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.
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