With endless beaches, teeming coral reefs and water temperatures averaging 27°C, Fiji is renowned for its scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing and other watersports. But adventure also awaits in the sultry tropical rainforests with fabulous hiking, river rafting and ecotours on offer.
Fiji offers superb scuba diving and snorkelling, with exceptionally colourful and easily accessible reefs as well as plenty of diverse fish species including sharks. Diving is excellent year-round, with visibility usually at least 30m – the very best months are October and November, after the trade winds have subsided and before the tropical wet season begins.
Almost all resorts offer scuba diving, with dive sites normally between five and forty minutes by boat. Many resorts offer dive training, with PADI Open Water courses the most popular, costing F$650–900 for a three- to four-day package. For the more tentative, introductory scuba lessons offer a few hours learning the basics in a swimming pool – these cost around F$200. Advanced Courses (F$650) and Rescue Diver (F$850) are also widely available. The only place to dive using Nitrox is in the Mamanucas with Subsurface or on one of the live-aboard cruises.
For scuba divers, the soft corals for which Fiji is renowned are most prolific along the Great Astrolabe Reef, which twists its way around Kadavu, and the northern islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, where many fabulous reefs are found including the Rainbow Reef between Taveuni and Vanua Levu, Noel’s Wall off Matagi Island, Namena Marine Reserve, E-6 and Hi-8 in the Koro Sea and the Great Sea Reef off north Vanua Levu. For many divers these are dream sites, with outstanding coral formations and drop-offs, although currents can be too strong for the inexperienced. The Mamanucas offer fun and easy dives for beginners as well as more challenging dives for the enthusiast including wrecks, caves and reef shark dives. The Beqa Lagoon off Pacific Harbour is renowned for its pelagics, particularly sharks, including two of the three most dangerous sharks in the world, bulls and tigers, while pilot whales and minke whales can be seen off Ovalau. For exploratory diving, live-aboards ply the remote reefs around the Koro Sea to the north of Ovalau.
Dive Worldwide UK 0845 130 6980, diveworldwide.com. Specialist dive holidays from the UK, with an extensive selection of Fiji itineraries.
Fiji Recompression Chamber 885 0630 or 330 5154. Fiji’s only recompression centre is on the corner of Amy St and Brewster St in the Suva suburb of Toorak, with administration and enquiries handled from Savusavu on Vanua Levu.
PADI Australia 02 9454 2888, padi.com. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors provides basic information on diving, courses and certification, as well as list of all PADI-registered companies in Fiji.
Fiji Aggressor US 1 800 348 2628, Fiji 336 2930, aggressor.com. US-based company with two sleek vessels (10- and 18-passenger) operating in Fiji, visiting the Koro Sea including E-6, Hi-8 and Namena Marine Reserve. From US$2995 per person for a one-week charter.
Nai’a US 1 888 510 1593, Fiji 345 0382, naia.com.fj. Seven and ten-day charters on a serene 40m sailing yacht for 18 passengers. Visits the Koro Sea, diving E-6, Mount Mutiny and Namena Marine Reserve. From US$3340 per person for a one-week charter.
For snorkellers, the great beauty is that most reefs start just a few metres from the shoreline. Some of the best shore sites are off the rocky west coast of Taveuni where the waters drop off dramatically, along Lesiaceva Point in Savusavu, in the Mamanuca-i-Cake Group and along the entire Yasawa chain of islands. Resorts which don’t have good shore snorkelling provide boat trips to bommies, passages and outer reefs where marine life and corals are prolific. Of these, Vesi and Naiqoro passages in Kadavu and Caqalai and Toberua reefs in the Lomaiviti Group are particularly outstanding.
Manta rays congregate at Galoa and Vuro islands off Kadavu and around Drawaqa in the Yasawas between May and October. The best places to swim or snorkel with spinner dolphins are at the slightly remote regions of Natewa Bay in Vanua Levu or at Moon Reef off East Viti Levu.
It’s worth investing in your own mask, snorkel and fins. Snorkel gear provided by resorts may not fit and masks often leak.
Fiji is a regular venue for international surfing competitions, with over a dozen extremely challenging but reliable reef breaks. For the casual surfer, perhaps an even greater attraction is uncrowded waves. The only beach breaks for novices are at Sigatoka; otherwise all surfing breaks are reef breaks over shallow razor-sharp coral with a wipe-out bound to graze, but more likely cause serious injuries – this is for experienced surfers only. The dozen or so breaks along the Malolo Barrier Reef are the most accessible, although several of the biggest breaks are reserved under exclusive agreements with upmarket surf resorts that sell only via the US. More isolated surfing destinations include Nagigia off Kadavu, Wilkes in Beqa Lagoon and Kia off northern Vanua Levu.
The best place for windsurfing is from Safari Lodge, facing the trade winds on the exposed east beach of Nananu-i-Ra island off north Viti Levu; you can take week-long courses here or rent equipment by the hour. Other good locations include Matamanoa Island where winds can sometimes be stiff, or Plantation Island which features a sandy-bottomed shallow lagoon ideal for beginners, both in the Mamanucas. The optimum time for windsurfing is when the trade winds are blowing strongest between June and September.
Kite surfing is also offered at Safari Lodge. If you have your own equipment the flat lagoon between Malolo and Malolo Lailai in the Mamanucas is another good kitesurfing spot; the winds funnelled through the channel create ideal conditions.
Although Fiji is a paradise of stunning islands and bays, treacherous reefs make sailing a challenging experience. Unless you have your own yacht, it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone prepared to offer boats for hire, with the few sailing charters operating from the marinas below on a skipper and crew basis only. The country’s six marinas with full facilities are Port Denarau, Vuda Marina and the Royal Suva Yacht Club, all on Viti Levu; Musket Cove in the Mamanucas; Levuka on Ovalau; and Savusavu on Vanua Levu.
Yachties arrive in Fiji between May and August, usually sailing with the trade winds from California via Tonga and heading onwards to Australia or New Zealand, via Vanuatu or New Caledonia, no later than October when the trade winds subside and dangerous storms can occur. Popular regions for exploring include Vanua Balavu in the Lau Group, the islands off Taveuni and the idyllic lagoons and bays of the Mamanucas.
Most resorts in the Mamanucas have small sailing catamarans for mucking around in the lagoons, while the best facilities for casual sailing are at Vuda Marina.
Every resort seems to have sea kayaks for guest use, usually as a complimentary activity; note that it’s always wise to wear a life jacket and inform somebody of your intended journey in case you get caught in a dangerous current or a squally storm suddenly descends. The two companies listed below offer week-long kayaking expeditions between May and October, snorkelling in the lagoons and camping on beaches or overnighting in remote fishing villages. Another good option is the half-day trip along the Lavena Coastline within the Bouma National Heritage Park on Taveuni.
South Sea Ventures 02 8901 3287 in Australia, southernseaventures.com. Australian-run group trips exploring the northern Yasawas in either single or twin sea kayaks. Eight-day packages from A$2130.
Tamarillo Tropical Expeditions 360 3043, tamarillo.co.nz. New-Zealand-based company exploring the rugged and remote coastline of Kadavu with support boats. Seven-day packages from NZ$2295 per person.
Fishing is a way of life for many Fijians, using nets, spear guns and fish traps in the shallow lagoons and simple hand lines along the river banks as a matter of subsistence. Commercial fishermen with small wooden fishing boats head to the deeper waters for tuna, mahi-mahi and wahoo. For tourists, game fishing is an exciting prospect, particularly in pursuit of billfish in the deep waters off Taveuni and Savusavu in the north and in the rich fast-flowing currents between Beqa and Kadavu in the south. Fishing licences aren’t required but you’ll need to find a reputable fishing charter with a proper game-fishing boat, good equipment and most importantly, a knowledgeable skipper – charters are usually available at Savusavu on Vanua Levu and at Pacific Harbour on Viti Levu, with more casual game fishing from Port Denarau in Nadi; otherwise, recommended resorts include Matangi Island Resort off Taveuni; Makaira on Taveuni; or Matava on Kadavu; rates start from F$750 for half a day.
Casting into the fringing reefs from small boats is usually excellent, with snapper, barracuda and trevally the prize catches; fly fishing in the shallow lagoons is good in places although there are few opportunities to land the highly prized bone fish, prolific in other parts of the South Pacific, and you’ll definitely need to bring your own gear. Fishing in the rivers is seldom practised as a sport, although a couple of lodges along the south coast of Vanua Levu are idyllically set up for this.
Compared to its South Pacific neighbours, Fiji stands out as a great hiking destination. There are fine tropical rainforest walks in the Namosi Highlands, mountain treks on Viti Levu and Kadavu and stunning coastal walks on Waya island. Of the national parks, Koroyanitu and Bouma on Taveuni are the best for hiking. For less avid walkers, there are usually short trails leading to hilltop lookouts overlooking islands and lagoons. Resorts offering excellent local hikes include Matamanoa Island Resort, Botaira Beach Resort, Naveria Heights Lodge and Matangi Island Resort.
Horseriding hasn’t really developed as an attraction, although the potential is excellent. You can hire saddled horses along the wild beachfront at the Sigatoka Sand Dunes.
River rafting is a fun way of exploring the remote regions of Viti Levu, with the Grade III rapids of the upper Navua River on the south coast of Viti Levu the only place with established operators.
For adrenaline seekers there’s skydiving available from Nadi Airport, waterskiing from Port Denarau, canopy zip lines in the rainforest at Pacific Harbour and just north of Nadi at the Sleeping Giant and paddleboarding in the Mamanucas and off Ovalau.
Fiji is beginning to establish itself as a major golfing holiday destination, thanks to its great year-round weather and affordable green fees. There are championship golf courses at Denarau and Pacific Harbour.
Fiji is well positioned as an ecotour destination, with village-based cultural visits and marine biology the main focus. There are no specific ecotour holiday packages but most resorts, especially those in the outer islands, can organize village visits, plantation tours and guided hikes.
Visiting a village is more often than not an overwhelmingly positive experience. Apart from relishing the tourist-orientated yaqona ceremony, travellers can usually visit people’s homes, sample foods, learn to weave, go fishing and generally immerse themselves in daily Fijian life. Several villages have set up community resorts, usually located at the parameters of the village so as not to disrupt village affairs. For more background on village visits. For a more thorough introduction into Fijian life, consider joining one of the internationally organized gap-year education programmes where you assist in teaching at a remote village school and live with the people.
Boasting numerous diverse and unchartered coral reefs, Fiji is also the focus for several global institutions conducting scientific marine research. It’s possible to join one of these groups on a working holiday, volunteering in research and gathering information, often on remote islands.
Research your trip thoroughly though: there are reports that some for-profit organizations fail to feed and house volunteers adequately, turning what should be a rewarding break into an ordeal.
American Institute for Foreign Study US 1 866 906 2437, aifs.com. Language study and cultural immersion combined with Australian programmes.
Earthwatch Institute US 1 800 776 0188 or 978 461 0081, UK 01865 318 838, Australia 03 9682 6828, earthwatch.org. Scientific expedition project that spans over fifty countries with environmental and archeological ventures worldwide.
Frontier UK 020 7613 2422, frontier.ac.uk. English teaching project based in Suva. £1195 for four weeks includes a weekend of TEFL training. They also run medical, marine, journalism and animal welfare projects.
Greenforce UK 020 7470 8888, greenforce.org. Six- to ten-week programme assisting in the survey of coral reefs on behalf of the World Conservation Society. From £2200 per person. No dive experience required.
Madventurer UK 0845 121 1996, madventurer.com. A range of opportunities based around Lautoka on Viti Levu, from teaching sport to working in healthcare. Two weeks from £600.
Peace Corps US 1800 424 8580, peacecorps.gov. Over fifty volunteers work all around Fiji assisting in a wide scope of community projects, from environmental and health awareness to teaching information technology.
Jacques Cousteau put Fiji on the diving map when he declared it “the soft coral capital of the world”. Divers will also find big shark encounters, exciting drift dives and plenty of wrecks to explore. The following are some of the islands’ top-rated dive sites:
Beqa Lagoon, Pacific Harbour The best open-water shark dive on earth.
Rainbow Reef, Taveuni Gorgeous soft corals and fast drift dives.
E-6, Bligh Water The photographer’s favourite, accessed by live-aboard boat.
Naiqoro Passage, Kadavu Beautiful drift dive on the Astrolabe Reef.
The Salamander, Mamanucas A 36m wreck now home to puffer fish.
Fiji’s first official national park, protected by law, is the fascinating Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park on the southwest coast of Viti Levu. The fragile sand-dune ecosystem, scattered with ancient bones and pottery, has an informative visitor centre and two managed trails for exploring.
Otherwise, the lush Bouma National Heritage Park encompasses almost half of Taveuni; and Koroyanitu National Heritage Park sits inland from Lautoka on Viti Levu. Both offer managed walking trails to waterfalls, village interaction and community-run accommodation.
Other projects managed by the National Trust of Fiji (nationaltrust.org.fj) include Momi Guns, south of Nadi; Levuka Town on Ovalau; Yadua Taba Island; and Waisali Reserve in Vanua Levu.
Lying at the crossroads of the Pacific, Fiji’s reefs are recognized as a globally important area of biodiversity and make up four percent of the world’s total area of coral reefs. As well as attracting thousands of tourists, they protect the islands from hurricanes and provide an income for fishermen. Despite their often vast size, coral reefs are fragile and complex ecosystems that require care and respect from snorkellers and scuba-divers. It’s imperative you do not touch the reef, or try to stand or tread water close to coral heads. Even a brief contact is likely to destroy the delicate coral polyps which can take years to grow back. Brushing against the reef is also likely to result in cuts or grazes which can take weeks to heal.
Although they make tempting souvenirs, shells should not be removed from the reef as they play a vital role in providing homes for invertebrates. Avoid buying shells from the village markets, especially tritons, or trumpet shells, the only natural predators of the coral-destroying crown of thorns starfish.
Swimming and snorkelling in Fiji’s waters is pretty safe but there are a few precautions to be aware of. Wave action on the beaches is generally very sedate – the only places you may face danger are around river passages on the larger islands where rip tides can pull you out to sea. In the event of this happening, never fight it – go with the rip and try swimming sidewards to get out of the current, then swim parallel with the beach for 100m before trying to swim back to land.
When snorkelling, avoid contact with coral – apart from killing the delicate polyps you’re likely to cut or graze yourself, which can cause painful infection. If you can, avoid snorkelling at low tide – with less water between you and the reef, collisions can be common. If you do get a coral cut, clean it immediately, preferably using iodine, and apply an anti-bacterial cream regularly.
Reef sharks are present in the lagoons – if you’re lucky enough to see one it’s very unlikely to stir unless you aggravate it persistently when it might swipe a bite in protest. Stinging jellyfish and crocodiles, which often spoil waters in other tropical countries, are not present in Fiji. Perhaps the greatest danger is the sun and without the protection of a UV swimming vest, or at the very least a high-factor sunscreen, sunburn is inevitable, even on a gloomy overcast day.