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Last week we featured our favourite Asian islands and now our tropical island reminiscences continue with the beautiful South Pacific islands of Fiji. Most visitors to Fiji head to the Yasawa islands which are easily accessible from the international airport at Nadi on the main island of Viti Levu. We were searching for somewhere a bit more authentically Fijian and less overrun with drunken backpackers, so headed east instead.
We loved Fiji for the ridiculously friendly locals (everyone has time for a warm smile and a hearty “Bula!”), chilled out Fiji-time, lush green hills, quiet beaches, amazing underwater life and the ubiquitous guitar and ukulele music.
Caqalai is our top pick for a Fijian island retreat, especially for those on a budget. This tiny island can be walked around in just 15 minutes and is blissfully tranquil. There is one backpacker resort on the island run by a neighbouring village with basic Fijian bures (thatched huts) and shared bathrooms. The facilities are very simple but the feeling of being a castaway on your own island makes it worth it. When we visited there were anywhere from two to ten other tourists on the island so it’s easy to find a stretch of sand to yourself.
The staff are wonderfully friendly – on arrival and departure you’ll be serenaded with guitars and every evening you are treated to Fijian songs. The guys were enthusiastic about jamming with Simon and it’s all very laidback.
Things To Do
Walk around the island
We were enchanted by the idea of staying on such a small island, and walking around the island really does just take 15 minutes at low tide. The side of the island furthest from the resort has even quieter beaches.
Snorkelling is accessible right from the beach and is the best I’ve ever come across. The pristine reef of hard and soft colourful coral is stunning, even without the myriad tropical fish you’ll see.
There is a dive centre on the island, although as Simon had an ear infection we didn’t try it out. When we were there it was run by an Irish woman who had got together with one of the villagers and settled down on this tiny island. When the quality of the snorkelling was so good I’m sure the diving must be amazing.
Every afternoon the local guys join the tourists for a game of volley ball. Watch out as the Fijians are very good.
Drinking Kava is a big deal in Fiji and on Caqalai you have the chance to drink it with the musicians every night, passing a coconut shell around in the traditional ceremony. It’s a mildly intoxicating drink made from the root of a pepper plant. The locals love it but we never got into it. Simon did his best but ended up with a numb tongue and a brick-like head the next morning.
When To Go
May to October is the dry season with gorgeous sunny days.
How To Get There
You need to arrange with the resort to pick you up by boat from Ovalau (see below) or the east coast of the mainland. The trip from Ovalau through beautiful clear blue ocean was stunning.
Where To Stay
Caqalai Island Resort is the only place to stay and cost 60 Fiji dollars (US$30) per person in a bure (the price may have gone up). All meals are included and for us this was the only thing that let the island down. As vegetarians bland meals of boiled carrots, beans and taro got boring very quickly.
Ovalau is a volcanic island east of Viti Levu, part of the Lomaiviti island group. This isn’t the place to come for the typical South Pacific paradise beaches: it’s a chance to get off the beaten track and see authentic Fijian life. There were very few tourists on the island when we visited and only a few places to stay and eat.
Things To Do
Wander around Levuka
We stayed in Levuka, a picturesque colonial town with clapboard buildings straight out of the Wild West, overlooking the sea and backed by lush green hills. It was the first capital of Fiji at the end of the nineteenth century, but is now very sleepy.
We took a tour with Epi to visit Lovoni, his village in the centre of the island’s volcanic crater in a lush green valley. We were supposed to hike up the steep hill to get there, but due to childcare issues Epi brought along his two small children. After 15 minutes of crying and falling over is was obvious the kids wouldn’t be able to manage the walk, so we rearranged things to take a taxi up to the village.
Despite the chaotic start, the tour around the traditional village was really interesting and Epi certainly is a storyteller, recounting the history of the island over a traditional lunch at his house. He told us stories of cannibals, colonies and how his tribe held out against the invaders until they were tricked by the whites and became the only tribe in Fiji to be sold into slavery.
There’s actually lots of other things to do on the island but we surrendered to the gentle pace and didn’t do much but wander. There aren’t any good beaches but you can arrange diving or snorkelling trips and the paradise island of Caqalai (see above) is only an hour boat ride away.
When To Go
May to October is the dry season.
How To Get There
You can fly but we took the 5 hour bus-ferry-bus service from Suva, which was hot, cramped and bumpy, but cheap.
Where To Stay
The classic place to stay is the Royal Hotel: a charming colonial building dating back to the early 19th century. Unfortunately the service is appallingly disorganised and our room was full of mosquitoes so we moved to the New Mavida Lodge. For F$80 (US$40) we got a shiny new room and wonderful service from the friendly ladies who run the place. Our favourite places to eat were Levuka Pizza & Whales Tale.
Taveuni is another off the beaten track Fijian island to the north east of Viti Levu, and is the third largest island in the country. It is nicknamed the Garden Island and the rugged hills are luscious green and covered in tropical flowers. It’s another very sleepy place with only a few traditional villages and a scattering of hotels. No shops, no nightclubs, no crowds. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, visiting waterfalls and exploring the underwater world.
Power at our simple hotel was limited to 6-9pm in the evening, and you can’t just turn up at the restaurants: you have to book a table and tell them what you are eating in advance. Like everywhere else in Fiji, things get very quiet on Sundays.
Things To Do
Lavena Coastal Walk
Explore the raw coastal scenery on this half day walk from the tiny village of Lavena to a beautiful waterfall which you can swim in. You could visit on a day trip but as public transport is sporadic we stayed the night at Lavena Lodge in the village: we were the only visitors. The journey from Matei to Lavena took 1 hour 15 minutes along a very bumpy but scenic dirt road. Everyone tells you a different time of when to expect the bus, so go with the earliest time and be prepared to sit by the side of the road for quite a while.
Afternoon Tea at Audrey’s
Audrey is a lovely American woman who has been living on Taveuni for years. You can visit the verandah of her house overlooking the sea for a very chilled afternoon of coffee, gorgeous cake and homemade Kahlua (coffee liquor).
Hop Between Today and Tomorrow
The international date line runs through the island, or at least it did until they moved it to stop Fiji being in two different days. You can visit the original site and hop between today and tomorrow.
The Christian missionaries did a good job of converting the South Pacific islands and you’ll find churches everywhere. The Wairiki Mission (or Taveuni Catholic Church) is beautiful in a stunning location on the edge of a coconut plantation.
Dive the Rainbow Reef
You can take a boat trip from the island to dive the famous Rainbow Reef but we chose to stay at Dolphin Bay Diver’s Retreat, a resort technically located on Vanua Levu, but only reachable by boat from Taveuni. A handful of bures are nestled in tropical garden right on a secluded, sandy cove. It’s very peaceful, the food is excellent and there’s great snorkelling from the beach. The dive operation is professional and our dive out on the reef was amazing: the colourful soft coral is stunning and there’s masses of fish to see.
When To Go
May to October is the dry season, although it’s a rainy island all year round so be prepared to get wet. We found it sunnier on the other side of the Somosomo Straight at Dolphin Bay.
How To Get There
We flew from Nadi and back to Suva (to continue on to Ovalau). The flight is on a tiny 18 seat plane, where the passengers have to be weighed as well as your luggage! Things are very relaxed here: no one asks for your ID at check in and on arrival in tiny Matei airport you help yourself to your luggage from the trolley. This is stress-free air travel.
Where To Stay
We stayed at Bibi’s Hideaway, one of the few budget options, about a 15 minute walk from Matei airport. Our bure cost F$90 (US$45) and had a large window overlooking the tropical garden, hammocks to chill in and a very friendly family runs the place. On the other side of the island we stayed at the overpriced but nice Garden Island Resort at Waiyevo.
The third and final part of Our Favourite Tropical Islands explores our favourite places in the Cook Islands.
We are on the look out for amazing tropical islands like these in Latin America, so if you have any suggestions please leave a comment.
Leleuvia Island Resort was lovely when I visited in June 2012. It’s a tiny island with just one resort and friendly staff. Extremely peaceful and definitely a better choice than a drink fuelled party island full of other tourists. It’s similar to the island you guys stayed at, you can walk around the whole island in just 20 minutes. And, if I remember correctly, not too far away from Ovalau either. I loved all the Kava, I think I was the only one from my group who did though lol.
I found your website because I’m in the process of planning my RTW trip, thanks for all the useful advice on here :-) Happy travelling!
I’ve been to Fiji once and it is such a beautiful destination.
Fiji was such an awesome place to visit! I wish I had had more time to explore all of its islands. Gorgeous pics!!!
We still have so much more we’d like to explore there too.
I’ve never been to Fiji, though I would love to go. Didn’t know that Fiji used to have the date line, jumping from today to tomorrow is a pretty cool thing to say. Fiji looks like a supreme place to relax!
Yeah, it’s really weird crossing the date line – we gained an entire day! Fiji is definitely a great place to relax, although more expensive than Asia.
Sounds AMAZING!! I can’t wait to visit Fiji next year! :)
Nice! FIJI is beautiful and if you did’t put label, it could have been one of the many here. :) I’m definitely and ocean girl and would love to visit other oceans in the world!
Btw, I love the way you present your posts. Easy to read, useful, and informative. Cheers!
Thanks Lilliane. Glad to know we can find similarly gorgeous islands in the Phillipines, and probably a lot cheaper. It’s on our list!