Bula! (Fiji Time)

Last year, Fiji wasn’t on our travel radar. In fact, none of us knew anything about Fiji when friends offered up an extra bedroom in their hotel (and they were unfortunately unable to make the trip with us). But with free Alaska Air mileage tickets with partners Fiji and Korean Air, and the trip overlapping Thanksgiving and my birthday, we were still game to fly across the Pacific for a week of fun and sun. We were pleasantly surprised by the crystal clear waters, friendly Fijians, and reasonably-priced resorts.  Since Fiji is one of the NY Times 52 places to go in 2018, here is your head start on planning your Fijian getaway.

Fiji is a chain of more than 300 islands, of which around 100 are inhabited. It’s located four hours from New Zealand in the South Pacific. In our research, we quickly learned that Fiji isn’t a place with over-water huts as we all had pictured (you’re thinking of Tahiti or the Maldives). It’s best done as a stop on the way to or from Australia/New Zealand to break up the trip.

FijiViwa_171125_PB250100

We experienced two very different tourist versions of Fiji. One, the mass resorts on the main island of Denaru (close to the international airport). These hotels (Hilton, Sheraton, Westin, etc.) are built on a former mangrove forest, and thus there isn’t much to see in the surrounding waters and they offer what any large resort would minus good beaches. In other words, go to Hawaii or Mexico over Denaru. Stay here while in transit if you arrive late or leave early, but go further afield, and quickly – Fiji shines in its remote locations.

After a few days on Denaru having exhausted the available activities (see below), we decided to book a last minute stay on one of the further afield islands. My criteria was it needed to be small, on a beach, and require a float plane to get to. We hit the jackpot with Viwa, a tiny island of 300 residents with a single resort of 11 villas. It was incredibly affordable for the high end feel and personal touches. The only downside was how short our visit was. Within minutes, we settled into the no shoes, no watch, no phone lifestyle and leaving a few days later was a shock to the system.

Cooking Class & Market Tour:

A highlight of the trip was my birthday present from Gena, a cooking class and market tour in Nadi. We had the chance to see a real market and learn about daily life on the islands. After the market tour, we headed back to the kitchen in Denaru and each cooked two full meals, one Fijian and one a fusion of Indian/Fijian (there is a heavy Indian influence on Fijian food). Unique to this class, we all made our own meals in individual portions, and they constantly cleaned up around us making for an easy and fun afternoon. See below for some pictures (note the prepared meals were at the market, and not our creations).

For activities while in Denaru, there are the usual boat trips and pool activities. Do try a cava ceremony at your hotel to learn about this island tradition. We did a day trip with Coral Cats – there were multiple snorkeling opportunities, and lunch on a resort island. Even Jerry enjoyed the trip. We had plenty of space on the boat, we saw others that looked much more crowded and less fun.

On Denaru, we primarily ate at the Marina – an outdoor mall where most the tourist restaurants are located and walkable from hotels. Our favorite was the one Fijian restaurant, Nadina Authentic. It featured fresh local seafood and live music. And aside from our cooking class, there was no memorable food in Denaru. One of our last nights, we humored Jerry and ate Chinese food. It was a good value and not horrible (Sentai).

Water activities abound:

Fiji has some of the clearest waters in the world. The diving is beautiful, full of life and the clearest waters I’ve been in. There are also liveaboards which are likely fantastic.

Stay:

  • Not on Denaru. Go further afield.
  • Viwa: Amazing. We loved it. Everyone has a hut, the food and hospitality are lovely and there is plenty to do for a few days. Every hut has beach chairs, and a hammock right out front. There is a spa on the beach, and the in house diving staff will take you whenever you’d like (I got a private dive, which is likely the norm). Whatever you do, bite the bullet and go to a hotel that requires a flight (and even though you can ferry to Viwa, take the small plane). There are dozens of similar places, and in a return trip it would be fun to do island hopping to try a few.

At Viwa, we did the sunset cruise – it turned into an adorably romantic boat ride for the *three* of us 🙂 The boat was completely decked out in flowers, as were we. We had a fantastic time with a guitar player, singer, and bubbles. It was a fitting end to the great trip.

 

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