Prior to my first visit to Fiji, I read quite a bit about travelling in Fiji on the various travel forums such as TripAdvisor.
I found the advice often to be contradictory or incomplete, and after visiting I can see there were some essential details that
no one mentioned but which I wish I had known before making my travel decisions in Fiji. To help first time travellers to
Fiji, here are some impressions that might be useful. As always, do you own planning independent of this article.
Conditions may have changed since my last visit, so consider this information as a broad guide only.
"Fiji time" is the cultural standard in Fiji. Everything is done on Fiji time, which means it is never rushed. Appointment
times are flexible. This is most notable in cafes and restaurants, where it can take an inordinate amount of time to prepare
something relatively simple. Make sure you allow extra time in your day for "Fiji time". If you feel yourself getting
impatient, just remember that you are on holiday and this is one cultural difference that is actually good for you, even if
you can't appreciate it until after you have been in the country for a few days.
There are fewer than one million people living in Fiji, split across numerous islands, and it's a long way from anywhere.
Apart from sugar production there are few major industries, so a lot of basic goods and materials need to be imported.
It's in a part of the world that experiences several months a year of torrential rain and the occasional cyclone. When
put in that context, Fiji is amazingly well developed and maintained, and the people are incredibly resilient,
so if infrastructure and services don't match your expectations coming from a more developed or more populated part
of the world, cut the Fijians some slack.
I could not find much in the way of Fijian language tips online before I went, apart from a short YouTube video. English is
actually the official language of Fiji, but knowing a few Fijian words will help you engage more with the locals. The two
most helpful words are "Bula", which means hello, and "Vinaka" which means thankyou. Watch out for the silent nasal sounds in
some words. For example Nadi, the international airport, is actually pronounced "Nandi".
Queens Rd is the main road that rings the main island. When I arrived, the island had been in drought for several months and
the roads were fantastic. Smooth, well finished and not a pothole in sight. Three days later the heavens opened up and the
potholes soon followed. There were lots of them, but if you stayed below the national speed limit of 80 km/hr and left enough
distance between you and the car in front to see the road surface, they were easily negotiated.
Having said that, on one day of heavy rain I saw two cars flipped onto their roof, most likely because they were travelling too fast.
If you are self-driving to anywhere off Queens Road, you need to prepare well because road signs are often non-existent.
For example, the road to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant doesn't have a name or a road sign. This is because everyone who lives
in the area knows where the road goes, so it doesn't need a name. Similarly, the beach access road to the world famous Natadola
Beach was not signposted. In this respect, having a local driver can save you a lot of time.
I asked for a road map in one service station and they didn't sell them. Ask your hotel staff for directions as clear as possible
and spend plenty of time studying online maps before you head off each day.
Most of the rural roads off Queens Road are unsealed. In dry weather, the roads I travelled along were easily negotiated
in a 2WD. Sure, they were rough, but I've seen worse. In wet weather I couldn't say how these roads would fare.
It sounded like a cliche to me before I went, but Fijians tend to have a way with kids. I was surprised at how my kids felt at ease
being picked up by native Fijians. There are lots of kids activities. If you have a choice between travelling to holiday
destinations in south-east Asia and Fiji, Fiji wins hands down for families. It's cleaner, the air is fresher, there are fewer hawkers,
and there's less visible sleaze.
We ended up staying at Gecko's Resort in Sigatoka because it was one of the few places that had interconnecting rooms available at a
reasonable price. If you are travelling with 3-4 adults, accommodation options are otherwise quite limited. If you are the standard
nuclear family, accommodation options are numerous. Gecko's was a great place for us to stay and the staff were fantastic, to the point
where we missed them when it was time to say goodbye. Being on the Coral Coast, it's a bit further away from the touristy attractions,
and it's not directly on the beach, but it's a great base from which to explore the Coral Coast and Natadola Beach, or as a stopover
between Nadi and Suva.
Yellow airport taxis are lined up outside the arrivals hall at the airport. My advice would be to make sure the meter is turned
on before you go anywhere if you don't know the going rates. I found almost all of the drivers really careful and safe, friendly and
open, but had one experience of a cab driving at 110 km/hr at night with less than a metre between us and the car he was trying to
pressure to get past, with no rear seatbelts for the kids. Suffice to say, he didn't get a return booking!
All of the beaches that I visited in Fiji were coral beaches. This includes along the Coral Coast and at South Sea Island. Coral beaches
consist of small fragments of coral rather than sand. It is hard on your bare feet, so bring enclosed shoes if you are planning a long walk
along the beach.
I read mixed reviews about the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which is an orchid garden about 10-15 minutes north of the international
airport. As someone who enjoys visiting ornamental gardens, I loved it. If you are indifferent about that sort of thing, you probably
won't. I visited in August and there were plenty of tropical flowers on display through the forest walk. If you are really into orchids,
there are guides on hand to talk technical about orchids.
The weather in Fiji is warm all year round. Expecting something similar to northern Australia's wet/dry tropics, I was naively surprised to
be experiencing a downpour during the dry season. The wet season runs roughly from October to April, but there can be rain at any time of
the year. If you are visiting swimming holes, the early to mid dry season (May to July) is the best time to visit.
Travelling through the Fijian cool season (in the month of August), I was surprised by the limited variety of fresh fruits. I was expecting
a vast array of tropical fruits, but ended up scarcely being able to find even a banana. The roadside stalls and town markets all had
only winter vegetables for sale. I'm guessing this is because all of the fresh food in Fiji is seasonal, and that anything unseasonal has
to be shipped or flown in. If you are gluten free, food options are limited over the cooler months. I struggled to find gluten free food
in the supermarkets. Therefore, try and bring some gluten free food with you, and if you come across some gluten free food that you
like in Fiji, stock up and take it with you.
If you would like to leave a comment about these tips or to add your own, please fill in the comment box below.
© Brad Neal 2017. All rights reserved.