Fiji is an island paradise in the South Pacific with exquisite beaches, a beautiful underwater world, and a very unique culture. Most people know the landscapes from films like Cast Away with Tom Hanks or The Blue Lagoon as both of them had been shot in some of the bays and desert islands around the Yasawas. The archipelago counts over 300 islands, but you don’t have to visit all of them to get an authentic Fijian experience. In fact, no matter where you go, you´ll get a warm “Bula” from the locals, which makes it easy to immerse yourself in the Fijian way of life.
As a teaching assistant at a school in Suva, I spent about 4 months in Fiji. I was staying with a wonderful local family, who taught me a lot about Fijian values, standards, and food. I even spent Christmas and New Year´s with them – a very different experience! On the weekends, I usually went on getaways to explore the countryside, various beaches, and other islands. And before Christmas, when children were on their summer break, I went on a backpacking trip around Taveuni and Vanua Levu. I had an incredible time in Fiji with tons of great memories, and I could probably recommend a hundred places. In this post, I tried to break it all down into 5 Fiji travel highlights. I consider those activities a must-do when you find yourself in Fiji.
1. Unwind On Leleuvia Island
White stretches of sand lined with palm trees, crystal clear shallow waters – this is what most travelers come to find in Fiji. Since the majority of tourists do not want to travel far from Nadi, the city and airport most tourists fly to, they head straight to the Mamanucas or Yasawas to find their paradise. However, there are still places that can top these islands.
One of the most beautiful, picture-perfect islands I´ve ever been to in my life is Leleuvia Island located on the central eastern coastline of Viti Levu. It is a hidden gem with golden sand, blue water, and hammocks gently swinging between palm trees. Not many people make their way to this small island making it an amazing hideaway off the beaten path.
Life on Leleuvia is slow. You can spend the day lazing in the sun, swimming, snorkeling (the reef off the beach is beautiful!), diving in a nearby coral reef, kayaking, stand-up paddling or playing volleyball with your friends or resort staff.
In fact, the locals working at the resort are great fun, very open-minded and eager to give you an insight into their culture. They regularly host events to celebrate the full-moon with traditional Fijian food. At night, they invite you to have a kava ceremony with them.
Also, Leleuvia is a fabulous location to watch the stars. Maybe you can spot some of the star constellations of the Southern hemisphere, such as the Southern Cross, which is one of the most familiar star patterns.
How To Get There: From Suva Bus Terminal, take a bus to Nausori Town, from where you can catch another bus to Bau Landing. At Bau Landing, the resort will pick you up by boat (it has to be arranged by phone) and take you to the island. The boat ride is approx. 40 minutes.
2. Stand Between Present & Past On The International Dateline In Taveuni
Not many tourists make it to Fiji´s third largest island Taveuni. Also known as the Garden Island, this place is a favorite among hikers and nature-lovers of all kinds. The island is characterized by rainforests, secluded waterfalls, and abundant wildlife.
A popular stop while exploring Taveuni is the International Dateline, which is basically an imaginary line that demarcates the change of one calendar day to the next. There are only three spots in the world where you can actually stand on the International Dateline and jump from one day to the next, one of which is Taveuni.
How To Get There: From Viti Levu, either take a plane (e.g. Fiji Airways) or ferry to Taveuni. From Waiyevo, take the road uphill (towards the hospital) and cross the field on the right: you’ll find a big Taveuni map split in two. You may also ask locals in the area in case you can´t see it.
3. Dive In The Rainbow Reef Near Vanua Levu
Fiji is known for its beautiful palm-fringed islands, but some of its most fascinating treasures are found in the warm, clear waters off the coast. With endless stretches of colored reefs and over 1200 species of reef fish, Fiji offers some exceptional diving opportunities for both beginners and professional divers.
One of Fiji´s most famous dive meccas is the Rainbow Reef, located between Taveuni and Vanua Levu. Some divers even refer to it as the Great Barrier Reef of Fiji offering as much diversity and beauty as the well-known Australian underwater paradise. More than 20 dive sites invite divers to explore the reefs with coral gardens, deep canyons, and coral walls. Plenty of reef fish, as well as big swimmers like turtles, manta rays and sharks, make diving in the Rainbow Reef a highlight. Having dived in many parts of the world, I consider diving in Fiji as good, and perhaps even better than diving in Asia.
How To Get There: The Rainbow Reef is accessible from both Taveuni and Vanua Levu. However, there are some dive resorts situated in the bays between Taveuni and Vanua Levu as well. They may be a little more expensive as they have to import all food and drinks from the main islands, but definitely worth checking out (e.g. Swiss-owned Dolphin Bay Divers Retreat).
4. Get To Know The Cultural Traditions In A Local Village
While the Fijian economy has come a long way over the past decade, the realities of local life are less sunny than the country’s skies. Mind you, Fiji is a third world country with 30% of the population living below the poverty line.
Despite being such a poor nation, Fijians are famous for their joy and hospitality. The minute you enter the Fiji Islands, you will be greeted with a warm “Bula”. It will be easy for you to interact with locals if you want to.
If you want to experience Fiji with all its different sites, you have to visit at least one local community outside of cities like Suva or Nadi. Traditional Fijian life revolves around church, family, food and, of course, kava ceremonies, so make sure to dress and behave appropriately when going to a traditional Fijian village.
Locals will be happy to share their culture with you: they will sing a welcome song for you, they will show you around the village and will invite you to enjoy a meal with them (perhaps the national dish “Lovo”) as well as kava at the end of the day. Despite the earthy flavor, pretty much everyone drinks kava, and it is regarded impolite to refuse when it´s offered to you. Kava is made of a crop and consumed for its sedating effect. Drinking it makes your lips and mouth somewhat numb. However, it is a cultural experience and is definitely worth trying.
When visiting a village, also prepare to spend some time with local kids. Some of them have never seen any foreigners (especially Europeans or Americans) before and will be fascinated by your skin and hair color. They are also extremely eager to learn about you, so maybe teach them a few sentences in your mother tongue.
5. Watch The Dolphins At Takalana Bay
Located about 30 km north of Korovou, Takalana Bay is home to the resident spinner dolphins. The beautiful Takalana Bay Resort serves as a gateway for dolphin watching trips in the Moon Reef. Dolphins are in the area every day at the same time making this an exceptional experience for travelers all year round.
Dolphin Watch Fiji is a locally owned company which offers a unique opportunity to spend time with the dolphins – just 15 minutes by boat from Takalana Bay. As soon as you arrive the right spot at Moon Reef, playful dolphins magically surface and pop up from the ocean. After viewing the dolphins, you will be taken to a more remote location for excellent snorkeling with plenty of coral and colorful reef fish. The daily boat trips include boat transfers to the Moon Reef to see the spinner dolphins, followed by snorkeling on the nearby coral reef. Snorkeling gear, lunch, and refreshments are usually included as well.
What I liked most about my Takalana Bay getaway would be the fact that the entire stay had been very authentic. The resort itself is pretty much off the grid, run by a local family and with help from the local community. The food at the resort as well as on the trip is mostly home-cooked, plentiful, and delicious, reflecting what the Fijians actually eat. In addition to the dolphin tour, you can do some excellent rainforest hiking, waterfall trekking and sea kayaking in the area.
Also, I would like to stress that both the resort and tour company operate in an eco-friendly way. Unlike many other locals, the Takalana Bay residents are very conservation-minded, for example, they won´t let you swim with the dolphins.
How To Get There: Take a bus from Suva towards Raki-Raki and get off at Korovou. From there either arrange a pick-up with the resort or take a taxi.
Island trips are your thing? Check out this island-paradise in the Pacific which you can travel to on a budget. Specifically interested in diving? Head over to my budget dive guides and learn how you can dive the world´s oceans in an affordable way.