Today’s blog comes from STA Travel’s Sarah Hickey who can be found either curing her wanderlust in various parts of the world, or wishing she was back in the backpacker bubble.
I went to Fiji on a wing and a prayer! I booked it a couple of days before and all I was expecting were desert islands, excellent snorkeling and blue skies. Even though I was right about all of these things, if I’d have known what else was on offer I would have been more prepared, and I may have had a more exciting experience. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I left.
What can I expect when I arrive in Nadi
When you arrive at the airport you’ll probably have booked a transfer, but remember, Fiji time means that it may not be super prompt! If not, buy some drink, get your money out and it’ll be there soon(ish). The ride through Nadi to your hotel/hostel will be bumpy, uncertain and unexpected. You’ll see a side to Fiji you may not have expected but it’s a good eye opener. You’ll arrive at your hostel to friendly staff, camp fires and freshly cooked food – exactly what you want when you’ve just got off a plane.
What is there to do on Vitu Levu?
Nadi is on the western side of the biggest island in Fiji, Vitu Levu. Though some see it as no more than a stop off before boarding the Island Hopper boat, there’s actually a whole load of activities and sites here. If you have the time, check out Feejee Experience for a hop on hop off bus around the island and explore a side of Fji rarely seen by tourists.
What are the best Island hopping routes?
If you’re not in Fiji for long, choose two or three islands so you can still see some sites but have time to relax. A popular route for those who only have five days or so is the Beachcomber to Mantaray Island route. Beachcomber is the tropical party island (best on weekends), where everyone heads to bury their feet in the sand at the beach bar, whereas Mantaray has some of the best diving and snorkeling out there.
If you have a bit more time you can do as many or as few of the islands as you wish! Grab a Bula Pass and you’ve got a return journey to Port Denarau and an island hop a day.
When is the best time to travel to Fiji?
It’s Fiji. Any time is the best time!
Want more? Fine. April/May and October/November mean cooler nights and pleasant water temperatures. Cyclone season is November through to April but it can rain at any time, just like anywhere.
If you’re heading to Fiji for diving or surfing you want the winter months – they have the biggest breaks and the best visibility. Diving is incredible throughout the year but the water is clearer in the winter (June to September). Summer is ideal for those who want warmer water and less surf. If you’re heading to Fiji to see the manta rays, May to October is your best bet.
What’s the food like?
The food you can expect is nothing short of amazing. Fresh fruit, meat and fish is just the beginning. Fijians typically eat lots of carbs such as rice, sweet potatoes, taro and cassava, so expect a lot of this. You’ll see some underground cooking methods (convenient and delicious) and enjoy lots of fresh fish dishes such as Kokoda ( a bit like Ceviche).
Kava not Cava
The Fijians love it, it’s their national drink, so the chances are you’ll be invited to sample it at some point during your stay. Kava is a native plant known for its ‘relaxation effect’ (try it and you’ll understand). The drink itself is made from the crushed root mixed with water which results in a muddy looking liquid with a slightly bitter taste (sounds appealing doesn’t it!).
If you’re drinking Kava you’ll most likely also experience the Kava Ceremony, where you’ll sit cross legged in a circle in front of the chief/head of ceremonies. The drink is passed around in half a coconut and you can ask for high tide (full to the brim) or low tide (just a sip).
Which are the most recommended Islands?
It really depends what you’re after! Here’s a quick run down:
The Mamanucas: Very close to Vitu Levu with lots of water sports and party islands (Beachcomber is here), so head over if you’re after good weather, great beaches and not a lot of cultural experiences.
The Yasawas: Quieter than the Mamanucas and great for diving and snorkeling. Your quintessential Fijian islands.
Vanua Levu: Home to high waterfall strewn peaks with a mix of resorts and traditional villages. If you’re a keen diver head to Namena Marine Reserve.
Taveuni: Full of tropical flowers and waterfalls. The ideal location for a hike.
If you really want to head far away into the middle of nowhere, the Lau and Moala groups are pretty much untouched by tourists.
What can I expect when on the smaller islands?
There aren’t any cash points the small islands so you need to take your money out in Nadi before you get to them. It’s recommended to buy your alcohol either at the airport when you arrive or in Nadi as the island alcohol can be over-priced (check that the place you’re staying doesn’t mind you bringing your own).
When you arrive at the small islands the water is often too shallow for the Island Hopper to pull up, so your bags and you will be transferred to a smaller boat and motored ashore. You’ll usually be greeted by the locals playing traditional Fijian music, be given a welcome drink and told about important timings and information about the Island. And then? Left to do your own thing. The locals are so friendly it’s almost impossible for you to have bad experience – as long as you fully understand Fiji time and let yourself go with the flow.