Being a reporter has its perks, and traveling on assignment is certainly one of them.
The Pacific Daily News sent me to Fiji to cover the launch of the new Continental non-stop flight between Guam and Fiji. As part of the coverage, we covered Fiji as a destination for people traveling through and from Guam.
As a country comprised of more than 300 islands, Fiji no doubt has “bula” to see, but here are some of the top things to do when visiting the main island of Viti Levu.
Trek to Ririnaika Falls
Head to the Sabeto valley for a morning trek to the Ririnaika Falls from the Nalesutale village.
Photo courtesy of Josh Tyquiengco
At the base of this valley, you’ll find thatched huts, the walls of which are made of bamboo and the roofs of which are made from coconut tree fibers.
The valley is inhabited by about 70 or so sugar cane farmers and their families. Sugar is one of the island’s primary exports, according to Alisi Lutu, marketing officer for Tourism Fiji.
She says it was once the largest export and the driving force of Fiji‘s economy. After a series of cyclones flooded the fields, and other countries soon began to grow and export sugar of their own, Fiji sustains its economy now through tourism, followed by agriculture. The farmers themselves eat local fare including taro, sweet potato, spinach, seafood, lamb sausage and fresh fruit.
Fiji water is also exported globally, as the islands flaunt some of the freshest springs in the world.
Ririnaika Falls, literally translated as “where the fish stop,” is named as such because going upstream, trekkers will be able to find only prawn and eel, whereas lower in the stream, before the falls, trekkers can find fish.
The hike is doable even in the flimsiest sandals. Don’t forget a bathing suit as the pools formed from the falls will definitely beckon to you.
Garden of the Sleeping Giant
Known for its diverse collection of orchids from around the world the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, located in the Sabeto valley, sits at the base of the hills known as “The Sleeping Giant.” The land formation looks like a giant man reclining when seen from a distance.
The late Raymond Burr, who played Perry Mason on the 1970s courtroom drama, started the collection and decided to bring the garden to Fiji in 1977, as the climate was perfect for its cultivation, according to garden guide Makelesi Navitio.
Now, the 50 acres of garden is maintained by 15 gardeners, and you find some of the most beautiful and exotic orchids here, along with hundreds of other flora.
This garden plays home to a the most diverse collection of orchids, including the spider orchid, the only orchid native to Fiji; the venda “sun-loving” orchid which always faces the sun; and the Cattleya, the “queen of the orchids.”
Navitio said couples can get married in the garden’s ivy bure.
Adults $6.17, children $3.09, families $15.44
From the gardens, head to the hot springs and mud pool, also located in the Sabeto valley.
It is said a cripple man once bathed in the mud pool, and when he emerged, he could walk again, according to the stories circulated by the Fijians. Since then, people have been flocking to the Sabeto mud pool for its therapeutic properties. Perhaps the pool’s proximity to a hot spring caused by underground thermal activity is what makes it so rich in nutrients.
The source of the spring is 158 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a local guide, Titilia Nai, that’s hot enough to boil an egg.
Two pools formed by the source are about 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit each.
Lastly, a mud pool, much cooler than the others, sits at the end of a dirt walkway. Visitors bathe in the mud pool for just a few minutes. Some portions of the pool are unexpectedly just as hot as the other two hot pools so you want to watch where you step.
Next, visitors exit the pool and apply mud from the edges of the pool to cover their bodies. Some of the local children also help scrape mud from the bottom of the pool to hand it to the visitors.
You’re supposed to let the mud bake onto you for a couple minutes before returning to the mud pool to rinse if off. Then, you can take a dip in the hot spring for a final cleanse. Chances are you’ll feel drowsy after the entire bathing ritual, Lutu says.
Zip Fiji Tour
If you’re looking for something more thrilling, try a Zipline tour of the rainforest from the treetops.
Photo courtesy of Josh Tyquiengco
Eight “ziplines,” suspended from eight treetop platforms and two ground platforms provide an exhilarating flying sensation through the Fijian rainforest, and provide a view that’s otherwise hard to reach.
It’s completely safe. Visitors are harnessed just as one would be harnessed for rock climbing. Pulleys and two stainless steel cables that “zip” people from treetop to treetop are, at their weakest point, strong enough to support the weight of a vehicle, according to Maikeli Ratu, one of the guides at the Zipline.
Dan Metcalfe, the Fiji Zipline’s manager, says the youngest zipper to ride Fiji‘s tour in the harness himself has been a 2-year-old, and the oldest was an 85-year-old woman. Both were eager to go for a second round, Metcalfe says.
The jungle is so lush and some cable lines so long, most of the time, you can’t even see your destination, Ratu said; You just trust the stainless steel cables to whiz you to the next platform safely.
The shortest line is 15 meters and the longest runs 210 meters across a river. The trick is to just fly feet-first and let the trees sweep by you and the forest floor directly underneath.
Day trip from Port Denarau
There are several day cruises offered from Port Denarau. One popular day cruise is to the island of Savala.
It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the island, which is about 11 miles from Port Denarau. Savala is a small, one-acre island which consists of just beach and a few scattered coconut trees.
Relax on Savala’s shores by sunbathing- but remember to apply several layers of sunscreen, as Fiji receives ultraviolet rays three times more powerful than anywhere in the world.
Cool off by snorkeling above the most abundant varieties of soft coral.
“The restaurants are great and the snorkeling is fantastic,” Stanley says.
“The water is warm and very clear and the fish are colorful and abundant.”
According to Capt. Serevi Serekilevu of Storck Cruises, the islands are the “soft coral capital of the world,” and also has some of the best dive sites. Fiji is particularly known for its special shark dives with bull sharks, tiger sharks, white tip sharks and lemon sharks.
Day trips are usually around $51.45 to $77.18 per adult, with children at about half the price.
Dive with sharks
The Beqa Adventure Divers tour is an award-winning shark dive, in which divers can swim with up to eight different kinds of sharks including tiger and bull sharks. Also, divers can see about 400 varieties of tropical fish. The Coral Coast of Viti Levu also offers a plethora of other water activities including kayaking, jet skiing, whitewater rafting, game fishing, reef fishing, surfing and sailing.
The cost is $126.06 for shark dives
Attend a kava ceremony
The kava beverage made from the pepper plant is a Fijian favorite. It’s non-alcoholic but strong nonetheless. It takes the color of coffee, is tasteless, and leaves your tongue feeling numb afterward. It’s termed “the grog” by the locals, because it has the effect of a tranquilizer. Lutu says it’s common to see Fijians drinking kava outside their homes after a long day of work, just as one would see people at a bar in other countries.
Kava is also used as an offering to chief guests during ceremonies like weddings and funerals, or even as a way to settle disputes between chiefs of villages. For example, Lutu, a resident from the neighboring island, Vanua Levu, said even in the current era if she wanted to enter a Nadi village, she would have to first make an offering to the chief of the village to get permission to enter. Otherwise, she can expect the worse, she said. It doesn’t bode well to enter another village without getting the permission of its leader.
Most hotels perform kava ceremonies for guests at sunset generally by the poolside.
The custom is to sit around a bowl of kava, clapping three times after a guest takes a cup from the shared bowl and says, “Bula vinaka” in thanks. It’s also common for the locals to ask “high tide or low tide?” referring to the amount the guest wants poured into the cup.
Visit the Hindu temple in Nadi town
The Sri Siva Subhramaniya Swami Temple in Nadi town is the largest South Indian temple of its kind in the South Pacific.
Fiji natives are known as Fijians and speak the Fijian language, Lutu says, and of that, about 40 to 50 percent of the people in Fiji are of Fijian descent, while another 30 to 40 percent are Indian, which is why the local terms and language have been influenced by Hindi. However, there is a noticeable departure from the dialect spoken within the Indian subcontinent.
According to Lutu, Christianity is the islands’ main religion, but Islam and Hinduism follow immediately after that. The remainder are other religions, Lutu says.
When visiting the temple, don’t forget to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering the premises. Photography and smoking are strictly prohibited.
Guam may be where “America’s Day begins,” but according to Lutu, one of the Fijian islands, Tavueni, is split across the International Dateline — or at least, it once was.
Take a cruise to the “Garden Island” of Tavueni to put a foot on either side of the 180 degree Meridian line and be in two days at once. The line, which once split Tavueni island in two days, has now been bent to keep all of Fiji in a single time zone.
Catch a fire-walking show
There are two types of fire walkers in Fiji: one of Fijian descent who come from Beqa Island, and those who follow the Hindu religion and practice it as a religious rite.
The tribe from Beqa is said to have acquired their ability to casually walk across white-hot stones from an ancient god, while the Hindus’ piety is thought to help them obtain the necessary mental condition to perform the feat.
For both groups, there are strict rules and protocol that are applied in preparation and performance of walking across the fiery embers.
“Fiji was a great experience,” Stanley says.
“It’s a place you can go if you just want to relax, but at the same time if you’re looking to be active there is a lot you can do.”
To learn more
Visit these Web sites online to find out more about Fiji tours.