Written By: Tourism Fiji, North America Office
The tiny flecks that dot a map of the South Pacific Ocean belie the wealth of history and cultural diversity of the peoples who live there.
Fiji, an archipelago of 333 islands, sits at the heart of this culturally-rich region. A crossroads for ancient ocean voyagers, Fiji has emerged as a modern-day South Pacific shipping and airline hub and is a trade lifeline to other tiny island nations that litter the vast Pacific oceanscape. Fiji Airways, the national airline regularly flies to Pacific Rim cities including Honolulu, Los Angeles and seasonal flights to San Francisco.
The largest of Fiji’s islands – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu – are where most of the towns and population (900,000) reside. Besides the indigenous Fijians, just under half of the population is of Indian, European, Chinese or Pacific descent contributing to a melting pot of food, culture, religion and language.
The regions are just as varied so its important to know what each has to offer. Let’s start with the main island.
|VITI LEVU: NADI & DENARAU ISLAND
Denarau is Fiji’s most exclusive resort enclave. Just 15 mins from the Nadi International Airport, the small island boasts eight international brand. Accommodation options range from standard resort rooms to spacious suites and private villas. There are excellent conference facilities and event staff on hand to cater to business and wedding events. Depending on month, you’ll also be able to scope out events like the South Pacific Food and Wine Festival, Fiji International Triathlon, Starwood Classic Golf Tournament, Style Fiji Fashion Show and the Fiji International Jazz and Blues festival.
Denarau has an abundance of spas, watersport, cruise and tour operators. The Big Bula Waterpark, promises thrills and spills for kids while the island’s 18-hole championship golf course is a great way to spend a few hours.
Port Denarau Marina is where all the action is. The small shops at the Marina are the perfect place to pick up souvenirs and presents before grabbing a bite to eat at any of the restaurants in the complex.
To escape the main island, sister companies – South Sea Cruises, Awesome Adventures and Blue Lagoon Cruises – also based a Port Denarau, offer island resort transfers, day trips and multi-day cruises to the stunning Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. Captain Cook Cruises also offers multi-day cruises throughout these islands and to Fiji’s northern and eastern islands.
|VITI LEVU: CORAL COAST
The Coral Coast is one of the few places on the main island of Viti Levu where you can step off the beach and explore an extensive coral reef. This patch of hilly terrain, roughly halfway between Nadi and Suva, is arguably Viti Levu’s most scenic drive. Each turn along the meandering coastal road unveils beautiful small bays with thundering offshore reef breaks, secluded beaches and multiple opportunities to stop and buy local fruits and veggies from roadside stalls along the way.
Accommodation is spread out in hidden pockets of lush coastline, lending to the overall feeling of isolation. The choice of accommodation is varied, from private villas in gated communities, to large sprawling resorts, boutique resorts, flashpacker and backpacker getaways.
Fijians are mad for rugby and the Coral Coast has been dubbed ‘Rugby Country’ for its plethora of talented players. The National 7s Rugby team currently holds back-to-back world championship titles and were gold medalists at the Rio Olympics.
ertile Sigatoka River Valley is Fiji’s ‘Salad bowl’. Visit the Sigatoka market on a Saturday for the best variety of fruits and vegetables at unbelievably cheap prices. A day trip with the Sigatoka River Safari offers a thrilling trip up the valley, into the heart of the main island and gives visitors an insight into local village life.
The Sigatoka Sand Dunes at the mouth of the Sigatoka river has some excellent hikes and lots of opportunities for stunning scenery shots. Archaeological excavations at the dunes have uncovered multiple human settlements including those of the Lapita people, a coastal-dwelling people known for their maritime navigational skills and distinctive decorated pottery.
Kula Eco-park in Korotogo allows kids a chance to gawk at some of Fiji’s native wildlife. The Eco-park also doubles as a rescue and breeding centre for some of Fiji’s endangered wildlife like the native peregrine falcon, ground frog and crested iguana. Children can volunteer as Park Rangers for the day.
Natadola Bay is a popular swimming spot and one of the best areas on the island to learn how to surf and SUP small waves. Nearby, the 72-par Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course is the home of the annual Fiji International – a PGA accredited tournament for the Australasia circuit.
The Coral coast is a great family destination. Many of the large resorts also offer kids’ clubs or nannies to keep the little ones entertained – a great chance for parents to catch up on some quality ‘couples’ time.
VITI LEVU: PACIFIC HARBOUR & BEQA
Pacific Harbour is a 21/2 hr hour scenic drive from Nadi and just 45-minutes from Suva.
Heart-pumping, adrenalin fueled activities abound in and around Pacific Harbour giving the area its ‘Adventure Capital’ tag. The lush landscape is ideal for canopy ziplining, off-road buggy adventures, and waterfall hikes while jet ski safaris and sea kayaking trips use the deep lagoon as their aquatic playground.
A white-water rafting trip in Fiji’s waterfall-fed ‘Grand Canyon’ is not to be missed. The rafting company works closely with the community to protect the river from industrial activity and keep the area pristine.
Shark Reef Marine Reserve just off Beqa is one of Fiji’s most unforgettable dives and has been dubbed as the #1 shark dive in the world. Beqa Adventure Divers and Aquatrek regularly dive with up to eight different species of sharks including awe-inspiring bull and tiger sharks. The Reserve supports shark research and reef health and a percentage of the dive fees go to the Reserve’s traditional village owners.
Just offshore is the island of Beqa; the home of Fiji’s ‘fire-walkers’. Enquire about traditional Fijian dancing (meke) and fire-walking shows at the Pacific Harbour Cultural Arts Centre.
VITI LEVU: SUNCOAST
The Suncoast – which stretches around the north-western and northern coast of Viti Levu – is a scenic expanse of sugarcane fields, quaint villages and small towns set against a backdrop of soaring mountains.
Vuda Marina’s unique inland basin provides excellent cyclone and severe weather shelter for yachts cruising the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. The Marina hosts a monthly growers market and is an easy walk from any of the small resorts in the area.
Lautoka – Fiji’s second city – is only 30mins away from the Nadi International Airport and has many shopping and dining options. If heading around the island, pick up a bite to eat as there are fewer options in the quaint towns along the island’s north shore.
Beyond Lautoka, the traffic peters out leaving empty expanses of open road and rolling countryside. Navala village in the distant mountains behind Ba town maintains its traditional Fijian style houses (bure) and the remote location is picture postcard worthy.
Many resort properties are clustered in Rakiraki near Nananu-i-Ra, the northernmost point of Viti Levu. Nananu-i-Ra and its environs have some great beaches but the area is also well known for scuba diving, wind-surfing and kite boarding. Favourable winds during June to September are when kiteboarders and windsurfers flock to this region. Deep-water access and a sheltered bay, also make it an ideal shelter for yachts.
The slower-paced, tight-knit community feel of the Northern islands has earned it the nickname ‘Friendly North’.
Labasa, in Vanua Levu’s drier northern coast, is the commercial and administrative centre for northern Fiji. This sugar town is off the regular tourist track, but a handful of modestly-priced town hotels are excellent bases for trips in and around Labasa. The Naag Mandir temple on the outskirts of the town is a brightly colored Hindu temple with an usual attraction – Cobra Rock. Believed to be growing, the Rock is fed with milk, draped with floral garlands by devotees and the temple roof has even been raised a few times.
The Great Sea Reef is the third longest reef in the southern hemisphere with many uncrowded dive, snorkeling and surf sites to explore.
Savusavu town is in Vanua Levu’s south-east and enjoys a somewhat wetter climate. Once a copra town, it is Vanua Levu’s tourism hub and it’s picturesque, sheltered harbour is particularly attractive to yachts cruising the remote northern islands. Marinas located along the town’s waterfront offer a berth from which yachts can repair, refuel, and restock their food and water supplies. Numerous resorts, guest cottages and home rentals hug the coastal road leading out of town. The area’s black-lipped oyster pearls are coveted for their unusual multi-hued lustre and can be purchased in the J.Hunter showroom. Budding botanists will enjoy the Flora Tropica Gardens, just a short distance out of town which has over 200 palm species amongst other tropical plants.
The Somosomo Strait separates Vanua Levu from Fiji’s ‘Garden’ island; Taveuni. This calm, narrow body of water boasts some of Fiji’s best dive sites. Dubbed the ‘Rainbow Reef’, the area is named for the colourful ‘Dendronephthya’ soft coral species which thrives there. Many great dives here are tide and current dependant.
Taveuni, just south of the Savusavu peninsula, is a eco-lovers paradise. Despite its remoteness, Taveuni attracts its share of tourists and there are many boutique resorts, private villas, budget cottages, homestays and backpacker accommodation. About one third of the island is a National Heritage Park (Bouma) boasting a landscape of lush jungle-clad peaks, abundant waterfalls, rugged coastline and offshore coral reefs begging to be explored. The trek up to Lake Tagimoucia – Fiji’s only crater lake – is a sweat-inducing hike but rewards nature lovers with glimpses of the endemic ‘Tagimoucia’ flower in bloom and other native wildlife like the Pacific boa, orange dove and barking pigeon. Lavena Coastal walk winds along the scenic coastline and can be done in a combination of kayaking and walking tours to experience the beauty of this rugged coastline. Numerous waterfalls are also visible along the track.
There are ports at Savusavu and Nabouwalu (in western Vanua Levu) and ferries from Suva and Lautoka make multiple visits throughout the week. The largest airport on the island is located just 10mins outside of Labasa town and welcomes flights from both Suva and Nadi on a daily basis. Small airports in both Savusavu and Taveuni (Matei) cater to light aircraft. Luxury resorts also exist on nearby Matagi, Qamea. A speed-boat pickup from Naivakacoa Landing in Taveuni can be arranged with these resorts. Laucala Island, a private island retreat for celebrities and the uber-rich, has its own runway for private aircraft.
The twenty islands which make up the Mamanuca group were among the first to be developed for tourism. Accommodation throughout this group range from private island villas, family-friendly or adult only boutique resorts and a few budget establishments. Uninhabited Monuriki (of Castaway movie fame) is a popular picnic and day-cruise destination but also an important wildlife reserve for native birds, iguanas and turtles.
Most of the resorts sub-contract diving operations along with other water activities like snorkelling, skydiving, parasailing, fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and jetskiing. If you’re after some surf, world-class surf breaks like Cloudbreak and Namotu Left can be found just off Tavarua and Namotu islands at the southern end of the island chain. The World Surf League’s Fiji Pro event is held there every year in June. There is a marina on Molololailai with berths, refuelling, restocking and ferry services to Port Denarau. During the resort’s annual Fiji Regatta Week, immigration and customs clearance is also available at the marina. Vunabaka, another luxury resort and marina development is also being constructed on nearby Malololailai island, cementing the Mamanucas as a yachting haven. Dining is usually limited to resort restaurants but a selection of restaurants can be found at Plantation Island and Musket Cove on Malololailai.
A notable recent attraction in the Mamanucas is Cloud 9, anchored on the jewel-coloured RoRo Reef just off Malolo island. The two-tier floating platform hovers above a natural turquoise ocean pool and has a fully-stocked bar, wood-fire pizza oven.
The Yasawa islands are a cluster of 20 island just north of the Mamanucas – there are no golf courses or marinas here. The islands are mostly high, grass covered islands with a few villages scattered in sheltered bays. Many resorts pepper these islands including luxury operators as well numerous budget guesthouses or backpacker establishments making it popular with young backpackers looking to party. Quite a few of these resorts are concentrated around the famed ‘Blue Lagoon’ near the top of the chain. Like the Mamanuca’s snorkelling, diving, surfing, kayaking and trekking are popular pastimes. A notable daytrip are the sunken limestone caves at Sawa-i-lau in the northern Yasawas. May to September is peak Manta Ray Season in the Yasawas so enquire with the resorts about the snorkelling trips to swim with these magnificent creatures.
Both the Mamanuca and Yasawa groups can be accessed daily by helicopters, seaplanes, small aircraft (on islands with airstrips) and ocean-going vessels which depart daily primarily from Port Denarau, but also from Vuda Point and Musket Cove Marinas.