Fiji: The Enchanted Isles
"Nowhere on Earth will you find as friendly a people"
As long as there are yearnings to escape to paradise, the remote islands of the South Pacific will exceed all expectations. At the crossroads of the Pacific, Fiji is a vibrant fusion of cultures and a natural paradise of islands fringed with coral reefs and covered with coconut groves, sugar cane fields and breathtaking beaches. More than anything else, Fiji is an exotic destination, best known for scuba diving, surfing and romantic honeymoons.
However, once you touch down on this South Pacific paradise, you’ll soon discover that sugar white beaches, transparent seas and technicolour coral reefs are just the beginning of Fiji’s tropical magic.
Ancient traditions, modern trends and lush landscapes from 4,500 foot mountain peaks to the only sand dunes in the South Pacific make this island nation’s 333 emerald isles a treasure trove of activities for both seasoned and occasional travellers alike. Not surprisingly, it is one of the Pacific’s most popular tourist destinations.
Fiji’s historic blend of Polynesian and Melanesian cultures and European, Indian and Chinese influences provide rich opportunities for cultural tourism, delicious dining and inspired shopping, while one-of-a-kind land excursions and unparalleled ocean sports offer the ultimate in adventure.
There is no shortage of accommodation options, ranging from exclusive resorts, lavish five-star islands and romantic spa hideaways, to time shares and cosy bungalows offering something to fit everyone’s holiday dreams and budget.
The word Fiji is actually the Tongan name for these pristine islands – it was adopted and made prevalent by the early European settlers. Before this, the inhabitants of the archipelago called their home ‘Viti’. The Vitian culture was shaped by Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian peoples over 35 centuries of settlement. In about 1500 BC, the Lapita people arrived from Vanuatu and the eastern Solomon Islands. For about 1,000 years, they lived along the coasts and fished the fruits of the sea, then around 500 BC, they became keen on agriculture, the population exploded, tribal feuding got nasty and cannibalism became common.
The archipelago’s treacherous reefs and the Fijians’ reputation as formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals deterred sailors from visiting the islands. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the only Europeans to settle in Fiji were the odd deserting or shipwrecked sailor and an escaped convict or two. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that European whalers, sandalwood and bêche-de-mer traders arrived.
The introduction of firearms by the Europeans resulted in an increase in violent tribal warfare, with some chiefs selling their land and even villagers for arms, but things have since changed considerably and Fiji is now one of the most influential of all the Pacific nations and home to both the Pacific Islands Forum and the University of the South Pacific.
Most visitors head to Fiji for the sublime sun and sea. Lapped by cerulean waters, this remote archipelago encompasses over 300 islands, so notions of cocktails on an alabaster beach aren’t mere whimsy. Fiji is a former British colony, so everyone here speaks English. And nowhere on Earth will you find as friendly a people – the Fijians’ genuine warmth and friendliness turns every day into a treasured memory.
It has been my good fortune to visit Fiji on a number of occasions during my travels throughout the South Pacific and I learned very quickly that almost everything here begins with ‘kava’ – a traditional alcoholic brew made from the powdered root of a plant from the pepper family, served in a half-coconut shell – from village tours to evening entertainment at the resorts.
Cultural adventure tours on Viti Levu, Fiji’s ‘big island’, offer more opportunities to share Fiji’s thousand-year-old history. Frequently referred to as ‘the mainland’ Viti Levu is that hub of a place where commerce, industry and the small matter of running a country supersedes the idyllic holiday business ‘offshore’. Around three-quarters of the population resides here, many in the three biggest cities; Suva, Lautoka and Nadi.
On one such tour of the rugged interior of the island I found myself deep inside a vine-draped cavern in the mountains of the Sigatoka River Valley. “Our ancestors hid from their enemies for months at a time here,” the local priest told me, pointing out the children’s hiding place, the women’s work area and the sleeping compartments carved into the rock of this vast, sacred cave. Afterwards, we floated down the river on a traditional ‘bilibili’ bamboo raft.
The famous red-and-white skirted Fijian guards standing to attention outside the President’s imposing colonial-style residence in Suva, Fiji’s vibrant and cosmopolitan capital, are handsome reminders that Fiji was once a British colony. And in Nadi, Fiji’s largest city, the ornate Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple is the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere, and a symbol of Fiji’s thriving Indian population.
Many of Fiji’s attractions are just plain fun. Swimming in the fresh water pools beneath thundering waterfalls is the perfect reward for a walk through the flowering hibiscus to the Tavoro Falls in the Bouma National Heritage Park on Taveuni, Fiji’s ‘garden island’. River rafting, jet boat rides, mountain and jungle hikes, horse riding, sport fishing, yachting, sailing, surfing and, of course, snorkelling and scuba diving abound.
Island hopping is extremely easy too, thanks largely to the many frequent inter-island flights, ferry and private boat services between the three main islands and their idyllic islets – crowned with a single resort, a small village or serenely uninhabited – in the sun-kissed Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups to the west of Viti Levu.
Fiji enjoys an ideal South Seas tropical climate nearly all year round. It is thus a perfect holiday destination, especially for those trying to escape the severe winters of the Northern Hemisphere. The average ambient temperature is 29˚C and the crystal clear waters of the lagoons are a fairly constant 28˚C even at night, so it is quite safe to swim under the stars from the steps of your luxurious overwater bungalow.
As for my own stay here, I felt right at home in the luxurious blend of European environmental responsibility, Fijian culture and hospitality at the award-winning Jean- Michel Cousteau Resort situated on Fiji’s relatively undiscovered island of Vanua Levu. This five-star eco resort is located amongst 17 flourishing acres of a former coconut plantation overlooking the crystal clear waters of Savusavu Bay, and is one of the South Pacific’s most renowned vacation destinations.
The resort is owned by Jean-Michel Cousteau, the pioneering French explorer, environmentalist and fi lm producer, who is the son of the famous ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. A stay here is truly an experience to behold, where heavenly surroundings, unrivalled accommodation and creative gourmet cuisine combine with an unsurpassed range of luxury hotel activities.
The flying time from London to Nadi International Airport with Air New Zealand is approximately 23 hours, via Los Angeles. The flying time from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport with Thai Airways to Brisbane and Fiji Airways to Nadi is considerably shorter at just over 12½ hours. With a time difference of GMT+12 hours, the journey will leave you in a bit of a daze, so I would seriously recommend an upgrade to Business or First Class.
What is my favourite memory of Fiji’s magic? I would say the sunset torch-lighting ceremony. As the sun begins its explosive descent into the Pacific, guests at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort make a point to be at the beach bar to watch a Fijian ‘warrior’ running through the resort with a flaming torch lighting the tiki lamps, culminating in a spectacular firewalking display.
This is my signal that another day in paradise is ending and a heavenly night is beginning under a canopy of stars. So, as the islanders say, “Ni Sa Bula”, and welcome to the alluring Fiji islands.
How to Get There
Where to Stay
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