Bula from Fiji!!!
As we winded down the palm fringed roads in our taxi from the hotel, our local driver gave us the lowdown on the three most important sayings to know during our stay in Fiji.
“First”, he said, “You must learn to say bula with a big smile! This means hello in Fiji, you will hear it everywhere!” He wasn’t wrong, I must have heard “bula!” from friendly locals at least forty times a day! “Second, you must know: vinaka!” he continued. “This means thank you in Fijian! And third, and most important thing you must learn while in Fiji is: Fiji Time!”
Our week spent in Fiji was most definitely on Fiji Time! Everything is on a different tempo here on the islands. With white sand, blue coral water and sunsets to die for, it’s hard not to fall into the slow-paced island life that is the Fijian way.
A week was not nearly enough to spend in Fiji, but who can really put a time limit on chilling in hammocks with fresh coconuts?! Unfortunately, a week was all we could spare for Fiji, so we jam-packed it with island hopping, cocktail sipping and snorkelling! Today, I’m going to give you a rundown on how best to spend your week in paradise!
First Stop – Nadi
After flying into Nadi, most backpackers/holiday makers stay in Nadi their first night. The main goal of Fiji is to get out to the smaller islands ASAP, but unfortunately, the ferries only run out early in the morning. We stayed in Smuggler’s Cove in Nadi, just fifteen minutes from Port Denareu where the ferries depart for the islands.
This was a great budget accommodation, with clean spacious dorm rooms, and modern private rooms. Each night the hotel provided entertainment like traditional songs and dances. The hotel is right on the sand, unfortunately the beach itself is nothing to write home about.
Nadi didn’t overly impress us. When thinking of Fiji, I envisioned tropical palm trees, white coral beaches and grass-skirt dancers. Nadi is the hub of activity and traffic, used mainly as a launch pad to other more tropical islands like the Mamanuca Islands and the Yasawa Islands.
Which Islands to Visit
Fiji is an archipelago nation made up of over 300 islands, with two main islands, Viiti Levu and Vanua Levu. The distance betweem islands is often large, so consult a map and plan accordingly.
While in Fiji, I concentrated on two main island groups, the Mamanuca Islands and the Yawasa Islands. The Mamanucas are the closest group of islands to Nadi, and therefore the cheapest to get to.
The Mamanuca Islands
The Mamanucas are home to islands such as Mana, Castaway, and Robinson Crusoe Island where the film Castaway was made (do not get this mixed with Castaway Island like I did!). Accommodation ranges from easy-going backpacker lodges and surfers’ sanctuaries to relaxed resorts and five-star retreats. Honeymoon Island, as the name obviously suggests, is the romantic island, where the couples retreat to.
While travelling the Mamanucas, we stayed on Beachcomber Island. Beachcomber is a great “backpacker resort”, with cheap accommodation and parties and social events at night to meet other travellers. Dancing on tables is encouraged with an extensive cocktail list! But if the party life isn’t for you, relax in a hammock by day and enjoy a cocktail and sunset by night.
As a day trip, we explored the island of Castaway. This is a gorgeous resort island, far too expensive for us to stay on! But we got a day pass to the island, which included food and drink and free roam of the resort for the day.
The Yasawa Islands
Just north of the Mamanucas are the soaring peaks of the Yasawa Islands that make up Fiji’s western border. Visiting the islands once was limited to cruise ships, and passengers were forbidden to actually set foot on the Yasawas until the 1950s. Thanks to a Government ecotourism initiative, the islands are now dotted with accommodation options.
With gorgeous beaches, abundant sunshine and a range of backpacker resorts, this is the place to come for an affordable retreat in paradise.
Blue Lagoon Resort
While visiting the Yasawas, we only had time for one island. We thought long and hard about our choice, weighed up our options and decided on an island that truly was a dream come true! Used to travelling on a backpacker’s budget, we decided to treat ourselves and booked three nights in the Blue Lagoon Resort on Nacula Island.
This resort was like a living postcard: white sand, crystal clear waters and tropical flowers the size of my head everywhere! For AUD208 (€133) a night, based on two people sharing, we stayed in a gorgeous little hut with a shared bathroom. The hut was decorated with fresh Fijian flowers everyday, and had all the mod-cons expected of a hotel room.
The Blue Lagoon resort also caters to backpackers, with a bed in a dorm room costing roughly AUD33 (€21). Of course there are the more exclusive beach bungalows which fetch for a pretty price and must be booked far in advance.
When on the island, there is no exchange of money., so no need to carry cash or a wallet. This can be very dangerous as the cocktails add up! At the end of your stay, your bill is totted up and paid at the end.
For each night spent in the Blue Lagoon, a resort fee must be paid, AUD75 per person per night (€48). This price includes a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. All extra snacks, ice creams and alcohol must be paid for separately.
Each evening the resort has communal dining, where you are sat at a table with about eight to ten other guests and the food is placed on the table buffet-style. The affair is intimate and a great way to get to meet the other guests in an otherwise very private vacation.
The Mamanucas is best known for its diving, but if you’re an experienced diver and are looking for something different, I would leave your diving expeditions for the Yasawas. While staying in the Blue Lagoon we had the option to dive with bull sharks, yes that’s right, BULL SHARKS!
Barefoot Manta is another island option for diving paradise in the Yasawas. Here, when the season is right, you can swim with manta rays the size of dinner tables! Although you do not need to be a diver to see them, the waters are shallow around Barefoot Manta, making it easy to spot them with a snorkel and some fins!
This is not South East Asia, there is no bargaining for a cheaper longtail boat. There is no side-hand of a few bills for the boat to leave earlier. All ferries to the islands are well organised and handled professionally. Though you must remember, everything runs on FIJI TIME! Tourists and locals take the ferries together; we shared one trip with an entertaining bunch of school boys on their way to class!
We booked our first trip through our hotel in Nadi, and they provided a free shuttle bus to the port. As you island hop your way around Fiji, you can book each ferry at your hotel/hotel; everyone in Fiji is very accommodating an more than willing to help! Again, as this is not SE Asia, unfortunately there are no SE Asia prices either! Travel expenses took me by surprise in Fiji, with ferries costing on average FJD70 each way. Be prepared to spend a fair amount on getting between islands.
Your best option is to buy a Bula Combo Pass through Awesome Adventures Fiji, for a duration of five to 21 days. Then you can book islands in advance or speak to travel agents onboard the ferry as you travel.
Wifi, even on the more expensive islands, is scarce. If you’d like to be connected to the Internet while lounging on the beach, you should purchase a SIM at the airport. For a few dollars you can get 1gb of the internet on your smartphone. Although I have to say, not having access to the outside world for a few days felt oddly amazing!
I only spent eight days in Fiji and wish I could have stayed longer. Fiji was the perfect slice of paradise that left us wanting more. If a week of total relaxation is what you’re after, with a splash of adventure thrown in, Fiji is the place for you!