Bula! A warm island welcome to this week’s post for Fabulous Journeys!
I’ve just returned from a holiday/friend’s wedding in the warm South Pacific nation of Fiji. I’d like to share with you some stories of my recent trip and discoveries that I made while going around the island of Viti Levu. This post will show you the Fiji that you don’t find in the tourist brochures of your local travel agent.
The Bula Smile
Everywhere you go in Fiji, you’re always greeted with a warm “Bula!” by the people around. Bula has become a term synonymous to Fiji. The way you are greeted can vary from a gentle one from the ladies, to a vibrant and earth-shaking one by some of the men on the streets. It’s just so nice how these people greet strangers on the streets and in the villages, wherever it may be. It’s definitely something not a lot of places in the world do anymore (unfortunately).. The warm calm but vibrant smiles of the people makes you feel welcome, relaxed and at home on this South Pacific nation.
This is actually my second trip to Fiji. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the islands a couple of years ago, and I toured around the outer islands of Fiji. It’s definitely a great place to go for those white-sand beaches and fantastic snorkelling. This time however, I decided to explore the main island of Viti Levu and see the countryside, the villages, the beaches and the capital city of Suva.
Nadi and Denarau Island
When you land into Fiji from overseas, you will most likely land into Nadi International Airport (pronounced as “Nandi”). This is the biggest airport in the country and is located on the western side of the island of Viti Levu. The airport is near the town of Nadi, the third biggest city in Fiji. This is where you’ll find a lot of shops catered primarily to tourists, and where you’ll find this very colourful Hindu temple at the end of the Main Street. There are a number of hotels and resorts around Nadi town and many tourists would opt for one of these resorts upon arrival. If you’re after some shopping, the most popular shops/department stores you will find in Nadi (and the rest of the major towns in Fiji) are Jack’s, Tappoo, and Prouds. It is also one of the few places in Fiji that has fastfood chains like McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut.
View from Denarau
For a more upmarket selection of resorts, the island of Denarau has been specifically developed to hold all the 5-star resorts into one island complex. Hotels like Sheraton, Sofitel, Hilton, Radisson, Westin, to name a few, are conveniently located beside each other. A Bula Bus service is available on the island. It’s basically a truck converted into some sort of a bus with a thatched roof to make it look Fijian. The last time I was there, it was offered as a free service, but this time around, you need to pay $4 for a day ticket, which gives you unlimited rides and access to the Bula Bus. Alternatively, if you’re a guest of the Sheraton or the Westin, they offer a free pink bus service that will take you to and from the Westin and Sheraton. I stayed at the Westin, which I booked through the website Expedia. At one end of the island is Port Denarau, where cruise ships to the isalnds depart from. just right by the terminal is a newly built shopping complex that has a Hard Rock Cafe, and shops like Jack’s, New Zealand Natural, and a few great restaurants to choose from. It’s a great alternative if you’re tired of the same hotel food. Denarau Island is definitely a great place to go to experience some luxury and comfort, and to relax and enjoy the pools. The beach is okay, but I wouldn’t all it fantastic. Nevertheless, it’s still a great area to chill out and relax.
Sigatoka and Sigatoka Sand Dunes
My friend Pete and I drove down the island from Denarau along Queen’s Road (the only fully-sealed road going around Viti Levu) to the Sigatoka area (pronounced Sing-a-toka). This area is where you will find the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park, which has a few walking tracks to the sand dunes leading to the beach. It’s quite a sight to see, and it’s worth a visit. We took a walk that takes 1 hour return and goes by the sand dunes and along the beach, and then through the mahogany forest back into the car park. In the mahogany forest, we found some ingenious artwork done by the caretaker of the park. It’s called Treehuggers, and basically it is made of branches that got swept away from the nearby Sigatoka river onto the shores of the sand dunes area, and they have collected them as part of the cleanup program of the coastline. They then turned it into an artwork! Another piece they did is called The Tree of Lost Soles, and basically it is a collection of worn-out soles and flip-flops/slippers that got washed into the sand dunes and are hung onto this huge banyan tree. Well worth checking out!
We then proceeded to the town of Sigatoka, which is situated along the banks of the Sigatoka River, Fiji’s longest river. It’s a quiet laid-back town, and has a market on one end, and a few shops. We drove further along the main road and got to some dirt road which led to some villages and this wind farm. I never expected to see a wind farm in Fiji, but they actually have some on top of a hill! Very fascinating!
Coral Coast and Pacific Harbour
Further from Sigatoka, roughly 20kms from the town is an area called the Coral Coast. It has a few resorts scattered along this strip of beach. The beach isn’t great for swimming, but is good for snorkelling. My friend Pete and I stayed at The Crow’s Nest resort, which is along this area called the Sunset Strip. It’s a small road that offshoots from the main Queen’s Road, and has a few small resorts lined up. It’s a great small resort with self-contained units and balconies overlooking the sea. It’s a much reasonably priced one among all the resorts in the area, with the Outrigger on the Lagoon being the most expensive. We had some other friends staying at the Outrigger, so we managed to check out their facilities. I must say that they have 5-star facilities, and they even organise activities for kids and adults alike to keep them entertained. There are no towns or places to go nearby, hence they want to entertain some of their guests through organising activities. The snorkelling was ok. I saw some colourful fish, but the corals were not as beautiful as in the other parts of Fiji.
Despite the slightly patchy weather, I managed to see a nice sunset on the Sunset strip. It’s worth waiting for it and hanging out on the beach while it sets.. After the Coral Coast, the next place we visited along Queen’s Road is Pacific Harbour. It’s a nice area with a lot of private residence and some nearby resorts. There is an Arts Village, which has shops selling indigenous Fijian craft and has cafes, supermarket, and a bank. It also has a golf course, for those golfing enthusiasts. Right across the road is a camp site run by the Seventh Day Adventists. It’s a nice campsite with A-frame units to hire, and the beach looks great to hang out on. It has a view of the other islands off the main island of Viti Levu.
The frenetic capital and biggest city of Fiji was our next destination. This is where the Queen’s Road ends and the King’s Road starts going up to the northern part of the island. Unfortunately, since we didn’t have a 4WD vehicle, we were not able to travel this piece of road. The people at the car rental company told us that because of the massive rains they’ve had, the roads have become too rough to drive on, and not the entire stretch of it is sealed as well. So, on our way to Suva, we were welcomed by this torrential rain that just poured like a huge waterfall! We could hardly see a thing on the road, and our windscreen wipers were going full blast! I had heard that it often rains in Suva, so I wasn’t surprised of the weather. When we got to the city itself, Pete and I asked a local if there was a storm or cyclone coming through. He then said, “Nah, this is normal rain here”. So, having said that, we made sure to take our umbrellas to get around. There are heaps of Indian shops around, selling anything from clothing to food to general merchandise. Near the harbour itself, we found the new shopping mall of Suva called MHCC. The waterfront by the harbour was so tempting to us, but we were warned that it’s a dangerous area, as a lot of people get mugged. If you have seen how big the Fijians are, you would be cautious about these dangerous pockets. Having said that, I went around the government buildings and near the Fiji Museum, and it was a pleasant place to get around, with Albert Park between Fiji Museum and the government buildings. I took care on which ones I photograph because the military presence is quite obvious in the area. Suva looks like another buzzing city. Something I’m glad to have seen, but not too sure if I’ll go back. Fiji’s biggest city is not really a place to lounge in the sun and chill. If you’re after the beach and sun, head back to the western side of the island, or better yet, to the other outer islands!
From Suva, we head back along Queen’s Road to head to Lautoka, the second biggest city in Fiji, which is a 30-minute drive from Nadi. Our friend was getting married in Lautoka, as that was his hometown. However, we still had a day before any of the activities started, so we decided to stay the night at Momi Bay, which is also 30 minutes away from Nadi, but on the other direction from Lautoka. It took us a good 4 hours to drive that way.
On the way, we saw on the map on our guidebook that there is a road that diverts a bit and goes along near the coast. We took that road that goes via the village of Lomawai, and Tau. The road was not sealed, but it was manageable. The villages along the way were picturesque, especially Lomawai. It’s along the river, and there is a wooden rail bridge where cars can go through as well. Later on, we learned that the salt that most of Fiji uses comes from this village. Along the way, we saw some children on horses, waving at us and the people seems so friendly and waving us.
After a hour on the dirt road from Lomawai, we finally got to Momi Bay. The Seashells @ Momi was what we had in mind to stay at, and it was just perfect. The Seashells had a range of accommodation from the backpackers to the bures, to self-contained units with aircon. We were wanting a bit more luxury in this case and chose the unit with aircon on it. The resort has no beach, but it has 2 swimming pools, one is near the sea, and a bar beside it. The area is close to mangroves, hence there is no sandy beach. However, the resort offers scuba diving trips, which is a bonus if you’re into scuba diving. This place is slightly off the beaten track, and not a lot of tourists were around when we checked in. Perhaps this caters more for backpackers and families who live locally. A great place to chill though.
From Momi Bay, our final stop was Lautoka for our friend’s wedding. Lautoka is a pleasant town that is not packed with tourists. Lautoka is a great reprieve from the constant pulling by the locals in Nadi and Suva into their shops for people to buy their wares. There is a market at one end of town, and the shops run along the main street and the next block from it. We stayed at the Tanoa Waterfront Hotel. It’s perhaps Lautoka’s best hotel, and the location by the waterfront is nice! One of the best sunsets I’ve seen on my trip was from this place, so well worth checking out the sunset from the walkway in front of this hotel. If you are looking for a good place to have breakfast, check out the Chilli Tree Cafe. It has a good selection of breakfast menu items and good coffee as well.
Abaca and Koroyanitu National Park
After the great wedding celebrations, we had a day left to ourselves. Pete and I decided to go up to a national park just behind Lautoka called the Koroyanitu National Park. To get there, we had to get to the village of Abaca (pronounced Am-ba-tha). We had to find a 4WD pickup to take us there, as the road was quite rough, and the vehicle had to do 2 river crossings, which was quite exciting. It’s a 10km journey but took 30 minutes to get to the village of Abaca because of the rough roads. When we got there, we had to pay F$10 for entry to the national park. There are a few walks around the area, and the one we managed to get to was to the Savuione Falls, which is a 2-hour walk return through the rainforest. It is considered an easy walk, but it is nowhere as easy as the Sigatoka Sand Dunes walk. Nevertheless, if you want to explore the different side of Fiji, this is definitely worth checking out. Just be careful of the spiders and caterpillars around, but otherwise, there are no predators in the jungle. The odd cow or horse may sound out, but nothing that you should be worried about.
That’s the end of my trip to Fiji! I will be posting another one about the outer islands of Fiji, based on my first experience of this island paradise. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!
Til then, have a fabulous journey!