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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 are a keen walker or nature lover, the Koroyanitu National Heritage Park is definitely worth a visit. There are six villages within the park that cooperate as part of an ecotourism project. They maintain the landscape and tracks, and subsequently earn tourist dollars through village stays and manning the office.
One of Fiji's natural highlights, these impressive dunes are a ripple of peppery monoliths skirting the shoreline near the mouth of the Sigatoka River. Windblown and rugged, they stand around 5km long, up to 1km wide and on average about 20m high, rising to about 60m at the western end. They were made a national park in 1989.
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