Fiji is a group of tropical islands best known for its white-sand beaches, turquoise water and lush rainforests. But don’t expect to be welcomed by the postcard beaches as soon as you leave the airport. Fiji’s best places are scattered across the islands and like most pacific nations, the best parts are far from the large cities. One thing is certain though, no matter where you go in Fiji you’ll be greeted by big Fijian smiles and a welcome ‘Bula’.
And for us Aussies, Fiji is like a tropical island constantly tempting us to get away from our busy lives and relax on Island time. While most people head to the resorts for the pools and cocktails while the kids are entertained, I wanted to see a local side of Fiji…but also have at least 1 cocktail day at a resort.
I went with my partner Nell in December just after Christmas so we were a bit worried about the weather, thankfully we avoided a cyclone and it only rained for the last two days. In total, we spent a couple of weeks in Fiji with the aim to have a local experience, see some great beaches, dive with sharks and find some cheap ways to enjoy the resorts. We achieved all of that so scroll down to read about our best, worst and unexpected times in Fiji.
- Staying with the locals on Navotua island
- Diving with sharks at Beqa Lagoon
- The friendliness of the locals (like the wedding we went to)
- Chilling out at Uprising Beach Resort
We always prefer to see the real side of a place other than the resort chains that are pretty similar no matter where you are in the world. So in Fiji we looked for authentic experiences and thankfully they’re not too hard to find, there are a few options to stay with locals but we chose the homestay at Navotua village on Navotua Island.
Navotua Island is located in the northen point of the Yasawa Islands and the locals at Navotua village offer guests to stay in their village in bures (traditional Fijian bungalows). We stayed for 4 nights and it was the highlight of our trip, staying for a shorter period of time would’ve made it more difficult to connect closely with the locals. But 4 days was great and by the time we left there were tears in Nell’s eyes and I was also sad to say goodbye.
Before arriving we were told about the village rules and given instructions on how to take the public ferry to reach the island which is one of the last stops and furthest from the Fijian mainland. We also had to take a gift for the Chief so we went to the local market in Nadi to buy Kava root for the chief.
The locals on Navotua had told us that they struggle to get kids clothes so any we could bring would be much appreciated. Thankfully my cousins’ kids had plenty of clothes that they had grown out of so we took we took two large bags of clothes to the village and they were extremely excited and grateful for everything we’d taken (I think it might’ve gotten us some special treatment during our stay).
During our time we had a kava night and also kava day. We played volleyball and other games the local kids had come up with including a baseball type game where the batter had to run around the oval before anyone knocked over the pile of tuna cans in the middle. Only a few other guests arrived while we were there but that was just after Fiji reopened their borders after Covid so I would imagine they’re getting a lot more guests now.
After leaving Navotua we took the bus down to the Coral Coast to stay at Geckos Resort which is just to the east of Sigatoka. Geckos is a great, clean, cheap place to stay but certainly not a resort. However, the Shangri-La is a short walk from Geckos so we walked over there to enjoy the cocktails and resort facilities but without the hefty accommodation price. The sunset is great from the deck and it’s only a 15 minute walk back to Geckos.
Attending a Fijian Wedding
From the Coral Coast we headed over to Pacific Harbour and stayed at the Uprising Beach Resort which was the nicest place we stayed in Fiji. The room was huge and Nell was especially impressed with the outdoor shower. On our second night we noticed that a wedding ceremony was taking place. So as soon as the reception started and people had eaten we put on our best outfits and casually walked over to say hello and see how we’d be received, always prepared to return to our room if we didn’t feel welcomed. It’s Fiji, so of coarse we were welcomed, we were like the stars. It was clearly a wealthy couple and we later found out the bride has a high position at the reserve bank of Fiji. Fijian hospitality is so welcoming and they kept offering us drinks but we insisted on buying our own.
Diving with Sharks
Other than staying in the village the other thing I was looking forward to the most was seeing the world famous dive site at Beqa Lagoon. Beqa Lagoon is famous for its sharks and you have an almost guaranteed chance to dive with lemon, bull, reef, and sometimes tiger sharks. FijiSaharkDive offers a few dive options but the most popular is the 2 dive package which costs FJD$475 (AUD$315) with all equipment included and you get up close with dozens of sharks. The company focuses on the importance of the health of sharks and some of the costs go towards marine protection.
FijiSharkDive will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation around Pacific Harbour. After an introduction about the sharks and a dive briefing we were on a boat and heading out to the first dive site. Joining us on the boat were a few extra locals and I wondered what they were there for and why so many Dive Masters for a small group of divers…later I realised why they were with us and was very grateful. The company used to hand feed the sharks but after a series of incidents they now feed the sharks by opening a large bin containing tuna. You gather around the bin by kneeling behind a small man-made rock ledge to watch the feeding frenzy as the Dive Masters use a rope to open the bin.
The sharks circle the bin waiting for it to be opened, a few of them grew impatient and started taking more interest in us. There were a few occasions where I was very uncomfortable. As some of the sharks started to get a bit too close the other dive masters would push them away with poles shaped like crutches. I don’t like seeing sharks being touched our pushed away but you will be grateful there is someone there to push them away when they’re very close and are looking at you with an interested eye. The sharks would then turn their interest back to the bin. Once the bin is opened the sharks grab as much fish as they can which is less than 5 metres in front of you. It’s the most adrenalin filled experience I’ve had underwater.
Would I do it again? Yes.
Did I feel 100% safe? No.
Underwhelmed at the Hilton
Our last night was spent at the Hilton Doubletree located south of Nadi. We decided to treat ourselves to a Hilton type experience, what a mistake. The resort was completely full and unfortunately they couldn’t cope with the full capacity and we even had to order take-away food as the restaurant was fully booked for the entire night. I’d recommend checking out the resorts on Denarau Island or just stay at Geckos and walk over to the Shangri-La to get your resort fix.
Here Comes the Cyclone
To make things worse the weather was gradually getting worse and we were told that a cyclone was heading towards Fiji. It was a nervous night but in the morning we checked out early and managed to get on the last boat across to the mainland. Once we arrived we were told that the road to Nadi was flooded and we couldn’t make it. We also couldn’t head back to the Hilton because it was too dangerous for the boats to cross. Something I always believe in when travelling is, no matter how bad the situation seems, something always happens to get you out of it.
The hotel receptionist working on the mainland side was very helpful and after a few calls managed to find a driver willing to take us to Nadi, but he would only take us as far as he could drive and not cross any flood water. We agreed and headed off towards Nadi.
The weather was getting worse and we passed a lot of flooded villages. We felt guilty to be able to leave while these locals were stuck in their flooded villages and who knows how they would recover. We eventually made it to the bridge which was completely flooded by the river below it. Our driver dropped us off and we’d have to search for a boat to take us over the bridge. However there were some people walking through the flooded water hundreds of metres to the other side. Some local guys approached us and said we could go with them, so we did. Once we got to the other side the Police approached us and offered to drive us to the airport.
Our flight was one of the last to leave before all flights were grounded in Fiji. Thankfully the cyclone didn’t reach land so there was only minor flooding and damage caused.
Did you know? Tropical cyclone names in the South Pacific are assigned in alphabetical order, and alternate between male and female names.
Is It Worth Going To Fiji In The Wet Season?
Fiji has two distinct seasons and a tropical environment with year-round sunshine. We chose to go over the New Year period which is busy but bearable as many people aim to avoid the wet season. The wet season, which lasts from November to April, is warmer (up to 33°C), more humid, and more likely to have tropical downpours (typically in the middle of the day). However, there is still plenty of sunshine and some advantages to travelling in the wet season. With the exception of the Christmas and New Year holiday period, Fiji is not overly crowded, lodging is often less expensive, and waterfalls are at their most impressive.
The dry season, with its blue sky, little rain and humidity, and great conditions for diving and snorkelling is unquestionably the best and most comfortable time to visit. The dry season lasts from May to October with the average day temperature around 25°C, while at night it drops to 19°C.
Avoid The Tourist Traps
A friend had recommended a tour in Pacific Harbour so I reluctantly agreed to do it. While what we saw was interesting it was the exact type of tour we try to avoid. Many tourists shuffled along the same touristy route to a waterfall and then to watch a show of dance and some weaving. Some people loved it but it’s really not our type of thing. Compared to our time on Navotua island everything was so staged and less authentic.
Travel Resources for Visiting Fiji
Yasawa Homestay – The website to book to stay on Navotua Island
Fiji Shark Dive – The crazy shark dive at Beqa Lagoon
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.
RentalCars.com – The best site for renting cars while travelling, they find the best rates and provide great insurance options.