We decided that the last stop on our world tour would have to be Fiji, for obvious reasons! Not only is it a tropical paradise of more than 300 islands; but, it is known for its rugged landscapes, endless beaches, and coral reefs, with crystal-clear lagoons as well as amazing sand bars! Believe it or not, Fiji is actually a practical stopover on the way back to the USA from New Zealand’s North Island, as it is only a 3.5 hour flight and is a common layover on most flight schedules. That said, if you have the time, you might as well stay to enjoy Fiji and make that layover worthwhile, right?
All major international flights to Fiji fly in and out of Nadi, a city on the island of Viti Levu, the most populated island in all of Fiji. We chose to spend the last 9 days of our trip in the lovely resort area of Denarau, which is an “island” with several high-end resorts. We opted to stay at The Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, a 5-Star hotel in Denarau, and it was perfect. We rented an apartment-style room with an ocean-view, large balcony and full kitchen amenities. This allowed us to save money and have a more budget-friendly holiday by cooking a lot of our own meals. We highly recommend staying at Hilton or any of the resorts on Denarau, especially because it is walking distance to the marina, where all the tours leave from. There is even a shuttle that transports guests to and from all the hotels and the marina every 10-15 minutes.
As we expected, the food and beverages were quite expensive in Fiji; but, the exchange rate was in our favor. 1 Fijian dollar was equivalent to about $0.50 USD, but the prices were highly inflated so as to compare with those in the USA.
If you’re having a problem deciding where to stay amongst Fiji’s 106 inhabited islands, the 2 largest islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The most popular areas to visit are the Nadi region (due to the location of the Nadi International Airport), Mamanuca Islands, the Coral Coast, and Denarau Island. The area you pick really depends upon what you enjoy doing while on holiday. Do you want to have plenty of restaurants and activities in close proximity? Are you interested in waterfall hunting and jungle hikes? Do you like diving and deserted beaches? Whatever it is you fancy, there is something for everyone on the islands of Fiji. You can visit Castaway Island, which is where the movie with Tom Hanks was filmed. You can also visit Mana Island which is a favorite for the producers of the hit TV show Survivor. Any place you choose will certainly be paradise!
One of the most memorable things about Fiji is the extremely open and friendly people. The locals are a very happy people and it’s easy to see by the way they are always jolly, laughing and in community with one another. There is one word you must learn when traveling to Fiji and that term is “Bula.” It is the most frequently-used greeting for Hello.
From the marina in Denarau Island, it is easy to book day trips throughout Fiji, either by boat or helicopter. The 2 best beach club options we found were Cloud 9 and Malamala Island.
Cloud 9 is Fiji's only two-level floating platform with a stocked bar and Italian wood-fired pizzeria surrounded by turquoise blue water and picturesque views. The cost is $115 per person and includes $30 bar/food credit. It’s about a 45 minutes speed boat ride to Cloud 9 and when you arrive, all the chairs and day beds are first come first serve. If you want the most comfortable and possibly shaded spots, make a beeline for the day beds on the 1st floor. All the seats fill up quickly so be sure to sit on the back, port side, of the transport boat. If you do, you will be among the first guests to board the Cloud 9 platform. The Cloud 9 beach club is definitely a unique experience and is fun for adults looking for a party vibe. There is a DJ, energetic bartenders and plenty of international tourists looking for a good time.
Another, more mellow day club option is called Malamala Island. Surrounded by Fiji’s famous crystal clear waters, Malamala Beach Club claims it is the world’s first beach club located on its very own island, just 25 minutes from Port Denarau. Enjoy the beach club with a day pass and experience white sand beaches, beachside cabanas, a pool, and views across the Mamanucas. Malamala Beach Club offers an a-la-carte menu, cocktails, and a club-like atmosphere with laid back tunes mixed all day long. Children are welcome here. The cost is $90 per adult and includes return coach connections and vessel transfers for your first visit only. Boat transfers depart from Port Denarau at 10:00am arriving at Malamala Beach Club at 10.30am. Departures from Malamala Beach Club are at 5.15pm daily.
Though Malamala an Cloud 9 are both excellent options for a fun day at the beach, we feel Cloud 9 offers a more unique, memorable experience, due to its location, floating in the middle of the ocean!
As mentioned previously, there are many tour operators at Port Denarau Marina. While wandering around the port, looking for the best tours at the best prices, we ended up at a small booth called Mana Flyer. We decided to book a private, 6-hour boat tour for an amazingly low price of $350 USD for 2-8 people. The boats are old and run down but the price couldn’t be beat.
Our captain picked us up directly from the beach at our hotel, making it so convenient for us. We brought our own beer and liquor and the captain provided fruit, water and mixers for us. We pre-planned our route with the tour operator and had the pleasure of cruising around some of Fiji’s most beautiful islands such as Castaway Island, Muscat Cove, Malolo Lailai, and Mana Islands. We also stopped at Musket Cove sandbar for a swim and snorkel on this gorgeous, private island. We stopped for some fishing near Castaway Island and had a long, leisurely lunch at the Plantation Island Resort. It was an amazing day. Our only regret is that we didn’t book a longer, 8-hour tour because the time just flew by.
One of the great things about Fiji is the jolly nature of the locals. They are extremely friendly, happy and open. In fact, we met a young taxi driver who invited us to have the infamous “Lovo” at his village. Lovo is the Fijian name for a feast cooked in the earth. The taste is comparable to barbeque, only a little more smoked, and it’s a very efficient way to cook large quantities of food at the same time. Watching the preparation of a lovo is an entertaining event that literally takes a village.
The first step in preparing a lovo is heating the rocks which serve as the base for the lovo. Specially selected stones are placed in a hot fire and left to absorb the heat. When the rocks are sufficiently heated, they are pulled from the flames and placed in the bottom of a shallow pit. Next, chicken, fish and pork are tightly wrapped in a weave of palm or banana leaves before being place in the bottom of the lovo pit. On top, you place a variety of root crops including dalo (the potato like root of the taro plant), cassava (the root of the tapioca plant) and Uvi (wild yam). Once the pit is filled with food, the entire hole is covered with earth and left to 'cook.’ After about 2 hours, the lovo is dug up and presented with celebration.
The experience of preparing the lovo was quite memorable. However, the be frank, the flavor certainly wasn’t our favorite. The meat turned out quite enjoyable; but, we weren’t as impressed with the root vegetables, as they were all quite bland.
Another Fijian tradition that you must experience while visiting the country is the Kava drinking ceremony. Kava plays a huge roll in Fiji’s culture and day to day life and is known as Fiji’s national drink. The majority of Fiji islanders drink kava on a daily basis and its effects are typically mild. In general, drinkers of kava attest that it makes you feel relaxed, enhances calm and lowers anxiety while promoting sociability. Higher doses can generate feelings of gentle euphoria, with greater sedation and mild motor impairment. Drink too much and you might fall asleep.
The chief of the village we visited claimed that Kava is a key part of problem resolution in the village. So much so, that Kava is consumed before and during every village meeting. Reason being, all the village problems and internal conflicts are solved when villagers get together and participate in the kava drinking ceremony. The popularity of kava in Fiji might help to account for the slow and relaxed pace of the islands and the popular concept of Fiji time. We both enjoyed the kava ceremony, the taste of the drink as well as the mild effects. It’s worth a try while in Fiji!
If you can imagine, 9 days in Fiji was not quite enough time to do it all! 5 additional tourist attractions to consider while visiting Fiji are as follows: