© 2012; 2008 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Ann Vize. Information.
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Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

Solo Travel in Fiji

Somewhere Between Tranquil and Tense

Fiji Beach Fijian Orchid Downtown Nadi Fiji

Text & Photos by Anne Vize

It's a bit odd to recommend a destination for solo travel by discussing its negative aspects. But it has to be said that anyone contemplating a visit to Fiji needs to consider its history over past decades. Yes, it is true that Fiji endured a coup in 1987 and another in 2000, then in December 2006, Fiji was once again disturbed by a military ousting of its government. And, truth to tell, the situation is likely to be unpredictable for the foreseeable future.

Fiji is home to roughly 850,000 people, with the population made up of around half indigenous Fijians of Melanesian and Polynesian descent and half from an Indian background. Throw in Micronesian, Chinese, and European influences, and you have the source of a vibrant, culturally rich and diverse mix of ideas and beliefs that are bound to be at odds from time to time.

Traditional Fijian BureTensions arise for reasons other than racial and cultural differences, not the least of which is the system of land ownership that emerged after Fiji was ceded to Britain in 1874. Laws were thoughtfully adopted that insured 87 percent of the land will stay forever in control of native Fijians. Furthermore, Fijians could not be exploited as cheap workers on corporate sugar plantations. Instead, thousands of indentured Indian laborers were brought in between 1870 and 1916 under the promise of freedom to stay or go back to India after five years.

Many Indians stayed, raised families, and prospered. Descendants of these immigrants naturally came to regard themselves as Fijian citizens in all respects but for the disgruntling exclusion of land rights. This may be an oversimplification of complex issues, but it gives you the gist of Fijian power politics and the simmering tensions that boil over from time to time.

These tensions are not likely to disappear anytime soon, so tourists might well ask why go to Fiji?

Tourism Helps Fiji's Economy

Well, now that we've looked at the down side, let's see if the positives outweigh the negatives.

Fiji holds its own with any destination for lush greenery, volcanic vistas, good beaches, and fabulous snorkeling and diving.

fiji_sunriseFiji has a well established tourist infrastructure, not only on the main island of Viti Levu but on many out-islands as well. The Fijian archipelago comprises about 322 islands and over 500 islets stretching across the South Pacific tropical zone lying about 4,450 kilometers (2,775 miles) southwest of Honolulu and 1,770 km (1,100 miles) north of New Zealand. Some islands feature a lush, mountainous landscape. Others are the composed of coral reefs or limestone outcrops.

Costwise, Fiji compares favorably to other popular Pacific sun and sand destinations such as Tahiti and Hawaii. An added bonus is that tipping is neither expected nor encouraged.

Public Emergency Regulations were lifted in October 2007, although police checkpoints do remain in place at night in major centers such as Suva, the capital. Tourists are, however, advised not to openly discuss sensitive issues and to avoid all military or political rallies.

Fijians themselves are still widely reported to be among the friendliest people on earth. You will hear bula! (hello) more than any other word during your stay.

According to Internet discussion forums, travelers who do go to Fiji report no particular safety concerns in any of the places tourists frequent. For example, see Rob Kay's Fiji bulletin board at www.fijiguide.com.

With caution in mind we can proceed with the idea that Fiji still rates as a viable South Pacific destination. The country not only deserves but very much needs the financial support of tourists to help maintain and diversify its economy. Following is an itinerary to get you going on your own.

Around Nadi Viti Levu

Most of the Fijian population lives on the largest island, Viti Levu, and this is also where most tourists begin and end their visits, flying into and out of Nadi International Airport. The third largest township in Fiji, Nadi (pronounced Nandi) is a center of commerce and tourism, with its town located about 9 kilometers from the airport.

Nadi is a good base for sightseeing around Viti Levu. The Sandalwood Lodge (not to be confused with Sandalwood Inn, which is now closed) is a small motel in Ragg Street, Martintar, about 5 kilometers from Nadi airport. Prices start at F$80 (C$51; US$52) for a self-contained room with cooking facilities. The property has an attractive garden with a grassed area and a shaded, clean pool. There is night security, and staff are friendly. From there you can arrange day tours and find information about transport options for getting around Viti Levu and to the other islands.

Start with a morning walk up Ragg Street for about 10 minutes to Queens Road and catch the local bus to Namaka fresh food market, located around 3 kilometers back towards the airport. Local buses are safe, great fun, and a cheap way of getting around and mixing with the locals, if you don't mind the smell of diesel. There are no windows, the air just blows in to keep everyone cool as the bus chugs along. The journey to the market is about 50 cents Fijian.

Buy a green coconut at the market (F$1.50). Coconuts are opened by poking a hole into one of the three "eyes." Pop in a straw and enjoy the sweet, subtle flavor straight from the source. Grab some lunch at the market, or at a café nearby (F$4-5 for a curry with rice).

In the afternoon, spend some time at the pool or catch the bus into Nadi town and have a look around Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple at the top end of Main Street near the central bus station. This Hindu shrine is reportedly the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Visitors are welcome, but cameras are tabu on the temple grounds. Be sure to remove your shoes before entering.

For a high quality meal (F$15) in the evening, try Ashiyana Indian Restaurant (Tel. 670-2099) in Namotomato village on the road from Nadi airport to town, about 4 kilometers from Sandalwood Lodge.

Lautoka Viti Levu

About 25 kilometers northwest of Nadi, the port town of Lautoka is a 90-minute ride on a local bus (F$1) or 30 minutes by taxi (F$20). With its population nearing 50,000 Lautoka is the second largest town on Viti Levu, and its main reason for being is to serve the sugar industry. The place really comes alive each September during Sugar Festival celebrations. The sugar mill is open for tours in harvest season, and it is interesting to visit and learn the sugar-making process, especially in December when crushing time is in full swing.

fiji_lautoka.jpgLautoka has a handicrafts market, clothing stores, supermarkets, and a large though fairly basic park area near the waterfront. You may need to haggle a little in the market, and it is a good idea to keep a close eye on your handbag while browsing.

A good spot for a snack or lunch is at any one of the supermarket cafeterias.

If you've organized a taxi for this trip, plan on stopping on the way at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. It's about 20 minutes into the Nausori highlands near Vuda Point (Wailoko Road, about 7 kilometers north of the airport). Taxi drivers are used to waiting at the gardens. Just be clear about your times, negotiate a price accordingly, and pay at the end of your journey. You can easily spend two hours relaxing in these cool, tranquil gardens. There are masses of orchids, as well as bougainvillea, frangipani and hibiscus set among gorgeous parklands and large, established trees. Entry is F$10 and includes a juice.

Later, go for a home style lovo, a meal cooked on hot rocks underground, (F$8) at Café Masala near the corner of Ragg Street and Queens Road, Martintar.

Natadola to Sigatoka

Natadola is one of the nicest, cleanest, white sand beaches close to Nadi, although it has more than its share of opportunists ready to sell you a ride on a horse, braid your hair, or take your photo. You could go by bus if you wanted to make the 3-kilometer hike in from the highway. Instead, I suggest you hire a car and make this beach stop part of a full-day excursion along the Coral Coast. Take Queens Road, then head towards the coast along Maro Road. It's about an hour's drive south of Nadi. Access is free, and a ranger will watch your car.

Sigatoka FijiContinuing to drive southeast along Queens Road for 45 minutes or so you'll arrive at the town of Sigatoka (pronounced Singatoka). Tucked in beside the market in Sigatoka is a tiny Indian vegetarian café that serves delicious samosas, vegetable curries, and lentil nibblies (lunch F$4).

The nearby Sigatoka Sand Dunes (entry F$10) are worth a look, as is the view from the top of the hill at Tavuni Hill Fort, just across the train line. From the top, you can see straight down the Sigatoka River Valley.

An alternative to exploring Sigatoka is to drive to Kula Eco Park (F$20) on the coast road. It's about 8 kilometers past Sigatoka and is home to several conservation projects and Fijian wildlife.

Get on the road back to Nadi by late afternoon or arrange for an overnight stay in Sigatoka. Avoid driving after dark as roads are unlit and dangerous. Many locals walk home from work or school along the side of the road, so extra care is needed, especially in the afternoon.

Nearby, Bedarra Beach Inn has rooms priced from F$167 and a good restaurant. You're in the heart of the Coral Coast at this point, about 75 kilometers from Nadi and midway between Nadi and the capital of Suva.

If you do decide to stay overnight in Sigatoka, extend your drive east towards Suva about 20 minutes and keep a watch for the tiny coffee shop (coffee and muffin F$3; BBQ F$4) at the Fijian village of Votua. It's in the Korolevu area, near the Warwick and Naviti Resorts.

Here the villagers, along with overseas volunteers, work with researcher Victor Bonito's Reef Explorer project. The purpose is to preserve the marine environment and establish sustainable projects for the benefit of future generations.

Suva Viti Levu

Most tourists don't spend a lot of time in Suva because it doesn't have good beaches on the doorstep, and it is located in a notoriously rainy area. As the capital, Suva is the commercial and political hub and, therefore, is more likely to draw unrest. It does have some attractive government buildings, gardens, and the Fiji Museum (F$5.50) is the best place to learn about the islands' history. Fiji Express provides twice daily, air-conditioned, bus service from Nadi Airport to Suva (F$19), and the trip takes about 4 hours one-way. Other local buses cost less but make many more stops. So while the trip can be done in one day, most of it will be spent on the bus.

If You Go to Fiji – Notes and Contacts

Accommodation

Sandalwood Lodge, PO Box 9454, Nadi Airport, Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji Islands. Tel. +679(0)672-2044; Fax +679(0)-672-0103. Small, owner-operated hotel with modest rates, conveniently located midway between Nadi Airport and Nadi town. Rates: F$83.15 single.

Bedarra Beach Inn, PO Box 1213, Sigatoka, Viti Levu, Fiji. Tel. +679(0) 650-0476. Rates: From F$157.

Fiji Islands Backpacking Guide.

Climate

Dry season (winter), from May to October is the best time to visit. Tropical cyclones occur November through April.

Language

Fijian, English, Hindi.

Money

Fijian Dollar (FJD): C$1 = 1.58 Fijian Dollars; US$1 = 1.58

Other Islands

The Republic of Fiji is an archipelago comprised of 322 islands and 522 islets. Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, the two largest islands are home to 87% of the population, but many others are more or less developed for tourism, with resorts ranging from rustic to luxurious. Most are family-oriented with water sports and beaches being the main attractions.

Mamanuca Group: Just offshore from Nadi, the Mamanuca group of islands are home to some twenty resorts ranging from simple to luxurious.

Vanua Levu is the second largest island after Viti Levu. It has two main towns, Labassa and Savusavu and is accessible by air from Nadi and Suva (Nausori Airport), and by ferry from Suva to Savusavu. Local bus service is available, but most tourists would rent a car to get around.

Taveuni, the Garden Isle is the third-largest island in Fiji, situated 6.5 kilometers to the east of Vanua Levu, across the Somosomo Strait with access by air from Savusavu and foot-passenger ferry from Buca Bay Vanua Levu.

Yasawa Group: The Yasawa Islands consist of six main islands and numerous smaller islets located 40 kilometers northwest of Lautoka Viti Levu.

Safety

Fijians offer and expect polite, conservative behavior. Use the same common sense you would anywhere, either at home or abroad. Avoid dark, unlit areas. Be confident and assertive. Be alert to petty theft. Be smart around water, and avoid swimming offshore alone. Be aware that possession of any amount of marijuana carries a mandatory prison sentence.

Transport

The easiest way to travel between islands is by plane. Inquire at local travel agencies about flight operators and current schedules.

Nadi International Airport is where most travelers arrive, and it is located 9 kilometers from Nadi town center.

Nausori International Airport, Fiji’s second international airport, is located 23 kilometers northeast of Suva and is accessible by taxi.

Ferry routes connect most major coastal areas of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu with major islands. Ferries are inexpensive, frequent, and reliable.

Rental Car generally costs F$70-100 per day for an economy car.

Bus: Viti Levu has good bus service. Express buses travel between major centers, and local buses stop at every village they pass. Bus travel in Fiji is a pleasant way to meet local people as well as an effective way to get around.

Mini vans are common and can be a cheap option, but driving skill level may be low. Taxis are also commonly used. Check for seat belts and negotiate a fare before you set out.

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