South Pacific Organizer
Fiji travel with author David Stanley
|Destinations: travel to the FIJI ISLANDS|
Once notorious as the "Cannibal Isles," Fiji is now the colorful crossroads of the South Pacific. Of the 322 islands that make up the Fiji Group, over 100 are inhabited by a rich mixture of vibrant, exuberant Melanesians, East Indians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese, and Europeans, each with a cuisine and culture of their own. Here Melanesia mixes with Polynesia, ancient India with the Pacific, and tradition with the modern world in a unique blend.
Fiji offers posh resorts and hotels, good food and accommodations, nightlife, historic sites, outer-island living, hiking, kayaking, camping, surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Travel to Fiji is easy by small plane, interisland catamaran, copra boat, outboard canoe, open-sided bus, and air-conditioned coach. With even a month at your disposal you'll barely scratch the surface of all there is to see and do.
Best of all, Fiji is a visitor-friendly country with uncrowded, inexpensive facilities available almost everywhere. You'll love the vibrant, outgoing people whose knowledge of English makes communicating a breeze. In a word, Fiji is a traveler's country par excellence, and whatever your budget, Fiji gives you good value for your vacation dollars and plenty of ways to spend them. Bula, welcome to Fiji.
The name Fiji is a Tongan corruption of the indigenous name "Viti." The Fiji Islands are arrayed in a horseshoe configuration with Viti Levu (great Fiji) and adjacent islands on the west, Vanua Levu (great land) and Taveuni to the north, and the Lau Group on the east. This upside-down U-shaped archipelago encloses the Koro Sea, which is relatively shallow and sprinkled with the Lomaiviti, or central Fiji, group of islands. Together the Fiji Islands are scattered over 1,290,000 square km of the South Pacific Ocean.
If every single island were counted, the isles of the Fiji archipelago would number in the thousands. However, a mere 322 are judged large enough for human habitation and of these only 106 are inhabited. That leaves 216 uninhabited islands, most of them prohibitively isolated or lacking fresh water.
Most of the islands are volcanic, remnants of a sunken continent that stretched through Australia. This origin accounts for the mineral deposits on the main islands. None of Fiji's volcanoes are presently active, though there are a few small hot springs. The two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, together account for 87% of Fiji's 18,272 square km of land. Viti Levu has 50% of the land area and 75% of the people, while Vanua Levu, with 30% of the land, has 18% of the population. (View a detailed map of Fiji.)
Compared to parts of North America and Europe, the seasonal climatic variations in Fiji are not extreme. There's a hotter, more humid season from November to April, and a cooler, drier time from May to October. Hurricanes can come during the "rainy" season but they only last a few days a year.
Seasonal differences in airfares should be more influential in deciding when to go. On flights from North America the low season is May to August, the prime time in Fiji. Christmas is busy but in February and March many hotels stand half empty and special discounted rates are on offer. In short, there isn't really any one travel season and every part of the year has its advantages. (Check the weather today in Nadi.)
Patterns of rainfall are in large part responsible for the variety of vegetation here. The wetter sides of the high islands are heavily forested, with occasional thickets of bamboo and scrub. Natural forests cover 40% of Fiji's total land area and about a quarter of these forests are classified as production forest suitable for logging. Coconut groves fill the coastal plains. On the drier sides open savanna or talasiga of coarse grasses predominates where the original vegetation has been destroyed by slash-and-burn agriculture. Sugarcane is now cultivated in the lowlands here, and Caribbean pine has been planted in many dry hilly areas, giving them a Scandinavian appearance. Mangroves can occasionally be found along some high island coastal lagoons.
Of the 70 species of land birds, 22 are endemic. The Fijian names of some of these birds, such as the kaka (parrot), ga (gray duck), and kikau (giant honey eater), imitate their calls. Red and green kula lorikeets are often seen in populated areas collecting nectar and pollen from flowering trees or feeding on fruit. The only native mammals are the monkey-faced fruit bat or flying fox, called beka by the Fijians, and the smaller, insect-eating bat. Some Fijian clans have totemic relationships with eels, prawns, turtles, and sharks, and are able to summon these creatures with special chants. Three of the world's seven species of sea turtles nest in Fiji: the green, hawksbill, and leatherback. Nesting occurs between November and February, at night when there is a full moon and a high tide.
1500 B.C.—Polynesians reach Fiji
Fiji is brimming with colorful attractions, splendid scenery, friendly people, and exciting things to do. From the gateway city Nadi with its numerous shopping and dining possibilities, it's only a quick commuter hop to the enticing Mamanuca Group with about half of Fiji's island resorts. The long, narrow Yasawa Group off the sugar city Lautoka is wilder, mightier, and less developed than the Mamanucas: The beaches are longer, the jungle-clad mountains higher, and the accommodations rougher. It's Fiji's most magnificent island chain.
Fiji's mainland, Viti Levu, is the "real" Fiji, where much of the country's history has unfolded and the bulk of the Fijian people live out their lives. The 486-km highway around the island passes a series of appealing cities and towns with bustling markets, bus stations, shops, cafes, clubs, monuments, and facilities of every kind. The Coral Coast in the south is the country's second resort area, with a series of large hotels nicely spaced between Nadi and Pacific Harbor. Pacific Harbor itself offers access to some of the best diving, fishing, kayaking, white-water rafting, and golfing in the South Pacific, and Nananu-i-Ra Island off Viti Levu's north coast is a favorite of backpackers.
Fiji's current capital, Suva, has the country's finest cinemas, monuments, museums, nightlife, restaurants, stores, and all of the excitement of the South Pacific's biggest town. Ships, buses, and planes depart Suva for every corner of the republic. It's a fascinating place to explore.
Several adjacent islands allow one to escape from Suva. Kadavu to the south is a characteristic Fijian island of small villages strewn between beaches and hills, but it is also a mecca for scuba divers who come for the Astrolabe Reef, and for surfers who have discovered Kadavu's waves. Back toward Viti Levu is Yanuca with inexpensive beach camps full of enthusiastic surfers.
Anyone with even the slightest interest in Fiji's vivid history won't wish to miss Ovalau Island and the timeworn old capital Levuka. Across the Koro Sea from Ovalau is Fiji's second island, Vanua Levu, heart of the "friendly north." Because a slight effort is involved in getting there, far fewer tourists ply these exotic shores. Yet Savusavu is Fiji's most picturesque town (after Levuka).
Repeat visitors and local Fijians often assert that Taveuni is Fiji's finest island, a claim which is difficult to deny. The island's high spine is draped in impenetrable rainforest, with huge coconut plantations tumbling to the coast. Magnificent waterfalls pour down the steep slopes, and the scuba diving is world famous.
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Fiji has been called "the soft coral capital of the world" and few seasoned divers will deny that Fiji has some of the finest scuba diving in the South Pacific with top facilities at the best prices. You won't go wrong choosing Fiji. Diving is possible year-round in Fiji, with the marinelife most bountiful from July to November.
A growing number of surfing camps are off southern and western Viti Levu. There's surf throughout the year with the best swells out of the south from March to October. Windsurfing is possible at a much wider range of locales.
Exciting whitewater rafting on the Upper Navua River is offered. In the past organized ocean kayaking expeditions have been offered among the Yasawa Islands, around Beqa and Kadavu, and in Vanua Levu's Natewa Bay.
All of the high islands offer hiking possibilities and many remote villages are linked by well-used trails. Levuka makes an excellent base with the trail to The Peak beginning right behind the town, and a challenging cross-island trail to Lovoni is nearby. More arduous is the all-day climb to Lake Tagimaucia on Taveuni. For some outer island hiking, walk right around Nananu-i-Ra in under a day, or across Waya or Wayasewa. Kadavu provides more of the same.
Check with the Fiji Visitors Bureau to see if any festivals are scheduled during your visit. The best known are the Bula Festival in Nadi (July), the Hibiscus Festival in Suva (August), the Sugar Festival in Lautoka (September), and the Back To Levuka Festival (early October).
Before Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, Hindus clean their homes, then light lamps or candles to mark the arrival of spring. Fruit and sweets are offered to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. Holi is an Indian spring festival in February or March.
One of the main sporting events of the year is the International Bula Marathon held in June. The main event involves a 42-km run from Lautoka to the Sheraton at Nadi. The 12th South Pacific Games, the region's major sporting event, traveled to Fiji in July 2003.
Everyone needs a passport valid at least three months beyond the date of entry. No visa is required of visitors from 101 countries (including Western Europe, North America, Japan, Israel, and most Commonwealth countries) for stays of four months. Tickets to leave Fiji are officially required but usually not checked.
The currency is the Fiji dollar, which is about two to one to the U.S. dollar in value. Banking hours are Monday to Thursday 0930-1500, Friday 0930-1600.
Fiji is one of the least expensive countries in the South Pacific. Tipping isn't customary here, although some resorts do have a staff Christmas fund, to which contributions are welcome.
Fiji's geographic position makes it the hub of transport for the entire South Pacific, and Nadi is the region's most important international airport, with long-haul services to points all around the Pacific Rim. Eleven international airlines fly into Nadi.
A departure tax of F$30 in cash Fijian currency is payable on all international flights, but transit passengers connecting within 12 hours and children under the age of 12 are exempt (no airport tax on domestic flights). This tax is often included in the ticket price.
Fiji has four ports of entry for cruising yachts: Lautoka, Levuka, Savusavu, and Suva. Calling at an outer island before clearing customs is prohibited.
While most international flights are focused on Nadi, Fiji's domestic air service radiates from Suva and two local airlines compete fiercely. Air Fiji is based at Suva's Nausori Airport while Sun Air's routes radiate from Nadi.
Most interisland shipping operates out of Suva. The largest company is Patterson Brothers Shipping which runs car ferries to Ovalau and Vanua Levu. Consort Shipping and Beachcomber Cruises serve Savusavu and Taveuni. Awesome Adventures' high speed catamaran Yasawa Flyer operates daily between Nadi and the Yasawa Group.
Scheduled bus service is available all over Fiji, and fares are low. Most long-distance bus services operate several times a day and bus stations are usually adjacent to local markets. Shared "running" taxis and minibuses also shuttle back and forth between Suva, Nadi, and Lautoka, leaving when full and charging only a little more than the bus. They'll often drop you exactly where you want to go; drawbacks include the less safe driving and lack of insurance coverage.
abridged from the 7th edition of: Moon Handbooks Fiji
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