The smile resembles an almost sideways grin and is on the face of all the bright-eyed locals I spy on the trip. It’s an infectious smile and so is their relaxed attitude. Das, our driver and guide from Tourist Transport Fiji who drives us in a private car from Nadi to Suva, after a short plane ride from Auckland, explains. “In our land there’s nothing to worry and no one’s in a hurry”. He’s right. The sight of the serene landscape out the window with fleeting glimpses of the sea immediately puts a smile on my face.
We start our journey on the east coast in Suva and make our way across to the west, indulging in experiences through Pacific Harbour and Coral Coast, finally returning to Nadi. My smile only gets wider with each encounter over the passing days.
Cruise around Pacific Harbour and Suva
Umesh, our driver and guide from Focus on Fiji, takes us on a tour of the capital city, Suva, in a private car. There are the usual government buildings and the bustling city centre. Then there’s the Open Food Market. We venture inside to a staggering display of vegetables, especially root variants such as cassava and taro bound together with jute rope. Men and women stand by their stalls offering us fresh fruit. “No charge” says the elderly lady, as I fumble around my wallet for a note, “Welcome to Suva” she adds. Outside the fresh produce market, a line of stalls sell cooked traditional food and coconut water. After a buffet lunch at Holiday Inn Suva, we head back to Pacific Harbour to watch the legendary fire-walkers from Beqa island catwalk over hot stones, lit at 9am and scalding hot by 2:30 pm.
Test your nerves with a BAD Shark Dive
There’s no such thing as a free lunch - unless you are a shark according to Beqa Adventure Divers or BAD. Over the past 12 years, these guys have perfected the art of hand-feeding tuna heads to sharks in the protected Shark Reef marine reserve.
The first dive comprises two parts – a feed for the bigger sharks and giant trevallys at a depth of 30 metres followed by another for the smaller gray, black tip and white tip Reef sharks at 10 metres. While the first dive is a feeding frenzy, the second is a carefully orchestrated Cirqué du Soleil for the giant bull sharks. These usually aggressive sharks are surprisingly docile and wait their turn to be fed. They have been trained to approach from the left, open their jaws wide to reveal freakishly sharp teeth, snatch the tuna head and speed to their right. At one stage the sharks did get a bit boisterous but the feeders simply shut the food bin, thus restoring the peace. I have never felt safer thanks to the contingent of local divers who descend with us and flank the coral reef viewing platform.
See the real Fiji with Sigatoka River Safari
We are picked up in a van courtesy Sigatoka River Safari and driven through a dirt track to a berth on the river. The Captain revs the engine of a New Zealand made jet boat and we make our way through the mighty Sigatoka, Fiji’s longest river. We pass smiling locals, knee deep in water, collecting clams, waving excitedly as we jet past. The focal point of the Safari is to visit a traditional village on the banks of the river. A different village is visited each day and today we visit Mavua village. Gus, a middle aged local, who is our guide for the day, welcomes us. He walks us through the village pointing to the chief’s bure, visibly larger than the other houses. After a brief tour of the village, we assemble in the community house along with a few of the villagers for the Kava ceremony, followed by singing whilst the food is laid out. After dinner there is more singing and dancing. The village folk serenade us until it is time to bid adieu to our newly found family. A box of tissues at this juncture is recommended.
Escape the mainland with South Sea Cruises
South Sea Cruises has an assortment of excursions to the outer islands such as the Mamanuca Group departing from Denarau port. We decide to go on a day cruise to Mana Island. Our catamaran stops at Beachcomber, Treasure and South Sea Island to drop day-trippers. We disembark at Mana Island to locals strumming their guitars and singing a welcome song. We head to North beach as the mid-day sun bears down on us and snorkel the clear waters of the South Pacific, dispersing the numerous fish. The exercise builds our appetite for a buffet lunch at Mana Island resort, which primes us for a lazy afternoon by the poolside.
Fiji boasts myriad resorts offering sublime luxury along the southern coast from Suva to Nadi. Apart from the plethora of facilities available to guests, we are most impressed with the quintessential Fijian hospitality. The culinary seafood delights only sweeten the deal and make us clamour for more.
Blissful living at The Pearl South Pacific, Pacific Harbour
From the open plan reception area, we look out to views of Beqa and Yanuca islands. We dine at Mantarae, the resorts fine dining restaurant, which offers fusion style food and is excellent value for money. The pan-fried Mahi Mahi is divine and the Fiji Gold seems to compliment the spicy Lobster curry. By night, a sense of calm descends as we lounge by the pool, with intermittent red, blue and green lights illuminating it. We take a brisk walk on the beach before retreating to relax on the balcony of our very comfortable Ocean View room.
Romantic getaway at the Warwick Fiji Resort & Spa, Coral Coast
The Warwick Fiji Resort & Spa has two distinct wings, aptly named Nadi and Suva, designed to keep families and romantic couples apart. Just as well, because we needed the peace and quiet after the adventure at Beqa lagoon. For dinner, we were eyeing the curried mud crab as a main at Wicked Walu, the seafood restaurant located on a private island, but is booked for a wedding party. Not a problem it seems. They can bring it to us at Pappagallo, the Italian restaurant; the Calamari Fritti proving a fitting entrée. We walk on the beach to a starlit night as I point to what I think is the great bear. The waves crash on the shoreline just then, breaking the silence of the night, as if to say I am wrong.
Experience sheer decadence at Intercontinental Fiji, Coral Coast
We were looking for all the comforts of an exclusive outer island resort lifestyle, without having to be on one. We find it at Natadola Bay’s exclusive new address, the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. Our beachfront room is evident of the emphasis on space and is distinctive with a stylish bathtub and sun recliners in the lounge area. An elite feature, Club Intercontinental, a resort within a resort concept, has suites with features such as plunge pools and valet service. We dine at Navo, the upscale fine dining restaurant. The entrée comprises Crab dim sum and Kokoda (raw fish and coconut milk), followed by Steamed Lobster and Yellow fin tuna for mains and end the night on a high with a Raspberry Panacotta and a dessert titled ‘Chocoholics’.
Culinary excellence at Radisson Resort, Denarau Island
Our mouths start to water and our eyes grow wide as we browse the menu at Cross, the Radisson Resort Fiji’s signature restaurant. We greet the arrival of each gastronomic work of art with a gasp as the staff blush in acknowledgement. Our main comprises the Giant Crayfish, a signature dish and is grilled to perfection. We are lucky to have started dinner early because it takes time to admire and dare to eat the elaborately designed creations, courtesy of New Zealand master chef, Richard Cross. The spacious and very comfortable rooms, the swim up bar and the Harmony Retreat Spa all add to the grandeur.
Scarface at Shark reef marine reserve, picture copyright Doug Perrine SeaPics.com
The locals from Mavua Village serenade visitors
Watch the sunset over Natadola Bay at Intercontinental Fiji Resort & Spa
Grilled Giant Crayfish at Cross, Radisson Resort, Denarau