Difference between revisions of "Fiji"
Revision as of 09:28, 23 December 2012
Fiji (sometimes called the Fiji Islands),  is a Melanesian country in the South Pacific Ocean. It lies about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand and consists of an archipelago that includes 332 islands, a handful of which make up most of the land area, and approximately 110 of which are inhabited.
Fiji straddles the 180 degree longitude line (which crosses land on a remote tip of Vanua Levu and again near the centre of Taveuni). The international date line is configured to pass east of all of Fiji, placing it all in one time zone and "ahead" of most of the rest of the world.
Fiji is the product of volcanic mountains and warm tropical waters. Its majestic and ever-varied coral reefs today draw tourists from around the world, but were the nightmare of European mariners until well into the 19th century. As a result, Fijians have retained their land and often much of the noncommercial, sharing attitude of people who live in vast extended families with direct access to natural resources. When it came, European involvement and cession to Britain was marked by the conversion to Christianity, the cessation of brutal tribal warfare and cannibalism, and the immigration of a large number of indentured Indian laborers, who now represent nearly half of the population, as well as smaller numbers of Europeans and Asians. Today, Fiji is a land of tropical rainforests, coconut plantations, fine beaches, fire-cleared hills. For the casual tourist it is blessedly free of evils such as malaria, landmines, or terrorism that attend many similarly lovely places in the world.
Internal political events in the recent past resulted in a reduction in tourism. The Fiji tourism industry has responded by lowering prices and increasing promotion of the main resort areas that are far removed from the politics in and around the capital, Suva.
Tropical marine; only slight seasonal temperature variation. Tropical cyclonic storms (The South Pacific version of Hurricanes) can occur from November to April. Temperature sensitive visitors may wish to visit during the Southern Hemisphere winter.
Mostly mountains of volcanic origin
In most of the interior of the main islands there are some roads and always trails, and an amazing number of remote villages. Buses and open or canvas topped "carriers" traverse the mountains of Vanua Levu several times a day and the interior mountains of Viti Levu many times weekly (The Tacirua Transport "hydromaster" bus which leaves from Nausori in the morning and runs past the hydroelectric resevoir and mount Tomanivi to arrive the same day in Vatoukola and Tavua is the best and the scenery is truly spectacular in good weather!)
Fiji became independent in 1970, after nearly a century as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987, caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community (descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century). The coups and a 1990 constitution that cemented native Melanesian control of Fiji, led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. A new constitution enacted in 1997 was more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but a civilian-led coup in May 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections held in August 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. There was a further military coup in 2006, led by Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama.
Fiji can be divided into nine groups of islands:
Citizens of the following countries and territories are granted visitor permits (valid for 4 months) on arrival in Fiji and do not need to obtain a visa in advance: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Citizens of the Cook Islands, Niue, New Caledonia and Taiwan also do not need visas.
All other foreign nationals who are not from the countries and territories listed above need to obtain a visa in advance at a Fiji embassy, high commission or consulate. An application for a single entry visa costs 96 Fiji dollars and a multiple entry visa 190 Fiji dollars. Applicants need to produce the following as part of the visa application process:
Visa applications can be lodged at Fiji overseas missions in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. Click here for the list of Fiji overseas missions on the Fiji Government Online Portal.
More information about the visa requirements for Fiji are available at the website of the Department of Immigration.
Nadi International Airport is Fiji's main international airport. Suva airport also has some international flights. Air Pacific (Fiji majority owned) flies to Fiji directly from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Honolulu International Airport (HNL) in the USA, and from Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), as well as many other locations. Korean Air has three flights weekly between Nadi and Seoul. Air New Zealand operates flights to Nadi from Auckland, Christchurch, and seasonally from Wellington.
Travel times from Australian cities vary. From Brisbane the flight to Fiji is approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes, from Sydney 4 hours and 30 mins and from Melbourne it is 5 hours and 30 minutes.
You can enter Fiji by boat from Australia through the Australia shore connection.
Fiji has a variety of public transport options, including buses, "share taxis", and private taxis. Rates are very cheap: F$1-2 from Colo-i-Suva to Suva bus station by bus, F$17 from Nadi bus station to Suva by share-taxi (share-taxi's are usually white mini-vans that congregate together and set-off when they reach their capacity of 6-8), or approximately F$80 from Suva airport to Sigatoka by private taxi. On the main road circling Viti Levu buses run every half hour and taxis are a substantial proportion of traffic, while on western Taveuni buses make only a few runs per day and very little traffic is present. If taxi has a meter, ask the driver to switch it on - the ride will be lot cheaper than with negotiated price.
The current going rate from resorts on Nadi beach to Nadi downtown is $8 per passenger, and $12 to the airport -- you should be able negotiate this price reasonably easily.
While there is rarely much traffic present, most vehicles run on diesel and pollution on major roadways can be severe. A national speed limit of 80 km/h is usually observed; village speed limits are all but entirely ignored, but drivers slow down for several speed humps distributed within each village. Seat belts are advised on taxis but are rarely evident and apparently never used.
Road travel tends to be more dangerous than many people are used to, and many embassies advise their citizens to avoid pretty much any form of road travel. Pot holes, washouts and dilapidated bridges are commonplace. Buses are the best, unless you are truly comfortable and capable of renting and driving a car on your own - most people are not even if they think they are. Avoid travel at night, especially outside of urban areas. Another option is hop-on, hop-off bus passes which allow you to tour Fiji at your own pace for a fixed price. These are a more expensive way to travel but feature inclusions like tours and activities. However, some like Feejee Experience  are limited to Viti Levu and trips to Beachcomber island and don't include the more remote islands.
South Sea Cruises  operates daily inter-island ferry transfers throughout Fiji's Mamanuca Island resorts. Awesome Adventures Fiji  provides daily ferry transfers out to the remote Yasawa Islands. Inter-island ferries are reasonably priced and the larger ones (especially those large enough to accommodate cars and trucks) have a good safety record, though they may be overcrowded at the beginning and end of school holiday periods. Ferries offer two or three classes (depending on the ship). Economy (F$65 pp on Suva-Taveuni route) is the cheapest option, but requires you to sleep on chairs or on the floor. Sleeper (F$104 pp, Suva-Taveuni) is dormitory-like accomodation. Cabin (F$135 pp on MV Suiliven, F$95 pp on SOFE, Suva-Taveuni) is not necessarily the best option, as the space is very limited, cabin can be shared (4 beds) and can have hords of bugs.
Do not attempt to take a car to another island unless you own it or have made clear special arrangements - most rental companies forbid it and they do prosecute tourists who violate this clause in the contract.
Bicycles are becoming more popular in Fiji in recent years for locals and tourists alike. In many ways, Fiji is an ideal place for a rugged bike tour. However, the motor vehicle traffic can be intimidating on well-travelled roads, and there is a lack of accommodation along secondary roads. Cycling is a great way to see Fiji but make sure you carry all your own spares and supplies as bike shops are scarce. It is a good idea to carry plenty of water, a camelbak is great, as it is very hot and humid almost year round.
The main Road around the largest island, Viti Levu, is sealed except for a 40 km section on the eastern side. A sturdy road, touring or hybrid bike is suitable.
Bike rental can be quite expensive comparing to other options: on Taveuni bike for full day costs F$25. With two persons the cost is similiar to renting a car.
English is an official language and is the language of instruction in education, and is spoken by most in Nadi, Suva and any other major tourist area. On a few of the less touristy islands, English may be spoken with some difficulty. Fijian or Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) is spoken by most adults and children, and learning even a few key phrases will help you gain the respect of the locals.
Words and Phrases
Inflation in Fiji is relatively high - it has increased an estimated 12% per year recently. Expect to pay prices similar to those of Australia in tourist regions.
In Fiji the currency is the Fijian Dollar. Bills include: $2, $5, $10, $20, $50. Coins include: 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1$.
Be aware when going to local markets, often some of the stall holders family will be outside on the lookout for travellers, and will escort the travellers inside using the guise of "getting the best bargains". Once inside they, and their relatives who own the stall, can become quite aggressive if the traveller does not buy their products. Be firm, tell them that you will report them to the authorities if they do not leave you alone. They will quickly change their tone and back down.
Locals eat in the cafes and small restaurants that are found in every town. The food is wholesome, cheap, and highly variable in quality. What you order from the menu is often better than what comes out of the glass display case, except for places that sell a lot of food quickly and keep putting it out fresh. Fish and Chips are usually a safe bet, and are widely available. Many cafes serve Chinese food of some sort along with Indian and sometimes Fiji-style fish , lamb, or pork dishes. Near the airport, a greater variety of food is found, including Japanese and Korean.
Local delicacies include fresh tropical fruits (they can be found at the farmer's market in any town when in season), paulsami (baked taro leaves marinated in lemon juice and coconut milk often with some meat or fish filling and a bit of onion or garlic), kokoda (fish or other seafood marinated in lemon and coconut milk), and anything cooked in a lovo or pit oven. Vutu is a local variety of nut mainly grown on the island of Beqa, but also available in Suva and other towns around January and February. A great deal of food is cooked in coconut milk, take note that everyone reacts different to increased fat levels in their diet.
Take care when ordering chicken meals. Very often the chicken will come cut into one-bite pieces, but with all the bones left, so it's quite easy to choke on sharp bone.. When uncertain, always ask for boneless chicken meal.
A customary dish in Fiji includes a starch, relishes and drink. Starches common in Fijian meals include taro, yams, sweet potatoes, or manioc but can include breadfruit, bananas, and nuts. The relishes include meat, fish, seafood, and vegetables. Drinks include coconut milk but water is most prevalent.
A very popular drink in Fiji is yaqona ("yang-go-na"), also known as "kava " and sometimes referred to as "grog" by locals. Kava is a peppery, earthy tasting drink made from the root of the pepper plant (piper methysticum). Its effects include a numbed tongue and lips (usually lasting only about 5-10 minutes) and relaxed muscles. Kava is mildly intoxicating, especially when consumed in large quantities or on a regular basis and one should avoid taxi and other drivers who have recently partaken.
Kava drinking in Fiji became popular during the fall of cannibalism, and originated as a way to resolve conflict and facilitate peaceful negotiations between villages. It should not be consumed alongside alcohol.
Most Fiji travel agents will take a 'deposit' along with your booking, which is a commission usually between 15-20%. Since this is an up-front payment, it is often beneficial to only book one night initially, and then you may be able to negotiate a lesser rate for subsequent nights (if space is available).
Many smaller and simpler accommodations have "local rates" and can give discounts that are simply huge if you can book a room in person (or have a local do it for you) and give a legitimate local address and phone number. In the Suva area, the Raffles Tradewinds is nice and quiet and about a dollar by frequently running buses from central down town. Sometimes upon arrival at the airport in Nadi, you can stop at the Raffles Gateway across from the airport entrance and book a room at the Tradewinds at a good local rate if business is slow.
Suva has become a desirable destination for conventions, meetings and events. With so many exciting off-site activities so close to the hotel, options for a unique and rewarding event are endless.
Nadi is the hub of tourism for the Fiji Islands. You can get all the resources you need to explore your lodging options, hotels and resorts , activities and trips and tours. Nadi is a thriving community with many things to explore and experience. There is also a number of local activities and places to see when you are in Nadi as well.
Lautoka is Fiji's second largest city. The real charm of this dry western side of the island is the mountain ranges inland from Nadi and Lautoka. Koroyanitu National Park offers hiker overnight adventure through the semi-rainforest,waterfalls and small villages. Tours to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant are also very popular for the different ornamental orchids together with forest walks through botanical wonders.
Most crime takes place in Suva and Nadi away from the resort areas. The best advice is to stick to hotel grounds after dark, and to use extreme caution in Suva, Nadi and other urbanised areas after nightfall. Travelers have been victims of violent crime, particularly in Suva. Travelers have reported the regularity of petty robberies, muggings, and also home-invasions/rape, etc. You will notice the predominance of bars on most peoples' homes. Economic and ethnic strife has led to a low-level hum of violent crime. Some resorts and hotels have more extensive security measures than others which should be taken into account.
Muggings are often carried out by large groups of men so being in a group won't necessarily be a deterrent. Police forces sometimes have difficulties responding to crime, potentially for reasons as mundane as being unable to pay for petrol.
Fijian culture encourages sharing and sometimes small things like shoes will be "borrowed". Often by speaking with the village chief it can be arranged to get things returned.
Also, be aware that homosexual sex may be a crime in Fiji. While Fiji claims to welcome gay travelers, there has been a recent case where a visitor to the country was initially jailed for 2 years for paying a local for homosexual sex. He was later freed on appeal.
Fiji is still run by a military government, following a coup in December 2006. Although its effect has not been prominent in the resort areas of Nadi, it has led to economic decline, and a decrease in the rule of law. Journalists may be blacklisted for political reasons. Those whose employment involves reporting controversial political activities should take extra care to ensure that their visas are in order before visiting Fiji.
Fiji is relatively free of disease compared to most of the tropics. Avoid mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever and even elephantiasis by covering up thoroughly or using repellents while outdoors at dawn or dusk. Local water is generally safe, though filtering or boiling is advisable when unsure. Urban tap water is treated and nearly always safe. When exceptions occasionally arise, there are public warnings or radio and print media warnings. Contaminated food is uncommon, though on occasion, mature reef fish can contain mild neurotoxins they accumulate in their bodies from freshwater algaes that wash into the ocean. The effects of such "fish-poisoning" are usually intense for only a day or two, but tingling lips and unusual sensitivities to hot and cold can linger for a long time.
Drownings are common, and automobile and other motor vehicle accidents (often involving animals or pedestrians) are very common. Local emergency medical care is very good on the basics in urban areas. Expect long waits in government-run clinics and hospitals. Treatment for serious conditions often requires an evacuation to New Zealand or Australia. Even the most basic medical care is usually not available outside of urban areas.
Fiji, like most of the South Pacific, can have intense solar radiation that can cause severe skin-burns in a short amount of time. Be sure to use hats, sunglasses and liberal amounts of high-SPF value sunblock on ALL exposed skin (including ears, noses and tops-of-feet) when out in the sun. On top of that tropical boils are a common inconvenience in Fiji, this can be avoided by giving those sweaty sections of the body a soapy scrub more than once a day.
Fiji, like many Pacific Island states, has a strong Christian moral society; having been colonised and converted to Christianity by missionaries during the 19th century. Do not be surprised if shops and other businesses are closed on Sunday. The Sabbath starts at 6PM the day before, and some businesses celebrate the Sabbath on a Saturday instead of a Sunday. Many Indians are Hindu or Muslim.
Also, dress modestly and appropriately. While Fiji is a tropical country, beach-wear should be confined to the beach. Take your cues from the locals as to what they consider appropriate dress for the occasion. When visiting towns and villages, you should be sure to cover your shoulders and wear shorts or sulus (sarongs) that cover your knees (both genders). This is especially true for visiting a church, although locals will often lend you a sulu for a church visit.
Public phones are numerous and usually easy to find (look around shops). All phones are prepaid - you must first purchase scrape-off code card (F$5, F$10 or more nominals). Calling is done by calling card issuer center, entering the code (found on the card) and entering the destination number. Foreign call to Europe is approx. F$1 per minute.