Not Bottled Water: Fiji
As I stepped into the airport in Fiji after a tiring day of connecting flights (all of which had crying babies), airplane food, and very little sleep, the first thing that struck me is how welcoming the airport felt. Though I had landed in the twilight hours of the morning, a small band was stationed at the arrival terminal serenading every weary eyed traveler with songs in their native language. A small cluster of islands in the South Pacific, Fiji is well known for its lush green forests and sandy beaches. And though I went expecting nothing but a lazy beach holiday, I came back with so much more.
The people are in the forefront of the charm of Fiji. Everywhere I went, people greeted me with a friendly, ‘Bula’, and a smile. The thing I didn’t realize before I went was that though I was constantly treated to beautiful landscapes, much of Fiji’s allure lay in its rich culture.
The first time I drank Yaqona, Fiji’s national drink, I was told simply, “It is hard to stay mad at someone when they offer you Yaqona, so always drink up.” And unlike many indigenous cultures, Fijian people love celebrating, and sharing their stories. I was lucky to witness one of the countless ceremonies, The Meke, where the people embrace their roots and sing in their language about legends, and love. Though I didn’t understand all the words, it was easy to get caught up in the spirit of the ceremonies.
Things to do
A city on Fiji’s main island, Nadi is where the tourist concentration is the highest. I spent a lot of time here, at Nadi’s open-air souvenir market, where I was presented with a dizzying array of choices of Fijian crafts, such as wooden kava bowls, hand-painted saris, and scepter-like cannibal forks – the latter a nod to the region’s colourful past. While spending hours shopping was never something I’ve done, it was easy to lose track of time amongst the vibrant colours, beautiful art, and my personal favorite – delectable street food.
A cordoned off part of Nadi catering to tourists is what consists of Denaru Island. Filled with hotels, a water park, and of course, beautiful beaches, this is a place everyone retires to when you’re not in the mood to explore. Most hotels are on the beach front, and the beach is littered with umbrellas and beach towels. It’s easy to spend hours on Denaru, because everything always seems to go at a lackadaisical pace, one that almost made me miss my flight as well. Well-kept due to the large tourist population, when you finally get tired of curries and cassava, Denaru offers you a change of pace, admittedly a welcome on after a few days.
The Garden of the Sleeping Giant
Containing a vast collection of more than 2000 varieties of Asian orchids and Cattleya hybrids, this mountain valley has been transformed into a massive garden. With guides that walk you through the property, the highlight of the tour has to be the orchids themselves. Carefully tended and well displayed, these flowers are breath-taking. Despite it just being a garden, I ended spending an entire afternoon there, walking along the path cut through a rainforest at the base of the Sleeping Giant Mountain. It’s easy to sit for hours in their small summer house and enjoy a moment of unfiltered beauty.
Island Day Trips
A number of private cruises offer day trips off the coast of Denaru. The main island is surrounded by smaller ones that are easily accessible through these cruises. While your day starts early, a day on a secluded island isn’t as scary as it sounds. You get the opportunity to try your hand at snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking among others. Your guides will also gleefully point out interesting tidbits about all the surrounding islands. “Madonna reserved that entire island once, I did security.” Or a “This is where Blue Lagoon was shot.” A day reserved to engage in water sports, with not having to publicly make a fool of yourself is a blessing in disguise, which is probably why these day cruises are extremely popular.
Falls of Taveuni
Also known as Fiji’s Garden of Eden, most of it is a protected Heritage Park. Filled with rare orchids, prehistoric ferns, and natural water slides. The highlight of Taveuni is the Tavoro Waterfalls. As someone who detests speed-walking to class during the semester, I wasn’t looking forward to the hike awaiting me. The hike itself is hyped up and is more of an easy trail. The view from the top makes up for the hour and a half it takes to get there – a sixty-foot horsetail of white water cascading down.
Lonely Planet voted Fiji as one of its top tourist destinations in 2016, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. Before arriving, it’s easy to believe that all Fiji can give you with is the sun, salt in your hair, and regrettable tan. Instead, Fiji’s welcoming people, beautiful landscapes, and palm-fringed beaches, all provide you with a small taste of paradise; one I’ll savour until next time.
Cover Art: Vaaridhi Mathur