Travel Memories: Fiji

As I read everyone’s blog posts about their summer travels, I’m feeling a little (ok, very) jealous. Because we spent all our money travelling around the world all last year and making a very expensive move to Norway in March, we’re hunkering down in our new home for the next couple of months, enjoying the cultural immersion, working and saving. And, quite frankly, we’re beat. The last 17 months have been completely exhausting and we’re happy to recharge our batteries.

viti levu fiji

The landscape in Fiji is incredible, with lush green mountains in the centre and lovely beaches around the coast.

But it’s summer, and that’s always a little depressing for a couple of grounded travellers. But as I unpack our boxes from overseas I keep coming across photo albums and mementos from trips gone by. I thought it might be fun to document and share some of the holidays we took prior to our sabbatical adventure. So I bring you our Travel Memories series, which will explore some of the amazing journeys we took over the last decade, including even some trips from before we met.

ellington wharf Fiji viti levu

Preparing for our first boat ride from Ellington Wharf.

I’m really interested in what people remember from their travels. In the months of planning and anticipation leading up to a holiday every little detail is important. Then you enjoy the experience and savour the photographs for weeks or perhaps even months after. And then what happens to those memories? For most of us, each occasion of travel shapes us. We learn, we evolve and our minds alter. Some of us live on the memory until the next big trip, which could be months or even a year away. Some of us just get busy planning the next one.

betham's beach cottages

These beach cottages were both rustic and relaxing.

So without further ramblings, welcome to my memories – from before we had a blog and, in some cases, even any fancy camera equipment…

Fiji: April 2005

John and I met at the end of September 2004 (I’ll tell that story soon, I promise) and I made plans to visit him in Australia for their summer of 2005. Fast forward to April and my three-month tourist visa was almost up. We needed to get out of the country and thought an island vacation sounded like a great idea. We hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that it was the rainy season in Fiji and planned a 10 day trip.

sugar cane viti levu fiji

Sugar cane is an important crop in Fiji.

Most people probably find a resort and head there for some sun and relocation. Not us. We wanted to save money and decided to just cruise around the main island, Viti Levu. We booked a few hostels, planning to catch public transport in between. Looking back, I’m glad we chose to see the country this way. We didn’t have the idyllic island holiday you see in brochures and on postcards but we did really get to know the island and experience it like the locals.

Our arrival in Nadi was met with a downpour. We asked the staff at the hostel we booked for our first night to call ahead and confirm our transportation for the next day: we were supposed to catch a boat out to our accommodation on Nananu-i-ra, an island 4km off the coast. Imagine our surprise to learn that the guesthouse’s boat hadn’t been working for weeks and they had no plans to meet us at the wharf the next day despite our reservation! Quick alternative arrangements were made for us to take a ride on another place’s boat out to their lodging and spend the night there. We could then be dropped off at the beach cottages that we had booked the following day.

raintree lodge suva

In the rainforest at the Raintree Lodge in Suva.

So off we went on the two hour journey by van to meet the other boat the next morning. It seemed that the other place was more of a party hostel, which wasn’t really what we had planned for but we had a good night anyway and took the boat the next day. This turned into a scary experience when the boat started filling with water because they had crammed too many people onto it. Some people had to jump off while the rest of us bailed out the water. I don’t think we felt in serious danger at any time because I remember being able to still see the coast when the incident happened, but we certainly had a trial by fire our first few nights in Fiji.

There was no electricity after around 9pm in the cottages – we played cards by candlelight. It was relaxing but the weather was pretty overcast for a beach holiday and we were ready for the action of a town. Our next stop was Suva.

fiji buses viti levu

Public buses in Fiji – our mode of transport around Viti Levu.

Rainy season meant that the local buses got stuck in the mud easily. The journey was a bit nerve-wracking anyway because the buses travel over narrow bridges, the kind where you look out the window and get vertigo. I remember looking around the bus at all the smiling locals who didn’t even notice such things. We tried not to think about it and concentrated on looking out the window at the tiny villages and dwellings we passed along the way. The houses were very basic and tiny outside of the major towns. I hadn’t seen any so small since my travels to Thailand.

The Fijian people are wonderful – kind, friendly and relaxed, perpetuating the island vibe. Everyone greets each other by saying, “Bula!” – even strangers. I remember that none of the locals looked at you funny if, as a foreigner, you were saying it too. That was charming.

coral coast viti levu

John on the Coral Coast

In Suva we stayed at the Raintree Lodge, which was up a hill in the rain forest and, as the name suggests, it did rain the entire time we were there. The food was amazing, though a bit expensive. Everything in Fiji was more expensive than we expected and most people I’ve spoken to since who have travelled there have agreed with me. But the food is worth it – I love everything Polynesian.

fijian musicians

Musicians at our favourite restaurant on the Coral Coast.

We spent our last days on the Coral Coast, which we’d been excited about the entire time. Unfortunately the beaches there weren’t really what we expected. I think it may have been the area where we stayed because the beaches there were supposed to be the best. But all we could see was very shallow water leading out to a reef wall probably a kilometre out. I guess past that it would be possible to swim but we didn’t walk out there. We still had a nice time, enjoying walks along the main street lining the coast and we found a couple of good restaurants.

coral coast beaches

We found these Coral Coast beaches to be a bit intimidating. Where that wave is breaking off in the distance to the left was where the sea wall began.

We spent our last night in a hostel close to the airport. The views were incredible and we hit it off with the owner there. She played darts with us all night and gave us free beer while we talked about travelling and other things I can’t remember. This was one of those trips where we didn’t really know what to expect and had our expectations been higher I think we might have considered it to be a disaster. Looking back I think it was one of our most interesting travel experiences to date.

What I learned: If you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation in Fiji, go resort.

Favourite memory: We befriended a little kitten at our accommodation on the Coral Coast and nicknamed her ‘Jersey Girl’ because of her colouring like a Jersey cow. We later learned that the black and white cows are actually Holstein cows but, hey, we’re not ranchers.

Destination tip: Budget for more than you’d expect. We found everything to be priced at about what we’d pay in Australia.

Biggest regret: Not trying the Kava and not taking more pictures.


Have you been to Fiji lately? What did you think of it?

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