We drive to Pacific Harbor in Namosi province in the East of Viti Levu. The area bills itself as "the adventure capital of Fiji." About 80% of the area is rainforest and it’s noticeably cooler. We pass smallholdings with livestock and cattle and papaya farms. We are to stay at the Pearl South Pacific Resort & Spa.
Today’s tourism experience is Zip Fiji described in our itinerary as a "canopy tour." (I am not quite sure what this means. I do not have time to check online.)
Ai adai. The "canopy tour" involves skimming over the rain forest along a wire line. All that is between you and the ground is about 60 feet and a harness. My husband Ken assures me the equipment is impressive and safe. This is small comfort; I decide it is not for me. Ken says "’No’ is not an option." I am still not convinced but I see children in our group. (They are young and look happy. Obviously nobody had to tell them ‘No’ is not an option.)
The guides are everywhere and explain tactics. We are told that Zippers range from age six to 74.
There are two overhead wires – a tap will slow you down they explain. Too much tap and you will stop. Keep your legs up and tucked in.
You Zip from tree platform to tree platform. The platforms look very small – though they are not.
I cannot believe I let myself be hooked and launched. I moan and grip the overhead wire hard – and grind to a halt. One of the guides comes to get me. I am ashamed but not the only one in our group to grip the overhead wire first time out.
The children do fine – no tapping and no gripping. They are obviously enjoying the experience.
We make eight Zips on a course of about 90 minutes. By the eighth Zip I definitely have my technique – no tapping no gripping no moaning. It’s actually exhilarating to Zip fast and I land on the last platform with decorum.
I feel quite pleased with myself – till I notice Ken has progressed to Zipping upside down.
Zip Fiji also provides jobs for the villagers of Wainadoi who obviously enjoy meeting the tourists and can tell you which local plants are medicinal and a lot about the region.
The driver takes a while to come back for us. Our group learns an appropriate Fijian phrase – "Senga na lenga" or "No worries."
We lunch at the Uprising Resort which offers accommodations from dorms for backpackers to bures or bungalows and a wide menu of activities from jet skiing to deep sea fishing and shark dives – and weddings. About three years old the resort has a mix of guests and seems a hive of activity – including the beach bar.
The Uprising ferries us by boat to the Pearl resort – the best sort of commuting where we are offered another boat ride and a massage before Happy Hour and dinner. We head for the cultural village in town and chat with the shopkeepers in the stores. I then opt to go straight to the massage as it’s around 5 p.m. My masseuse has completed a certification course in Suva and was obviously a star pupil. I pad barefoot back to the room.
Happy Hour is al fresco. Our host Sales and Marketing Manager Raumati Wikaire says that the bar with its breeze and view over the water had windows before the cyclone though it looks fine just the way it is. Ken briefly disappears to help one of the younger guests open a coconut.
The Fijian buffet is accompanied by a kava ceremony and cultural dancing. Despite all intentions to the contrary I sip some kava. It is everything I expected – muddy and mouth numbing. Kava is supposed to be mood enhancing but this is Day 3 in Fiji and my mood is pretty enhanced already.
The Pearl has an 18-hole golf course with a pro shop and driving range and the cost to play is (read this and weep) F$35 for in-house guests F$47 otherwise. No wonder they say it’s popular with weekenders from Suva.
We rise early to leave for the Sheraton at Denarau. Today we are to head for Mala Mala island. The boat leaves from the newish Port Denarau marina which has a lot of retail outlets and a realtor – F$130 000 will get you a residential lot in the Mamanucas F$550 000 a two bedded apartment. For F$1.4 million you can convert your retirement plan into a gym with a licensed bar and restaurant and F$3.5 million buys you the Tropicana Retreat on Denarau Island complete with private jetty.
The Volante proceeds at a pace that makes "leisurely" seem fast past a variety of small islands which include the site where "Cast Away" was filmed. If I remember correctly "The Blue Lagoon" and one of the "Predator" movies were also shot in Fiji. A group sings Fijian songs as we cruise along.
Our captain Pita Tukana is 32 and has spent 15 years "at sea " variously with the government and on container salvage and fishing ships. He is he says "From the East a small group of islands [the Lau islands] untouched by tourism – Lakemba – the same island as our late president Ratu Mara." He is curious what we know about Fiji. "Have you heard about our coups?" (We have.)
Tukana worries about the economy but thinks the present government is doing a good job. "The economy is fluctuating at the moment but we hope it will go up again. I’m worried about it. Lots of people are graduating at the end of this year."
He said the Fijian government is promoting tourism well and that tourism brings opportunity and progress. "The younger youths that don’t have good qualifications tend to go into tourism – and learn. It builds up the villages themselves [through] handicrafts and cultural dancing. The villages and farmers sell their products into the industry – everything rotates. Fiji has learned – Fijians themselves are building their own resorts. [Tourism] builds up the Fijian people."
There is also an opportunity for mutual understanding with visitors Tukana said. "When we show tourists our culture we learn from their culture. I’ve made good friends with many people from different walks of life."
A day at Mala Mala offers a variety of water activities such as snorkeling and a shady restaurant and bar area for the decadent and a decent lunch. A beach volleyball game is organized for the active. I swim. I think Mala Mala is ideal for people who don’t get to the beach often or who wish to let their children roam fairly freely.
That evening our last we attend a party at the Westin for its new cultural show which includes fire walking with a group from the island of Beqa home of the firewalkers so a lot of tourism and tour industry folks are present.
So would I go back to Fiji? You bet. There are plenty of experiences in Fiji we didn’t get to try. I would like to see more of the country. I would like to spend a day in Suva and see the museum. I would like to wander round Nadi town and eat Indian food there. I would like to go up river from Pacific Harbor. (And I didn’t get to meet the movie producer.)
I ask Ken if he would go back. "Yes " he said. "The problem is where would we choose to stay?" Indeed. We decide we might well split the trip in two and see something of the outer islands.
Fiji is a place to be as active as you will – it offers some unique opportunities to get closer to nature fish dive or golf or step outside your comfort zone if you are a city gal like me. And there is nothing like a luxury resort with a bar and a band to return to at the end of the day.
Much is made of how laidback Fiji is but the resorts are pretty much on point when it comes to service. And you don’t pass a single resort employee but you hear a cheery "Bula." (Even at 5:30 a.m.) We can learn from this. Not that I have any complaints about our hometown border workings but Fiji customs and immigration officials were amazingly friendly and fast (Even at 2 a.m.)
I hope to say "Bula" again soon.
And then there is the landscape – definitely a pleasure to pass green hills sugar cane fields and miles of shoreline.
And Lonely Planet got one thing right. The sea is definitely "cerulean."
If you go:
•You can tailor-make your stay depending on your preference for personal service activity or not or a combination thereof. Costs of car rental vary a lot.
•If you are a fan of Continental vacations the airline is firming up which resorts it will partner with and you can certainly add on days to suit. At present Continental partners include Novotel Nadi Tanoa International Hilton’s Fiji Beach Resort & Spa Sofitel Resort & Spa Radisson Resort Fiji Sheraton Fiji Resort and the Westin Denarau Island.
•Take an electrical adaptor if you need it. (Trust me on the adaptor.)
•Resort Internet is expensive (i.e. F$36 for 30 minutes) though in-room most places and efficient. Kudos to the Shang for its complimentary in-room service.
•For souvenirs Fijian rum is available. It would be hard not to find well-made treated hardwood kava bowls and trays traditional material for table linen and other potential uses attractive casual wear or island-style shirts. Top of the range shirts suitable for island-style events or dinner with a Congressional delegation retail at no more than U.S.$15.
– Editor’s note: Maratita was a guest of Continental Airlines Tourism Fiji and its partner hotels and Pacific Destinationz. Part 1 of "Plain Fiji" appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of the Journal.