Bula!! from one of the friendliest places on earth! The islands of Fiji are known for their pristine beaches, turquoise waters, but it’s the smiling, welcoming people that has visitors coming back again and again! Fiji consists of more than 300 islands, about 100 of which are inhabited. Fiji was settled by ancestors of the Polynesians over 3000 years ago and in the 1800s European settlers arrived to this island paradise. For a time, it was a British colony, but it gained its independence in 1970. Today, Fiji is known throughout the world for its amazing vistas (think “Castaway” movie) and “Bula” spirit.
Viti Levu: About the size of Hawaii’s Big Island, Viti Levu is Fiji’s largest island with almost 75% of the population. It hosts the international airport, Nadi International Airport. The western and eastern sides of the island are much different. The east side has a distinctly wetter climate and is home to mostly native Fijians while the west is drier and has more of an Indo-Fijian population (Laborers were brought in from India by the British in the late 19th century). Most of Viti Levu’s big resorts are located on the Coral Coast or in Pacific Harbor, a tourist village that focuses on adventure activities. The Coral Coast offers some interesting tourist activities. The Sigatoka River cuts right through the coast and offers an easy way to get an inland experience. The Sigatoka River Safari combines a cultural experience with some adrenaline-pumping fun that will have the kids screeching for more! Take a fast boat – complete with crazy turns that will illicit giggles – up river to visit a remote village. After delivering gifts for the chief, guests are invited to walk around and join in on a ceremony. The beaches along the Coral Coast are amazing as well and the hotel we stayed at, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, offered another chance to immerse in the history with a torch lighting ceremony each evening (which the kids can join in on) and a fire walking ceremony. Just behind our hotel Kula Eco Park offers a fun diversion for the kids and offers lots of information about local animals and customs. The kids get to hold iguanas and snakes – which they loved! – and we learned about their rehabilitation efforts for Fiji’s endangered species such as ground frogs, iguanas and falcons, Jungle paths lead from exhibit to exhibit making for a nice outing for everyone.
Mamanuca Islands: Located west of Viti Levu, the Mamanucas offer the dream vision of Fiji: about 20 tiny islands ringed by palm trees and white sand beaches plopped in turquoise waters. It is where the film Castaway (you know, the one with Tom Hanks) was filmed. The islands offer a variety of atmospheres from local villages to island resorts. And the waters around them offer exquisite diving and snorkeling. We based ourselves on Castaway Island Fiji (not the one where the movie was filmed, but close by) and were blown away by the scenery and the service! Most of the island is taken by the resort, a privilege provided by the local chief and the scene is breathtaking. Thatched roof bures (bungalows) blend into the tropical surrounds, which are bordered by amazingly white sand. Just off the beach, there is a coral and clam re-growth project underway and the snorkeling is fantastic! The chef at Castaway Chef Lance Seeto, not only cooks up exquisite fusion dishes (some of which he taught the kids to cook…thanks Lance!), but he has a special place in the hearts of locals. Over his years at Castaway, he has become good friends with the chief of a nearby island…so much so that that chief allows village access to Castaway guests. So, one of the days during our stay, we hop a boat to a nearby island with a gift of kava for the chief, and after a Fijian welcoming ceremony, which entails drinking kava and chatting with the chief (after formal introductions), we are allowed to wander at will (something not offered to other tourists who remain on the beach) and visit the school and attend a rugby match. On another day, we take a day trip to a very famous island: Monuriki…the island where the movie Castaway (with Tom Hanks) was filmed. The kids are very excited to look for Wilson (his volleyball friend in the movie) and to their surprise, the resort has their very own copy! Other evidence of the movie is there too (we watched it before we went to Fiji so the kids were eating all this up!) as the locals rebuild the “Help Me” out of coconuts every time there is a storm. Lance, who has accompanied us to the island, lays out an amazing spread for lunch including fresh seafood, meats, tropical fruits and more. Afterwards, we snorkel and find all sorts of amazing corals and animals including cuttlefish! Back on the Castaway Island beach, there is plenty to do too. There are kayaks, stand up paddle boards, sail boats, and snorkel gear for plenty of fun on the water. And the calm water is great for kids! They also have fun climbing the rock formations at the beach head. Northern Islands: The second largest island in Fiji, Vanua Levu is still off-the-beaten track for tourists. It lays just to the north of Viti Levu, but seems worlds away. The island’s main income comes from sugar and copra plantations. And most of the towns see only the occasional tourist, which means for all the more “Bula!”s as you are a rarity. At Savusavu, you can visit hot springs (and take a mud bath) and visit a pearl farm. Just off the coast lies the island of Taveuni, or the Garden Island. Here you can hike to a beautiful Buoma Waterfall and swim beneath the falls. Later in the evening we visit the village of Naselesele where we are treated to a kava ceremony (customary when you enter any Fijian village), lovo (feast) and dance (where we mingle with locals and we seem just as big attraction to them as they are to us)! Also on the island of Taveuni, we get to do something we’ve never done before…be in two different days at once! After a church service with some of the most beautiful singing we’ve ever heard (Fijians are very musical!) we go to the 180th parallel and stand with one foot on each side, crossing the International Date Line. In the afternoon, we scuba dive in some of the most amazingly colorful underground vistas we’ve seen (although we keep an eye out for sharks as Taveuni is known for them!). We also visit the nearby island of Sali Sali and visit an amazingly remote beach that is everything you think of when you think South Pacific: palm trees hanging over turquoise waters and white sand beaches! Getting There and Around: Fiji Airways, formally known as Air Pacific, offers direct flights from Los Angeles, Honolulu, Sydney, Hong Kong and more. They fly modern Boeing and Airbus airplanes and the service is well “bula”-riffic! Getting around the islands can be tricky as they are spread over some distance. There is ferry and seaplane service between Viti Levu and the Mamanucas and Yasawa Islands. To really get a good feel for the different islands, a small ship cruise is recommended. We went with Captain Cook Cruises on a ship that sleeps about 100. The more intimate nature of the cruise (as opposed to the mega cruises with thousands of passengers) means you get more personalized attention and get a bit more off-the-beaten track. We took their Northern Islands cruise and visited Levuka, Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Sali Sali and more.
Where to Stay:
Castaway Island Fiji resort is the ultimate South Pacific getaway. Luxurious thatched roof bungalows line the white sand beaches and jungles on the island and world-class cook Lance Seeto whips up fantastic fusion cuisine. Water activities are just a stroll down the beach and include sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, stand up paddle boarding and more. Parents will like that it is the only resort on the small island, so kids can wander fairly safely. Kids will love the Kids Club, the calm ocean, the pool and more!
Outrigger Fiji Resort is laid out like a small Fijian village making it feel more exotic than the main island of Fiji can feel at times. They have a huge pool area with snack bar and grill. Parents and kids alike will appreciate the Meimei (nanny) service where kids learn Fijian arts and crafts while parents relax. In the evening the kids will love joining the torch lighting ceremony and parents will appreciate the Kids Eat Free program. For more information, visit Tourism Fiji. Or, watch a clip from the Travel With Kids Fiji episode: