By Linda McClain, CTA
Is your idea of an idyllic vacation arriving on a remote tropical island where you are treated more like a celebrity instead of just another guest? Would you love to experience international culture and activities with some of the most welcoming people in the world? If the answer is yes, let me be the first to say Bula, Bula (Welcome, Welcome)!
How do I get there?
From Albany, connecting air service is available via Los Angeles to Nadi International Airport, on the largest island of Fiji, Viti Levu. Qantas Airlines and Air New Zealand are the premier air carriers to the Fiji islands. Flight duration from Los Angeles is approximately 10 hours. Surprisingly, the destination of Fiji is not much further than the Hawaiian Islands, and far less commercialized.
US citizens can travel to Fiji with a valid US passport. A visa is not required, unless you are continuing on to Australia. Departure tax is $30 and payable as you leave the country.
With today’s economy, how can I afford to get there?
Here are a few ways to prepare for a vacation to an international destination:
• Use a travel agent, dedicated to working with your budget and area of interest.
• Pre-plan your trip. Vacation packages traditionally require a small deposit with a final payment at a later date, unless you wait until the last minute.
• Use a credit card that accrues air miles with each purchase you make. American Airlines mileage awards can be redeemed for Qantas air flights. United Airlines has a similar program with Air New Zealand.
• Ask a family member if they have air miles they won’t be using. You can negotiate payback on their terms.
Anticipate ideal tropical South Seas weather. Constant trade winds blow in from the South East, creating a pleasing cool down in the evening.
Summer season – January and February can be hot, humid and wet. Average high- 86 F. Summer water temperature 80-84F.
Winter season – Weather conditions are much dryer from July-September. Average high – 84F. Winter water temperature 75-79.
High season – The driest weather is during April, May, June and October. However, both wet and dry seasons can be excellent times to visit.
Fiji averages about 10-12 cyclones a decade, of which two-three could be serious. The storm season runs November-April.
Culture & history
Fiji is an archipelago of over 300 islands. However, only one in 10 Fijians live outside the two main islands. The nation is an interesting blend of Micronesia, Melanesian, Polynesian, Indian, Chinese and European influences.
A former British colony, English, Fijian and Hindustani are the main languages of the nation.
The earliest people were thought to have arrived around 1500 BC from Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The original inhabitants are called the Lapita people, named for a specific fine pottery they produced. In the 1200s, this significant pottery style was discovered in Fiji, but ceased in Venuatu. Since a massive volcanic eruption occurred in Venuatu, it is believed they evacuated to Fiji. Most of the South Pacific Islands except Eastern Polynesia have found remnants of pottery from this era.
1643 – Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer advised Europeans to avoid Fiji because it was rumored to be home to cannibals.
1774 – Englishman Captain Cook sailed in the region, but didn’t attempt to go ashore.
1789 – Captain Bligh was the first explorer to chart Fiji, but was chased away by two canoes.
Because of the cannibal superstition, Europeans didn’t start arriving until the 19th century. They found Sandalwood on the islands and shipped it on to China for big profits.
Fiji customs & traditions
Because Fijians are people of great tradition and respect, it is important to be made aware of certain protocol:
Although visitors are always greeted with “Bula, Bula,” they are also often greeted with a meke, a traditional dance performance. In addition, many of Fiji’s resorts will have staff members greet guests upon arrival while also bidding farewell as they leave for home.
If visiting a temple, remove your shoes, cover your shoulders and wear clothing below the knee.
When visiting a Fijian village, it is expected that you give a piece of waka root to the tribal leader, while explaining the reason for your visit. The powder of the waka root will be used to make kava, a ceremonial beverage that communicates friendship, tradition and respect.
Avoid wearing a hat in a worship area or speaking loudly, as these are signs of disrespect.
What can you do here?
The most popular Fiji island destinations for tourism are Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Denarau.
Looking for an idyllic honeymoon destination? No question, accommodation choices are certainly what dreams are made of.
Want to take the family? Fijians are respectful of family tradition and interact well with children.
Photographer? Take a flight-seeing excursion above the islands for a bird’s eye view of mountain ranges, luscious beaches and rainforests. View villages built on hilltops and nestled within the forest ranges.
Avid bird watcher? The archipelago is rich with bird life.
Love to golf? Choose from 10 courses throughout the islands.
Conservationist? Expect to delight in the unspoiled beauty of this tropical gem.
Where to stay
Accommodations are located along the coastline as well as secluded settings. Check out a bure, a traditional thatched roof South Pacific village house or choose from a variety of resorts and price ranges.
Main island – Viti Levu
SUVA – Looking for cultural immersion? Visit Suva, the capital of Fiji. You can peruse the colonial and contemporary architecture, as well as the Fiji museum at Thurston Gardens. It details the developing stages of Fiji’s nation and has actual relics from the HMS Bounty.
Nadi (pronounced Nandi) – Gateway city to the islands. Need retail therapy? Nadi’s colorful market and shopping stalls will capture your attention as well as your curiosity.
Sri Siva Subramaniya is the largest and most significant Hindu temple in Fiji. It is considered a must see.
Nadi Bay—Departure port for Blue Lagoon cruises. Sail through the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands, known as a slice of Eden. Here lie a beautiful collection of volcanic islands with an abundance of beautiful beaches and coconut trees.
Mamanucas Islands—Located northwest of Viti Levu, these islands are paradise for snorkelers, surfers and scuba enthusiasts. Many resorts in this area are located on their own exclusive island.
Yasawa Islands—Seasoned scuba diver or snorkeler? Take a trip to the tiny islands of Sawa-i-lau, with its fabulous underwater grotto and Tavewa Island, known for its’ coral caves and pristine reefs.
Coral Coast—Located on the South part of the island, experience a variety of coral lagoons, sugar cane fields, and white sand beaches. Hikers are drawn to this area to explore extensive waterfalls and unspoiled landscape.
Denarau Island—The Westin, Sheratons, Radisson and Sofitel Resorts have outstanding accommodations for your selection.
Vatulele Island—An exclusive hideaway for those searching for a 5-star resort
Vanua Levu—The smaller of the two main islands of Fiji, it compromises of 20 percent of the population of the country. Its principal industry is sugar cane farms. The Jean-Michael Cousteau Fiji Island Resort is located here. Scuba diving is this region is considered outstanding.
Turtle Island in the Yasawa group was the film location for the movie, “The Blue Lagoon”.
Sacred Bouma Falls on the island of Taveuni was the film site of “Return To The Blue Lagoon”. Here you will find a natural waterslide, which was also featured in the movie.
The movie “Castaway”, starring Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt was filmed off the west coast of Viti Levu.
And just in time for the US elections, if you don’t vote in Fiji you can get imprisoned! l
For more information visit www.bulafiji.com.
Linda McClain, CTA, is owner of Capital Region based Linda McClain Travel Services “From The Islands To The Highlands, No Dream Is Too Far From Here!” For more information call 372.7657 or visit www.lindamcclaintravel.net.