Saturday, February 27, 2021

Friendly Fiji

Apart from its stunning beaches and relaxing ambience, the sociable natives of Fiji make your trip special

Reading Time: 4 minutesfiji 2012 1673
In celebration of my twin daughters’ 4th birthday I took them on their first overseas holiday to Fiji. As we disembarked from the plane and began the walk towards the taxi stand, Nicky turned and ran back to the craft on hearing a deafening welcome cry of ‘Bula’ (Hello!) from large men in grass skirts, wielding clubs for dramatic effect. Several trips later we return to explore the Coral Coast on the main island of Viti Levu.
The drive from the airport passes Nadi, predominantly an Indian town with the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, the largest in the southern hemisphere, and spice shops and Indian restaurants lining the main street. With villages, coconut trees, sugarcane and pineapple plantations, Fiji’s coastal road is a picturesque drive circling the island as beautiful beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays come into view. We arrive at our hotel, Outrigger on the Lagoon, and for the next week, my teenage daughters spend their days by the pool while I venture off exploring the island.
More than just an idyllic holiday destination in the South Pacific, Fiji is friendly. It took me several days to realise, as I walked along the roadside, that a toot from a passing car was a way of asking whether I was in need of a lift. After walking for several kilometres on the first day and many toots later, a mini bus with young backpackers onboard stopped and the guide from Fee Jee Experience offered me a ride. Over the next few days, I was offered lifts by an academic returning to Fiji University with her students in tow; Inoke, an attorney going home with his daughter after a conference; and taxi drivers offering a lift while on their way to collect passengers. I also caught local buses piled high with fresh fruit and vegetables, with frequent stops for children making their way to school.
I caught a bus to Suva, the capital and home to half of Fiji’s population, and a city that seems to be subjected to a constant drizzle. I visited the lively market, had an excellent Indian lunch with local ingredients replacing those that are not locally available, and visited the Fiji Museum, which tells the country’s story through musical instruments, cooking tools and war clubs. I also visited Pacific Harbour, with several resorts and a marina.
Fiji’s most beautiful beach is Natadola, a long crescent shaped beach of white sand. With a golf course and several expensive resort hotels, while lovely, those staying here had little inclination to venture beyond.
I caught the local bus several times to Sigatoka, the largest town on the Coral Coast and the commercial centre for the farming communities upriver in the Sigatoka Valley. The fresh produce market sold the sweetest pineapples, and roots for making kava were piled high in bunches. A few supermarkets, restaurants, a Mosque and souvenir stores make up the compact town.
Locals advised that I should do two things while in Fiji – take a cruise to the islands and travel into the interior.
After crossing the Sigatoka River by boat, we hopped into an open 4WD jeep with considerable horsepower and for the next hour we went up and down hills along the valley road, skirting by the river manoeuvred with considerable skill by Josephine, our tour guide. Stopping at a village we met villagers climbing onboard a truck to attend a church service. An elderly man hopped out, came towards us and presented me with a flower garland.
At Naihehe Cave more than 170 metres long, we waded knee deep in clear water to the dark interior before being offered kava by the village chief. Inevitably, visitors will be invited to drink kava, a relaxing traditional drink made from the kava root that numbs your tongue and tastes like bitter liquid mud. Made by placing ground kava root in a cloth infused with water in a wooden bowl, it is offered as a gesture of welcome.
Our final day was spent on Ra Marama, a beautifully restored tall ship as we cruised to Tivua Island for snorkelling, kayaking and a tropical buffet lunch. With the most perfect of sunny skies, a sudden storm had us running for cover, with offers of kava. We returned back to the hotel with the crew singing merrily.
Fiji is a country with a strong cultural heritage of Fijians and descendants of Indian labourers who were brought to work in the sugar industry between 1879 and 1916. On our last night we watched another sunset, the aromatic blend of coconut oil and tropical blooms filling the air. I went for my final walk along the beach and began talking to a family preparing a picnic. “Would you like to come join us?” It was Rajen, a chef at the Outrigger Hotel, enjoying his day off. “Come again!” they called, and as the horses were brought down to the water’s edge for a swim in the lagoon, I thought I surely can and will!
Travel Notebook
Getting there
Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Fijian Airways fly from Australia to Nadi. Watch for specials. Taxis are plentiful at the airport or pre-book a coach transfer with Coral Coaches or private transfer through your hotel. Express and local buses provide convenient and inexpensive transportation around the island, but as they stick to the main roads, hire a taxi for sightseeing the beaches, since many are away from the main road.
Fiji has a favourable exchange rate which translates into a great and affordable holiday destination, and resorts are generally of a high standard. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Outrigger on the Lagoon – Fiji +679-650-0044  / reservations@outriggerfiji.com.fj /www.outriggerfiji.com The daily activities planner will occupy your time without needing to leave the resort. The kid’s club is excellent. My daughters spent their time by the poolside, although guided tours to sand dunes, kayaking etc., are on offer. Fire walking, the Fijian Lovo and traditional dance nights are a highlight. The resort fronts a beautiful lagoon with an expansive lush tropical garden and large lagoon swimming pool. Some resorts are more suited to couples or honeymooners, while others cater for families. Solo travellers might better enjoy touring with a tour company such as FeeJee Experience.
Opt for a meal package if you plan to spend your time at a resort, since meal costs do add up. We found several restaurants only a stone’s throw from the resort, with Le Cafe recommended.
Further information
Avoid the cyclone season. Captain Cook Cruises offer a great day sailing out to Tivua Island. + 679-6701-823/ reservations@captaincook.com.fj / www.captaincook.com.fj Sigatoka River Safari offer two excursions, both recommended. +679-6501-721 /safari@sigatokariver.com /www.sigatokariver.com

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Petra ONeill
After growing up in Australia's outback she enjoys visiting remote destinations in Australia for the wildlife, vast open spaces and brilliant night sky and travelling overseas to exotic destinations to experience different cultures. Her bag is always packed and ready for the next trip

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