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Fiji: I Could Have Planned This One Better

(The beach along the Shertaon, Fiji)

(Fiji at sunrise)

I have a confession.  I’ve been wanting to write about our Fiji trip a few months back but every time I’ve thought about what to write, I draw a blank.  Is that weird?  I mean, it was FIJI for cryin’ out loud!  You’d think there’d be something remotely interesting to share from that trip!

In all honesty, our short escape to Fiji went by as a blur.  We took a red-eye flight over and found ourselves in full on fatigue mode when we arrived because we barely slept on the flight.  We were seated bulkhead in a row with three other babies so if it wasn’t Traveler #3 crying, it was one of the other babies going at it.  The worst was when one baby would start crying and then wake up another baby… which makes me wonder, how do parents with multiples do it? Or heck, daycares?  That said, the flight went a lot better than I had expected (in fact, probably about as good as it could have been!) so no complaints there.  Oh, except that we were in dire need of a nap when we got to our hotel.

We stayed at the Sheraton on Denarau Island which was ok.  Here’s the thing: I didn’t do much research on Fiji before we went.  Well, that’s not true.  I tried to do some pre-trip research, but I had a hard time figuring the whole thing out.  Fiji, you’re an enigma (and that’s saying a lot coming from a seasoned traveler).  I couldn’t tell which island was the best to stay at and most of the hotels I found appeared in dire need of a remodel.  For an island that’s a honeymoon spot, it left a lot to be desired from a trip-planning perspective.  So, I went with my trusted Starwood hotels and narrowed it down to the Sheraton because the reviews for that property slightly edged out the ones for the Westin in Fiji.

(We stayed at the Sheraton in FIji.)

(We stayed at the Sheraton in Fiji.)

Denarau Island is basically part of the mainland.  It’s the resort part of the mainland and connected via a small bridge, which means it provides easy access to the other parts of the mainland.  It also means you’ll pay a surcharge on taxi fare when rides depart from Denarau.

There’s not a whole lot on Denarau so you’re pretty much confined to your resort for food and entertainment.  Of course, there are plenty of tours you can sign up for (cave tours, village tours, city tours, helicopter tours, island tours, etc.) but they all require transportation to the Marina or require a fair drive through the mainland.

(Denarau Marina)

(Denarau Marina)

Some of the most interesting tours we saw required a whole day just to get there and back. As far as restaurant options on Denarau?  Eat at the hotel, a hotel close to yours, or take the shuttle to the Marina.

Given that we had Traveler #3, we stayed at our resort most of the time (translation: lots of pool time, walking around, and generally just hanging out in our air conditioned room).  At much as I would have liked to have a more action-packed itinerary, it wasn’t so bad to be at the resort because it forced us to slow down.

We did two tours.  On the first, we visited the islands closest to ours on a half day trip.  Fiji has a lot of islands – some of which could take you hours on a boat to get to.  The best islands (think: uninhabited, soft sand, and jewel-colored waters), unsurprisingly, are the ones furthest away.  We opted to visit one of the closest ones, South Sea Island, which was a 30 min boat ride from the marina.

(South Sea Island is small.  I walked the circumference of it in about 5 minutes.)

(South Sea Island is small. I walked the circumference of it in about 5 minutes.)

A tour to these islands is pretty standard regardless of which island visited. It’s all about jetting the family off for a day to another resort (and I used the term “resort” lightly because it was more like a hut on a sandbar) where you can have beach time, snorkel, enjoy a BBQ, or any other typical island-lounging activity.  For us, it was nice to leave the resort and see what the another island was like, but I suspect we would have liked the more remote islands instead.  Since travel to the remote islands was out of the question for us, we signed up for a helicopter tour of the Mamanucas instead so that we could at least see the string of islands from above and see what else the mainland had to offer.

Here are some of the photos from the helicopter tour:

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That water was stunning.  If only we were able to make it out there!

Most of the islands surrounding the mainland were small and not set up for high-end tourism.  In fact, what I realized is that visiting Fiji is mostly about hanging out and slowing down.  You can pick an island to go to, but chances are, you may be at the only resort on that small island (unless you’re staying on the mainland).  There aren’t shops or restaurant options nearby so it’s all the more critical you find a resort on an island you like because that’s where you’ll be.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something I wish I had known before we went.

After the helicopter tour, we ventured into Nadi town to get a glimpse of the “real Fiji”, which isn’t anywhere as stunning as the photos of the islands I shared above would have you believe.

(Nadi, Fiji)

(Nadi, Fiji)

We went straight to the local market.  Markets are a great way to see everyday life wherever you go so I always try to make it to one local market when we travel. This market was huge with areas sectioned off by produce, meats/fish, and kava.

(The local market in town sold all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and fish.)

(The local market in town sold all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and fish.)

Kava is the national drink in Fiji.  The roots of the plant are ground up, the grounds are poured into a muslin cloth, water is added to the grounds, and the cloth is swished in the water and repeatedly strained.  After a few minutes, you get a brownish liquid in a communal bowl which is where everyone gets a sample of the drink.

(We also found a whole room dedicated to kava, the official drink of Fiji.  This is the root of the kava plant.)

(We also found a whole room dedicated to kava, the official drink of Fiji. This is the root of the kava plant.)

(Outside the market, we walked into a local handicraft store and the owners there greeted us with a traditional kava ceremony.)

(Outside the market, we walked into a local handicraft store and the owners there greeted us with a traditional kava ceremony.)

The kava drink has sedative and numbing properties (because you know, the last thing a traveler to Fiji needs is an agent to help him/her relax, but “when in Rome” Fiji, right?).  I only tried a small sip of it – it tasted maybe like peppery dirty water – but Mr. T had his serving and mine.  A while later, he was pretty much “relaxed”, which meant I had to care for Traveler #3 on my own the rest of the night.

If we were to go to Fiji again, here’s how I’d do it differently (and what I’d recommend if you plan to visit Fiji!):

  • Spend a few days on the mainland so that you can get acclimated to the time zone and you can sightsee. There are plenty of options for tours that leave from the mainland (jetski, cooking class, visiting cultural centers or traditional villages, waterfall tours, cave tours, off-roading safaris, etc.) so you have no shortage of options starting off there.  If you choose to stay in Denarau, though, be prepared to travel long distances for some tours; a lot of tours leave from the Coral Coast so that might be an area worth looking at for hotel options.
  • Once you’re done with the activity portion of the trip, find a nice resort on a secluded island and unwind.
  • Don’t be tempted to visit all the islands or even a few of them – they are pretty much the same (unless, of course, the one your hotel is at sucks but if that’s the case, you should find another hotel).

In all, our time in Fiji came and went about as fast as Cyclone Pam did when it passed by the South Pacific.  Speaking of Cyclone Pam, we left the day before she was scheduled to hit Fiji so if it weren’t for all the island tours shutting down in prep for her arrival, we probably would have made it out on the all-day sailing trip I was hoping we’d squeeze in.  Shucks!  That’s that thing with travel, though – you can plan as much as you want but you always have to be prepared for the unexpected.  I’ll tell ya what — the water in the South Pacific is just ridiculously gorgeous.  This part of the world hasn’t seen the last of me yet.

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