Fiji

Of all the countries in the Pacific, Fiji is more a ‘resort’ destination, where you choose a resort and pretty much enjoy the activities and facilities there… Having said that, not too many resorts have ‘proper’ facilities for travellers with disabilities.

Warwick Fiji's Coral CoastDisabled Friendly Accommodation

In Fiji we like the Sheraton near Nadi (Denarau Island) because there are ramps and we can request rooms near the restaurants and reception.  We think the best mainland option, however, is The Warwick Resort & Spa on the Coral Coast – it is hotel style with a lift between floors for ease to get to shops, restaurants and recreation areas. There is a well-equipped room for guests with disabilities and it is handy to the resort facilities. The pool and beach are close to the resort and the Fijians on staff have to be arguably the best and friendliest in Fiji (and that’s saying something).

Fiji FishWe generally advise against exploring the Fiji islands if in a wheelchair. Mana Island could be an option as the launch pulls up at the wharf, rather than requiring a tender transfer.  Access is not that easy though, there are no disabled specific rooms that we know of – and wheelchairs and soft sandy beaches don’t normally appear in the same sentence. If, like me, you just have some mobility issues, I would choose somewhere like Castaway Island Resort where everything you want is handy (e.g. proximity of restaurant, pool, beach, snorkeling etc) and the friendly boys are more than happy to give you a carry from the launch to the beach.

…And here’s some general Fiji info that may be handy in an alphabetical format. Can we get 26 letters? You betcha!!!

ATMS

Most banks in Fiji have ATMs outside their offices, with additional machines at supermarkets, petrol stations, etc. You’ll only find them in cities and towns on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. There are two ATMs at Nadi Airport: One next to the baggage carousel before customs and another just outside the arrivals door. ANZ operates a 24-hour service at Nadi International Airport’s arrival concourse.

BABYSITTING

Resorts can arrange babysitting. The Fijian women have something that attracts children and children attract the women. You’ll see bonding in minutes and will know your kiddies are safe. And you’ll pay a fraction of what you do at home.

BEER

The local beer, Fiji Bitter, locally known as a ‘Fiji Baby’ is pretty good. It’s a lightish beer, which somehow suits the tropics. A bit like American Bud but with more taste. Try one – if you don’t like it, pay a bit more for an imported ale.

BULA

This is the famous Fijian greeting. The more formal greeting is ‘ni sa bula’ – sort of the difference between ‘good afternoon’ and ‘hello’. You will hear it everywhere and find yourself returning the greeting without a second thought.

CAR HIRE

Avis and Thrifty are Fiji’s leading car rental companies with numerous locations around Viti Levu. Their Nadi Airport office operate a 24 hours service.

CHEMIST

You’ll find them in all the towns and they’re very well stocked for an island country. Most resorts have pharmaceutical items for sale but they will be expensive. Best to pack a small kit containing bandaids, analgesics, Imodium or similar, insect repellent, sun screen (and after-sun lotion), antiseptic cream or powder and if travelling with babies, disposable nappies. For coral cuts, hydrogen peroxide works a treat but the locals opt for a generous application of lemon or lime.

CHURCH

Religion plays an important role in Fiji where the main religions are Christians, Hindus and Muslims. Visitors are welcome at local church services and, apart from the wonderful singing, it’s a good insight into why the Fijians are so friendly and family oriented.

CLIMATE

Hey, it’s tropical! The best months are usually March through to October (but El Nino has given some great weather during the traditional wet season November to February over the last few years!). The wet season is characterised by heavy, brief local showers and contributes most of Fiji’s annual rainfall. Maximum temperatures rarely move out of the 30°C (86°F) to 23°C (73°F) range all year round. Winter is a term, not a season. A cooling wind blows from the east south-east for most of the year. It usually drops to a whisper in the evening and picks up again by mid-morning. For more information on Fiji’s climate, visit www.met.gov.fj.

CURRENCY

Fijian dollar notes are available in $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50 denominations and coins are available in 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c and $1. There is no limit to the amount of money to be brought in (although there may be a limit on how much you can take out of your home country) and visitors are allowed to take out currency up to the amount imported. Exchange rate at the time of writing – One Fijian dollar was around 53 cents Australian.

CUSTOMS (AIRPORT)

Fiji has two international airports – Nadi, the principle arrival and departure point for tourists and Nausori, near Suva. Fiji Customs operates a Duel Channel System – the Red and Green Channels – If you have any prohibited or restricted goods, or dutiable goods exceeding your duty/VAT free allowance use the Red Channel. If not, go through the Green (customs officers may still choose to inspect bags, especially duty free).

CUSTOMS (TRADITIONAL)

While the Fijian people may seem pretty laid-back, traditional customs are very important to them and visitors should respect them:

  • Bikinis etc are fine for resorts but if you are invited to a village you should wear modest clothing.
  • Hats/caps should be worn for sun protection, but should be removed when in a village – wearing a hat is an insult to the chief.
  • When entering a bure, leave your shoes outside.
  • If invited to take kava, do so. Pulling a face suggesting you hate the taste is an insult. It’s like refusing to shake someone’s hand. It is polite to have a ‘soft handshake’ by asking for a small shell. I’m not sure if anyone actually drinks kava for the taste anyway.
  • When visiting a village, it is customary to present a gift of kava (yaqona). The gift (sevusevu) will cost around F$20 for a half kilo. The sevusevu is presented to the traditional head of the village, often in his house, where the kava will be served. So, hats and shoes off, bow slightly on entering, take your place on the mat on the floor and enjoy the ritual.

DEPARTURE TAX

Visitors to Fiji are required to pay $30.00 departure tax in Fijian currency following check-in. Children under 12 are exempt as are people in transit (in Fiji for less than 12 hours). This tax is included in most holiday packages. There’s no tax departure tax on domestic flights.

DUTY FREE

Visitors aged 17 have an allowance of 2 litres of alcoholic spirits, or 4 litres of wine or 4 litres of beer and 500 cigarettes or 500 grams of tobacco product. Other items like personal effects and household effects for residents or intending residents should not exceed $400.

ELECTRICITY

The current is 240 volts and outlets take three-pins – (as in Australia and New Zealand). Leading hotels and resorts have universal outlets for 240v or 110v appliances, or 110V adapters. Some resorts generate their own electricity and if they kick in and out, bedside digital clocks will need resetting. While resorts and transfer companies are reliable in making sure you make flights, connections etc a travel alarm clock can be a handy travelling companion.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Return airline ticket or a ticket for onward travel is required for visitors and passports should have at least three months validity beyond the period of intended stay. Visas are not required for travellers from most countries and entry visas are given for 4 months on arrival.

FRANGIPANI

Frangipanis are delightfully scented white flowers with yellow centres (and occasionally pink). There is a variety of frangipani in Fiji. The name comes from the Marquis Frangipani of Rome, who invented a perfume for scenting gloves in the 16th century. So there you go…

GAY SCENE

There’s not a huge gay scene in Fiji and no ‘gay only’ resorts. You may come across the occasional resort male staff member who is obviously gay. Chances are he will be homosexual and chances are he has been brought up as a woman. It’s part of custom that if a mother gives birth to all boys, she will bring one up as a woman to help her with cooking, cleaning and household chores. Straight local men may make him the butt of good-natured jokes (pardon the pun) but they are also partly jealous because he gets to sleep in the single women staff accommodation.

HEAT

Just a reminder that Fiji is in the tropics and while it never gets really ‘hot’ it can certainly feel it because of the humidity. Temps range pretty much year round between 30°C (86°F) and 23°C (73°F) and the water is always warm. When going on an outing or an activity like a round of golf, take a bottle of water and wear sun protection. While hats should be removed when you visit a village, they should be worn elsewhere. A bit of talcum powder may come in handy for rash relief.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE

Coral cuts happen in the tropics and, because of the humidity they can turn nasty. Hydrogen peroxide is the pharmaceutical solution (pardon the pun).

Poor onto the cut and, if it fizzes, it’s infected – but you’ve cleaned the wound. The fizzing looks worse than it feels. Throw on some antiseptic powder or ointment and cover (unlike in non-tropical areas where air helps healing). Nature’s answer to hydrogen peroxide is lime or lemon juice.

IMODIUM

Many travellers to the tropics get mild tummy upsets. This may not be the fault of the tropics as much as a change of time zone and diet and the body doesn’t like it (who has a full cooked breakfast every day and that extra few drinks every night at home?) While there are natural remedies like lots of water, packing Imodium or similar to take with you may come in handy.

INSURANCE

Travel insurance is cheap – because most people don’t get to use it – but if you do, it could save thousands of dollars. Flights do get delayed, connections do get missed, people do get sick or have accidents and property does get stolen. A good policy for Australians travelling to the South Pacific is SureSave Travel Insurance(even covers your pets boarding if you are delayed getting home!)

ISA LEI

Fijian men must pick up a guitar the same way Australians pick up a cricket bat – everyone seems to have at least a few chords. Most of them also know how to sing. And, for those who aren’t that musical, there’s the bass box in the string band (as a tourist you may get to join in here – if you can count to 4 you’ll be okay).

There’s one piece of music you will probably hear many times – Isa Lei – a song performed to farewell departing guests. When it comes to your turn, you’ll probably have a tingle and a tear in the eye. If you don’t, perhaps have your next holiday in Geneva.

ISLAND TIME

Island time’ is as much part of the tropics as palm trees and azure waters. Go with the flow, relax, pick up on the lack of stress and do your well-being a big favour. As they say “The coconut will fall when it is ripe.”

JELLYFISH

Unlike Tropical North Queensland, there are no ‘stingers’ or box jellyfish that are nasty. If you come across any, just enjoy the graceful movement coming from something so primitive and, well, basic. It only has one orifice for all bodily functions, they reproduce asexually and there’s not much room for a brain.

KAVA

Kava is a legal opiate that comes from grating or grinding the root of the plant. There is a charming ceremony that goes with kava drinking in Fiji (hand-clapping before and after a shell) and it should be swilled down in one motion, simply because it tastes pretty ordinary. It is a great stress reliever and is useful in healing urinary tract infections and stomach ailments. How many shells should you have? Probably no more than three at first although some have a motto that kava is like breasts – one’s too few, three’s too many. Once your lips become numb, you should have had sufficient to be ‘mellow’.

Another test is to get up and go for a short walk as kava can also affect the limbs. It can also heighten the senses so bright lights and loud noises may be annoying. If you find that kava agrees with you, you can take some home with you and kava tablets are available in some pharmacies and health food stores. Kava drinking in resorts is considered a fun activity and no one minds if you decline but if you go to a village and are invited to take kava (especially with the Chief) it is considered impolite not to – and, because kava is served in order of status – the Chief will drink first, no matter how important you think you are.

LANGUAGE

Everyone speaks English in Fiji but it’s always fun to try and use the local language (yes, every visitor learns ‘bula’, but there is more!). A few pronunciation pointers – words with a ‘d’ have an unwritten ‘n’ in front – For example, Nadi is ‘Nandi’ and the marinated seafood dish kokoda, is ‘kokonda’.

You put an ‘m’ before ‘b’ in words like Toberua (‘Tom-berua’) and ‘Lam-basa’ for Labasa. The unwritten ‘n’ also goes before a ‘g’, so Sigatoka is ‘Singatoka’ and Naigani is Ninegani’. And a ‘c’ is pronounced ‘th’, as in the Mamanuca Islands and moce is ‘mothey’ (goodbye).

MALARIA

There’s no need to worry about taking malaria medication but taking an insect repellent is still a good idea for comfort.

MEKE

Most resorts have nightly entertainment – lovos (feasts), fire walking, kava ceremonies and mekes. The meke is a traditional way of telling stories through song and dance. It could be a war dance or a love story – either way it is colourful and a pleasure to watch – mind you, if you have seen women custom dancing in Tahiti and the Cook Islands, you may find this a bit tame.

NADI

Most tourists experience bits of Nadi from the inside of an air-conditioned coach on the way to their resort and really, unless you are interested in how the town ticks, it’s not a bad thing to do. Most resorts have boutique shops where you can buy film, books & magazines, clothing and chemist items. There are duty free shops in town but you’ll probably find what you want at the airport.

For handicrafts, souvenirs, clothing and jewellery, head to Jack’s Handicrafts on Queen’s Road. There are also Jack’s outlets in Sigatoka and at The Sheraton. Chef’s The Restaurant, one of Nadi’s better restaurants, is located behind Jack’s. If you are looking for nightlife, again, your resort may be livelier. The Bounty Bar and Restaurant could appeal for those wanting to see how expatriates enjoy a cold beer, especially if there’s international sport being televised. Ed’s Bar (up the street from the Bounty) is a livelier local place.

And you can’t help but come across some of the Indian influence.

NEWSPAPERS

There are three daily newspapers in Fiji, all coming out of Suva. The Fiji Times has been around since 1869 and currently belongs to Rupert Murdoch’s estate. The pic is Prince Charles mixing with the locals in 1974. The Daily Post is a rather blander publication, as it’s jointly owned by the Government of Fiji and Colonial Mutual Insurance. The Fiji Sun is run by an Indo-Fijian businessman and it tends to be more critical than the other two, but censorship has been quite heavy under the ‘interim’ government.

OUTRIGGER CANOES

Outriggers give a tropical flavour to Fiji and are seen with locals casting nets. Because of their design, they’re not as easy to manoeuvre as they look. The trick is in the oar motion – rather than paddling ‘straight’, pull the oar through the water in a ‘J’ curve.

PASSPORTS

A return airline ticket or a ticket for onward travel is required for visitors and passports should have at least six months validity beyond the period of intended stay. Please value your passport – theft isn’t a big problem, but it really is a hassle to sort out a new one if you lose it!

QANTAS

While Australians may think they fly Qantas to Fiji because they get a ticket with Qantas on the front, it is a code share agreement and you will fly there with Air Pacific. Qantas owns nearly half of Air Pacific (Fiji Airways) and Qantas Frequent Flier points can be used on these flights.

REEF SHOES

Reef shoes should be used when walking in water – coral cuts can happen and there are nasties like sea urchins – buy a cheap pair that you don’t mind throwing away or use those joggers that have one last week in them – but do use them, your feet will thank you.

SEA SNAKES

If snorkelling or diving you may encounter the odd sea snake (or even an even one) but apparently their mouths are so tiny they could only open wide enough to bite the webbing between a baby’s fingers. Not having a baby to test this theory, we’re not willing to offer our own webbing to prove/disprove this (but there have been no reported casualties). Incidentally, one of the most deadly spiders on earth is harmless for the same reason – it’s the daddy longlegs.

SHARKS

Yes there are sharks in the sea but no, you have no need to be nervous. Those who have a fancy for diving with a bit of adrenalin, there are shark-feeding dives available in the Mamanucas.

SMOKING

Smoking hasn’t the same stigma or strict rules on where you can or can’t smoke but, for the comfort of non-smokers and to perhaps get resorts to adopt non-smoking areas, why not do as you would at home and only light up in al fresco dining areas or on your balcony.

SOUVENIRS

A large wooden kava bowl (tanoa) makes an impressive souvenir (and an excellent salad bowl). Smaller tanoas are handy for serving peanuts and the like. Fearsome Fijian war clubs and cannibal forks can be bought in most craft outlets and markets. For obvious reasons, these items are not available in the duty free shops at Nadi Airport and cannot be carried aboard the plane in your hand luggage. What not to buy in Fiji are the masks and tikis, which are made exclusively for sale to tourists and have no basis in Fijian culture. Tapa artefacts made from the pounded bark of the paper mulberry tree are usually a good purchase. You can buy great sheets of the stuff capable of covering an entire wall or smaller pieces painted with the figures of turtles and the like. Do not buy conch shells for environmental reasons and beware the carved boat vendors at the Suva markets – once they pounce they are hard to shake.

SUN PROTECTION

Please remember ‘slip, slop, slap’ – slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. The tropical sun can burn quicker than in other parts of the world and while its nice to show off a tan when you get home, a case of sunburn can make for a few uncomfortable days (especially for honeymooners!) – and each day of a holiday is precious.

TABUA

The tabua (tam-bua) is a sperm whale’s tooth and is a much-prized possession. Presenting someone with a tabua is the ultimate symbol of respect. Tabuas are utmost in any Fijian ceremony, whether it be family, intertribal or state occasions. They feature in births, deaths, marriages, when welcoming visitors or asking favours. They are used to seal contracts and reconcile differences. Tabuas are not bought and sold, they just circulate from family member to family member, from tribe to tribe as they have done for generations. Recently, companies have seen the value in taking the tabua as a trusted brand. For example, joining the Tabua Club with Air Pacific gives fliers advantages and flying Tabua Class gets you up the pointy end of the plane.

TIME ZONE

Fiji has frequently been called “The Crossroads of the Pacific” because the 180th Meridian passes through the islands. In fact, The International Date Line has a dogleg here so the entire archipelago falls into the same time zone – 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Two hours difference to east coast Australia – one hour when daylight saving happens in southern Australia.

TIPPING

Unless you are playing touch rugby, tipping is not encouraged anywhere in Fiji.

Tip with a smile and ‘vinaka’ (thank you). Some resorts however operate a staff Christmas fund – a box will usually be found near reception and donations are purely voluntary. Fijian custom says that if you give something for nothing, the person receiving will owe you – and that’s how a tip is perceived.

ULCERS

Tropical ulcers can happen very quickly. They usually start from a coral cut or scratch and this may not necessarily come from direct contact with coral. It could occur from a scratch where there is coral dust. Treat all coral cuts with hydrogen peroxide (or lime/lemon), use antiseptic cream and cover the wound. If it looks like it is turning nasty, consult a doctor immediately.

VAT

Fiji has a Value Added Tax that is applied uniformly at 12.5%.

VINAKA

In the same way ‘bula’ can mean ‘hello’ as well as ‘welcome’, ‘vinaka’ can be, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘good’.

WATER

Fresh water reticulated in Nadi, Suva, Lautoka and other major towns has been treated and is safe to drink from the tap. This also applies to hotels and resorts. Bottled water is also readily available. Some resorts use artesian water for bathing, but provide drinking water separately. If this is the case, visitors will be advised.

X-RATED

Yes, this is a bit of an excuse to whack something under ‘X’, but the censorship and pornography laws are quite conservative. While Fiji has a relaxed attitude on the whole, pornographic videos and magazines are not allowed. There are some R-rated movies available in video shops but they will be in the category of those that appear on Australian and New Zealand television preceded by the appropriate warnings. Don’t upset local custom by importing anything pornographic and don’t expect to find it on the shelf at the supermarket.

YAGONA

Yaqona (pronounced yangona) is Fiji’s national drink, also known as kava (see ‘kava’). It’s made from the pulverised root of a member of the pepper family. It’s believed to have medicinal qualities (apart from making you feel mellow).

Z

Okay, there aren’t many things in Fiji that start with ‘Z’ – far less than a zillion in fact. There are no zoos as such… or zebras… and it would be a cheat to call the trade winds ‘zephyrs’… but without the following, this guide would by Fiji A to Y, which would be silly, so…

ZINC CREAM

Just a reminder that sun protection in the tropics is VERY important! Use it with zest!!