The official tagline of the nation of Fiji is “Where Happiness Lives.” On my recent debut trip to the islands, I found this to be perfectly true. Its archipelago of 333 islands — of which about 100 are inhabited — provides something that is increasingly rare in tropical island destinations: luxury combined with laid-back charm; places of bustle and conveniences as well as total getaways with few others in sight; and extremely friendly, warm people who interact with you and become part of an unforgettable experience, rather than just being “the servers.” Famous for its soft coral diving, white sand beaches and pristine natural environment, Fiji is a leader in eco-tourism and a great destination for both romance and families.
WHAT TO DO
International flights land on the main island of Viti Levu, at Nadi. This bustling multi-cultural town is the main hub of arrival and departure for travelers, and offers great places to eat, drink and shop. Main Street is the center of action with plenty of shopping, and the latest Hindi or Fijian music playing from every storefront. Nadi Town was established in 1947 as a “Government Station” on the higher grounds of Nadi, and established itself as Fiji’s tourist hub in the 1960s.
While on the main island, especially if you’re spending a few nights, you will want to check out Denarau Island. Denarau is the largest integrated resort in the South Pacific. If you want to splash out and be pampered, this is where you want to be. Less than 10 kilometres from Nadi, it boasts eight large resorts, stunning beaches and an 18-hole championship golf course.
On my trip to Fiji, of course I was jazzed to see the beautiful islands, snorkel in the turquoise waters, and experience this country I had never been to before. But, I also had one other big item on my agenda: I wanted to drink kava. The real way, how they do it in the South Pacific with their rituals and ceremony.
In fact, my first day in Fiji several locals had extolled kava’s benefits, saying that there was a reason people in Fiji didn’t need anti-depressants. I was eager to try it, the real way, and on the second day I got the chance. We took a speedboat river ride with Sigatoka River Safari, zooming down the Sigatoka River to visit the small village of Rarabahanga.
There we walked to the community center, where the villagers were waiting for us, preparations for the kava ceremony at the ready. We, the visiting tribe, had brought the kava plant. There was very much a ritual, with blessings and singing and clapping, and a definite hierarchy to the order of who drinks first, second and so on. We were told that kava servings come in four sizes: Raindrop, Low Tide, High Tide and Tsunami. This tour, including the river boat ride and cultural experience, was one of the highlights of my Fiji trip.
WHERE TO STAY
After perhaps a short time on the main island, Fiji is really the place where you want to venture out to some of the more remote, pristine islands. The Yasawa Islands are one of the most remote places one can find. Of all the Fiji islands, the Yasawas are the most archetypical of the South Pacific style – a string of white sand beads, dotted with palm trees and scattered amongst the startling azure water and pristine coral reefs.
Yasawa Island Resort and Spa is a true “get away from the world” nirvana, and the only resort on the island. Once you’ve arrived, you can leave all your cares behind as you relax in the main lounge overlooking the pool and beach, enjoying the tropical breezes blowing in through the open-air pavilion. When you are escorted to your bungalow (called a bure here), you will find a spacious and luxurious thatched-roof suite with indoor and outdoor showers, lounging patios, dreamy beds and a mini-bar. But there is no television, and no internet in the rooms (Wi-Fi is available in the common areas, and there is a library with a computer for guest use). You did come here to get away from it all, right?
There are only 18 bures at Yasawa, making it a very intimate and peaceful place to escape to. Each bure has an ocean view and is only steps away from the beach, and includes its own private beach hut on the sand. The bures are air-conditioned and feature a contemporary Fijian décor.
This is the place to simply relax as much as you want…by the pool, on the beach, or at the spa, the first beachfront spa in Fiji with an open-air massage deck overlooking the ocean. But when you feel the call of adventure, there is plenty to choose from. Take out one of the kayaks, a stand-up paddleboard, or snorkel gear. The resort grounds also have a floodlit tennis court and beach volleyball and there are some great hiking trails up to magnificent lookout points.
Off-island activities include scuba diving, snorkel trips out to the Blue Lagoon Caves (where the movie was filmed) and other remote islands where you can have a private picnic, prepared and delivered by boat from Yasawa Island Resort. Sport fishing and cultural visits to the nearby villages can also be arranged.
HOW TO GET THERE
Arrive to the islands in style with the newly-rebranded Fiji Airways. Fiji’s national airline, formerly called Air Pacific, officially started doing business as Fiji Airways on June 27th. The move included a brand new look and livery design, along with the purchase of three brand new Airbus 330 airplanes, which are the epitome of modern design and luxury, with state of the art features. The airline is retro-fitting its existing airplanes with the new look and interiors, and retiring its 747s.
The rebranding marks an important milestone for both the airline and the people of Fiji. The name change is a return to the airline’s 1958 name, which proudly proclaims the country to people and other nations around the world. And the airline didn’t go the typical route of hiring a corporate ad agency to create its new logo and branding. Instead, it hired a local Fijian artist named Makereta Matemosi to design the new brandmark and livery for the aircraft.
Matemosi has been creating Masi art for 32 years, and her striking Masi design for Fiji Airways is authentic, distinctive and true to the airline’s Fijian roots. Matemosi said that when the airline asked her to come up with something for them, she knew she had to give her very best. “I knew the symbol had to represent all that is good in Fiji. We love to show the people of the world how the Fijian people live.”
Matemosi’s words and obvious pride in the new Fiji Airways is shared by most of the country, it seems. There is a definite sense of ownership, that the new name and Masi design will be flying and displayed all over the world. The artist added, “No matter how far you’ve come, we always welcome you as a sister or a brother. There are no strangers, only friends.”