Difference between revisions of "Fiji"
Revision as of 02:57, 23 November 2007
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 center of Taveuni), so the international date line jogs east, placing Fiji 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 January.
Mostly mountains of volcanic origin
Most of the interior of the main islands is trackless wilderness, though there are some roads and trails, and an amazing number of remote villages. Buses and open or canvas topped "carriers" traverse the mountanins 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 specatacular 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.
A further military coup in 2006, led by Commodore Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, has again thrown the political situation into turmoil.
Nadi International Airport is Fiji's main international airport. Suva airport also has some international flights. Air New Zealand, and Air Pacific (Fiji owned) fly to Fiji directly from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the USA, and from Incheon Internation Airport in South Korea, as well as many other locations.
Exercise caution when making bookings with the travel agents at the airport. Fiji tourism is laden with 15-20% 'deposits' (commissions) that encourage agents to book with the resorts that provide the best commission, rather than the best holiday experience.
You can enter Fiji by boat from Australia through the Astrala 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, 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.
The current going rate from resorts on Nadi beach to Nadi downtown is $6 per passenger, and $10 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. 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.
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. 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. However, the motor vehicle traffic is intimidating and downright dangerous on well-travelled roads, and there is a lack of accommodation along secondary roads. So bicycle transport in Fiji unadviseable except for those who are very ambitious, very well-informed, or very flexible, or better yet, a bit of all three.
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.
Inflation in Fiji is relatively high - it has increased an estimated 12%/year recently. Expect to pay prices similar to those of Australia in tourist regions.
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. Many curries also taste better after sitting around for a few hours. Fish and Chips are usually a safe bet, and are widely available. Most of these local joints 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 to try 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 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.
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. If one "must" stay 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.
Turtle Island is an island resort in the Yasawa islands that is gaining notoriety for its celebrity honeymooners (most recently Britney Spears).
Fijian Resort Shangri-La's is located at Yanuca island in Sigatoka.
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.
Namaka, Nadi is the perfect place for either the first or last stop of your Fijian holiday or for the adventurous traveller, a great base from which to explore Fiji. If you are looking for great Fiji diving spots,Nomads Skylodge Resort is also the perfect place to begin your diving adventures.
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. While in Lautoka, you can stay at the Waterfront Hotel, just a twenty-five minute drive from Nadi Airport.
Rakiraki is a colonial township that captivates visitors with its old world charm and serenity. The hotel is two minutes from town.It is the half way point between Nadi and Suva, and presents a different Fiji, one that many visitors never see.
If you'd care to sample outer island life, Moanas Guest House on Vanua Balavu in the remote Lau Group is worth considering. Vanua Balavu only receives one Air Fiji flight a week from Suva. There's hiking, snorkeling, caving, and fishing to keep you entertained.
Fiji is a relatively safe place. There is very little major crime at all. Most takes place in Suva and Nadi. 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.
Fiji operates a secret political blacklist of journalists and others in the media who may be considered politically undesirable visitors. Those whose employment involves reporting controversial political activities should take extra care to ensure that their visas are in order before visiting Fiji.
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.
The recent military coup against the elected Government has heightened political tensions, and although relatively bloodless there is always the possibility for unrest and travellers may wish to reconsider staying in Suva in particular. "Exercise extreme caution" - the current state of the Australian Government's travel advice (see also the British Government's travel advice at the head of this page) - would seem sensible without causing undue alarm.
Fiji is relatively free of disease compared to most of the tropics. Avoid mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever and even elephantitis by covering up thoroughly or using repellents while outdoors at dawn or dusk. Local water is generally safe, though filtering or boiling is adviseable 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 condidtions 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 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.
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.
A Fijian considers his head sacred. Never touch a Fijian's head with your hand or any object for any reason.