Those who like outdoor challenges and underwater thrills will find plenty to enjoy in Fiji’s superlatively scenic islands, says Nigel Tisdall
Now this is fun. I’m doing 360-degree spins in a roaring, 19-seater jetboat, laughing and screaming with a group of Aussies as waves drench us in the tropical heat. It’s the final thrill in an exhilarating half-day excursion where we’ve raced upstream at close to 40mph, then paused to contemplate the inner peace of a rainforest where butterflies flit past African tulip trees blazing with orange flowers.
Remarkably, adrenaline highs aren’t the best thing about the award-winning Sigatoka River Safari, which was started in 2006 by Jay Whyte – a Sydneysider who fell in love with Fiji at the age of 13. His fleet of custom-built powerboats are simply an efficient way to speed visitors deep into the green interior of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island and home to the country’s principal international airport at Nadi.
Whyte wanted travellers to experience the village life that remains a mainstay of Fijian society, but not encroach on it, so trips alternate between 18 different communities. One essential part is the kava ceremony that involves a muddy-looking non-alcoholic drink prepared by crushing the root of the pepper plant.
Afterwards we feast on kokoda (ceviche) and chicken slow-cooked in a lovo (underground oven), then dance and play rugby with the kids – after all, Fijians are obsessed with the sport. When I leave the village with a painted face and a floral garland round my neck, I’m buzzing. It feels like I’ve been to a huge, warm-hearted party.
Beyond the beach
Such moments make it clear there’s much more to a Fijian holiday than waving tropical palms and dreamy white-sand beaches (but they’re a good place to start). Viti Levu is dominated by a central mountain range that includes Tomanivi, the country’s highest point at 4,344ft, making it one of the best places for hiking in the South Pacific.
“More and more travellers are coming for adventure experiences,” says Brent Hill, chief executive of Fiji Tourism. Companies such as Skydive Fiji and Go Dirty quad biking are reporting record bookings. Ecotrax, an innovative bike ride along the disused tracks of a sugar cane railway, had sold out so far in advance I couldn’t book. “The average spend in Fiji is now £1,286 per person,” Hill explains.
“That’s 6% up on last year, and a contributing factor is more money going towards tourist activities.” I’m certainly impressed by the amount of outdoor fun within easy reach of the south coast of Viti Levu, which is lined with family-friendly properties such as the 246-room Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort.
One surprise is the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park, which has superb coastal trails and a Jurassic Park-themed Sleeping Giant Zipline, with unlimited rides for guests. New Fijian-run operators are springing up to meet demand, such as Domoika Adventures, which offers rock climbing and a jungle hike to seven waterfalls just an hour’s drive from the national capital, Suva.
Just add water
Once they’ve worked up a sweat in the hills, clients can cool off in the gorgeous turquoise sea. Beach resorts range from backpacker and family-friendly to adult-only and super luxe. One of the standout properties is the five-star Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Vanua Levu. It has a focus on sustainability and offers top-class water-exploration activities in the nearby Namena Marine Reserve, led by the resident marine ecologist.
Also on Viti Levu is surf hotel Matanivusi Beach Eco Resort. It is ideal for any level of surfer while the lagoon surrounding Beqa Island is the place for encounters with numerous shark species including bull, tiger and lemon. Paradise Cove Resort on Naukacuvu, in the Yasawa Islands, offers the chance to snorkel with manta rays between May and October.
A new hospitality trend in Fiji is floating platforms, which take 100 or more guests and can be reached on a 45-minute speedboat ride west from Port Denarau. Here you can snorkel, dive, get a massage and party. Cloud 9 comes with a pizzeria and monthly DJ sets while Seventh Heaven offers an overnight stay in a private suite. There’s also the ‘Leap of Faith’ from Seventh Heaven’s top deck – a 16ft plunge into the ocean that begs to be done because, as they say in Fiji, every day brings a fresh adventure.
After the action, take it easy with…
❂ Spa treatments using local coconut oil, sugar and fruits. The traditional Fijian Bobo massage is given on the floor with the therapist using both their hands and feet.
❂ Kayaking on the forest-wrapped Salt Lake near Savusavu on Vanua Levu.
❂ A digital detox on Matangi, a private, adult-only island that’s perfect for romantic beach picnics.
❂ A wallow in the Tifajek mud baths and thermal hot springs on Viti Levu.
Major Travel has seven nights at Matanivusi Beach Eco Resort plus seven nights at Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, both full board, from £3,677 per person. This includes British Airways flights from Heathrow to Los Angeles and Fiji Airways flights to Nadi (with transfers), departing April 19, 2024.
British Airways flies from Heathrow to Nadi with codeshare partner Fiji Airways, with the option to connect in five cities including Los Angeles, Singapore and Hong Kong. From £1,233 return.
PICTURES: Brett Monroe Garner; Tourism Fiji/Logan Dodds; Brook Sabin
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