Set your internal clock to ‘Fiji time’: exploring the archipelago’s exquisite beaches, undersea marvels, lush interiors and fascinating culture shouldn’t be rushed.
Throwing Down the (Beach) Towel
Dazzling sands, perfect palm trees and waters so blue they glow – Fiji’s beaches look airbrushed. While stunning stretches abound, it’s on the islands of the Mamanucas and Yasawas that you’ll find heavenly heavyweights. These beaches are the poster-child for paradise, luring thousands of visitors keen to discover their own South Sea idyll. The appeal of the islands stretches beyond holiday snaps; the reefs, bays and sublime sands have provided cinematic eye candy to films including Cast Away with Tom Hanks and 1980 teen-dream classic The Blue Lagoon.
Wetter is Better
Fiji’s calm seas belie the riot of life going on within. With seemingly endless stretches of intensely coloured reefs and more than 1500 species of fish and colossal creatures Fiji’s underwater world is worth the plunge. Seasoned divers and snorkellers will find plenty to excite them, while first-timers will be bubbling excited exclamations into their mouthpieces. Anywhere a fin flashes or coral waves, you’ll find a diving or snorkel day trip and there are excellent live-aboard journeys for those after a truly immersive experience.
Beyond the Beach
While it’s easy to spend your holiday in, on or under the water, those who take the time to towel off will be rewarded by a wealth of terra firma treats. Fiji offers ample opportunities for hikers, birdwatchers, amblers and forest-fanciers, particularly on the islands of Taveuni – known as ‘The Garden Island’ for its ludicrously lush interiors – and Kadavu, a less-travelled slice of prehistoric paradise with almost no roads to speak of. If urban wildlife is your thing, Suva boasts a surprising nightlife scene, while towns like Savusavu entice with rollicking taverns and meet-the-locals haunts.
A Warm Welcome
Fijian life revolves around the church, the village, the rugby field and the garden. While this may sound insular, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more open and welcoming population. Though the realities of local life are less sunny than the country’s skies – many regions are poor and lack basic services – Fijians are famous for their hospitality and warmth, which makes it easy to make friends or immerse yourself in Fijian culture on a village homestay.
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Colo-i-Suva (pronounced tholo-ee-s oo -va) is a 2.5-sq-km oasis of lush rainforest teeming with tropical plants and vivid and melodic bird life. The 6.5km of walking trails navigate clear natural pools and gorgeous vistas. Sitting at an altitude of 120m to 180m, it’s a cool and peaceful respite from Suva’s urban hubbub. Slipping and sliding through the forest over water-worn rocks is the Waisila Creek, which makes its way down to Waimanu River and forms the water swimming holes along the way. The mahogany and pines were planted after a period of aggressive logging in the 1940s and ‘50s to stabilise the topsoil without impinging on the indigenous vegetation. Among the wildlife are 14 different bird species, including scarlet robins, spotted fantails, Fiji goshawks, sulphur-breasted musk parrots, Fiji warblers, golden doves and barking pigeons. The visitor information centre is on the leftside of the road as you approach from Suva. Buy your ticket here, check the state of the trails and any current security warnings, then head to the entrance booth on the other side of the road. The recommended route is to follow Kalabu Rd as it skirts the park, turning up Pool Rd to the car park. From here, you take the Nature Trail to the Lower Pools for swimming, the aforementioned rope swinging and, if you remembered to bring it, lunch. It’s a sweaty, uphill walk back to the main road via the Falls Trail. Without stopping this loop takes about 1½ hours to complete. There have been very occasional incidents of muggings in the park and thefts from parked vehicles. Use your judgement. Rangers will lead guided two-hour walks ($30). The park receives an annual rainfall of 420cm and the trails can be extremely slippery, so sturdy footwear is essential. The Sawani bus leaves Suva bus station every half hour ($2, 30 minutes) and will drop you at the gate. A taxi costs $15. If driving, follow Princes Rd out of Suva through Tamavua and Tacirua village.
This museum offers a great journey into Fiji’s historical and cultural and evolution. To enjoy the exhibits in chronological order, start with the displays behind the ticket counter and work your way around clockwise. The centre piece is the massive Ratu Finau (1913), Fiji’s last waqa tabus (double-hulled canoe), over 13m long and with an enclosed deck for rough weather. Other attractions in the main hall include war clubs, a gruesome display about cannibalism and the rudder from The Bounty (of Mutiny fame). The growing influence of other South Pacific and European cultures is documented in a hall on the other side of the museum shop. It is here that you’ll find the well-chewed, but ultimately inedible, shoe of Thomas Baker, a Christian missionary eaten for his indiscretions in 1867. Upstairs, a small Indo-Fijian hall chronicles some of the contributions made by the Indian workers and their descendants who were brought to Fiji in the 1870s as indentured labourers. Also on the same floor is a gallery of beautiful masi by some of Fiji’s finest contemporary artists. The museum continually undertakes archaeological research and collects and preserves oral traditions. Many of these are published in Domodomo, a quarterly journal on history, language, culture, art and natural history that is available in the museum’s gift shop. The museum has excellent open days on the last Saturday of every month, with live music, traditional dance (and sometime firewalkers), poetry, food and craft stalls. After visiting the museum, ponder your new-found knowledge with a wander through the compact but beautiful Thurston Gardens. The dense conglomeration of native flora and surrounding lawns are less manicured and growing more haphazard with every coup, but it was here that the original village of Suva once stood. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic – particularly if you camp yourself under one of the grand and stately fig trees.
It’s the beating heart of Suva and a great place to spend an hour or so poking around with a camera. The boys with barrows own the lanes and they aren’t afraid to mow down a few tourists to deliver their cassava on time. Besides the recognisable tomatoes, cabbages and chillies, look out for bitter gourds, jackfruit, dalo (taro), cassava and yams. Produce is cheaper than in supermarkets and there's no need to haggle – prices are clearly marked. If you need refreshment, try the fresh pineapple juice stands. Head upstairs to buy your sevusevu. Yaqona (kava) root costs anything from $25 to $40 a kilo and a gift of these guarantees 100-watt smiles. Only cheapskates opt for the powdered, less potent, stems.
This riotously bright Hindu temple is one of the few places outside India where you can see traditional Dravidian architecture; the wooden carvings of deities travelled here from India, as did the artists who dressed the temple in its colourful coat and impressive ceiling frescos. Dress modestly and remove your shoes at the entrance; photos are okay in the grounds, but not the temple. The inner sanctum is reserved for devotees bringing offerings. The on-site temple custodian can help you make sense of it all.
The South Indian fire-walking festival is held here during July or August. Of all Fiji's cultural rituals, the extraordinary art of fire walking is perhaps the most impressive. Watching men display the poise of a lead ballerina while they traverse a pit of blazing embers without combusting is truly baffling. Even more mystifying is the fact that, originally, this ritual was practised in Fiji only on the tiny island of Beqa, and by two neighbouring and disparate cultures - Indigenous Fijian and Hindu - for completely different reasons. Indigenous Fijian firewalking is known as vilavilairevo (literally 'jumping into the oven'). Hindu fire walking is part of an annual religious festival coinciding with a full moon in July or August and lasts 10 days. Hindu fire walking is a religious sacrament performed mostly by descendants of southern Indians. They believe life is like walking on fire; discipline helps them to achieve a balanced life, self-acceptance and to see good in everything. The Hindu fire walking takes place at many temples around Fiji. Preparations for the ceremony are overseen by a priest and take three to 10 days, with the fire walking the climax of the ritual. During this period participants isolate themselves, abstain from sex and eating meat, and meditate to worship the goddess Maha Devi. The participants rise early, pray until late at night, survive on little food or sleep and dress in red and yellow, which symbolises the cleansing of physical and spiritual impurity. Yellow turmeric is smeared on the face as a symbol of prosperity and power over diseases. On the final day the participants at the Mariamma Temple bathe in the sea. The priests pierce the tongues, cheeks and bodies of the fire walkers with three-pronged skewers. The fire walkers then dance into an ecstatic trance for about 2km back to the temple for the fire walking; their altered state enabling them to perform the feat. Devotees' bodies are whipped before and during the ceremony. If fire walkers are focused on the divine Mother they should not feel pain. A decorated statue of the goddess is placed facing the pit for her to watch and bless the ceremony. It only takes about five seconds to walk along the pit, which is filled with charred wood raked over glowing coals, and the walk is repeated about five times to chanting and drumming. Fijian fire walking: the ability to walk barefoot on white-hot stones without being burned was, according to local legend, granted to a local chief by the leader of the veli, a group of little gods. Now the direct descendants of the chief (tui qalita) serve as the bete (priests) who instruct in the ritual of fire walking. Preparations for fire walking used to occupy a whole village for nearly a month. Firewood and appropriate stones had to be selected, costumes made and various ceremonies performed. Fire walkers had to abstain from sex and refrain from eating any coconut for up to a month before the ritual. None of the fire walkers' wives could be pregnant, or it was believed the whole group would receive burns. Traditionally vilavilairevo was only performed on special occasions in the village of Navakaisese. Today, though, it's performed only for commercial purposes and has little religious meaning. There are regular performances at the Pacific Harbour Arts Village, at the larger resort hotels, and at Suva's annual Hibiscus Festival.
Although there are many forts like it scattered all over Fiji, Tavuni Hill Fort is the most accessible for visitors. Built in the 18th century by Tongan chief Maile Latumai, this fort was a defensive site used in times of war and is one of Fiji’s most interesting historical sights. The steep 90m-high limestone ridge at the edge of a bend in the Sigatoka River is an obvious strategic location for a fortification. The views over the valley are tremendous. From this position, the surrounding area could easily be surveyed, both upstream and downstream, and the views are spectacular. Substantial earthworks were carried out to form yavu (bases for houses) and terraces for barricade fencing. There are also a number of grave sites, a rara (ceremonial ground) and a vatu ni bokola (head-chopping stone), as well as some beautiful curtain figs and an ivi (Polynesian chestnut tree) on the site. The fort is about 4km northeast of Sigatoka on the eastern side of the river, above Naroro village. Occasional local carriers make the trip past the entrance gate. A taxi costs $5.
Opened in June 1992, the parliament complex must be one of the world’s most striking political hubs. It was designed in the post-1987 atmosphere. The aim of maintaining indigenous Fijian values is apparent through the open-air corridors, traditional arts and structures, and masi cloths throughout. The main building, vale ne bose lawa (parliament house), takes its form from the traditional vale (family house) and has ceremonial access from Ratu Sukuna Rd. The complex is 5km south of the city centre. Free tours are offered, but you need to email in advance to arrange the visit. It's also possible to watch debates when parliament is in session – a calendar of sitting days is available on the website. It’s easiest to reach by taxi, but you can hop on a bus along Queen Elizabeth Dr and walk along Ratu Sukuna Rd for 1km.
Framed by thick, ridiculously green jungle, these three waterfalls (also known as the Bouma Falls) epitomise the 'Garden Island' epithet Taveuni is famous for. The first waterfall (24m) has a change area, picnic tables and barbecues; it's an easy stroll from the visitors centre. It’s a 30-minute climb (and river-rock hop) to the second one; the third involves a hike along an oft-muddy forest path for another 20 minutes. Rocks and paths leading to the last two falls can get very slippery; they can be cut off during wet season. All waterfalls have natural swimming pools; at the third – if you bring a snorkel – you'll see hundreds of prawns. You must sign in (and pay) at the visitors' centre before heading off. Do not go alone: this is a very isolated spot.
This wildlife sanctuary showcases some magnificent wildlife. This includes Fiji’s only native land mammal, the Fijian flying fox; and an aviary full of quarrelsome kula parrots, Fiji’s national bird and the park’s namesake. The park runs invaluable breeding programs, with success stories for the Pacific black duck (Fiji’s only remaining duck species) and the crested and banded iguana. Kula Eco Park is set in rambling forested grounds. Ambling down the wooden walkways, reading the labels on the native plants and poking in and out of the walk-through aviaries is a lot of fun (and less confronting than viewing the owls and raptors in their small individual cages). The park is 100% funded by gate receipts and donations. There’s also decent wheelchair access.
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