The best of Fiji
Castaway Island Resort in the Mamanuca Islands.
From white-water rafting to spa treatments, these are the top 20 reasons to visit Fiji.
The Great Astrolabe Reef is the world's fourth-largest barrier reef and curls around the sparsely populated southern island of Kadavu. Snorkellers can cruise the reef's coral gardens and divers can swim with eagle and manta rays, turtles and wrasse and ogle the reef's drop-offs. Stay at the simple thatch bures of Matava dive resort (matava.com). Astrolabe's rival for the title of best diving, the Great Sea Reef, is known locally as Cakaulevu. Off the northern island of Vanua Levu, the reef was little explored before 2004 and is home to green turtles and spinner dolphins. The closest resort is Nukubati. nukubati.com.
Cultural show ... Fijian fire-walking. Photo: Alamy
2 Sigatoka river and cave safaris
It's a jet-boat safari, yet it's also a great cultural adventure. Take a 15-kilometre journey up the rich, green Sigatoka Valley to visit one of 15 Fijian villages to learn of local customs and legends on the Sigatoka River safari. There's a kava ceremony at the village chief's bure, followed by lunch and traditional singing and dancing. Costs from $140.80 adults, $69 children. The newest tour from the same gang is the Off-Road Cave safari, which visits Fiji's largest cave system, Naihehe Cave, once the home of a cannibal tribe. Costs from $131 for adults, $60 for children. Both tours depart from Sigatoka, 70 kilometres south of Nadi on the Coral Coast, and pick up from Nadi or Coral Coast resorts, twice daily, Monday to Saturday. sigatokariver.com.
3 Mei-meis (Fijian nannies)
Fijians are renowned for their love of kids and every hotel caters for them (save a handful of exclusive, adults-only retreats) without busting your budget. Top kid-friendly hotels include Outrigger on the Lagoon, which has 30 mei-meis (nannies), great for families with babies, while Holidays with Kids magazine's latest survey found the top three family-friendly resorts are Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa, Yanuca Island, the Naviti Resort, Coral Coast and Plantation Island. shangri-la.com; warwicknaviti.com; plantationisland.com.
Who knew that there are two types of fire-walking in Fiji, not the commonly known one? There's the indigenous Fijian tradition of walking over hot stones and the Hindu purification ritual of walking on ashes and charcoal. Fijian fire-walking can be seen during cultural shows at many resorts across the country or at the Arts Village in Suva, and Suva's Mariamma Temple holds a South Indian ritual, Trenial, featuring fire-walking, in July or August each year.
5 South sea pearls
At the top of your Fiji souvenir list should be South Sea pearls, which come in a rainbow of colours from soft creams to pearlescent greys. You'll find earrings and necklaces at the big souvenir shops such as Tappoo (tappoo.com.fj) or Jacks (jacksfiji.com) but also from the lady sellers at most resorts. There's also a daily craft market in the centre of Nadi and Suva's craft market runs every day except Sundays. If you're in Savusavu, be sure to visit the black pearl farm J. Hunter Pearls for farm tours and shopping. pearlsfiji.com.
6 Tribal belonging
Maybe you never felt you belonged: maybe you belong in a Fijian tribe in a cross-cultural social experiment. Spend a week or more on Vorovoro island with the people of this remote community, helping with sustainable community tourism projects that aim to bring positive change. tribewanted.com.
7 Tropical spas
The award-winning Bebe Spa Sanctuary at the Outrigger on the Lagoon is built high on a hilltop and looks over the main island's Coral Coast. The spa treatments use Pevonia and Pure Fiji spa products and Bebe's warm seashell massage is worth the journey south ($126/hour). The founder of Pure Fiji, Daniel Anania, lists among his favourite spas Spa Denarau at Denarau Marina, Harmony Spa at the Radisson Blu Hotel and the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa as well as Bebe Spa. bebespafiji.com; radissonblu.com/resort-fiji; intercontinental.com.
8 Pure Fiji
Fiji's own spa brand, Pure Fiji, puts into a jar all the reasons we love to visit Fiji - papaya, coconut milk, pineapple and kaffir lime - the scents of a tropical paradise. Bestsellers are the coconut hydrating lotion and coconut sugar rub: the orange blossom-scented rub is a winner. Find the products at the Pure Fiji spa in Suva or at the airport on the way home. If you happen to be in Suva on a Saturday, you can buy the products discounted at their factory outlet. purefiji.com.
Rugby is Fiji's third religion and the locals are obsessed. Almost every village has a team. Teams from the outer islands compete in the Island Zone Championship in Suva every August, while the beloved Farebrother-Sullivan challenge pits provincial teams against each other from September 1 to October 13. Fijians go crazy supporting their own province.
10 Blue lagoon
Children of the '80s, remember when Brooke Shields rose out of the crystalline waters in the 1980 shipwreck movie Blue Lagoon? It was filmed on Turtle Island, in the Yasawas, a string of islands north of the Mamanucas in western Fiji. Widely regarded as having the best beaches in Fiji, they're connected by inter-island flights, fast catamaran and multi-day, languid Blue Lagoon cruises. Yasawa and Turtle islands are home to two of Fiji's top resorts, with a high beach-per-guest ratio. bluelagooncruises.com; yasawa.com; turtlefiji.com.
11 Tropical golf courses
There's nothing more delightful than dropping a hole-in-one on a beautifully landscaped, tropical green. Fiji offers a few green gems, including the home of the Fiji Open, the Natadola golf course, designed by famed Fijian golfer Vijay Singh, Denarau Golf and Racquet Club, and Pacific Harbour's tough Pearl Champion course, designed by Robert Trent Jones jnr, which has held eighth ranking worldwide in the past. natadolabay.com; denaraugolf.fiji-golf.net; thepearlsouthpacific.com.
Fiji has two main cuisines - indigenous Fijian and Fijian Indian. Fijian Indian is heavy on the rice, spice and chilli, and indigenous Fijian features plenty of seafood and is easy on the spice. Kokoda is the Fijian take on cerviche, a divine dish of local fish marinated in lemon juice and coconut milk. Time your visit to include lovo night in the hotels, where food is cooked in an underground oven. Otherwise, try Indigo, at Port Denarau, which serves Indian fusion as well as indigenous Fijian, or Sky Top, on the rooftop of Ohana restaurant (Queens Rd, Martintar). If you're self-catering, get down to the morning produce markets, held in all the main towns, including Nadi, Suvasuva and Suva, or just stop along the roadside to buy freshly caught prawns, mud crabs or fish. Also, pineapple, papaya and mangoes are plentiful when in season.
13 The Mamanucas
Castaway, Treasure, Beachcomber and Bounty islands: the Mamanuca Islands are total showponies (literally: the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away was filmed on Modriki). This handful of islands is beloved of day trippers with good reason: the diving, snorkelling and surfing are world class and busy Beachcomber has the reputation of Fiji's top party island. Lying west of Nadi, the islands are easily reached by boat from Denarau Marina; South Sea Cruises does most of the day trips. ssc.com.fj.
14 Kula Eco Park
Get up close and personal with Fiji's rare and endangered animals in this environmental haven near Sigatoka, on the Coral Coast. It's a great stop for kids, with fruit bats, iguanas, an array of rainbow-coloured parrots including the flashy Kadavu red-breasted musk parrot, and the fluffy orange dove. It's also a pram-friendly set-up. fijiwild.com.
15 Glamour digs
Make no mistake: while Fiji loves its reputation as a family getaway, its 333 islands hide deeply glamorous resorts sought out by the international jet set. Mel Gibson owns an island in the Lau group, and TV bachelorettes hang out at Anthony Robbins's luxury Namale Island. Dolphin Island was the private island of the owner of New Zealand's top lodge, Huka Lodge, but has been opened to guests - it can be home to just four couples or one lucky family - and the new, adults-only Tadrai Island Resort, which is just a chopper ride from Nadi in the Mamanucas, has just five villas with their own plunge pools and butler service. namaleresort.com; dolphinislandfiji.com; tadrai.com.
16 Sigatoka Dunes
When the sun is shining, why stay inside? The prehistoric sites excavated at Sigatoka Sand Dunes give a glimpse into Fijian history without having to trek through a museum, and you get to stretch your legs, too. Archaeological digs are still turning up stone tools and the area is one of the largest burial sites in the Pacific. You may even catch sight of Fiji's national rugby team, which trains down here.
17 Real ecotourism
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, on the northern island of Vanua Levu, is home to Johnny Singh, Fiji's first marine biologist. Cousteau, an explorer and oceanographer, set his small resort away from the bustle of the main island and it has won several awards for its ecotourism projects. The family-friendly five-star resort has set the benchmark for other Fijian resorts to follow, featuring organic gardens, rainwater harvesting and edible landscaping without compromising on comfort. fijiresort.com.
In Fiji, "day tripping" doesn't mean hours in a car, it means lying on the deck of a yacht, smelling the sea breeze, seafood banquets and snorkelling stops. Charter a private yacht and choose your course or join a cruise to, say, Tivua Island on the tall ship Ra Marama and spend the day snorkelling, glass-bottom boating, kayaking or chilling on the beach in Fiji style. fijisafari.com; captaincook.com.fj.
19 World-class surfing
Most surfers head for the Mamanuca islands to hit the waves - the permanent six-metre wave Cloudbreak, off the coast of Tavarua, is a Fijian legend, and reigning world champion Kelly Slater describes nearby Restaurants as "one of the most perfect waves that I have ever surfed". Taravua will host the Volcom Fiji Pro, featuring the top pro surfers, from June 3 to 15. Off the south coast of the main island, you'll find little Beqa Island is home to the challenging left-handed reef break Frigates, and Sigatoka Beach's Sand Dunes stand out on the Coral Coast.
20 White-water rafting
Fiji's lagoons are brilliant for sea kayaking and the waterways through its mangroves let you explore these mysterious ecosystems. The local guides of Rivers Fiji take groups river-rafting through the forests and past highland villages on the main island and sea kayaking out to Benq Island, renowned for its fire-walkers and surfing. riversfiji.com.