One of the world?s most exotic and far-flung destinations, the 322 drop-dead-gorgeous tropical islands that make up the nation of Fiji lie scattered across the Pacific over 3000 kilometres to the east of Australia. It?s a long flight from South Africa, but it?s well worth enduring all that airline food to experience the epitome of Pacific paradise.
Filled with friendly islanders who consider it rude to rush, taking it easy has never been so, well? easy! Of course, if you don?t want to just lounge on a beautiful beach there?s loads on offer to keep adventurous tourists occupied. Take a drive into the hills to visit local villages, snorkel your way through some of the world?s most beautiful coral gardens, surf the ?Cloudbreakers? off Tavarua, dive with manta rays or simply shop up a storm in the capital Suva.
It might be a world away from the beaches of Southern Africa, but for pure South Seas paradise you can?t go wrong with Fiji. Here?s what you need to know?
Exploring Viti Levu
What most tourists who haven?t been to Fiji don?t realise is that Fiji isn?t a single atoll fringed by palms and white coral sands, but an archipelago of over 300 islands each with something to offer. While some tourists head to the Mamanuca Islands or Vanua Levu, Viti Levu is home to both the capital and the main international airport, so you?re bound to spend some time here during your stay.
In the south-east corner of the island you?ll find Suva; the capital of Fiji and a good place to hire a car, change money, get your bearings and start your exploring. It?s also one of the most pleasant cities in the entire South Pacific and boasts one of the finest natural harbours in the South Seas. Home to close on 100 000 inhabitants, the residents of Suva are an intoxicating mix of cultures including indigenous Fijians, Indians, Chinese, Tongans, Samoans, Rotumans, Solomon Islanders, Micronesians and Europeans. The South Seas don?t get any more exotic!
The capital of Fiji since 1883 Suva is the business and trade hub of Fiji, but is also home to some of the country?s most fascinating tourist attractions. To really get a feel for the place, lace up those walking shoes and hit the streets. But don?t forget to take an umbrella? there?s a reason the city is so lush!
Remember; it?s rude to rush in Fiji!
You can see most of the major sights in a one-day walking tour, but in the tropical heat you?d do well to take it slowly. Remember; it?s rude to rush in Fiji!
The best place to start your sightseeing is Thurston Gardens, which is home to a large collection of plants from across the South Seas, as well as the excellent Fiji Museum.
Founded in 1904, the Fiji Museum boasts the finest collection of Fijian relics in the world, so before you head off for a beach holiday make sure you spend some time getting to grips with the history of the islands.
Among the exhibits are a fascinating range of traditional necklaces, pottery, cooking utensils (including a cannibal fork!) and a Fijian war club which even has a few notches on it for enemies whacked in battle. There are also original relics from the famous HMS Bounty which plied these waters back in the day. The museum is open weekdays from 8.30am to 4.30 pm, Saturdays from 9am to 4.30 pm and is closed on Sundays.
Buy a round for the locals
Further up Victoria Parade (which is the capital?s ?main drag? and home to the city?s best shops and hotels) you?ll find the Municipal Market. You won?t find many souvenirs here, but it?s a fascinating place to see Polynesian and Oriental traders hawking their fruit, fish and vegetables to the locals. Upstairs you?ll also find entire stalls dedicated to selling the kava root which used to make the popular local yaqona drink (see side-box). You can enjoy a taste in the yaqona saloon towards the harbour, but if you do remember that it?s the done thing to buy a round for the house. It?ll only cost you a few dollars and will win you instant friends!
To pick up souvenirs and gifts head for the nearby Handicraft Centre on Stinson Parade, which is far cheaper than the souvenir shops if you?re prepared to bargain hard. Pick up a cannibal fork or yagona bowl for the folks back home, or stock up on carvings and cloth for yourself. After all that sightseeing you?ll probably need a rest, so stroll down to ?The Triangle? ? near the beginning of Victoria Parade ? to take a break and watch the world go by. Albert Park, down the road from the City Library on Victoria Parade is also a good place to relax.
Sightseeing is great, but where are the palm-fringed beaches, I hear you ask? What about cocktails on the sand and swimming in turquoise waters, you cry! For that, you need to head west?