ON FINAL APPROACH to Fiji’s Nadi International Airport, the gin-clear blue/green waters, green hills and white sands resemble the next location for the new release of Blue Lagoon or Castaway, both filmed here. It’s the perfect image of the South Pacific we all fantasize about, unfolding right below your wingtip.
Bula (welcome)! Mute your electronics for the length of your visit and you can live a Hollywood-style tropical dream, but you will have to choose among Fiji’s 333 islands, of which only around 100 are inhabited.
U.S. visitors leave California on Fiji Airways, the only direct service to this paradise from the mainland and Honolulu. Direct service is also available from Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Cruise ships visit, but the schedules and total time involved make it impractical to cruise and disembark in Nadi. Considering the many things to see and do on the island, you won’t want to spend your South Pacific escape sitting on a cruise ship.
Upon clearing customs and immigration (in the airport’s comfortable, air-conditioned building), visitors have a variety of ground transportation options. Rental cars are plentiful and reasonably priced. Choose from private cars and cabs, drivers who offer guide services for the day, and local walking guides.
Many visitors book daytrips and excursions before leaving home so they won’t miss swimming in the real Blue Lagoon or a hike to see the stunning Kadavu waterfall. Rosie’s Holidays is one of the most popular tour operators. Many resorts and hotels have their own private islands for an exclusive day in tropical nirvana and an active booking desk for tours.
Historically, Fiji didn’t have an easy birth. It was settled around 1500 B.C. by the Lapita tribe. Members of the neighboring Tongan tribe attacked the Lapitas for more than 500 years. In 1774 Capt. James Cook sailed through the region and branded them Fijians.
Around 1830 Christian missionaries from England began arriving to convert the natives, quite successfully, to Christianity, although the local warlords maintained control. In 1875 a measles epidemic killed a third of the population, and Fiji soon became part of the British Empire. Indentured labor arrived in the form of more than 60,000 workers from India to work the cane plantations. In 1987 Fiji declared itself independent and installed a prime minister of Indian descent. From 2000 to the present three coups took place, ending in a supervised democratic election. The population has now grown to more than 900,000.
Many activities, sightseeing tours and rentals leave from Denarau Harbor on Viti Levu island near the airport and also from its capital, Suva, 100 miles away on the other side of the island. Suva is considered the main commercial city where most of the island’s business is conducted, and it offers the largest collection of live music, bars and nightlife.
For visitors who prefer to travel independently, island-hopping is much easier than in many other South Pacific destinations. Options include rental cars, cabs, watercraft of all sizes and even a train ride on the Coral Coast Railroad. You can ride the train, originally installed to haul sugar cane, from Nadi to Sigatoka to see one of the grandest beaches on Vita Levu, Natadola Beach. Once there, don’t miss the spectacular sand dunes and the Tavuni Hill Fort, dating back to the 18th century.
Heading south about 20 miles by car from Nadi, you’ll arrive in Lautoka and the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, a destination worthy of a visit whether you are into horticulture and gardens or not. You’ll see more than 150,000 Asian orchids — 2,000 species — in more than 50 acres at the base of the Sabeto Mountains. The Sleeping Giant received its name from the silhouette of a sleeping giant that appears at the top of the range. Enjoy a drink in the reception area where the views are the best.
Just a few miles from Suva lies the Navua River, perfect for a float that can last a full day, with lunch. This freeform, lazy, freshwater river makes for a cooling day for visitors of any age. Nightlife in Suva is as relaxed as it gets — all on island time. The party often begins after a rugby match, the national sport. Then choose among the bars and dance clubs for every taste. Locals welcome all visitors, including the LGBTQ community, though there are no specific dedicated gay-friendly clubs.
You can shop for souvenirs from Fiji at small stands scattered throughout the major tourist islands and always surrounding major attractions. But if you’re a serious shopper, head to the municipal market in Suva, which covers an entire city block. Beware of hiring “guides” who claim they will take you to the best deals.
Dive the famous Blue Lagoon, one of the top scuba/snorkel spots in Fiji, complete with its own resort. It’s unbelievably clear and pristine; if you enjoyed the 1970s movie, you’ll love the real thing. Allow at least a half day here.
If you have an open night, Fijians are famous for a traditional gathering and feast called a lovo. The menu is endless, with meats marinated in coconut cream and spices and then buried in an underground oven for hours. The lovo defines the concept of a South Pacific outdoor buffet and picnic. Live entertainment is often a bonus.
After your lovo, you might have the opportunity to sit down with the locals and enjoy another tradition, a kava-drinking session. Kava is made from a native root that is mildly narcotic and passed around in a yaqona bowl. It’s most popular in the Yasawa Islands.
Remember to use a little Fijian bula along with a big smile when on the island. This is a welcoming culture. And when you depart, leave one more smile and wave with a big “Vinaka!” — “Thank you!”
Fiji Info to Go
Travel to Fiji is almost exclusively by air for U.S. mainland visitors via Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), and from Honolulu (HNL) on Fiji Airways. Flying time takes about 10 hours from California. Direct service is also available from New Zealand, Australia and Korea. All flights arrive at Nadi International Airport on the island of Viti Levu, a transportation center for travel to most of the other islands. Once on the ground, several cruise lines and ferries operate throughout the islands, as well as light aircraft and seaplane service to many islands. Private charter service on fixed-wing or helicopter is also available.
Where to Stay in Fiji
FIJI MARRIOTT RESORT MOMI BAY Bungalows built over the peaceful bay set the tone for the ultimate tropical experience on the main island. Convenient for day-tripping to other sites. Even the kids will like the food here. Savusavu Road, Momi Bay, Nadi, Viti Levu $$$$
INTERCONTINENTAL FIJI GOLF RESORT & SPA The full-service luxury property features 18 holes of golf, a spa and 35 acres of gardens and pools, plus a wedding pavilion. If you must have a meeting in Fiji, the hotel offers complete business facilities. Maro Road, Natadola Bay, Viti Levu $$$$
KOKOMO PRIVATE ISLAND FIJI A true private island retreat with its reef just off the beach, this hotel has only 21 guestrooms, each with a private pool. You’ll arrive on a private seaplane. Yakuve Island $$$
Restaurants in Fiji
DAIKOKU Serving authentic upscale Japanese cuisine, much more than sushi, this friendly and casual eatery welcomes kids. Two locations on Viti Levu. Northern Press and Queens roads, Martintar, Nadi FNPF Place Dolphins Foodcourt, Victoria Parade, Suva $$$
NAVO Enjoy fine dining overlooking the lagoon at Navo, specializing in local seafood and boasting an extensive wine list. Ask about a private cabana. InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, Maro Road, Natadola Bay, Viti Levu $$$$
PORTS O’CALL With elegant décor from a classic ocean liner, POC will impress with its tableside service and French- European menu. Sheraton Fiji Resort, Denarau Island South $$$$$
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