Ranked the world’s happiest country in Gallup International’s Annual Global End of Year Survey in 2017, Fiji offers a spirit-lifting experience like no other. Here are six reasons this idyllic destination in the South Pacific makes for an unforgettable vacation.
Life’s a beach
Blessed with soft, dazzling white sand and waters so clear they glow, Fiji’s beaches will make you feel like you have wandered into a dream. Start your exploration of these beaches at the Mamanuca Islands, a string of picture-perfect isles that are about an hour’s boat ride from the main Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.
Conquer some of the world’s most challenging waves at the left-hand reef break of Cloudbreak that regularly sees 3m swells. Or be immersed in a series of family-friendly activities on Malolo Lailai Island, a tranquil 2.4 sq km isle with beachfront resorts tucked among coconut trees and tropical gardens.
Snorkel at the sand bar off Malolo Lailai Island, which boasts a beautiful coral reef teeming with technicolour tropical fish. Those who wish to do more than read a book on the beach can also join the Lomani Island Resort’s dolphin safari, village tour or sunset cruise. Travelling with kids? Parents can keep the young ones occupied at the Plantation Island Resort’s Coconut Kids Club, which offers activities ranging from traditional handicraft workshops to beach games and sundown movies.
To soak in your surroundings at a slower pace, relax on Cloud 9…literally. Just a 15-minute boat ride from Cloudbreak, Cloud 9 is a floating two-tier bar that serves wood-fired pizzas, delicious cocktails and laidback tunes in the middle of the ocean. Lounge on the bar’s day beds or bring your snorkelling gear to mingle with exotic and colourful fish underwater.
You have come to the right place if an adventurous streak runs through your veins.
Experience an adventure of a lifetime on a jet-ski tour around Fiji. There are a number of tour options available, but movie buffs may want to join one that includes a high-speed ride to the uninhabited island of Monuriki, which was featured in Tom Hanks’ classic survival film Cast Away.
To see the lesser-known side of the archipelago, join a unique, pedal-powered eco trail known as Ecotrax. Learn about Fiji’s sugar cane history and cut through mangroves on rail-mounted electric bicycles, swim at a secluded beach and taste locally-grown fruits such as brown and green coconuts in this three-hour tour.
Adrenalin junkies can take it up a notch in a quad bike adventure that takes visitors up a mountain, past mud puddles and pine forests, and to the biggest Hindu temple in the South Pacific.
A feast for the senses
Beyond beautiful beaches and thrilling adventures, Fiji also boasts a wealth of fresh produce. Savour distinctive, local dishes like kokoda — raw mahi-mahi fish marinated in coconut cream, fresh lime juice and chilli. A friend describes this dish as “Ceviche, with a richer base”.
Another must-try dish is lovo. Steeped in Fijian culinary tradition, the dish consists of various meats and vegetables, including taro leaves filled with corned beef and coconut cream, wrapped in banana leaves. The bundle is then left to slow cook in an earthen oven for several hours.
And what’s a trip to Fiji without some kava? Known as the country’s national drink, kava is made from the powdered root of a pepper tree and mixed with water before the mixture is strained through a large wooden bowl called a tanoa. The earthy beverage is usually drunk from coconut shells at a Fijian ceremony, and accompanied by guitar playing and singing.
Capturing the “Bula Spirit”
There’s a reason that Fiji is known as the place where happiness finds you. Not only is it home to some of the planet’s most stunning landscapes, but it also immerses visitors in a warm and welcoming embrace that locals refer to as the “Bula Spirit”.
For an unhindered encounter with the “Bula Spirit”, join one of Fiji’s year-round festivals and rituals. There’s the annual Bula festival in July or August, which features music, dance, local arts and a parade bringing friendly locals and tourists together in a vibrant celebration of the island nation’s heritage and history.
Visitors are also often treated to a fire walking ceremony, which combines fire walking, singing, storytelling and dancing in a mesmerising performance that you won’t soon forget.
Happiness is on the house
Curious about how the friendly locals of Fiji live? Look no further than the picturesque village of Navala. Nestled deep in the grassy mountains on the Ba River, the 200-year-old village is home to just about 1,000 people who live in traditional bures or thatched huts built with local materials such as bamboo and timber.
This is the perfect time to learn about the Fijian way of life. Join a guided tour of the village, mingle with the locals and hear old stories about their beautifully preserved homes. You can also take a dip in the cool waters of a nearby river and participate in carefree activities such as coconut tree climbing. Should you get a chance to meet the village chief, be sure to present him with a small amount of kava as a gift.
Be at one with nature
Those hoping to reconnect with Mother Nature and disconnect from the stress of work and school are in for a treat. Home to six national parks, Fiji offers a welcome respite for those in search of natural scenery and wildlife.
Take a quick 30-minute drive from Nadi Airport, the international gateway to Fiji, to Koroyanitu National Park. Here you can go on long walks through native forests and grasslands, chase magnificent waterfalls, spot unique birdlife and book accommodation in a scenic lodge.
The Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park on the main island of Viti Levu makes for a sand-sational encounter with Mother Nature too. Open daily from 8am to 5pm, the park provides guided tours across its expanse of windswept coastal sand dunes. While here, be sure to visit old archaeological sites dating back to more than 2,600 years ago.