I know many of you have been waiting a long time for this post. Doesn’t it just kind of seem like everyone wants to visit Fiji? We were certainly no exception. After leaving the extremely cold, dry, high-altitude conditions of Breckenridge, Colorado, in the snowy mountains of North America, we were especially excited to land in the intensely hot, humid, sea-level Fijian climate, in the southern hemisphere near the equator. Could we have chosen anything more dramatically different than those two extremes? Probably not. Ah well, it’s all part of the fun!
During the first part of our trip we stayed in Pacific Harbor on the island of Viti Levu. Our highlight was definitely the Jewel of Fiji day tour, showcasing the Fijian culture and the surrounding natural beauty.
We first took a shared canoe ride along the Navua River with a family of four from Australia, who we’ll be meeting up with again during our upcoming visit to Sydney! We saw some beautiful scenery and birds before stopping at the river’s biggest waterfall, which is just a five minute walk through the forest from the river bank. We all jumped in for a long and invigorating swim and then walked back to the river to experience a centuries old, vintage-style mode of transport in Fiji — bamboo rafting.
We then cozied back into our modern canoes and were taken to visit a Fijian village which was prepared to entertain us for the afternoon and teach us about their culture. We first participated in a Kava ceremony, including the kava root tea’s slightly mouth numbing effects. Then we learned a bit about the history of the village, including its founder, John Humphrey Denford, who befriended some of the cannibal Fijians who lived in the hills in the early 1800’s. Now, most Fijians are Christian, or so the story goes. We saw lots of song and dance performances such as a war dance, some women folk dances, and the Snake Dance, which we were invited to participate in. The children of the village even sang a song for us, which was really sweet.
We saw a coconut demonstration where they began by showing us how to husk the coconut. Then they opened it up by hitting it with a flat stone in the proper place, to split it perfectly in half. Next we were shown how to get the meat out with a coconut scraper and squeeze the coconut milk from the meat. We were taught that the way to make coconut cream is to boil the coconut milk. Sometimes they even make coconut fudge, using the leftover coconut meat. This was all very valuable information, especially as I look back to our Costa Rica days, when my method for opening a coconut was to do as the monkeys do, and simply bash it against a rock. It worked, but some professional instruction would have obviously come in quite handy.
There were also some handicraft demonstrations on display, such as a ninety-one year old Fijian woman who we observed plaiting a Fijian mat, which is woven by hand from pandanus leaves. These mats were originally introduced in Fijian culture as blankets, and are sometimes still used on beds today. For the most part though, mats are the traditional floor covering. They are also a traditional gift for weddings, funerals and important family occasions.
We witnessed another woman working on some tapa painting. Tapa cloth is made from a type of mulberry tree bark that is beaten and stenciled with traditional, symbolic designs and motifs in black, light brown, and dark brown paint, which is made from charcoal, clay, and mangrove roots. They wear them during special occasions, like certain birthdays, and they are also used to cover burial caskets, as are the Fijian mats.
The villagers prepared a lovo lunch for us, which is basically a meal that is cooked underground on hot rocks by the men, who do the outdoor cooking. The meat and root vegetables, which have been wrapped in leaves, are then unearthed and taken indoors where the women finish preparing the meal. It’s a nice and efficient way to cook large quantities of food all at the same time. They prepared fish, chicken, taro (leaves and root), pumpkin curry, salad, fruit (watermelon, pineapple, and papaya), cooked spinach, noodle vegetable stir-fry, rice, bread, and juice. I especially liked the taro leaves and also the fish, which were both prepared with the delicious coconut milk.
Near the end of our visit, we were given the opportunity to browse through a sampling of their handicrafts items, which were being offered for sale. They sang us the Fijian farewell song, Isa Lei, as we departed into the canoes.
We spent the next part of our trip on the island of Vanua Levi at the Koro Sun Resort in the Savusavu area. We were met at the airport by a taxi sent by the resort. It was an hour and a half journey through gorgeous scenery. When we arrived, we were treated to a foot soak and massage with coconut oil. Then they presented us with a delicious lunch in the dining area before showing us to our garden bure (bungalow) where we rested until dinnertime. It certainly felt luxurious to have all our meals provided by the resort, especially since there was a new delicious menu to choose from each day, including dessert!
Brandon and I went into town on a date to explore Savusavu one day. We walked along the waterfront and took some photos before strolling through the market and town. We eventually ended up at a place called Snowy House, a really cute Korean dessert shop, featuring homemade ice cream and cookies and a traditional Korean dessert called snow, all made with organic ingredients. We tried two different ice creams, guanabana (soursop) and berry, along with a coconut snow. The shop was a nice little temperature controlled oasis, which we relished along with the sweet treats.
The next evening at the resort, a group of Fijian families from a nearby village came to perform traditional songs and dances after dinner. Their little children were so cute and the performances were packed full of energy. I especially enjoyed a Fijian stick dance, with all the fast rhythms and patterns of movement which were perfectly coordinated and in sync.
I would have loved to do a bit of snorkeling in some of the beautiful spots off island, since Fiji really is one of the prime destinations for that sort of thing, and seeing ocean life in person is really one of my very favorite things ever. But, the price made it a bit too inaccessible for our family, and the boats only went out from the resort every so often, when there was a big enough sized group of interested individuals. So, unfortunately, it didn’t end up happening for us. However, Brandon, Marie, and I did do a bit of kayaking near the resort. We paddled out to some little islands and rocky outcroppings, and I got to see some cool fish and many blue starfish, so that was certainly fun.
Emily and Marie went to an art class together one day which was given by a teacher, Kristine, who was providing lessons at the resort. Both girls came back with some beautiful results, as you can see below.
Our entire family spent many hours playing in the pool together, and Aysia became a bit braver in her attempts at swimming, even becoming able to swim for a few feet all by herself. Brandon and the girls spent some time enjoying the beach together one day as well.
One afternoon, our family was taken up to the top of the mountain to attend a get-together with the resort owners, at their home. We enjoyed visiting with them, swimming in their pool, and taking in the breathtaking ocean view. We all enjoyed visiting with the owners and getting to know the other guests, a small group of friends from Paonia, Colorado who work together as radio hosts. They were telling us about everything from the friendly community to the fun arts culture to the organic farming in their town, which has optimal conditions for growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They certainly made me want to check it out for myself sometime!
Emily performed a couple of her songs for everyone, and Marie entertained us with some handstands, juggling, and laughing meditations. When the group of us returned to the resort, we all stayed together for a bit longer, enjoying a lovely sunset and chat out by the water on a big square lounge swing, before heading to the dining room to eat. It really felt quite magical, and it was our favorite day at the resort, being able to interact with such connecting people. We tried pavlova for the first time after dinner that night, since it was on the menu for dessert, and we became quick fans!
Upon our departure from the resort, the crew sang us a song with guitar accompaniment, and one staff member even gave us a hug! My goodness, what a nice send off. Speaking of which, a miracle occurred at the airport afterwards, when we didn’t need to do any type of security screening before boarding our plane back to Viti Levu. That’s just never happened anywhere else we’ve been in the world — ever. We were quite shocked, but don’t get me wrong, we’re not complaining!
We spent our last couple nights in Fiji at the Radisson Blu Resort Hotel in Denarau, near Nadi. Like everything else in Fiji, it was extremely expensive, but at least it had consistently workable internet which was a rare find for us in Fiji, even though it was still quite slow.
When it was time to leave Fiji, we caught a ride to the airport with a very friendly and knowledgeable taxi driver named Rusi. He was so personable and told us a lot of history about Fiji and Denarau, supplying wonderful explanations to all our many questions. He was probably our favorite taxi driver ever, and that’s saying a lot. If you’re ever in need of his services in the area, please don’t hesitate to give him a call.
Give & Take
As always, people like to hear about the pros and cons about a place. So, here you go. According to us, we liked the following:
- Super friendly and connecting people
- Breathtaking natural beauty, including the ocean, sky, plants, and greenery
- Laid back culture
- Drinkable tap water
And these would be the things we disliked:
- Expensive — Prices were pretty high to begin with, and then there are taxes added on, such as the 9% VAT as well as some additional taxes specifically for visitors staying in hotels and resorts, the Hotel Turnover Tax of 10% and the Environment Levy of 6%. Those can all add up to 25% tax in some cases. So it can get quite pricey.
- Intensely hot and humid climate and super easy to sunburn
- Slow, non-functional, or unavailable internet
My absolute favorite thing about Fiji was actually how friendly and connecting the people were. The thing I disliked most would be the high prices. Although I would rank the difficult internet situation as a close second.
What do you think? Have you been to Fiji? Or if you haven’t, does Fiji sound like your kind of place? We’d love to hear your thoughts.