Few names conjure up such vivid pictures of tropical splendor as that of Fiji. A four-letter synonym for “escape,” its mere mention can provoke a deep desire to pack up the family and flee for a faraway shore.
And Fiji is most certainly that.
As remote as it is relaxing, the mostly mountainous, 332-island archipelago is situated in the turquoise waters of the South Pacific, about 1,100 nautical miles northeast of New Zealand. For Americans, and especially East Coasters, getting there with kids in tow can be a bit complicated. First there’s the flight to Los Angeles, then the 10-hour overnight flight to Viti Levu, the country’s largest island and commercial hub — locals call it the “mainland” — and then a final flight or ferry ride to the beach chair of your choice.
Yet whatever suffering you endure in transit, rest assured the pain fades fast upon arrival. Because what Fiji lacks in convenience, it makes up for in bewildering, cinematic scenery — crystal blue bays, lush green forests, rushing waterfalls and white-sand beaches. This is, after all, island paradise as imagined by Hollywood; it played the stunning backdrop in blockbusters like Cast Away and The Blue Lagoon and served as the setting for the “heaven sequence” in the sci-fi thriller Contact.
Still, what you see on the silver screen is only part of the picture. Fiji may have ridden to fame on its physical attributes, blessed as it is with natural good looks — both above water and below. But this is a star of considerable substance, and not least for the Fijians themselves. A warm and exceedingly hospitable people, they greet visitors with a heartfelt “Bula!” (“Good health!”) and value family and friendship above all else.
That quality comes through in the many kid-friendly resorts scattered all around the country and in the myriad activities families can do together — everything from snorkeling and scuba diving with the colorful creatures found throughout Fiji’s world-renowned system of coral reefs to ziplining over the jungle canopy and island-hopping on a jet-ski safari. Indeed, if Fijian resorts cater to couples in love, they do so in part by helping out with the kids — or as the kids may see it, by helping out with the parents.
Either way, at the privately run Castaway Resort, everyone is happy. Located on Castaway Island in the Mamanucas, Fiji’s most filmed and photographed chain of volcanic islands, the resort features a Kids Club (9 a.m.–9 p.m.) staffed by professional caretakers, where the little ones can build sandcastles, sing, dance and swim with new friends. Come dinnertime, kids can choose what they please from a “kid-themed” buffet before heading off again on a nighttime crab hunt while parents savor the splendid isolation of candlelight dinner on the beach.
Located just off the mainland in the crystal-clear waters of a large lagoon, the Mamanucas are also ideal for small snorkelers and divers, with a weak current, lots of wildlife and miles of marvelous coral reef. Castaway offers snorkeling trips to the outer reef as well as guided dives at some of the area’s most famous sites, among them the “Supermarket,” where shark feeding fills the water with black tips and bulls; and “Big W,” so named for the plethora of plus-sized creatures typically seen there, including manta rays, sea turtles and even the elusive whale shark on occasion.
Another standout among Fiji’s 5-star properties is the fabulous Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort. Set on 17 acres of a former coconut plantation, the family-friendly getaway boasts an award-winning Bula Club for kids of all ages. With its goal of helping children better understand and appreciate the world around them, the club offers daily programs of activities that educate as they entertain, teaching kids about conservation and local culture. Friendly one-on-one nannies and buddies supervise safe adventures and games, naptime and healthy meals from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and parents are encouraged to participate when not napping themselves in an oceanfront bure, as Fijian bungalows are called, or taking a stroll along the nearby reef with the resort’s resident marine biologist.
One of the most popular family activities in Fiji is sea kayaking around the spectacular Yasawa Islands, home to the country’s most celebrated beaches. More sparsely populated than the Mamanucas and a bit farther from Viti Levu, the ever-sunny Yasawas are ideal for exploring the outdoors. Most sea kayaking trips start from Fiji’s famous Blue Lagoon and include visits to the stunning limestone caves of Sawa-I-Lau as well as a village on Tavewa Island, where kids can get a glimpse of traditional life in the “real Fiji.”
For those who prefer a faster pace, jet skis offer an adrenaline-pumping alternative the whole family can enjoy. At Adrenalin Fiji on tiny Denarau Island adjacent to Viti Levu, kids ages 8 and older can ride tandem with a parent through a fun beachside course that stays close to shore. The company also runs a two-and-a-half-hour jet ski safari around the Mamanucas with stops along the way for snorkeling and snacks on a pristine beach. Led by experienced guides, the tandem ride tours cost about $320 and depart from Denarau twice daily, at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
If jet skis don’t satisfy their thirst for thrills, head to the lush green highlands of Viti Levu for a day of whitewater rafting down the Upper Navua Gorge. After a morning hike through the rainforest, families with children ages 8 and older can pile in the rubber raft and watch out for wildlife as they cling to their seats over class III rapids. Operated by Rivers Fiji, winner of five “Excellence in Tourism” awards from the Fijian government for its work in support of local communities and environmental sustainability, the trips pass between soaring walls of black volcanic rock, some as high as 120 feet, and more than 70 waterfalls from start to finish.
Rivers Fiji also offers inflatable kayak tours through the spectacular Namosi Valley. Families can paddle in pairs over easy class II rapids, float through gorgeous grottos and stop off for a visit to a highland village, where guests are welcomed with kava, the herbal concoction loved by locals for its anesthetic effects. Tours run year-round, with kayaking available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and whitewater rafting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at a cost of $179 and $219 per person, respectively.
Before you do anything, though, be sure to pick up a Bula Pass, the best way to move around affordably and quickly. Ranging in length from five to 21 days, the passes allow you to bounce around the archipelago on the bright yellow Yasawa Flyer, which provides regular and rapid transit among 30 resorts and 20 different islands throughout both the Mamanuca and Yasawa chains. The passes start at $221 and can be bought online from Awesome Adventures Fiji.
Fiji Info to Go
International flights arrive at Nadi International Airport (NAN), about six miles from Nadi Town, the country’s main domestic transit hub. Expect to pay around $15 for the trip in one of the yellow station wagons, but be sure to negotiate the price beforehand and keep in mind that you’ll have to pay in Fijian dollars. Regular flights connect Nadi to points throughout the country, while two companies, South Sea Cruises and Awesome Adventures Fiji, operate daily ferry service to resorts in the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands.
Where to Stay in Fiji
Castaway Island, Fiji Families “stranded” on this private island in the Mamanucas will never want to leave. Activities run the gamut from jet skiing to tennis. Castaway Island $$$
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort The finest family-friendly resort in the land, this may be as close to paradise as any parents get. Two children stay for free. Savusavu, Vanua Levu $$$$
Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa Located just 20 minutes from Nadi International Airport, this recently reopened 5-star features traditional Fijian décor and an awardwinning spa. Denarau Island North, Nadi $$$$
Restaurants in Fiji
Chefs, The Restaurant For formal dining in Nadi, let Chefs do the cooking. The global menu includes burgers, pizza and pasta for those with finicky appetites. Sangayam Road, Nadi $$
Daikoku Restaurant Suva Kids are sure to enjoy the show at this teppanyakistyle Japanese steakhouse in the capital, Suva. The service is snappy. Victoria Parade, Suva $$
Old Mill Cottage Housed in a beautiful timber cottage, this Suva institution serves up homecooked South Pacific fare. Try the palusami (taro leaves in coconut milk). 49 Carnarvon St., Suva $$
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