The Fiji archipelago is comprised of 333 islands, located at the crossroads of the South Pacific. Fiji’s main and largest island is Viti Levu, the next largest is Vanua Levu, and together they make up 85 percent of the country’s total land area, of which a little over a third of Fiji’s 333 islands are inhabited.
All the islands have picturesque coastlines, tall coconut palms nodding over still waters of brilliant turquoise, lagoons fringed by coral reefs and soft white sandy beaches.
Capital and major centres
Fiji’s capital city, Suva, is located on the south-east corner of Viti Levu, although most visitors have their first taste of Fiji via the international airport at Nadi, one of the other major towns on the main island. From there it is only a quick seven minute hop to one of the offshore island resorts, or less than an hour of flying time to Vanua Levu or Taveuni, the second and third largest islands. Nearby are the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands that offer picturepostcard beautiful lagoons and beaches. The old capital of Levuka on Ovalau Island has been carefully preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fiji is the ‘hub’ of the South Pacific, a melting pot of both the Polynesian and Melanesian races. The nation comprises of many different races and people. From 1879 to 1916, under British Colonial rule, Indians came as indentured labourers to work on the sugarcane plantations. After the indentured system was abolished, many Indians stayed on as independent farmers and businessmen. The principal language is English, however, Fijian, Hindustani, Chinese and other Pacific island languages are spoken. Most of the population is bilingual.
Fiji’s larger islands are volcanic while smaller islands are coral, limestone or sand cays. Coral reefs and lagoons abound.
High mountain ridges in the centre of the two main islands manipulates rainfall leaving regions with marked vegetation. The rain-drenched eastern regions are carpeted in thick, vinecovered forest while the drier, western regions showcase rolling grasslands and pine-covered hinterland. Typical coastal trees like coconuts and pandanus hug the coastal regions of every island.
Fiji’s unique land fauna includes native bats, birds, lizards and frogs.
Fiji is free of all serious plant and animal pests and diseases that plague other countries and endeavours to remain that way. Preserving the beautiful environment is an exercise that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests takes very seriously, strictly regulating the importation of any matter that may affect the country’s plant and animal life.
The sights A striking feature in Nadi is the Hindu temple at the southern end of town. This is the largest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere and the traditional Dravidian architecture is rarely seen outside of India. Natadola Beach is one of the most outstanding beaches in Fiji and only a half-hour drive south of Nadi. A trip to the Sawa-i-Lau Caves in the Yasawas is one of the ‘must-do’ activities for travellers.
A trip to Fiji’s most picturesque village, Navala Village in the Nausori Highlands is a trip back in time. On the banks of the Ba river against the stunning backdrop of the Ba highlands, the villagers of Navala still live in traditional thatched roof ‘bures’.
On the road from Nadi to Suva are the Kula Bird Park, rafting Navua Gorge at Pacific Harbour and the Sigatoka Sand Dunes.
In Suva, the national museum in the historical Thurston Gardens stands right next to Government House with its colourful guards dressed in red tunics and white sulus. Founded much earlier than other Pacific island museums, the national museum is unrivalled in the islands for the extent of its collection of anthropological and historical material.
Savusavu is home to the unusual attractions of the Nakama thermal springs and Namale blowholes. Wasali Nature Reserve is an untouched rainforest with hiking trails leading to spectacular views.
Where to stay
Accommodation is prolific and there’s something for every budget from luxury hotels, resorts and villas, to Fijian bures with modern facilities, cottages, lodges, townhouses and apartments.
Bures, based on traditional village thatched roof houses, are very popular with tourists as they provide an authentic Fijian atmosphere. The Fijian design incorporated into most hotels help maintain the exotic ambience of this South Pacific paradise.
Food and entertainment
Most nightclubs, restaurants and cinemas are located in the city centres with most of the larger hotels and resorts providing their own entertainment in the form of Fijian nights that include a lovo (food cooked in an underground oven), sometimes the yaqona ceremony (kava drinking) and always a meke (song and dance).
There’s a good selection of restaurants in the major centres featuring Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, and European foods. A number of places offer Fijian cuisine that is most often seafood, cooked in coconut milk and steamed or boiled rather than fried.
In Fiji motorists drive on the left side of the road, and overseas or international driving permits are valid for six months. There are a number of rental car agencies, an extensive local bus service on each of the main islands and deluxe coach tours. Taxis are inexpensive and predominantly metered. Ferries, helicopters and seaplanes provide transportation between an extensive network of docks and airfields throughout the islands and resorts.
Fiji is renowned for the variety of activities available. Water-based activities include snorkelling and diving spectacular reefs, surfing and SUP on world-class waves, kayaking to secluded bays, jet ski jaunts, challenging gamefishing and inter-island sailing. Land activities rival their watery counterparts for thrills with skydiving, cross-country cultural treks, canyon river rafting, tree-top ziplining and off-road buggy adventures.
Similar to the other areas in Fiji, food on the Tavenui Island is a typical combination of freshly sourced fish, other seafood and traditional root crops of Fiji like tapioca (cassava), taro, Fijian spinach, breadfruit, egg plant, western vegetables, avocados, etc. The cuisine is made even more flavorful by the incorporation of delicious tropical fruits like mangoes, guava, papaya, pineapples, coconut. There is also the influence of typical Indian cooking in the form of curries and addition of chilies and other Indian spices.
The locals on the Tavenui Island traditionally eat their food while sitting on the floor using their hands, even though the use of fork and knife is acceptable in modern Fijian culture as well. This way of eating has its roots in the earlier colonization by the British.
The “lovo”, also called Fijian “oven” forms a traditional element of the Island feast. Food is prepared over a stack of very hot rocks and shielded from the top by banana leaves or coconut palm leaves.
People in Fiji
Today, Fiji is a melting pot of ethnicities. Melanesians, Polynesians races and indigenous Fijians make up half the nation’s population with the remainder Europeans, Chinese and Indians. Christianity is Fiji’s dominant religion. Other faiths include Hinduism and Islam, as well as native Fijian beliefs systems.
Languages in Fiji
English is the official language, while Bauan – one of the many Fijian regional dialects – is the national indigenous language. Fiji, Hindi, Cantonese, Chinese and other Pacific languages are spoken while Fiji’s traditional links to neighbouring Rotuma, Tonga and Samoa influence the dialects of cultural practices.
This exposure to many languages has resulted in most Fijians being bilingual. Fiji English, a slang with characteristics of Fijian, English and Hindi, is used in casual settings.
Design & Architecture
Fiji-Islands-Tribal-HutCrafts practiced by men and women are kept separate. Women’s crafts include pottery, cloth making and weaving mats from pandanus leaves and coconut tree parts, while men are carve and build canoes. Fijian folk music contains heavy church influences and is often accompanied by ethnic percussion beats.
Simplicity and practicality were the main principles of Old Fijian village architecture, as you can see in the Navala Village. Each village had a meeting house and a spirit house (Bure Kalou) on an elevated base, used to differentiate social hierarchy.
Now, contemporary aspects of architecture have influenced the business, industrial and domestic sectors, and village structures have received updates such as modern materials.
Cultural & Legal Restrictions
Vibrant indigenous Fijian culture form a big part of day-to-day living for most, but society has evolved to make way for other traditions. Diverse races and intersection of traditions in Fiji create a unique, communal culture. Fijian society attributes great significance to the family unit, the village and the land (vanua). Villages, clans and tribes are preceded over by chiefs, who are descendants of former chiefs.
Indigenous Fijian ceremonies adhere to strict, elaborate etiquette. This is both a mark of respect between communal groups and a display of strengthening social, tribal and familial ties. Special objects used include the sacred tabua or whales tooth, tapa cloth, woven mats and Kava (or, locally, yagona) – Fiji’s national drink. Different regions also have their own practices that are passed on between generations. For instance, the Sawau tribe of Bega are well-known for being able to walk on hot stone coals, unscathed. Strict preparation rituals are required.
Pacific_Fiji-Islands_001Along with many of its Pacific Island counterparts, Fiji is a society with strong Christian morals and practices. You are advised to dress modestly and appropriate, leaving beachwear only for the beach. Shoulders and knees of both genders must also be covered – by sulus or sarongs, if necessary – especially when you visit churches. Hats should be removed when you visit villages and homes.
Fiji is a leader in eco-tourism, determined to preserved its pristine natural landscape. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests strictly regulates imports that may jeopardise the country’s plants and animals.
Shopping in Fiji
From affordable souvenirs to luxury international labels and duty-free shopping, shopaholics will be spoilt for choice on their Fiji holiday.
Popular Fiji holiday souvenirs include carved tanoa bowls meant for serving kava, Fijian combs and replicas of cannibal dorks. You could also buy handicrafts like woven baskets, fabrics and ceramics, or invest in the incredibly versatile sulu or sarong, which can be worn by both genders, all sizes and in multiple ways.
Shops and bazaars, especially in Cumming Street, Suva, are a haven for bargain hunters who get a rush from haggling over prices. Shops close at 5pm on most days except Fridays and most are closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Places to Visit In Fiji
Fiji’s beaches, especially those on Coral Coast and islands of Mamanucas and Yasawa, draw in flocks of tourists all year round, who pack up the Fiji beach resorts and hotels. These Edenic, otherworldly escapes of the South Seas have been featured in Hollywood movies like Cast Away and The Blue Lagoon. Natadola Beach on Viti Levu itself is also one Fiji’s prime beach offerings.
However, beaches are all but a fraction of the nation’s tourist offerings. Explore the Nakama thermal springs and Namale blowholes on Vanua Levu and discover how Taveuni’s lush floral and fauna and breathtaking mountains have earned it the nickname “Garden Island”.
Immerse yourself in the Fijian way of life in Suva, the capital and Lautoka, a port town that thrives on the cultivation of sugarcane. History buffs should not miss the unrivalled collection of anthropological and historical artifacts at the National Museum in the historical Thurston Gardens.
Fiji-Sri-Siva-Subramaniya-Swami-Hindu-Temple-in-NadiThe historical journey continues at Orchid Island, a cultivated, realistic microcosm of Fiji. Trace the journey of the missionaries in 1840 along a central highland bush track, tour a plantation and visit the Kula Bird Park and the Sigatoka Sand Dunes as you journey from Suva to Nadi in the western side of Viti Levu.
The Sri Siva Subramaniya temple, the largest Hindi temple in the southern hemisphere, boasts striking Dradivian architecture – a rare sight outside India.
Water Sports, Diving & Snorkeling in Fiji
Fiji-Islands-Diving-PackagesKnown as the soft coral capital of the world, Fiji dive spots are the Pacific’s finest and most. Divers and snorkelers will marvel at the jawdropping beauty of never-ending reefs, drop-offs, walls and channels. Surfers up for a challenge can also try navigating Fiji’s legendary waves of Cloudbreak, Swimming Pools and Frigates.
Alternatively, take your pick from other water-based activities available, like windsurfing, cruising, sailing, yachting and game fishing. You could swim, jet or raft through the crystal clear rivers, and even go on sailing excursions to remote villages.
Food in Fiji
There is a complete selection of local Fiji food and international cuisines to choose from. For a more authentic experience, pick Fijian restaurants and cafes frequented by locals in the know. In fact, many resorts have a relationship with nearby villages that will welcome you to try traditional Fijian fare during village tours or hikes.
Fijian cuisine is wholesome, affordable and full of variety. Mainstays of the local diet include yams, sweet potatoes, nuts, seafood or meat steamed or boiled in fragrant coconut milk and an assortment of foods cooked in a pit oven or lovo. Fresh tropical fruits may also be purchased at farmer’s markets.
Kava, the national drink, is also worth a try. Made from the root of the pepper plant, Kava temporarily numbs your tongue and lips and relaxes your muscles. It has intoxicating effects and consumption with alcohol should be avoided.
When the sun goes down, Fiji’s partygoers come out to play. Most trendy nightclubs and surf bars are in Nadi and Suvaon Viti Levu, along with a range of restaurants and cinemas. On smaller islands, entertainment comes in the form of Fijian Nights, organised by hotels and resorts. A meke (song and dance) always livens up these boisterous parties, where lovo and Kava are served.
For anyone visiting Fiji on a gap year, Beachcomber Island is perfect. This “party island” of Fiji is home to the Bula dance – somewhat of an island sensation, not unlike the Macarena, that serves as an icebreaker.
Going To Fiji
Flights to Fiji land at 15 public airports in the Fiji islands, including Nadi International Airport, Fiji’s main air hub and gateway to international flights, and Nausori International Airport, which serves domestic flights. 85 over flights land at Nadi on a weekly basis. From there, most offshore islands are within minutes’ to an hour’s flight away.
Accommodation in Fiji
Fiji provides a spectrum of luxury hotels, resorts and villas, to bures (traditional thatched roof houses that channel an authentic Fijian ambience) with modern amenities, cottages, lodges, townhouses and serviced apartments. Budget resorts offer scenic views comparable to mid-range counterparts, with great locations all over the islands.
Adults- and couples-only resorts are perfect for honeymooners or those on a romantic getaway. Denarau, in particular, is a major tourism complex with luxury options. Resorts with child-friendly facilities and childcare services allow parents to get the respite the seek while on vacation. Those who favour the great outdoors can head to the campsites on Seashell Cove Resort, Rukuruke, Colo I Suva and Nukulau.
Getting around Fiji
Buses are the main way to travel between towns on the larger islands of Fiji, with extensive bus routes on Fiji’s larger islands providing cheap and reliable transport. In rural areas, buses are simply hailed as they pass. Metered cabs operate all over the country, even in rural or semi-rural areas.
Hop on one of Fiji’s inter-island ferries to travel around the principal islands. A robust infrastructure of docks and airfields connect people, goods and services throughout the islands resorts through ferries, helicopters and seaplanes. Car rentals in Fiji are another common option but do take note that cars drive on the left side of the road and foreign or international driving permits have a six-month validity period.
Fiji’s currency is the Fijian dollar. Do note that tipping is not encouraged. Resorts and hotels accept all major credit cards. Bargaining is acceptable at bazaars and markets.
Fiji-Islands-Beach-SunsetAll visitors to Fiji require a valid passport/travel document with minimum validity of six months beyond the period of intended stay. Visa requirements vary for different countries of origin so be sure to check here.
Fiji Weather & Climate
With a tropical marine climate, Fiji’s weather is warm throughout the year with minimal seasonal changes. The might be heavy showers and even cyclonic storms, particularly during the December to April period. Light summer attire is advisable, especially during the dry season from March to November.
The town itself is small in comparison to the capital, Suva, but is still a bustling centre of business with around 20 hotels dotted along its undulating coastal fringe, providing holidaymakers with everything they desire. It also acts as a gateway to other Fijian destinations.
The starting point for many scenic tours and sporting activities, Nadi is close to Viseisei Village, regarded by most Fijians as the ‘foundation village’ of Fijian heritage and culture.
Also close by is Fiji’s largest privately owned gardens, the tropical Waqadra Botanical Gardens, open from Monday to Saturday. Driving north from Nadi past fields of sugarcane and the occasional glimpse of an offshore island, are the towns of Ba and Tavua.
In Ba, you can visit the bazaar, pick up some handicrafts or go river rafting. At Tavua, don’t miss a visit to the nearby Vatukoula Gold Mines. If you haven’t time for a whole day of sightseeing, try a half day tour to Sabeto Valley with its mosque. Also worthwhile is a visit to the bustling marketplace, where all sorts of fresh produce is sold. Bartering is a way of life here, and is also a lot of fun!
Cafes and restaurants are not at all hard to come by at Denarau, as they are a standard part of Fijian culture. Apart from Fijian cuisine, visitors can also find plenty of restaurants that specialize in Japanese, Korean, and Indian cuisine as well. Another interesting aspect of local dining is that the freshness of food is given high priority here, which means most of the places are very safe to eat at.
Fijian cuisine, not surprisingly, includes plenty of seafood. However, pork, chicken, and lamb aren’t uncommon either. Popular local dishes include Paulsami, which consists of baked taro leaves that are marinated in coconut milk and lemon juice, and combined with meat/fish, garlic and onion. The island is also known for its wide range of tropical fruits, which can be purchased or sampled at any farmer’s market.
Starch based foods are also a common aspect of Fijian cuisine, which means potatoes, yam, taro etc. are part of the staple menu.
Films such as Blue Lagoon (shot on Turtle Island, Fiji) and Cast Away (Monuriki, Fiji) have painted that typical image of an island paradise: white stretches of sand, coconut groves, and a clear sky reflecting turquoise waters. Such an image speaks perfection: luxury, peace and serenity. We endeavour to find such a place, to lose ourselves in its simplicity and beauty and let it wash away the complexities and demands of our daily lives. When I first visited Fiji one September, I was met with the reality of this visualisation. I found it to be true.