"Bula" is the word meaning "Hello" every visitor to Fiji learns even if they try not to. From the moment you walk out of the plane in Nadi airport against the backdrop of strumming of guitars, to the "Bula Pass" on the Yasawa Flyer, to the friendly shouts to foreigners by the locals, you will be well acquainted with "Bula" by the end of your stay in Fiji.
I arrived in Fiji with the intention of catching up with some work, so my first two weeks would be split between Nadi and Suva, mostly locked in a hotel room tapping away at a keyboard (the good life!), but I tried my best to explore what these towns had to offer in my spare time. Nadi is the main tourist town on mainland Fiji due to its proximity to the airport into which just about everyone flies. I'd come from New Zealand, so the heat of being back in the tropics was quite a shock to the system (a few months ago after travelling around South East Asia it wouldn't have been so much of an issue); I was certainly glad to see my room at the Nadi Bay Resort Hotel had A/C. I walked up and down the Queen's Road after a long flight that connected through Brisbane, and which had meant a 3am wake up call, and didn't think much to be honest. The town has a cinema, reasonably sized supermarket, fast food of the fried chicken or pizza variety, a couple of restaurants, some sleazy looking clubs and a petrol station. After dark, the place seems like it might be ever so slightly on the dangerous side (I had no issues, so maybe it's my imagination). Most of the backpacker accomodation, such as Bamboo Backpackers, Smuggler's Cove and Horizon Beach resort, are actually situated on Wailoaloa beach, which is about a 30 minute walk to the Queen's road. This beach is nothing compared to others in Fiji, but it's not a bad place to hang around during a transit. Aside from the hostels, there is not much else around Wailoaloa except a small minimarket.
After a few days in Nadi, I caught the bus down to Suva for around $15FJD. This involved first catching a small local bus for $0.70FJD to town, and then catching the bus to Suva from the central bus station there. My bags were loaded underneath the bus, and I took my seat next to the biggest Fijian dude ever, who occupied roughly 1.7 of the 2 seats in the block! The bus ride was quite pleasant --- the windows were open and a cool breeze wafted in as mellow music seranaded us through some beautiful coast and small villages. The first major stop was at Sigatoka (Sing-a-toka) for 10 minutes, where I took the opportunity to buy some custard topped cake snack. After around 4 hours the bus rolled in to Suva, the capital city of Fiji.
Suva has a very different feel to Nadi, being an industrial, not at all touristy, town. It has big bustling markets of the type reminscent of South East Asia, only with an Indian twist, due to the large (originally indentured) Indian population on Fiji. It's a big working port, and to be honest again not the prettiest of cities. I occassionally saw another backpacker, but largely felt it was just me amongst the locals here (obviously not true, but it certainly felt that way) until a cruise ship came in to port. There are plenty of supermarkets, phone shops, curry houses and chemists. There is a cinema, which is quite reasonably priced too. If you keep walking past the Holiday Inn there is a very nice park in which the Fiji Museum is set. The Fiji Museum costs $10FJD to get in, and was more interesting than I expected it to be, although quite small, with information on the first Europeans to come to Fiji such as Abel Tasman, Captain Cook and Captain Bligh (there is a even a chunk of rudder from the Bounty itself!). The exhibits of Cannibalism in Fiji are fascinating, and it was also interesting to learn about the history of the Indian population in Fiji and some of the endemic Fijian wildlife. It's generally cautioned to go out after dark in Suva as a westerner, but I think as long as you are sensible (keep to main well-lit, busy streets. No flashy valuables or bags on display), you'd probably be fine, but if in doubt you could always get a taxi, and if you are coming home late and drunk then you should definitely get a taxi. The streets on the weekend were alive with music escaping from little hole-in-the-wall bars such as "Traps", "Temptation" and "O'Reilly's". The Fijians definitely enjoy a good night out. For cheap food, I found the MHCC shopping mall top floor to be great. There is lots of choice here from Malaysian to Indian, and it seemed quite clean and upscale. The eateries inside the Harbour centre offered similar variety, although a little rougher perhaps.
From Suva, it's also easy to visit the Colo-i-Suva national park, which is just 30 minutes by bus from the city centre and may offer some welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. I spoke to a few people who stayed in a lodge there, and their experience sounded better than mine at the City Private Hotel, which was on the dingy side.
I spent a few days at the Seashell resort at Momi. I really only chose to stay here because it was fairly cheap, and I wanted somewhere inbetween Suva and Nadi (although Momi is much closer to Nadi). I took the bus back toward Nadi from Suva, and had them drop me at Nawai junction. From there, I had to get a taxi to seashell. It's very isolated, and there is nothing but a small Indian run shop 30 minutes walk away. This means the meals, water and snacks at Momi are expensive. I found myself walking to the Indian shop where the lady would make me curries and I'd buy water, crackers and tins of tuna to keep me going.
The complex is very large, but whilst I was there I was pretty much the only guest. There was one German guy for the first couple of days, but then just me. I think most people come here to either surf or dive. I don't surf so that was out, and there are certainly better places to dive in Fiji, so I just chilled out in the tranquility of the place and enjoyed the nice sunsets.
One night here, we did get invited to a local Fijian man's son's birthday party unexpectedly, and it was a lot of fun trying some Fijian foods, such as Taro, for the first time, and all singing Happy Birthday to him to the usual tune. There was Kava and Birthday cake a plenty, and it was amazing how willing to share this moment the family was with us. I found this friendliness typical in Fiji, and not just a cliche; people went out of their way to chat. My taxi driver took me to his house, made Kava from the root and offered me a few cups. My barber in Nadi wanted to add me on Facebook and go to lunch together after closing up shop. Of course, not everyone is so genuinely friendly, and so people just want to extract money from tourists, but on the whole I found myself much less cynical about people's friendliness here than I often did in South East Asia.
I also saw my first sea snake in the shallows at Momi, which was a personal highlight:
Aside from the diving and surfing, there is not much else to do around Momi, but one nearby attraction are the Momi Guns. These are WWII guns installed in 1941 to defend Fiji against the Japanese. To be honest, this probably wasn't worth the $50FJD I payed return via taxi (although I did get some free Kava and an interesting chat with a very talkative driver, so maybe it was...), as the gun sites takes at most 30 minutes to appreciate, but I'd recommend going if you have your own car (preferably 4WD). On a nice day, there are great views to the Malolo Barrier Reef, the Mamanuca Group and Navula Passage. The entry cost was just $5FJD.
After Momi, I headed up to an "Eco" resort inbetween Ba and Tavua. Ba is a small town north of Nadi, and Tavua is an even smaller town north of Ba! To get there I caught the bus from Nadi toward Lautoka ($2FJD) (incidentally Lautoka has a working sugar mill, which may be of interest to some to see), then from Lautoka I got a bus called "Viti Mini" toward Ba town($2FJD). Next I got one more mini van beside the MH Supermarket toward Tavua ($2FJD), and asked the driver to stop at the Vatia Road intersection in the Maqere area. Vatia resort will pick you up from there for $10FJD or if you look at the sign by the roadside, there is the number of an Indian taxi driver, who will take you down to the resort for about the same price. If your luggage isn't too heavy, you could also just walk the 45minutes from the intersection.
Again, Vatia is very isolated. The nearest town is Tavua if you need a supermarket and to get there you'll need to walk (or take a taxi back to) the intersection followed by a bus (or a one way taxi all the way to Tavua is around $20FJD). I arrived on a Sunday and there were lots of locals picnicking on the beach. They invited me to sit down and try some (very strong) Indian whisky and spicy sausages. Being an Eco resort, the accomodation is basic, with no A/C or fans, and cold showers, but this was perfectly adequate. The price of the accomodation was super cheap, and the meals were quite cheap too at $10FJD. There are lots of friendly people to chat to, and it's just a nice place to relax for a few days. The water is not good for snorkeling, but swimming and kayaking here is enjoyable.
I spent my first ever Christmas away from home at Robinson Crusoe Island. This island is just south of Sigatoka, and so called, apparently, because a sailor was got wrecked on the island with his cat called Friday. The island is very small and you can walk around it within 15 minutes. The beach is definitely a step up from those on the mainland, but not as nice as those on the Yasawa islands, and the snorkeling at the nearby reef is not so good. The island was quite "coupley" or family orientated over Christmas, not really a backpacker haunt, but the entertainment and activites here were great over the Christmas period and the staff really did go out of their way to keep us entertained.
For the Christmas meal, we had a huge Lovo feast, where the food is cooked underground, and all sat around a long table together. There was never a shortage of entertainment, with fire shows, traditional dancing, nature walks, beach bonfires, crab racing and party games on Christmas night. Some may find it a bit artificial or tacky here, but it is what it is, and think most people on holiday to Fiji would enjoy at least a daytrip here.
After Christmas, I travelled to the Yasawas for New Year. I got the 5 day "Bula Pass" from Awesome Adventures Fiji, and chose to stay first at Octopus Resort on Waya Island for 2 nights, then at Gold Coast Inn on Nanuya Island for 2 nights.
The Yasawas are beautiful, and relatively unspoilt compared to other places I visited in Fiji. The day I sailed out was beautiful weather, and it was a pleasuer visiting the other islands along the chain on the way to my destination and snapping pics in the sun, such as this one of the Fiji warrior guy on a rock:
Meal plans are obligatory at most resorts on the Yasawas, and if you stay in dorms, then chances are the meal plan will cost more than the accomodation. That said, the food at Octopus was superb. Three-course meals with sorbet palette cleansers, and dishes like Mahi-mahi. They had a quiz night and our team one a bottle of champagne. As a backpacker, I don't think I've been that spoilt in a long time. The snorkeling is the main draw to Octopus, and it was pretty great right off the beach. The reef was easily accessible (although watch the strong currents) and there were lots of colourful fish to be seen. I did the diving here too, and to be honest it was not much better than the snorkeling, so in hindsight, I'd have just saved my money and used it to dive somewhere else on Fiji, such as the Great White Wall or Rainbow Reefs in Taveuni or possibly the Astrolabe Reef on Kadavu. You can also do a hike on Waya to get a great view of the chain of islands. The dorms at Octopus were air conditioned, clean and quiet.
Gold Coast Inn on Nanuya Island, was a completely different experience to Octopus. Whereas Octopus was a flashy resort catering to couples of two week holidays, Gold Coast Inn is closer to a Fijian home stay. I stayed here so that I could go and visit the famous blue lagoon, without spending too much money! From Gold Coast you can hike across to the other side of the island by an easy 20-30 minute route. There was no electricity at all during my stay as the generator had broken, but the family were really lovely, and provided me with packed lunches for my hikes over to the Blue Lagoon. Also they have a dog called "Romeo", who will happily accompany you on the walk over to the Blue Lagoon, so you don't get lost. The snorkeling at the Blue Lagoon was pretty good, but possibly not as good as at Octopus.
Unlike my trip out, my return trip to the mainland from Nadi, was incredibly rough owing to Cyclone Ula heading in the following day. I get sea sick at the best of times, so took tablets, but they were useless against waves like this. The sea was so incredibly choppy. I resisted for the first 2.5 hours, but soon found myself clutched over a sickbag, all pride gone out of the window! The engine of the boat broke down about 3 hours in, and I was in my own personal hell, as we were helplessly tossed around in the swell. After 4 hours of this, sweating, wretching and feeling like I was soon about to just keel over and die, I decided enough was enough and changed my plans to go back to the mainland, instead getting off at Beachcomber island. The "party island" no less. Partying was the furthest thing in the world from my mind, as I staggered assure half covered in my own vomit and dizzyly made my way to checkin. Luckily everyone (including the staff it seemed) were still recovering from their New Year's Eve blow out, so the island was actually pretty quiet, and I managed to just curl up and die. I didn't do anything on Beachcomber except lie down, but my impression was that it was basically a sandbank with a bar, but might be fun if you are looking to party. The food was definitely sub par compared to the other islands I visited.