Fiji is not a great shopping destination, hindered by its isolation and heavy import duties and starved by lack of individual creativity in design and fashion. With a dearth of boutique shops and art galleries, your best bet is to head to the urban municipal markets, which ooze character, overflow with local produce and have the most authentic collection of handicrafts.
Both Nadi and Suva have special handicraft markets, although both are burdened with pushy sales people – try to pick out the artisan traders who are often busy weaving, polishing or sewing their wares. Woodcarving items include beautifully polished and patterned rimmed tanoa bowls, war clubs, cannibal forks and totemic items such as turtles and face masks. Bags woven from pandanus leaves and styled with tapa cloth are often eye-catching, as is jewellery made from coconut shells. Hand-woven mats costing from F$60 and up, depending on the fineness of the weave, make practical souvenirs.
The best places to buy local crafts direct from the artisans are from the Flea Market in Suva or, if your timing is right, at one of the craft fairs in Nadi organized by the Western Arts & Craft Society every few months. Otherwise, Jacks Handicraft has quality crafts, a large variety of scented coconut oils, creams and soaps, locally harvested black pearls, colourful ranges of clothing and other knick-knacks often sourced from overseas – they also provide a shipping service.
The shopping experience can be hampered by shopkeepers standing in their doorways pestering tourists to come in and look, particularly in Nadi. You’ll need to haggle at all small Indian-owned shops – even at the big chain stores if you ask politely for a discount you’ll probably get something off. Bargaining, though, is not a Fijian custom so if buying from an indigenous Fijian the asking price will invariably be realistic. You should avoid buying shells, especially turtle and triton shells which are both banned as export items, as is the tabua whale’s tooth.
Shops are few and far between on the outer islands so it’s wise to stock up on provisions before you depart Viti Levu. In an emergency, most outer-island resorts have small shops selling sun cream and other essentials at greatly inflated prices.