Bula Fiji!

Copyright: Elle Druskin 2011

FIJI

Fiji probably sounds like the end of the world (maybe it is to some people) but it is a very popular destination for Kiwis and Aussies being relatively nearby and affordable. It is not unusual to see students on a break, honeymooners and families all vacationing in Fiji. It’s generally a friendly place and the one word you will remember is “Bula” which is a greeting but also means “health.”

A bit of information about the weather that you do need to know: There are basically, only two seasons in Fiji; dry and wet. Wet season is between about November through April and it’s pretty hot and humid; after all, it’s Southern Hemisphere summer. Unfortunately this is also typhoon season. Does that mean you should not go during those months? No, not necessarily but you do need to be aware. It didn’t stop me and for that matter, it didn’t stop me from being in Florida during hurricane season but everyone is different and you make your decisions based on what you set as criteria. At least, you know now.

Let’s go South Pacific Culture

Fiji is mixed culturally, so you’ll see the influence of India, China and Europe within this South Pacific island destination. If I recall correctly, there are over 300 islands but only about one third are inhabited. Some are going to be relatively crowded, or as crowded as things get in Fiji, which is not excessively so. This is around the more popular resorts, but plenty of beaches and areas are really isolated. About half of the population of Fiji live in Suva and if you are keen on sightseeing, this is where you will find the Fiji Museum which includes some of the indigenous musical instruments and war implements. You should also stop off in Suva Market and there are some Indian temples you might want to see while in Fiji but mostly you are going to kick back and relax.

Many of the hotels will have some “local dancing” (meke) which is Melanesian culturally and is always fun. I first saw this outside of Fiji but saw plenty of it there. They will encourage you to get up and dance with them as you cringe but it’s part of the fun. Don’t feel too silly, you ARE a tourist, and it is a touristy thing to do. Expect lots of hand clapping to set the beat along with drumming. You might see some dances performed by men only (the spear dance) or women only. Some dances are performed sitting down and some standing up. If you want to see something else that you might consider indigenous to the locale, you can also visit a copra plantation which is essentially a plantation that grows coconuts and extracts the oil for all sorts of purposes, so if that is something really local that interests you, check out Vatuwari Farm.

What should you eat in Fiji?

DO NOT REFUSE THE PINEAPPLES AND MANGOS – They are all local produce. You are also going to find nice curries and fish dishes such as local fish cooked and wrapped in taro leaves. If you are game, go ahead and try Yagona, a local spirit made from kava root but drink at your own risk. You will find lots of coconut flavoured dishes and that shouldn’t surprise you in a South Pacific nation.

For those who love Indian food, you are going to find lots of Indian restaurants with all sorts of variety from hot southern food to the northern Indian cuisine and of course, plenty of vegetarian dishes for those who do not eat meat. You can take your pick with fish, plenty of variety and some restaurants do lovo cooking, (cooking in an underground oven, similar to what you may have seen in Hawaii at a tourist luau). A local dish is Ota Miti—the wood fern shoots that are cooked in coconut milk, so go ahead and try that. If none of this is your thing, you will find “Western” food and by the way, you can check out the Chinese supermarkets in Fiji too.

Shopping

Sorry, but I don’t consider Fiji a shopping mecca but the beaches make up for that. You will find resort and beach wear and some nice handicrafts—check before you buy if you are allowed to carry wooden items in your luggage. Australia, for example, may not allow those items to be brought back. That applies to tourists who are stopping off in Australia too and in case you don’t know, you had better be honest on the customs form because they x-ray your bag on entry and they will find any suspect items and if you were less than honest, well, you could be fined. Odds are that most things will be allowed in but not if you are dishonest so be warned.

I have not bought pearls in Fiji although I have in other places and I know that many people do buy there, especially the black pearls which are typical of the South Pacific. What you will see are yellow pearls locally called “Fiji Gold.” So if you’re in the market for pearls, Fiji might be a good place to buy.

Get Active If You Can
If you like water sports, you will find some of them in Fiji. Some, not all. Kayaking is very popular between the small islands and a nice way to get around so make sure you do some of that while there. For the divers, well, you’re in luck because Fiji is a major dive site. I don’t dive so I am not going to recommend any particular service or school but you will find plenty of them. Even as a non-diver, I know that one of the most popular sites is between the islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni because of the soft coral, so if you are interested in diving, this is probably one of the spots you are going to want to check out.

You are not going to find surfing in Fiji and this is primarily because of the many coral reefs. Instead, you are more likely to find lagoons, not exactly Gilligan’s Island, but some of them might feel that way with all the coconut palm trees. You will find great snorkelling because of the coral reefs and there is some river rafting available.

Mostly you will enjoy the beautiful scenery, the lush palm trees, lovely beach and turquoise to deep green colored waters. You are in Fiji to relax, not run yourself ragged and you will relax and de-stress.

I should point out to families a key point. You are not going to find water parks, amusement parks, etc for kids. That does not mean they won’t have fun because mine certainly did but you should consider a family oriented resort that explicitly runs a children’s program. The Fijian people like kids which helps and the resorts will keep the kids busy and entertained. My kids had a wonderful time at one place where all the kids would head off with the children’s program staff to a “Buri”—something that looks like a grass hut. I also had a less than fabulous experience at another place although the kids were contented enough.

Some resorts are specifically for honeymooners, or at any rate, adults only and will not cater to kids so be careful when you make any booking if you are looking for family geared atmosphere. I should also point out that you want to know where the island or resort is and how to get there. I made the mistake of having to get into a small plane with little kids to one place and I was terrified; I am afraid of small planes anyway, and there were no seatbelts for the kids. I hope that has changed. I insisted on taking a boat to get off the island—refused to go through that plane business again but some people might love that. Just giving you a fair warning.

Denarau Island is the one where you are likely to find family resorts that will cater to kids. That doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable for adults, too, but thinking in terms of family, this is the best place to consider. They have all the services you would expect, swimming pools, tour programs, etc.

I’ve heard, but not seen, that Treasure Island has a very good kids’ program with miniature golf and nature sorts of activities where kids can see baby turtles. I am not going to name the resort, but I stayed at one in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji and I hated it. It was dirty, the staff was lazy, and I couldn’t wait to get off the place. I hope it has changed, but again, pick and choose very carefully and you might want to think about choosing the better resorts rather than budget but that has to be your choice and some people don’t mind that kind of thing. I draw the line at towels with big holes left in the guest rooms as if this is acceptable because it isn’t to me. That is not common but it happened at this one place and ruined the few days there, on top of the dirt, etc.. I was more than happy to get on to the next stop which was wonderful on Denarau Island.

Mostly, you are going to enjoy the water, enjoy the slow pace, the beautiful scenery, and laid back atmosphere. So go with the idea that you are in the romantic South Pacific, going to have some fun but also relax and you will have a great time.

Next week we have a guest entry from the original California Girl, Laura Hernandez, who will give us the lowdown on Malibu so make sure you come back for that!

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