Life in the South Pacific | Catriona Matheson

Before me stood an all singing, all smiling, Hawaiian Shirt-clad Fijian four-piece band. I had just disembarked from a 22-hour flight, it was 5am and I had a splitting head ache, but I could appreciate the thought. These four Fijians, with their fantastic afros and enthusiastic bright, white smiles, set the tone for what would be a glorious week’s holiday on one of the planet’s most isolated paradises. 

If you think of Fiji and imagine white sandy beaches, palm tress and lush rainforests, you’re spot on. Fiji’s landscape and climate are undeniably what attracts its thousands of visitors each year. There is no traipsing around museums or visiting historical sites – Fiji is a travel hotspot due to its sand, sea and surf. There is an abundance of water sports on offer, endless mountain treks, or if you’d prefer, you can swing in a hammock, take in the views and read your book. Due to jetlag, for my first couple of days on Fiji I chose the latter- and it was bliss.

Previously when I’d thought of Fiji, I’d remember the scene from The Truman Show where Jim Carey’s character announces he’d like to explore the islands. I can imagine such an ambition was accredited to Fiji’s remote location. To me, Fiji was surrounded by a sort of mystique and the dream of visiting seemed unattainable. After all, it was the opposite side of the world and I couldn’t see myself having the funds or purpose to make the trip. This changed however when I was in STA Travel, booking flights to travel to Australia. When I was told Fiji was a possible stopover, I nearly fell off my seat.

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Fiji consists of over 300 tropical islands. Yet, despite its pristine waters and tranquil setting, Fiji has not always been so idyllic for those that live there. The country’s social and political history has been tumultuous at times and as a result Fiji has an interesting blend of Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indian, Chinese and European influences. In fact, for nearly 50 years, until the military coup of 1987 and the Indian emigration which followed it, the indigenous people of Fiji where an ethnic minority in their own land. More recently, a military coup took place in December 2006, and the army now controls the country.

The situation is generally safe but travellers are advised to exercise caution and check with the Foreign Office before going. Despite this political unrest, Fiji‘s tourist industry is thriving, mostly due to Europeans who include the islands on their Thailand- Australia- New Zealand world ticket. It is also due to this influx of tourists that Fiji is no longer a honeymoon hideaway with upmarket hotels but now a holiday destination for a variety of travellers including families and backpackers alike.

When arriving in Fiji, you have a variety of options depending on how long you’d like to stay. Some tourists choose one beach and stay there for their entire holiday. Others island-hop between the some of Fiji’s smaller islands, or alternatively, like me, you can
explore the main island, Vitu Levu.

I chose public transport as I was travelling on the cheap but I also knew I would witness more Fijian culture by doing so. I mingled with locals as the rickety bus struggled around the mountainous rainforests and decided to explore three separate parts of the main island, testing some water sports, climbing a waterfall and doing a trek along the way. I also sampled ‘kava’ a national drink made from plant root which although is non-alcoholic, is known for its numbing affect on your limbs.

Fiji certainly caters for its visitors. At one of my favourite hostels – a campsite but with wooden bunk houses rather than tents- I was served complimentary tea and scones with homemade jam, daily at 4pm. Free tea and scones on an idyllic beach is definitely close to my idea of paradise.

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