Visitors Guide C
Land rights are taken very seriously in Fiji, so it’s wise to ask permission before pitching your tent. If you don’t, you’ll be placing yourself beyond the protection of village law. Never ask permission to camp in a Fijian village as you’ll be proclaiming to everyone that Fijian hospitality doesn’t quite meet your standards. In practice, most of the camping that takes place in Fiji these days is at backpacker beach resorts where it’s slightly cheaper than sleeping in a dormitory. There’s no law against camping here as there is in the Cook Islands and parts of Tonga.
Waitabu Marine Park on the northrn island of Taveuni recently added a camping in the village. They have their own tents and sleeping inflatable mattresses or you can take your own. The campground is on the beach and prices are $10 per person if you take your own tent and $15 per person if you use a Waitabu tent. There are bathroom facilities and a kitchen and eating area where you can cook your own food, or the village ladies will cook for $10 a plate per meal.
CAPTAIN COOK CRUISES
Captain Cook’s flagship is the 63-meter Reef Escape, which does cruises of three or four days out of Nadi. Your fellow passengers will be half the fun, and this is definitely the way to go if you’re a happy veteran of P&O cruising.
Avis and Thrifty are Fiji’s leading car rental companies with numerous locations around Viti Levu. Their Nadi Airport office operate a 24 hours service. Locations are Nadi, Nadi International Airport, Sheraton Fiji Resort, Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort, Korolevu, Korotogo, Suva and Nausori Airport
Castaway Island is a private island resort, situated amongst the crystal clear waters of the Mamanuca Islands. It’s easy access (30 kms) from Fiji’s International airport. You can arrive by launch or helicopter and either way it will be to the warmest of welcomes.
Castaway isn’t just an island, it’s about the people. They are the warmest, friendliest bunch of Fijians you’re ever likely to meet anywhere (and all Fijians are friendly).
There are 66 individual thatched bures, open-air dining, casual bars including wood fired gourmet pizzas. As I mentioned in the restaurant section, the tasty, tender salt & pepper squid set the benchmark for all dishes of that name for me.
You can dine al fresco under the stars at night and, by day, go game fishing or scuba diving. The dive I had at gotham City (lots of batfish) was awesome. Castaway has something for everyone – their slogan probably came from an advertising agency but it’s pretty accurate, it’s where “barefoot dreams are born and cares forgotten”.
An example of the Fijian attitude to looking after guests – one night I was there an elderly staff member died and the other bar and restaurant staff concealed their grief and it was friendly service as usual until all guests were asleep in their bures. At around 3:00am everyone gathered on the beach for a teary farewell as a dinghy disappeared quietly into the darkness to ferry the deceased back to his mainland village.
Contact us regarding Castaway Island
CAST AWAY (THE MOVIE)
The Tom Hanks movie Cast Away was located on an island near Matamanoa called Monuriki. Day trips are now featured from Matamanoa and other resorts and the diving around the uninhabited island is sensational.
If you hire the movie to get a taste of the scenery prior to flying over, fast forward through the first bit of the movie because the plane crash scene could make you opt for a driving holiday.
Apart from promoting this wonderful part of the world, director Steven Spielberg also paid for an upgrade in communications to the area, and that’s why you can now take your mobile as well as your basketball.
The Sawa-i-Lau Cave on a tiny island of the same name in the Yasawa Islands group has been Fiji’s most famous cave since Brooke Shields fled here during the 1980 filming of the movie Blue Lagoon. An old Fijian legend tells how a young chief once ensconced his true love in the cave after her family threatened to marry her off to a rival. Each day he would swim into the seaside cave with food for the girl, until they could both escape to the safety of another island. These days it’s an easy matter to follow in their swim strokes as all of the central Yasawa resorts run daytrips to the cave. It’s also possible to visit if you won’t be staying in the Yasawas as day cruises to Sawa-i-Lau are offered aboard the catamaran Tamusua Explorer based in Lautoka. These operate three times a week and any Nadi travel agent can arrange it with Nadi hotel pick-ups included in the fare. The Blue Lagoon cruise ships also call here.
The kava ceremony is the one you’re most likely to witness. Although it’s staged regularly for resort tourists, it’s not just a show. More than one divisive political dispute has been mitigated in recent years through negotiations over a bowl of kava. The ritual harks back to pre-European times when there were no paramount chiefs and villagers interacted by spending much of their time sitting around a wood bowl and talking. And these people were considered “primitive?” You will quickly pick up the clapping part of the ritual (and why kava should be swallowed quickly rather than sipped – if tentative, ask for a half shell).
Other ceremonies of note include the sevusevu, a formal presentation made when asking a favor, and the presentation of the tabua or whale’s tooth, a demonstration of respect still practiced at the highest levels of society.
You’ll find them in all the towns and they’re very well stocked for an island country. Most resorts have pharmaceutical items for sale but they will be expensive. Best to pack a small kit containing bandaids, analgesics, Imodium or similar, insect repellent, sun screen (and after-sun lotion), antiseptic cream or powder and if travelling with babies, disposable nappies. For coral cuts, hydrogen peroxide works a treat but the locals opt for a generous application of lemon or lime.
Quite simply, there’s no batter Pacific destination to keep children of all ages amused. It’s carefree and laid back and the locals really look after kids. It’s a place for safe adenture, exploring and most of the resorts have excellent Kids Clubs that organise activities from basket weaving to crab races (see Kids Clubs).
CHILDREN (TRAVELLING WITH)
Travelling with kids is something that can make parents say that getting there is anything but half the fun. While flights to Fiji may only a few hours from Australia and New Zealand, add the trip to the airport, the 2 hours prior for check-in and security, the flight and then the half hour on arrival to get through customs and collect baggage with tired kiddies and, well…
The first thing to do is plan and prepare. Packing a couple of favourite games and toys is a good idea and perhaps a few little wrapped presents to open when they get bored – every hour or so there’ll be something else to open up and amuse them.
If your little one is a budding artist, invest in a magnetic drawing board with pen attached. The person behind will appreciate not having to pick up coloured pencils, too! Or you can invent little games like find out how many passengers are on board or how many windows there are on the plane.
Some people choose night flights thinking their children will go to sleep at their usual bedtime. The reality is, the excitement of the trip will mean they’ll probably nod off just before you land and you’ll have to carry the little darlings through customs at midnight. To encourage sleep and make them feel at home when there, don’t forget that favourite blanket or cuddly toy. If possible go for a day flight with plenty of activities in the hand luggage and try and keep them active until it is bedtime at the resort.
Also pack their favourite food and drink. Airline meals have a tendency to come at a time your body doesn’t want them. And remember to order children’s meals ahead of departure – they don’t automatically appear and it can upset some children to see other kids getting a burger and a chocolate when they’ve been given the curried chicken and rice. Also take a change of clothes – even adults have trouble getting the top off those tubs of orange juice without wearing some of it.
It’s also worth getting to the airport early so you don’t have to queue and panic. Final tip – some parents think a little in-flight sedative will make the flight more enjoyable for all. Some anti-histamine medications (like Phenergan) can have the opposite effect so with children so do try at home first. I once flew from Sydney to Nadi with a two-year-old next to me clambering for the overhead lockers because of this – and, to make matters worse, he was mine.
Religion plays an important role in Fiji where the main religions are Christians, Hindus and Muslims. Visitors are welcome at local church services and, apart from the wonderful singing, it’s a good insight into why the Fijians are so friendly and family oriented. (see Religion)
Hollywood is enamored with the concept of escape to a deserted island, from the three versions of The Blue Lagoon to the Tom Hanks movies Cast Away released in 2000. All of these were filmed in the fabulous Mamanuca and Yasawa groups, and it’s worth renting the videos to get a taste of this exotic environment. In 2003 Columbia Pictures filmed the adventure movie Anaconda 2: The Black Orchid around Pacific Harbor on southern Viti Levu.
If you’re in Fiji and want to see a movie, your best bet is Village Six Cinemas in downtown Suva, which presents the latest releases on six screens through the day and evening. In Lautoka, Village 4 Cinemas usually has one or two current films, but most of the rest of Fiji’s cinemas deal in Bollywood blockbusters with the script spoken in Hindi for the Indian-Fijian audiences.
Hey, it’s tropical! The best months are usually March through to October (but El Nino has given some great weather during the traditional wet season November to February over the last few years!). The wet season is characterised by heavy, brief local showers and contributes most of Fiji’s annual rainfall. Maximum temperatures rarely move out of the 30°C (86°F) to 23°C (73°F) range all year round. Winter is a term, not a season. A cooling wind blows from the east south-east for most of the year. It usually drops to a whisper in the evening and picks up again by mid-morning. For more information on Fiji’s climate, visit www.met.gov.fj.
Think two ‘c’s – casual and cotton. Take t-shirts, short sleeved shirts (although a long-sleeved shirt can be handy for a cooler evening or if you are out boating), shorts, light dresses and swimwear. Jeans can be too hot. Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen and pack some reef shoes to avoid coral cuts. Do cover up when outside the resort as skimpy dress is offensive to the locals. The sulu (pareau, lavalava, sarong) is a versatile bit of clothing for men and women. Apart from being easy to put on and take off it can double as something to separate you from the sand, to carry wet swimwear in or to provide instant shade for a little one. The simple wrap-around style is the most common way to wear one but there are around ten different ways for women to tie them, even as an elegant evening dress.
If you belong to a Club, there’s a good chance you’ll find a counterpart in Fiji’ Clubs include Scouts, Red Cross, Girl Guides, Salvation Army, St John’s Ambulance, Lions, Rotary and Alcoholics Anonymous. For more infor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
COAT OF ARMS
Fiji’s national Coat of Arms was adopted in 1908 and has two Fijian warriors on either side of a shield and the motto “Rerevaka na Kalou ka Doka na Tui” below (“Fear God and honour the Queen.”)
The shield from the coat of arms has a heraldic lion holding a cocoa pod across the top (it is not a rugby ball). Sugarcane, a coconut palm and bunch of bananas are represented in three of the sheilds sections. The fourth contains a dove of peace. An outrigger canoe sits up top.
The red cross is the Cross of St George. The warriors, in tapa skirts, hold a spear and a pineapple maze. They must have searched high and low to find two Fijian men who don’t smile as the models!
Could there be any more versatile tree than the coconut palm? If it had been manmade rather than natural it would surely have one of those zingy TV commercials – “it chops, it shreds, it dices, it slices; Think about it – not a part of the tree is wasted. It provides natural shade and shelter, the trunk can be fashioned into bowls or part of an outrigger canoe, the leaves woven into baskets, the husk turned into fibre and the leaves matted together for roofing. When a hut is made from coconut palms a fire is lit inside and the smoke kills any resident insects before the new owners move in and the roofing lasts for around 12 months. And, of course, the flesh of the coconut is nutritious, the juice is a great thirst quencher and, once you know how, the trees are easy to climb. There are actually two liquids in a coconut – the fresh coconut juice from the green coconut (which is so pure you can use it as a saline drip in an emergency!) and coconut milk, which is extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts. This is often sold in tins labeled “coconut cream”. Best to avoid buying the small tins of solid coconut cream (mainly Asian brands) as they can be rancid. For a recipe using coconut cream, see “kokoda”. The jewel of the coconut tree is the heart of the palm. This is a delicacy and “heart of palm salad” is known as millionaire’s salad because you have to kill the tree to get to the heart.
Most hotels have direct dialing facilities but it will usually work out cheaper and more convenient to take your own mobile phone using a global roaming service or purchasing a SIM card on arrival. Remember to activate global roaming before heading off if taking your own SIM option.
For calls into Fiji, the international IDD country code for Fiji is 679 and there are no area codes. Outbound international calls from Fiji use a dial out code of 00 followed by the country code and desired telephone number.
All mobile numbers in Fiji begin with a 9 and you should be aware that calling them is more expensive than calling an landline phone number. If the person/company you want to call also has a regular number (not beginning in a 9), give it a try it first.
Because Suva is the centre of government, the High Commissions, Consulates and Embassies are located there.
- The Australian High Commission (which also looks after Canadians) is at 72 Princes Road Tamavua (Suva). Phone 338 2211, email email@example.com.
- The New Zealand High Commission is in the Reserve Bank of Fiji building in Pratt Street – phone 311 1422, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The US Consulate is at 31 Loftus Street – phone 331 4466 (recorded info on 330 3888), email email@example.com.
- The British High Commission is at 47 Gladstone Rd – phone 331 1033.
The coral, colourful fish and excellent visibility in the waters around Fiji provides great snorkelling and diving. The difference between hard and soft coral is that soft coral (more delicate and pretty) requires currents to keep it alive, so the best soft coral is found on the off-shore reefs (like off Taveuni). The Mamanuca Islands have mainly hard coral (the bommies that look like huge brains and the hard, tree type corals) as well as large ferns. Both coral types attract lots of fish and other marine life. Apart from looking you can also explore with your ears. If you listen hard, you will hear soft, crunching sounds – the noise of fish chewing on coral.
At the risk of ridicule… Not much rhymes with coral, said the poet being oral, lots more words rhyme with birds, though birds are not as floral…
The Coral Coast runs for some 135km along the southern shores of the main island of Viti Levu and is home to a number of resorts including the Shangri-la Fijian, Hideaway Resort, Outrigger Reef Resort & Spa and the Warwick and Naviti Resorts.
The name has more to do with tourism marketing campaigns than reality as the fringing reef along this side of Viti Levu is rather narrow and there are dangerous undertows for snorkelers to consider. Hence, guests at the larger resorts generally end up spending more time in the swimming pools than in the sea. The photo tells you where the reef sits, and that’s where the coral lives.
A big advantage of the Coral Coast is that it’s less than two hours from Nadi Airport by road.
Coral cuts can be irritating and occasionally nasty. They can turn into tropical ulcers, although this is more likely to happen to someone who lives in the tropics because of the constant heat and humidity. If you get a scratch or graze (and it can happen without you knowing while snorkelling – it’s only when the air hits do you realise), nature’s cure is to squeeze lemon or lime onto the wound. The best stuff to cleanse the wound is Hydrogen Peroxide (if it doesn’t fizz, it’s not infected), followed by an anti-bacterial cream and cover with a dressing. In Australia or New Zealand you would leave it uncovered and let the air heal – in the tropics it’s the reverse. Having said that, cuts are rare if you wear reef shoes when walking on coral and if you watch where you snorkel.
Most international cards are recognised by hotels, restaurants, shops, car rental companies and tour operators. American Express, Diners Club, Visa, JCB International and Mastercard have representatives in Suva. ATMs accept most credit and debit cards.
Chances are visitors will come from a place where crime is greater. Fiji is a safe place but common sense should prevail. Leaving a camera on a seat could be tempting to some and a single, drunk, semi-clad female in the wee hours tempting to others. Passports and valuables should be kept in a safety deposit box in your room or with reception.
Personally, in the twenty years I have been visiting Fiji, I only know of one mugging and even that had a friendly Fijian touch. The victim was a resort manager walking on the outskirts of Nadi (it may have well been a payback motive rather than just theft). A boofy local the size of a phonebox confronted him, gave him a bearhug and lifted him off the ground. An accomplice swiped the wallet from his back pocket and he was then placed gently back on the ground and left stunned, a little poorer but unharmed.
Large cruise liners (like P&O) have ports-of-call in Fiji. The main ports are…
- Denarau: Near Nadi, Denarau is home to lots of upmarket resorts and some excellent shoppimg and dining options at the marina.
- Suva: This scenic harbour city has a mixture of British Colonial and traditional Fijian architecture. Good for duty free shopping and a wander around the Handicraft Markets is a must.
- Dravuni Island: The main beach is framed by tall palms with a delightful village beyond.
- Yasawa-I-Rara: The largest of 20 volcanic islands, this remote paradise offers isolated beaches and lagoons, rocky cliffs, vivid coral and marine life.
Fijian dollar notes are available in $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50 denominations and coins are available in 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c and $1. There is no limit to the amount of money to be brought in (although there may be a limit on how much you can take out of your home country) and visitors are allowed to take out currency up to the amount imported. Exchange rate at the time of writing – Around 54 cents Australian or 68 cents New Zealand to buy a Fijian dollar.
Fiji has two international airports – Nadi, the principle arrival and departure point for tourists and Nausori, near Suva. Fiji Customs operates a Duel Channel System – the Red and Green Channels – If you have any prohibited or restricted goods, or dutiable goods exceeding your duty/VAT free allowance use the Red Channel. If not, go through the Green (customs officers may still choose to inspect bags, especially duty free).
While the Fijian people may seem pretty laid-back, traditional customs are very important to them and visitors should respect them:
- Bikinis etc are fine for resorts but if you are invited to a village you should wear modest clothing.
- Hats/caps should be worn for sun protection, but should be removed when in a village – wearing a hat is an insult to the chief.
- When entering a bure, leave your shoes outside.
- If invited to take kava, do so. Pulling a face suggesting you hate the taste is an insult. It’s like refusing to shake someone’s hand. It is polite to have a “soft handshake” by asking for a small shell. I’m not sure if anyone actually drinks kava for the taste anyway.
- When visiting a village, it is customary to present a gift of kava (yaqona). The gift (sevusevu) will cost around F$20 for a half kilo. The sevusevu is presented to the traditional head of the village, often in his house, where the kava will be served. So, hats and shoes off, bow slightly on entering, take your place on the mat on the floor and enjoy the ritual.
There are now more cybercafes in Fiji than you can shake a mouse at, especially in Nadi town where a half dozen internet places are found along Main Street. There’s also the Republic of Cappuccino at Nadi Airport. In smaller centers such as Sigatoka, Pacific Harbour, Lautoka, Labasa, and Savusavu, internet access is more expensive, and resorts charge the highest rates of all. Internet access is often unavailable for guests on outer islands such as the Yasawas, Taveuni, Kadavu, etc. Thus it’s smart to budget a few hours for email while passing through mainland areas.
Cyclones are mostly confined to the period November to April, with greatest frequency in January and February. On average, some ten to fifteen cyclones per decade affect some part of Fiji, and two to four do severe damage. Please, don’t include this as part of your holiday planning – while rare, they do pass within a day or two, you can turn it into an indoor party and you will have dinner party conversation for years. Have a t-shirt printed, “I survived Cyclone Fred”. (See Climate)