The first to a special three-part series of features on FIJI…
“Bula! Bula! Bula!” A four-letter word that you’ll hear splattered all over the exquisite island nation of Fiji. Locals and tourists alike use this word when they greet others. What does it mean you ask?
Pronounced as ‘boo-lah’, it translates to “life”. A shortened version of “Ni sa bula Vinaka”, which means “wishing you happiness and good health”. If you’re inspired to head to Fiji after this article, you’ll probably hear this for the first-time aboard Fiji Airways, the national carrier of Fiji. You could simply respond with “Bula” and you’ll probably notice your greeter’s smile become wider.
Made up of 333 islands, most Fijians live on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The capital, Suva, is located on Viti Levu. All international flights land at the tourist town of Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”) which is a hub for Fiji Airways and a regional hub for South Pacific islands.
Known officially as the Republic of Fiji, you’ll meet some of the friendliest people on this quintessential South Pacific paradise. Surrounded by turquoise clear waters, a constant cool ocean breeze and sunsets that illuminate the sky purple, you might understand why some people say heaven is right here on earth.
Modern-day Fiji’s mixed ethnicity contributes to a rich culture filled with ceremonies such as the drinking of Yaqona (kava). Yaqona is the national drink of Fiji and is made from the pounded roots of the pepper plant (piper methysticum). Though it has an earthy, bitter taste and resembles mud water, an elaborate ceremony is performed each time it is drunk. Watch the video below to learn more.
Ceremonies are the focal point of practicing traditional arts such as the manufacture of masi (tapa cloth), mat weaving, wood carving, and drua (canoe) making. The drua is regarded as sacred as only aristocrats could own them which were mainly used as warships in naval battles and transporting warriors for raids.
Many will be surprised to find a large number of Indians in Fiji, who make up about 40% of the republic. Indo-Fijians are citizens of Fiji who descended from indentured laborers to work on sugar cane plantations. Traditional Hindu marriage ceremonies are practiced, as are customs such as fire walking and celebrating Diwali.
Since Fiji is part of the great Pacific Ocean, there is an abundance of fresh and healthy seafood. Filled with vitamins, antioxidants and a powerhouse of lean protein, Kokoda (pronounced as ‘ko-kohn-da’), is regarded as Fiji’s national dish. This silky smooth and delectable dish is made from snapper fillet (replaceable with Mahi Mahi fish), cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, red onions, white vinegar, lemon juice, salt, black pepper and coconut milk which balances acidity and provides for an exquisite taste.
Taro has been a staple in traditional Fijain cuisine for centuries. Together with other root vegetables such as cassava, it’s grown in many parts of the islands. Made from taro leaves and simply cooked or stewed with coconut milk, Rourou is another famous dish that is deemed as pure comfort food.
Rugby is the main sports Fijians love to watch and play. Giving birth to the Flying Fijians, who have certainly seen better days (we hear they’re training really hard for the upcoming Rugby Sevens), almost the entire nation cheer their heroes on whenever they play. Rugby pitches are erected in many towns with foreign teams coming from Korea, New Zealand and Australia to train.
Authentic sports such as outrigger canoeing are an integral part of the unique identity of the pacific people. Grown into a strong and competitive sport, it’s also part of the South Pacific games. If you’d like to have a go at outrigger canoeing and at the same time snorkel or dive, consider visiting The Great Astrolabe Reef; one of the largest barrier reefs in the world.
If you’re a pro surfer, outwitting and conquering Cloudbreak is probably high on your bucket list. For the benefit of the non-surfer, Cloudbreak is a very challenging wave that’s constantly been voted as the ‘Top 10 best/most challenging waves in the World’. It forms just three miles south of Namotu Island.
Like the author, if you are the kind who looks for an element of thrill and adventure in your holiday, then these places should be on your to-do list.
Offering giant swings, low and high rope courses, abseiling and a zipline, Kila Eco-Adventure Park is located in a lush rainforest and takes up a whopping 427 acres. Ideal for team building and personal development, visitors are secured to safety lines and are guided by internationally qualified instructors whose first priority is your safety. Through their other prerogative, one is bound to have an exhilarating time here as heard by the screams and shouts of glee.
If you can’t stomach the thought of jumping from heights, fret not. Kila Eco-Adventure Park also offer Eco Walks. Hiking a 10-km trail, your guide will bring you through jungle paths and waterfalls. Reaching Fiji’s only linear botanical gardens, you’ll learn about the many varieties of tropical plants and flowers that live there.
Once used as a railway for carts carrying sugar from the warehouse to towns, Ecotrax Fiji has come up with an ingenious way for tourists to discover a part of Fiji. Sitting on a modified electric bicycle carriage mounted onto the railway, all you’ll need to do is gently paddle. Your guide will take you on a cruise to an ‘untouched’ destination.
The railway track goes over river crossings, through mangrove swamps and a rainforest. Houses on the left and right, your carriage goes between villages. As your entourage of carriages slow down, small children run out of their homes towards you. Jogging alongside, they’ll extend their little palms for a ‘low-five’; all the while greeting you with the now-all-to familiar ‘Bula!’. As your journey continues, you’ll come across cows and horses lazily grazing on open plains.
By now, the gorgeous ocean would be visible on the left and the desire to be somewhat like the cows would have encroached your mind. As though the guide is able to read your mind, the carriages signal each other to stop. You’ve reached. A beach with soft white sand and no visible homes or resorts, you understand why its called ‘unspoiled’. With an hour to spend bathing in the clear waters or sitting on the beach with a coconut that’s served by the local villagers as part of your experience, you wouldn’t want to leave.
Voted as the winner of Fiji’s Excellence in Tourism Awards in 2018 (barely a year after starting operations, this is one adventure you should go on.
Any intrepid traveller knows that the key to a great holiday lies in their interaction and bonding with the local community. Sigatoka River Safari understands just that and they bring you on a journey that leads to authentic Fijian villages. Here, you’ll get a glimpse of the “real-deal” and it’s almost as though time stands still for this part of the world. Pronounced ‘Singa-toka’, this tour company lets you choose between an off-road cave or river experience.
Sitting in a windowless 4×4 Land Rover, your group is taken through the hills of the Sigatoka Valley where you’ll momentarily stop on a part of the scenic highland. At this picturesque spot, you’ll get to see unprecedented views of the valley interior. Continuing on, your friendly and picture-accommodating guides will share with you stories about the tribal wars that happened there. Reaching your village destination, you’re warmly welcomed and ushered to the village Chief’s bure (traditional Fijian house). In a seated ceremony (known as sevusevu) that is held dear and sacred to Fijians, you’ll partake in drinking and learning about yaqona (kava). Only after receiving the Chief’s permission and blessings, will your group be brought to a naturally formed limestone cave. Naihehe Cave was once a fortress home to a cannibal tribe and it’s here that you can learn from your guide on Fiji’s cannibalic past.
Opting for the water experience, you’ll go on a scenic 17-km boat journey along the Sigatoka River. Lined along the river banks, you can’t help but find yourself waving quite a bit to the locals. The valley and river are also referred to as the ‘salad-bowl’ of Fiji as it’s a source of fresh-water mussels, fish, prawns, eels, and water. Whilst a different village from the river safari, the sevusevu is still commemorated to honour the coming together of guests and their hosts.
Port Denarau Marina:
What’s an island in the ocean without its water activities. Port Denarau Marina is THE gateway to some of the best snorkeling, diving and surfing spots, just to name a few. Ships, yachts, catamarans, and fast-boats bring thousands of visitors to islands and cruises every day. This is also where the all-too-famous and award-winning Fiji Day Cruises start. Companies such as Captain Cook Cruises, Blue Lagoon Cruises, and South Sea Cruises offer a plethora of full and half-day tours and resort connections.
Ever wondered what makes an outstanding profile or display pic? One of the favourites of Instagram-loving Millenials and groups of friends is Malamala Beach Club. Located on Malamala Island which forms a perfect circle, the water surrounding it is so clear that even crystals would be able to be seen (pun intended). Dubbed as the World’s first beach club on its very own island, visitors would feel like jumping into the waters immediately upon docking. If you have the cash-to-splash, arrive in style after a scenic helicopter flight out.
Day-passes allow visitors to frolic in the fine ivory-coloured sands of the beach, go snorkeling or kayak in the surrounding waters. Many resorts and hotels around the world claim to offer an ‘infinity pool’. Until one gets to experience Malamala’s, their definition may remain distorted. A popular wedding spot that caters up to 400 people, visitors are able to pre-book their poolside cabanas where personalised and friendly service staff are on hand for your food and beverage orders.
The Yasawa and Mamanuca Groups are each an archipelago of islands, some of which are internationally acclaimed. Hollywood productions such ‘Cast Away’ featuring Tom Hanks and reality TV giant ‘Survivor’ have routinely filmed on these islands.
Ready to book a flight and pack your bags? Go for it! But wait…where are you going to stay? The third part of this special-series will cover some resorts quintessential to your ultimate Fiji experience- whether you’re going as a family, couple or solo-traveller. We’ll also explore some other islands.
Loved what you read? Stay tuned to our series of features on Fiji which will be made available online and in Issue 91 of our magazine.