3 Days in Fiji: Where to Go and What to Eat in the South Pacific ParadiseBy Jenny Hewett
It’s not hard to fall in love with Fiji. From the moment you step off the plane to the megawatt smiles of serenading locals until your last snorkel among the dazzling lagoons and coral of the outer islands, Fiji feels like one big hug.
The South Pacific archipelago is best known for its white sand beaches, snorkeling, diving and surfing, but its main island is also a launchpad to authentic cultural experiences, jungle adventures and diverse cuisine that reflects its seaside setting and large Indian population. Fiji is a vast wonderland spread out over 333 islands, so many of its activities, such as day cruises and river safaris, are half- or full-day experiences.
Knowing how to divide your days into land and sea experiences is essential here, and you can easily do and see it all while adopting Fiji’s laid-back philosophy of “island time.” As they say in Fiji, “No hurry, no worry.”
As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Adventure in the Jungle
Fiji’s Coral Coast may sound like the quintessential South Pacific paradise: all golden beaches and fiery sunsets. And while that’s true, it’s also the ultimate destination for thrill-seekers. Whether you’re into jet boating, zip lining or cycling, you can choose your own half- or full-day adventure from a handful of tour operators within roughly an hour drive of tranquil Momi Bay.
What better way to wake up than with a whoosh? Fly 130 feet above the jungle on a zip line and rappelling tour with Zip Fiji in Momi Bay, which comprises 16 zip lines with vistas of the Mamanuca Islands and four rappels into the limestone Tau Caves.
If sitting back and letting someone else take the ropes is more your speed, head to Sigatoka River for a jet boat safari with Sigatoka River Safaris. See villagers farm crops and go about their daily lives as the custom-built boat zooms and twists up the river amid dramatic mountain scenery. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit a local village for a home-cooked lunch incorporating root vegetables and topped off with a kava ceremony led by the Ratu (Fijian tribal chief). A portion of the ticket price of the tour goes directly to helping the 18 villages that participate in the tour.
Or maybe you’d prefer to earn your meal and ride a “velocipede” on an abandoned sugarcane railway to unspoiled Vunabua Beach. Ecotrax mounts electric bike carriages onto the old railway, so you can pedal as little or as much as you like, passing local villages and mangroves and even stopping for cattle to cross. The ultimate refreshments — fresh coconut, fruit and a swim — await at Vunabua Beach.
If you’ve still got fuel in the tank (or like to rise early), head back to Momi Bay and charter a boat to Cloudbreak with Momi Surf. Boarders from all over the world make the pilgrimage every year to surf this world-renowned reef break, which is a short 15-minute boat ride from Momi Bay. It’s also worth checking out the eight other less-crowded breaks nearby, such as Namotu Lefts.
Sunsets don’t get any better than at Fish Bar in Momi Bay. This spot has one of the best infinity pools on the main island of Viti Levu, and day’s end is when it’s at its most beguiling. Arrive in time to see the evening conch-blowing and fire-lighting ritual on the edge of the infinity pool and begin working your way through the cocktail list, starting with a rum-based Fijian version of a mai tai followed by the vodka and passionfruit Momi Bay Martini.
Saturday: Discover Fiji’s Outer Islands
Beach clubs, floating bars and shimmering turquoise lagoons: Fiji’s outer islands were plucked from your wildest dreams. The Mamanuca group of islands, known as the Mamanucas, includes pristine isles such as Tokoriki Island and uninhabited Monuriki (where Tom Hanks filmed “Castaway” and parts of the “Survivor” series were filmed). From snorkeling with turtles to sailing to a sandbank in the middle of the Pacific, there are plenty of full- and half-day options that offer a taste of this paradise.
Get the lay of the land on a morning charter boat trip from Tokoriki Island to Monuriki, a tiny, 100-acre sliver with a craggy peak shaped like an inverted shark tooth. As well as being one of the few remaining habitats of the endangered Fijian crested iguana, this striking island is where the movie “Castaway” was filmed. Snorkel around the shoreline and then set off on a 10-minute walk around the island to try and spot crabs and the ever-elusive iguanas.
As lunchtime approaches, make your way to Malamala Beach Club for cocktails and kokoda (ceviche-style raw fish cured in lime and coconut milk). Occupying its own palm-fringed private island and surrounded by hypnotic seas in near-fluorescent blues and greens, this beach club serves up chill beats, bubbles, beers and beach-friendly bites, such as grilled lemongrass fish and sliders.
Another option for the morning is to anchor yourself at a floating bar in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At Seventh Heaven, an upscale pontoon floating in the Mamanucas, guests depart Port Denarau for six-hour sessions from 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. But Seventh Heaven can also arrange transfers from certain islands, as well as take bookings from guests traveling on private boats. Likewise, with its sundeck and daybeds, two-level Cloud 9 floats on Ro Ro Reef not far from Cloudbreak and serves up wood-fired Italian pizza, cold beers and cocktails.
For a day trip that involves all of the above, book a cruise on 78-foot Sabre with South Sea Sailing. The luxury catamaran departs Port Denarau at 9 a.m. and returns around 4.45 p.m., with a gourmet barbecue of pork belly and fish grilled up by the on-board chef, plus wine and other alcoholic beverages. You’ll sail to a sandbank, snorkel among the shallows and then chill in sun-loungers on the sandbar until the tide rises.
If you’re still hungry on your return back to the marina, pop into Indigo, an Indian and Asian fusion restaurant, to tuck into the giant claws of a masala mud crab and Indo-Fijian eats such as Nilgiri fish curry.
Sunday: Culture, Cuisine and Color
Start your morning with a niuccino (coffee with coconut milk) and house-baked pastry at farm-to-table Bulaccino in Nadi. The laid-back family-owned organic café was one of the first of its kind in Fiji and grows much of its produce on its 30-acre organic farm in a valley below in the Sleeping Giant in Nadi. Afterward, book a farm tour to see the bees that produce Bulaccino’s honey; visit its ducks, chickens and sheep; and learn about medicinal and seasonal plants.
You’ve probably already noticed that the mountainous landscape behind Nadi looks like a giant sleeping on its back with a full belly. After breakfast, it’s time for a closer inspection. Make your way to the tranquil sanctuary Garden of the Sleeping Giant to wander among its collection of 30 to 40 varieties of bursting Asian and Cattleya hybrid orchids that once belonged to late-American actor Raymond Burr. The boardwalk is shaded and winds through landscaped lawns, lily ponds and dense rainforest.
After rainforest bathing, it’s time to soak up some of Fiji’s feel-good natural therapies. Sabeto Hot Springs and Mud Pool is just a five-minute drive from the Sleeping Giant, and local therapists here will slather you in a natural mud wrap before you enjoy a mud pool and hot spring bath, then bliss-out with a traditional Fijian bobo massage.
Now that your muscles are all but melted, it’s time to reenergize with some local cuisine. Head to Tatavu Grill & Bar for a beach dining experience of freshly caught seafood, farm fresh vegetables from the hotel’s farm and cuts of meat grilled over the kitchen’s multilayered vertical grill.
Don’t miss a visit to nearby Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple to admire its bright, colorful, intricate architecture and carvings, and soak up some of the country’s Indo-Fijian culture. The archipelago is home to a significant Indian population, and this impressive structure is the largest temple in the Pacific and the Southern Hemisphere.
Next, make your way to Denarau Island to Denarau Golf & Racquet Club for an afternoon tee-off. Its front nine-hole course features 3,580 yards of par 3 to 5 holes amid lengthy fairways, bunkers and sloped greens, plus Heineken House Restaurant & Bar serving icy-cold beers, bar snacks and comfort food.
Head back to your hotel to freshen up before dinner on the waterfront at Sails Fiji. This fine dining restaurant overlooks the ocean and islands beyond Port Denarau marina and serves up polished fresh seafood eats, such as crab curry, seared tuna, and lobster and prawn ravioli. Ask for a table outside on the balcony to enjoy the sea breeze.