Fiji Loving

by Leanne Ward

My partner and I recently spent an amazing week in Fiji so I wanted to let you guys know our tips and recommendations for this beautiful country. The post will be separated into 3 parts – what we did, our tips for Fiji and then the 3 day trips we went on which and will also be linked into the lifestyle and fitness sections of my blog.Our trip

We flew with Virgin Air into Nadi (pronounced Nandi) airport from Brisbane, Australia. The plane trip from Brisbane was roughly 4 hours. We caught a cab (1.5 hr trip) to our hotel on the Coral Coast where we stayed for the next 7 nights.

As I said above our trip really was amazing and we both had a fantastic time. But I don’t want this post to just be a highlight reel. I also really want to give you some frank information about our trip, without the sugarcoating, which I hope you will find useful if you are planning a vacation to Fiji.

So I’ll start out with what we loved first (the day trips), and then move on to what we learnt (our travel tips).

Our Day Trips

We wanted our holiday to be as relaxing as it was exciting. So during our 7 days we planned to do a few day trips and spent the rest of the time relaxing at the resort or exploring the local area. So on our first day we collected a whole heap of brochures from the resort’s tour desk and, after whittling down the options, settled on 3 that we thought would give us a good mix of holiday wow factor and Fijian culture (and, as I explain in the travel tips section, we were able to book for amazing deals).

Day Trip 1: Biausevu waterfall

On the way from the Airport to our resort, our taxi driver asked us whether we were going to visit ‘the waterfall’. He didn’t give us a name, but after a bit of Googling and asking around, we discovered there was a waterfall relatively close to our resort called Biausevu waterfall (but also known as Savu Na Mate Laya Falls). There is a tour that takes you to this watefall, but resort staff confirmed that you can make your own way there and gave us the details. We arranged for a resort taxi to drive us to Biausevu Village. It’s a scenic drive down the Coral Coast before you turn off and take a dirt road up to the village.

We were greeted and invited to participate in a traditional kava welcome ceremony with the village elders. It costs F$25 per person to visit the waterfall which we paid in cash directly to the village. We were then given the opportunity to purchase souvenirs and craft items. We were introduced to our young guide and offered the opportunity to ride to the waterfall on horse back for an extra cost. The waterfall is about a 40 min walk from the village and you cross a stream 9 times on the way (some times the stream is knee deep) so if you don’t want to get your feet wet perhaps the horse is the way to go. We decided to walk and enjoy the stream crossings.

Our young guide began by taking us on a tour around the village before we started the walk to the waterfall. The walk takes you through some extremely beautiful jungle. About half of the walk is on a narrow concrete path. The other half is dirt track (mud if it has been raining). A couple of the creek crossings have steep, wet embankments so be careful when traversing these.

The waterfall is about 20m tall and was roaring when we were there. After the walk, the cool water of the pool below was amazing. Even if you don’t like swimming be sure to stick your feet in to cool off.

Our young guides showed us how to climb up the rocks on the waterfall and jump from the fall. While we both had a go, we weren’t quite as adventurous as they were.

All in all, it was a beautiful experience. It was close by and the entire experience was about 4 hours, leaving the rest of the day for other activities. The villagers were lovely, the waterfall was amazing and we felt that we really experienced a small slice of the Fijian village culture.

Day Trip 2: South Sea Island

In contrast to Biausevu waterfall, South Sea Island is less of a cultural experience and focuses more heavily on the tropical paradise wow factor.

We booked the tour for a great deal through Bookme Fiji (see below for the costs) and our day began with a transfer bus picking us up at 7:30AM an taking us on the 1.5 hour journey to Port Denarau (just north of Nadi). Our ferry to the island left at 10AM and we arrived on the island at approximately 11AM.

South Sea Island is one of the Mamanuca Islands just of the west coast of Viti Levu (Fiji’s largest island). The island itself is tiny. You can walk around it in about 10 minutes. Most of it is sandy white beach surrounded by coral and reef. The middle of the island has a pool, a bar and a building that provides backpacker accommodation.

We got exactly what we expected: sun, sand and snorkeling mixed together with a bit of fun in a tandem kayak. There are also stand up paddle boards and a Hobie Cat to get around on. You can organise scuba diving from the island. There is also a semi-submersible boat to view the coral from.

You definitely won’t get this island to yourself. There were probably about 80 people on the island when we were there but that didn’t phase us as after all. We were there to swim and soak up the sun.

The cost of the tour included the food and drinks (including free beer and wine) and there was a great barbecue lunch of steak, fish, sausages and various pasta and fresh salads that was served at 11:30AM.

It is a fantastic place just to relax, and given the heat we spent a fair bit of our time on the island just lazing in the shallow water or in sun chairs under the shade.

The ferry came to pick us up at 4:00PM in order to make our transfer back to the Coral Coast.

I assume that, if you are staying at Port Denarau or Nadi, you can spend more time on the island because there were guests that were already on the island when we arrived and that were permitted to stay until 5:15PM.

Day Trip 3: Off-Road Cave Safari + Cannibals Cave Tour 

Having done a waterfall and an island, we thought a cave would complete our Fiji day trip trifecta.

The Cannibals Cave (actually called the Naihehe Cave) was actually our favourite tour. The cathedral like caves are amazing and you are really immersed in Fijian history and culture along the way.

You can either book a morning and afternoon tour. Again, we were able to get a discounted deal through Bookme Fiji. We did the morning tour and the transfer bus left our resort at 7:45AM. The afternoon tour would have left at 1:00PM.

The transfer bus took us to Sigatoka Town, about 30min from our resort. We stopped there briefly to register with the tour operator and it was a good opportunity to visit a supermarket to stock up on water and essentials (super expensive at your hotel!). There are also a number of banks around the town if you need to withdraw cash.

From there we went on a 40 min mini bus ride through the Sigatoka valley before we reached the tour operator’s premises. The tour operator also runs jet boat tours of the Sigatoka River and the jet boats took us across the river to the all terrain vehicles awaiting us on the other bank.

The ATVs ferried us for about 30 min along the bumpy dirt road, through the Fijian jungle and several villages. Children in the villages are friendly and will run up to the ATV’s for their obligatory hi-fives. The ATVs will stop at a couple of choice spots along the way to allow you to take pictures (note you can also purchase pictures taken by the tour operator after the tour is over).

When we arrived at the caves we took part in a kava welcoming ceremony with the caves’ custodian priest. The ladies were also asked to wear sarongs.

We were given permission to enter the caves and after a short walk along a jungle track we arrived at the entrance.

Much of the cave is a stream so this is another tour where you are going to get your feet wet and muddy, so old shoes are a must. Alternatively some resorts lend out reef shoes which would also be a good option. We don’t recommend thongs as the mud can be slippery and the rocks can be sharp if you slip.

We were told that there were no bats in the cave, but if you look up when you walk through the entrance you’ll see hundreds of swallows nesting in the roof.

A short walk past the entrance we came across the pregnancy gap where the roof of the cave comes down to about 50cm above the ground and above 30cm above the water. You have to crouch and crab walk through the gap. According to legend the gap prevents any woman trying to hide a pregnancy from passing, hence the name. FYI, we both made it through.

The gap also had importance in the days of Fijian tribal civil war when the Naihehe Caves were used as a natural fortress by the Sautabu people. The Sautabu people opposed Christianity and, in order to avoid the warriors of converted tribes, 400 Sautabu people took refuge in the caves for 79 days. Warriors would guard the internal opening of the pregnancy gap, and any enemy warrior who crawled through would be whacked on the back of the head with a club and dragged off paralyzed to the oven… Did I mention the Sautabu people were, at the time, cannibals and as a part of the tour you see the naturally formed cannibal oven they used and the alter where sacrifices were performed?

Beyond the pregnancy gap the interior of the caves are huge. Any sound seems like it echos forever and, when all the lanterns are turned off, the complete darkness is disorientating (and a bit freaky!). The largest cavern is called the Grand Cathedral. The guide took us through several more chambers pointing out sparkling stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and the now sealed concealed exits the Sautabu people used to gather food without alerting their enemies.

Our walk through the caves lasted about 40min after which we had a barbeque lunch next to the stream and then enjoyed the trip back to the tour operator’s premises. We had another short stop in Sigatoka Town (which gave us another opportunity for a visit to a supermarket) and then were back at our resort by 2:30PM.

As much as we were in Fiji for the sun, sand and clear waters, this kind of cultural experience and historical insight really gives you the sense that you are a traveler in a foreign country and allows you to learn how others once lived.

Our Fiji Tips

Tip No. 1 – Flights and Accommodation

My first tip is about flights and accommodation. We got great deals on both by using Groupon. All up, our flights and 7 nights accommodation (including buffet breakfasts and some dinners, massages etc.) were A$1000 per person 😱. But don’t be too dazzled by the price. You need to do your research before you click ‘confirm order’. In particular, I’d recommend you research 2 issues:

  • Firstly, since pretty much every resort will describe itself as absolute luxury, you want to know whether or not that is actually true. So find recent pictures and read recent reviews. Trip Adviser is always a good option for this. The resort we stayed at was on a stretch of beautiful beach and reef. The gardens and grounds were immaculately kept and we had an amazing time exploring the grounds, swimming in the reef and enjoying the sun and sand. However, we did think the actual accommodation and facilities were a little dated and in need of some TLC. This can present a bit of a problem because of the next big factor regarding accommodation, location.
  • You want to know where your resort is in relation to any day trips you plan to do or places you intend to visit. Fiji is an archipelago made up of 332 islands and 522 smaller islets. We stayed on the largest island, Viti Levu. Viti Levu is beautiful and is a wealth of amazing experiences and sights to see. It’s about the size of south-east Queensland (about 150km in diameter). Many of the resorts, including ours, are located along a long strip of reef along the south coast of the island (the Coral Coast). These resorts are about an hour and a half drive from the large cities (Nadi and Suva) and, depending on where you stay, the nearest supermarket could be a 30 min  drive. While there is plenty to see and do on Viti Levu, and we organised some truly amazing day trips (see above), it meant that we weren’t able to do a few things we really had our heart set on because of the time and cost of transportation. There are some amazing things to do on the outer Fijian islands (e.g. the Lavena Coastal Walk on Taveuni Island or the Sawa-I-Lau Caves on the Yasawa Islands), but we found that trying to do them as day trips from the Coral Coast on Viti Levu would have involved too much travel time and 1 trip would have consumed our entire sight seeing budget (eg. for 2 people, it could cost over $1,500 AUD to travel to the outer islands). These are experiences that are still very much on our bucket lists and I definitely see us coming back to Fiji one day and tailoring our accommodation so we can tick them off. The travel times also mean that it is more likely for people to stay, eat, drink etc. in their resorts. We read a statistic in one of the brochures that said 9 out of 10 tourists won’t actually leave their resort during their stay. That being the case, you really want to research your resort well before you book.

Tip No. 2 – Day to day expenses
l wouldn’t say Fiji is a cheap country. We booked our trip last minute without a whole lot of research and didn’t expect it be as expensive as it was. I would say that it is as expensive as Australia, if not more so on some of the tourist islands and hotels.

Depending on where you stay, you may, like us, find that it is difficult to dine outside your resort or even get to a supermarket. We found that pricing at our resort’s restaurant, bar and shop was not necessarily cheap compared to Australia. Two meals and a couple of drinks at the resort restaurant would typically add up to about F$100 (or about A$70). 30% of this is actually taxes and levies that are not included in the menu pricing but appear on the final bill. So while the menu appeared to be good value at first glance, the added tax meant that you were paying on par with Australia.

That being said, we ended up doing a few things that saved us a bit of money-

  • We exchanged our Aussie dollars, and drew out Fijian dollars, over there. The exchange rate offered by our bank in Australia was F$1.42 for A$1. However, at the time of our trip the banks in Fiji were offering F$1.5 of even F$1.56 for A$1. Given that there are bank and Visa fees each time you draw out, we found it was better to estimate our total costs try and do it in one hit. In the end we were pretty close to the mark.
  • We negotiated a cheap taxi ride from the Airport to our accommodation. We looked at pre-booked airport transfers before we left and the cheapest we found from Nadi Airport to our resort (about 90KM) was A$92. In the end we didn’t book this and instead negotiated with the taxi drivers in the airport taxi rank. We talked to a few and found that if they agreed to, or offered, a price straight away it meant they would do it for less if we haggled. In the end we organised the trip for F$90 (about A$60). Funnily enough, when we told our taxi driver we were Aussie he was surprised because he said Australians never negotiate. Final note, make sure you have small change when you pay for things. If your taxi fare is $90 and you give a $100 note, good luck getting any change!
  • On the way to our accommodation, we asked our taxi driver to stop at a supermarket. It’s difficult to find a supermarket, where you can stock up on snacks and essentials, other than in the larger cities and towns (e.g.  Nadi or even Sigatoka Town if you’re staying on the Coral Coast). By comparison, a 1.5L bottle of water at our resort’s shop was $6 Fijian, but you could get 6 x 1.5L bottles for less than that price in the Sigatoka Town supermarket.
  • Finally, we asked around the resort about the cost of return transport from our resort to the Airport. Without a rank full of taxis to negotiate with, our options were a bit more limited. The front desk of our resort said the standard fee using their service was F$150. We asked about sharing the fee with other guests that were also checking out, but didn’t get any assistance with that.  So we made inquiries with a few of the different staff members at the resort and in the end the travel agent, who organised the day trips for guests, found us transport for F$100. Another tip is to ask staff who work at the hotel if they have any friends who drive taxis who might consider driving you to the airport for a cheaper rate than what your hotel offers.

Tip No. 3 – Booking day trips
Your resort will have a whole heap of brochures for various day trips you can do during your stay. Don’t just accept the brochure price without doing a bit of research first. We either booked our day trips online for heavily discounted prices or arranged to visit locations ourselves without using a tour service.

I’ve talked about our amazing day trips above, so here I will just talk about how we were able to do the trips for a lot less than the brochure prices.

For our trips to South Sea Island and the Cannibals Cave we booked through Bookme Fiji.

  • For the South Sea Island trip, the price in the brochure, and the price our resort’s travel agent would have charged us, was F$199 per person. However, using Bookme Fiji we booked the same tour for F$97.50 (about A$70) per person (and that included transfers to and from Nadi, lunch and unlimited drinks so it was a pretty good deal).
  • Similarly, the brochure price for the Cannibals Cave tour was F$249 per person with transfers, but using Bookme Fiji we booked the tour for F$139 per person with transfers.

Just be aware that these deals are not available every day, and may actually sell out if you leave it too late, so it would be best to research and plan out your day trips before you arrive or as soon as possible after arriving.

For the Biausevu Waterfall, we did find there was a tour that had a brochure price of F$168 per person and was available on Bookme Fiji for a discounted price of F$117.60 per person. But after doing some research, and talking to resort staff, we discovered that, in this case, it was possible to make our own way to the waterfall. So we arranged our own transportation and paid the waterfall entry fees directly to the local community. All up the entire trip cost us F$140 total for both of us (instead of $336).

Feel free to ask us any questions in the comments below!

Follow Leanne on Instagram: @the_fitness_dietitian

Follow David on Instagram: @brisbane_local

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