Fiji: South Pacific paradise without the cannibals

One of the world’s more exotic destinations, Fiji is a tropical paradise in the South Pacific, made up of 322 islands nearly 2,000 miles east of Australia.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Friday, June 27, 2008 2:37pm
  • Life

One of the world’s more exotic destinations, Fiji is a tropical paradise in the South Pacific, made up of 322 islands nearly 2,000 miles east of Australia.

Once feared as the haunt of cannibals and fierce warrior tribes, today Fiji is inhabited by very friendly and welcoming people who are full of enthusiasm and consider it rude to rush.

Fiji became independent in 1970, after a century as a British colony. Amid its wealth of natural beauty, Fiji’s true magic lies in its people and the fascinating blend of their diverse cultures. Fiji is an interesting blend of Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indian, Chinese and European influences. For nearly 50 years, until the military coup of 1987 and the Indian emigration that followed it, the indigenous people of Fiji represented an ethnic minority in their own land. Despite some political unrest during the past several years, Fiji remains a safe destination for travelers.

With its coral reefs and warm, clear water, Fiji is naturally a great destination for diving and snorkeling. The islands are home to several hundred types of sponges and coral, as well as almost 1,000 species of fish. Beginning divers can take advantage of the numerous instructors on the islands. Advanced divers can explore some of the world’s most protected reefs. In addition to the coral and sea fans, divers can also swim near dolphins, turtles and schools of barracuda.

The islands are also known for their surf breaks. Although the island of Tavarua is famous for its surf spots, there are spots on Kadavu, Taveuni and Viti Levu that provide excellent surfing conditions with fewer people and less expensive accom-modations.

Travelers to the main island of Viti Levu should be sure to visit several cultural spots. The Orchid Island Fijian Cultural Centre is a showcase of native traditions and culture. In addition to having a Fijian history museum and cultural artifacts, the centre also has a number of animals native to the islands, including the Crested Iguana, found only in Fiji. Nearby is the Kalevu South Pacific Cultural Centre. Here, visitors can experience life in a traditional Fijian village, complete with authentic dances and craft demonstrations. At lunch, which has been cooked in a underground oven, guests are treated to a fire walking demonstration.

A visit to Viti Levu is not complete without a trek to the tomb of Udre Udre. Named for the 19th century tribal chief and cannibal who is buried there, the tomb is surrounded by a number of stones, each representing one of the 872 victims that the chief personally consumed.

Flowers are abundant and constantly blooming on these lush islands where the sun shines every day and orchids hang over waterfalls that plunge into jungle pools behind palm-fringed beaches. Visitors can swim with manta rays, snorkel over coral gardens, scuba dive on the famous Astrolabe Reef, or ride the amazing 20-foot waves known as the “cloud breakers” off Tavarua. Sport fishing is a major attraction with an array of fish species.

The Fiji archipelago is the hub of the South Pacific with more than 85 flights a week landing at Nadi airport on the main island of Viti Levu. From there, it is easy to access the offshore island resorts or the other large islands of Vanua Levu or Taveuni. Viti Levu has several large towns and the bustling capital of Suva, which is a shopper’s paradise and offers an upbeat nightlife.

Fiji enjoys a tropical climate, with a trade wind blowing across the islands to cool things down during most of the year. Maximum summer temperatures average 88 degrees, with the winter average not far different at 84 degrees. Rain can be expected at any time of year. The driest months are April, May, June and October.

Visitors to Fiji should be careful not to offend local sensitivities. Wearing bikinis and swimsuits is fine at the resorts, but not when visiting villages or shopping in town. A sulu (a sarong that can be worn by men and women) is useful as a wrap-around so no offense is caused when wearing shorts or sleeveless tops away from hotels or resorts.

A popular excursion for visitors to Fiji is a visit to one of the traditional villages. Guests in villages should show respect and avoid wearing hats, as they are a sign of disrespect, and remove shoes before entering a house. When visiting a village, it is customary to present a gift of yaqona, which is also known as kava and is the national drink. Avoid overly praising an object, as Fijians will feel obliged to give it as a gift.

From the West Coast of the United States, Fiji is a tolerable flight time, and there are regular specials offered that can make vacationing in this exotic destination quite reasonable.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way. Contact: jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com.


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