Fantastic tropical climate and temperature in the cold season does not fall below 20°C. Beautiful sandy beaches, rich coral reefs and dense tropical forests. No malaria, no landmines or terrorism. It all makes Fiji the perfect place for an exotic vacation and relaxing under palm trees on idyllic island in the middle of the ocean.
When we planned the itinerary around the world, our dream was to see “some” island country in the Pacific. Looking at the prices of airline tickets, we were not sure if with Hawaii or Easter Island we could fit in the planned budget. So when got the chance for discounted tickets to Fiji, we didn’t hesitate for a moment!
We truly realized that we were lucky to book tickets to Fiji when we were finishing our trip around Peru. It was too intense and we were exhausted and we both needed “vacation from vacation”. And we absolutely didn’t mind losing one day (crossing the date change line) when flying to Fiji. We also didn’t care that we have the typical jet lag, associated with the change of time zones. After arrival, we slept most part of the day. We really needed that rest! Besides – we felt excited at the thought of spending Christmas in a completely different climate than our traditional 😉
Fiji is a small country in the southwest Pacific. Consists of 332 islands – of which only about 110 are inhabited – and more than 500 islets, all of the volcanic origin. The majority of the population (more than 3/4) lives on the coast of the two major islands – Viti Levu and Vanau Levu.
Native Fijians can be recognized easily, without even the slightest doubt. Dark complexion, black and curly hair and a very distinctive physique – full-figured women and well built men, you might even say – huge. But looking at the Fijians, especially ‘on the mainland’ (as the residents call the two biggest islands), one might notice a lot of people with the Hindu type of beauty. Do you wonder why?
Fiji, like India, was once a British overseas colony. When at the turn of the 19th and 20th century the Brits lacked the manpower to work on Fijian plantations (mostly coconuts and sugar cane), they brought over Indian contract workers. The “new” residents remained on the islands even after the Commonwealth reign and currently represent nearly 40% of the population of Fiji. Despite earlier conflicts two completely different cultures coexist, creating a unique image of Fiji.
Although the capital of Fiji is Suva, the most famous city is Nadi (correctly pronounced Nandi). The largest international airport of the country is here and usually here the tourists begin their paradise holiday.
Nadi itself definitely is focused around tourism. There is no secret that this is the main business in the city. Not only by the oceanfront, but basically on every street you can find at least one or two hotels. Numerous bars and restaurants as well as larger and smaller shops with various souvenirs from Fiji. Almost every night, in different venues in the city traditional Fijian dance shows are performed. It’s a must-see in our opinion. Usually they start with sensual and exotic dances. However, one of the highlights of such evenings are dance shows with fire sticks or cane knives. Very impressive!
During the day, one of the most interesting places to visit is the local market. On one side you can get a variety of food products, mainly from neighboring crops and livestock.
On the other, artisans and artists sell their handicrafts, and (of course) more common souvenirs for tourists. It’s here where we bought two beautiful sulu for Patrycja.
Another very interesting place in Nadi, which we unfortunately didn’t visit, is a Hindu temple Sri Suva Subramaniya. This is the biggest and most colorful temple not only in Fiji but also in the entire southern hemisphere.
Why we didn’t go there? Because we got confused and thought that the temple is in Suva, which we wanted to visit a bit later. But in the end we didn’t. Patrycja got a food poisoning on the first night after returning from the Mana island (more on Mana in the next post), which she cured on the day of packing our backpacks for a flight to New Zealand. So we have not seen either Suva or Sri Suva Subramaniya temple in Nadi.
While Nadi is a typical tourist town, the nearby Lautoka has almost nothing in common with tourism. What’s interesting – Lautoka is the second largest city in Fiji and the second largest port, and it’s less than 30km from Nadi. Here, however, the economy is almost entirely centered around sugar cane, which is the most profitable export product of the country.
In fact, we initially didn’t even plan to visit Lautoka. We couldn’t find anything interesting to see there. Unless you consider as a typical rhythm of life in Fijian city interesting. The city, however, has the advantage over Nadi that there are a lot more shops – and not just with souvenirs. And we needed a sports shop 🙂 We were soon going to the Mana island and our main plan was to snorkel as much as we could! See the most beautiful corals and colorful fish, and maybe even something more interesting, such as sharks or turtles. The problem was somewhere in the US (probably in Miami) Dawid lost his swimming goggles…
The trip with a local bus was entertaining – both for us and Fijians. Apparently, tourists do not take such rickety means of transport usually. After a bit more than an hour, we reached our destination. After buying a decent mask for snorkeling, we went for a short walk. We walked to the local market, we went down to the promenade – supposedly charming, but somehow we didn’t feel it… and that’s it. Unfortunately, for us Lautoka turned out to be not too interesting. In fact – we have not taken a single photo while there.
Gardens of the Sleeping Giant
We have a completely different experience after a trip to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. This is a beautiful botanical garden at the foot of the Nausori hill, called Sleeping Giant. We didn’t want to spend money for a taxi so again we took a local bus, and the last part of the road, about 1.5 km, we wanted to go on foot. We walked not even five minutes, when a pick-up car stopped and the driver offered us a ride (of course, in the back). He saved us a lot of time and a neck burned by hot sun!
When we got there, we were treated with a delicious fruit juice for a greeting – sensationally refreshing in all that heat. The Garden of the Sleeping Giant is just the perfect place to spend the day or make a picnic and relax in the shade of the beautiful rainforest. The wooden and bamboo footbridges lead to the four corners of the forest. Thick, lush green vegetation creates an incredible aura, with several ponds where colorful water lilies grow. Most of the plants in the gardens come from Fiji, and the forest is natural one – it was growing here long before people coming here.
You can walk for hours. Garden of the Sleeping Giant cover the area of over 20 hectares and there are different routes to hike again on the hillside. But if someone gets tired or would like to just sit and relax in a beautiful natural setting, several places with benches, and even hammocks are placed all around the park. We even did a short nap in one of these 😉 From here we had a perfect view over a charming spot prepared for the weddings/wedding receptions.
The main attraction of the Garden is an impressive collection of orchids. In a specially prepared part of the garden, more than 2,000 different species of these beautiful flowers can be found. Most come from Asia or are Cattleya hybrids, but among them there are also orchids that grow in Fiji. Much of this collection had belonged to the American actor Raymond Burr, who – charmed by Fiji – has created his own garden. It is one of the largest collections of orchids in the world and even just these flowers are worth a trip to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant.
Hot springs and mud pools
All over Fiji are the only two places where you can cover yourself in the mud, and then bathe in the hot springs. Both of these places are located near Nadi, just 2 km from the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. So once we got to the Garden, we thought it would be a mistake not to try mud relaxation!
Coming out of the Garden, we knew that it will be a 30-minute walk in the heat. And we were quite surprised (and happy) when a brand new police car pulled up next to us and offered a ride 🙂 Five minutes spent in an air conditioned car were literally a godsend!
When we got there we were, you might say, slightly confused. Both places with hot springs and mud pools are literally next to each other. The first of these is called Sabeto Mud Pools and the second – Tifajek Mud Pools. When discovered back in the days, hot springs belonged to one person. But after the owner death, the heirs took over and stopped to get along. The whole complex got divided into two separate parts. Which one to choose? There’s really no difference – the price is the same and inside everything looks the same. We chose the one on the left and definitely it was a good choice, because the entire resort was just for ourselves 😉
After changing into swimsuits and leaving things in the lockers we were greeted by a guide. A sympathethic, smiling from ear to ear guy, with nails painted pink and with wondrous Lei flower tucked behind his ear.
At the beginning our guide gave us a bucket full of fresh mud, and asked us to smeared ourselves with it. We certainly had some laughs while doing it! He did instruct us to specifically cover our sun-burned necks and faces (especially Patrycja’s), and recommended a series of relaxing mud treatments. He added that he takes a mud bath 2-3 times a week – that’s probably why his skin looked so soft 😉
When we finished the covering with mud, he showed us around the resort. There was a souvenir shop with handmade jewelry and other trinkets. He told some interesting stories, including why the center is divided into two parts and that the whole difference between the two mud resorts is just 2°C. The hottest spring on this side of the fence has a temperature of 72°C, while the other is 74°C. At such high temperatures, it does not really matter, because no one can take a dip inside.
When the mud had dried on us completely, came the time for a dip in the hot springs. First, it was necessary to wash away the dried mud crust. And while the water in the pool was pleasantly warm, Patrycja almost jumped out of it when she stepped on the bottom. Everyone has their fears or dislikes, at for Patrycja is a muddy bottom of a lake or a pond.
After the less pleasant washing up, we went to the pool with crystal clear water, with a temperature of about 38-40°C. It was a slight masochism, to go bathe in the hot springs on a hot day. But it was very pleasant and totally worth it! Our skin, still parched and red, did no longer hurt from the sunburns. We’d like to actually come here several times for some more pleasant mud sessions.
- There are usually no visa requirement for people arriving to Fiji as a tourist for up to 4 months. You just usually have to present a return ticket and have a passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry.
- There is literally a wealth of hotels to suit every budget in Nadi. We were able to stay for free with the Couchsurfing ambassador of Fiji. However, a decent double room is for around 50 FJD (25 USD), a bed in a shared room of 20-25 FJD (10-12 USD).
- A taxi from the airport to the center of Nadi should not cost more than 7-10 FJD (3,5-5 USD).
- Local bus on Nadi – Lautoka route costs 4 FJD (2 USD) per person. You can also hire a taxi, but we do not know the price.
- The entrance to the Hindu Sri Suva Subramaniya temple is free. You should be aware of the appropriate attire – covered arms and legs, but sulu around the hips should be enough. For the forgetful – there’s a sulu rental next to the entrance.
- Admission to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant cost 18 FJD (8,50 USD) per person.
- Gardens of the Sleeping Giant are by the Wailoko Road, about 6.5km north of the airport. The easiest way to get there is by a taxi. This should cost about 25 FJD (12 USD) there and back, and usually there is no problem for the driver to waited for passengers. We chose to travel by local bus, which did cost us 2FJD (1 USD) per person.
- Mud pools entry cost 20 FJD (10 USD) per session. With more sessions there are some discounts available. Just as with getting to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant – most convenient way is to order a taxi (the price will be very close) or go with local buses.
- It is worth mentioning that all the official taxis in Fiji have a bumper with the name of the city in which they operate. So if you catch a taxi from Nadi while in Lautoka, a journey from Lautoka to Nadi should not cost more than 4 FJD per person. The law in Fiji states that the taxi driver cannot charge more than a local bus when going to the assigned city.
- For those who like mountain hiking – you can go for several-hours long route to the summit of the Sleeping Giant. We didn’t go but you can read about it from these travelers: Hiking the Sleeping Giant and Relishing the Sabeto Mud Pools & Hot Springs.
- On the “mainland” Fiji (that is, on the two largest islands) it’s safe to drink the tap water. But when on the smaller islands, always drink bottled water and drinks!