The insider advice on this page is from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Fiji: Lynette Wilson of Destination World.
Lynette has been traveling to Fiji for more than 35 years; six years ago, she moved there for good (which means she’ll cheerfully answer your phone calls at 3 a.m. her time!). As a resident, she knows how to add all sorts of local color to your trip, as well as which resorts, small-ship cruises, and private villas will best suit your wishes—and she loves to pair old-fashioned beachside R&R with scuba diving and snorkeling, river rafting, mountain biking, surfing, and other adventures. She also arranges trips to her native Australia, plus New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga. Lynette was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck resorts
In the countryside: Savasi Island is a perfect example of the noncommercial feel on Vanua Levu. One of the most welcoming staffs in this famously friendly country makes you feel at home in their six individual villas on a small private island. There’s kayaking, snorkeling, hiking to a nearby waterfall, loads of cultural activities, and meals provided by a gourmet chef—and you’ll pay about 20 percent less than you would for comparable luxury elsewhere in Fiji. Outside peak dates, watch the resort’s Web site for special deals that include free nights.
Best resort for families
Vacala Bay, a brand-new two-bedroom private villa on Taveuni, is perfect for families with teens. A 26,000-gallon infinity pool runs between the main building and the master bedroom; the living area has a large flat-screen TV, and there is free WiFi throughout. A private chef will design the menu based on your likes and dislikes, incorporating fresh local produce, seafood, and imported delicacies. Nearby activities include kite boarding, hiking, horseback riding, diving, snorkeling, SUPing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, and cultural experiences. A private 43-foot carbon fiber sailing catamaran is available for your use during your stay.
Best resort for two
Taveuni Palms has only three villas, each with its own private beach, swimming pool, and staff of seven, including a personal villa manager, two chefs, a waiter, bar staff, a spa therapist, and a housemaid. The villa is on the water’s edge, and couples can easily snorkel, swim, and scuba dive steps from their front door.
Restaurants the locals love
You could easily drive past Tu’s Place (in Martintar, about 15 minutes from Nadi Airport) and not see it. The menu is quite comprehensive, but the resident favorites are the lolo fish (cooked in coconut milk) and the famous fish and chips. Come hungry: The portions are enormous.
Without a doubt, Daikoku (also located in Martintar) has the best Japanese food in Nadi. The two-story building was brought over from Japan and assembled on site. The downstairs area is popular at lunchtime for sushi, sashimi, and tempura, but I prefer to go in the evening, when the upstairs is open for teppanyaki (think chefs cooking Benihana-style on a griddle surrounded by diners). Make sure to order the shrimp flambé—it’s fun to watch the chefs prepare it and even more fun to eat it.
If you’re here when it’s fresh in April or May, ask your resort’s chef to cook you some duruka, also known as Fijian asparagus. This unopened flower of the cane shoot is often cooked in lolo (coconut milk).
What to See and Do
To get the most authentic Fijian experience, travel to Vanua Levu or Taveuni. Unlike the main island of Viti Levu—where the large resorts cater primarily to Southern Hemisphere beachgoers—these islands’ properties offer more opportunities to access less westernized local communities. With its coconut plantations, Vanua Leva recalls Hawaii from half a century ago (excepting Labasa, which is an Indian sugar town that could easily be a Bollywood set). Taveuni, known as the Garden Island, has wonderful trekking through virgin rain forest, sensational scuba diving, and intimate hotels.
Naihehe Cave—known as the Cannibal Cave—on Viti Levu: Participate in an authentic, traditional kava ceremony on the banks of the Sigatoka River before boarding a bamboo raft (known as a bilibili) and floating past ancient tribal forts, contemporary villages, and Hindu temples while learning about traditional folklore and religion from your guide. Your destination is the cave where the last cannibal tribe held its ground against colonial settlers in the nineteenth century. After a momentary test through a tight squeeze, you’ll enter the massive chamber, with stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and underground springs. Still in evidence are several man-made features: a ritual platform, priest chambers, and a cannibal oven!
The Big Bula Inflatable Water Park is overpriced—and why would you fly all this way just to go to a water park anyway?
Most underrated activity
While many of the resorts focus on Western cuisine, the Flavours of Fiji Cooking School’s half-day classes show you how to prepare true local Fijian and Indian dishes (Indo-Fijians, descendants of the workers brought by British colonialists, comprise more than a third of the country’s population). Alongside more familiar South Asian curries you’ll get to try taro; both its root and leaves—known as rourou—are staples in the Fijian diet. Another local favorite is kokoda, a raw fish salad marinated in lemon and coconut cream. The dishes you help prepare will serve as lunch after the class.
It costs nothing to watch a local rugby game on a Saturday. (Inquire at your hotel about where the closest field is.) You’ll soon notice that rugby is almost a religion in Fiji. Some village teams play barefoot. Ouch.
The drier “winter,” which runs from May to October. Temperatures are at their coolest (with highs hovering around 80), and the occasional rain showers are brief. With less humidity there are also fewer mossies (mosquitoes). Be aware, though, that airfare and hotel rates peak in June and July, when Aussies and Kiwis come to Fiji to escape their own cold weather.
During the beginning of the official cyclone season—November and December—you’ll find tropical afternoon showers but also great resort deals: free nights, free massages, even free domestic airfares. The Yasawa and Mamanuca islands are your best bet for dry days at this time of year.
Mid-February to mid-March see the worst of the wet season; some resorts even close to do maintenance.
When flights to Savusavu, on the island of Vanua Levu, are sold out, some travelers either try to rearrange their trip or postpone dates. No need! You can always fly to the airport of Labasa, on the other side of the island, then book a 90-minute transfer. It’s a very scenic drive and well worth the extra time.
Take a tour of the Fiji Museum in Suva—before opening hours, when the tour buses start arriving—with a senior curator. The museum holds a remarkable collection, which includes archaeological material dating back 3,700 years and cultural objects (from war clubs to cooking vessels) from the many groups who now call Fiji home.
My favorite area for beaches is the Yasawa Islands, an archipelago of about 20 volcanic islets (where the classic Blue Lagoon was filmed). You can take a day cruise to visit the uninhabited islands and miles upon miles of white-sand beaches.
On the mainland nothing compares to Natadola Beach, with miles of white sand and clear waters for swimming and reef snorkeling.
A tanoa. This is the bowl used in preparation of the ceremonial drink, kava (enjoyed for its mildly sedative and anesthetic properties). The large bowls are carved from a single piece of vesi wood. The more traditional ones you’ll find for sale in villages are undecorated, but duty-free shops sell bowls rimmed with mother-of-pearl.
Beware of the sword sellers in Suva. These guys prey on tourists. They’ll approach in a very friendly manner, asking your name and where you’re from, and before you know it they’ve carved your name into a wooden sword and are now demanding you pay them. The best way I’ve figured out how to handle this is to tell them my name is Chrysanthemum. They’ll stop, scratch their head, then realize they’re busted. Still, it’s Fiji: We both walk away smiling.
Individual tipping is not expected in Fiji, because of its communal society. Many resorts have a box labeled “Staff Christmas Fund”; the money is divided equally among the staff, so that even the gardeners and the electrician get rewarded too. Twenty dollars per night is more than reasonable.