary mark on the islands. Try the chicken curry served with a bowl of dhal, a light lentil soup; rice; and roti, Indian-style bread.
CURRY HOUSE
Hospital Road and Main Street, Nadi
tel 011 679 670 0798

ASHIYANA

Sit in this dimly lit, maroon-and-olive-green-accented restaurant while soft Hindi music plays in the background. The service is a bit slow, but that is the way of the island. Try the marinated boneless chicken roasted in tandoor, vegetables in a creamy curry, curried lamb, spiced yogurt, mango chutney and fresh bread.
ASHIYANA
Old Town Hall
Victoria Parade, Suva
tel 011 679 331 3000


DAY TRIPS

There are several tours worth noting. The half-day Viti Lookout Tour guides visitors into the heart of Nadi, through Sabeto Valley to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which contains a collection of 30 to 40 varieties of Asian orchids and cattleya hybrids. From there, the tour moves on to Viseisei Village, the landing site of the first Fijians, almost 3,000 years ago. The Vuda Lookout allows for a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the western mountain ranges, Nadi Bay and the Yasawa island group. The full-day Nausori Highland Trek takes visitors to a traditional Fijian village at the base of the Nausori Highlands. There you will find a Fijian pagan temple, taste an authentic Fijian lunch and go mountain trekking and swimming. Or tour the island from above: You can go hot-air ballooning to observe the verdant interior highlands, or view Fiji’s dense rain forests and waterfalls from a sea plane. From Suva, it is also worth a visit to Levuka, the country’s original capital city, to view its pre- and post-colonial buildings.


DIVERSIONS

When it comes to nightlife, the two major Fijian cities are polar opposites. Although Nadi is Fiji’s gateway, one would not know it from walking the streets of Nadi Town — it’s quiet, and everything seems to close down at 6 p.m. That said, there are a few spots to try if you’re looking for fun. Club Rangeela (6-12 Andrews Road, tel 011 679 670 7171) is good for some Indian, Fijian and even hip-hop music, plus billiards, or make your way to Ed’s Bar (Lot 51, Martintar Namaka, tel 011 679 672 4650) offers kava, the local brew. For something a bit more subdued, visit the Tanoa International Hotel (Nadi Airport, tel 011 679 672 0277, fax 011 679 672 0191, www.tanoahotels.com).

The capital city, Suva, offers much more in the way of nightlife, but be cautious because late-night crime can be a problem. Be sure to take a cab, rather than walk, around the city. With that in mind, kick things off with an early movie at the Village 6 Cinemas (Scott Street, tel 011 679 330 6006), an American-style emporium with six screens and a games arcade. Later, follow the local “beeline” for the bars and clubs, particularly on Friday nights. Birdland (6 Carnavon St., tel 011 679 330 3833) is a great place for blues and jazz fans. Visit the Barn (12 Carnavon St., tel 011 679 330 7845) for the Western vibe and line-dance to American country-and-Western music, or head to O’Reilly’s (5 MacArthur St., tel 011 679 331 2968) for some Irish flavor and Guinness stout. Traps Bar (305 Victoria Parade, tel 011 679 331 2922) is a local favorite, with live jazz some nights, hip-hop others and, less frequently (but a treat if you can catch it), poetry readings by Fijian poets. There are also quite a number of discotheques along Victoria Parade.


INFO TO GO

Though small — only one terminal — Nadi International Airport (NAN) is the gateway to Fiji, and is located about five miles from Nadi Town. The international carrier Air Pacific connects Fiji to Los Angeles (LAX) with four weekly flights. Taxis and rental cars are available outside the terminal. There are no special airport buses; however, local buses run twice a day (9:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.) between Lautoka and Suva, with stops in Sigatoka and at Nadi Airport. It is also possible to prearrange transportation with many hotels and guesthouses. For more information about the islands, visit www.bulafiji.com.

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