The thought of visiting Fiji simply make anyone feels exhilarated and yes, that curiosity got the best of me! I decided to go for one week trip to Fiji to experience how it’s blessed with 333 tropical islands and home to some of the happiest people on Earth. Nothing prepared me for the charm and warmth of the Fijians, much less the gorgeous sights and sound of these truly spectacular islands located in the heart of the South Pacific.
In this article, I’ve put together brilliant places you could explore for your trip to Fiji so that you’ll learn how to make most of your time as a traveller and an avid photographer. My itinerary for Fiji includes island exploration – Savusavu, South Viti Levu Island, Sigotaka and Kuata Island
I boarded Fiji Airways on my way to Nadi, Fiji Islands. A great sunset greeted me as the Airbus A330-200 cruise eastward from our Lion City to the enchanting islands.
The beauty of visiting Fiji Islands starts even before we reach our destination, with a gorgeous sunset over the Soloman Sea, during a ten hours direct flight from Singapore to Nadi Airport, the main international airport of the Republic of Fiji . Trust me, you will want to trade that aisle seat for that window seat.
To get here, you’ll need to take domestic flight from Nadi to Labasa via Fiji Links, then 1.5hrs scenic land journey towards Savusavu. The model of this plane is ATR42-600, a French built turbo-prop aircraft (about USD12-16mil each).
My paradise for the next 2 nights was Koro Sun Resort in Savusavu Island. Life felt great as I started to get into the Fijian vibe. I only wished my family was here to enjoy this moment with me.
Savusavu is also known as the “Hidden Paradise”. It’s unbelievable how breathtaking the view are and sound of the sea once you stepped into the room. You know you’re not on a typical holiday when you appreciate nature and its serenity without zero technology distractions- no TV and no Wifi.
Did you spot a white object near hammock? You’ll be left wondering why there’s a coconut here doing in front your bure. Since the bures in resort do not have telephone and wifi, you will have to use this coconut to request any service from the resort staff. All you need to do is to just place the coconut at front door of the bure. At anytime soon, you can expect the staff to pop by your bure. Interesting, isn’t it? It gives you that nostalgic feeling, travelling back in time when we communicated differently without today’s technology sophistication.[foogallery id=”2639″]
I went to meet the resort guide/driver Romano to watch his work on Kava pounding. He showed a few of us the procedure of pounding dried kava in a “kava pounding shop”. He bought this kava (FD$10) to be presented to the village head where we will be visiting later, as a form of respect, as the waterfall is located within the village compound.
You have to try Fijian kava drink that brings people together when you’re in Fiji. It’s one of the core Fijian culture, where this drink is served during traditional ceremonies. I managed to witness this casual Kava ceremony and presentation at Koro Sun Resort after dinner led by the resort guest relations manager, Paul. My first experience of kava – checked!
My first meal at Koro Sun Resort was a deliciously healthy garden salad. The food was prepared fresh and most importantly, all are local organic produces. Fijians are very particular about using pesticides – 100% fresh produces. One thing led to another, I found myself enjoying my main course, which was Ham Quiche on Tomato Cuss.[foogallery id=”2640″]
And led to yet another thing! I was treated to Koro Sun Resort Rainforest’s Spa signature – the Banana Leaf Wrap Spa. I was about to be wrapped like an Otah. Scrubbed with brown sugar, coconut oils. The natural Botanicals deeply penetrate vital minerals and nutrients into the skin. The Banana Leaf Wrap Spa will help to center the body after jet lag or stress, leaving us feeling balanced and renewed. I truly sunk into a deep sleep for the 1 hour spa session! Totally knocked out, lured by the natural stream soothing water lullaby, just beside the spa.[foogallery id=”2643″]
I started exploring surroundings of the resort. This picture I’ve taken is the walkway path to my personal sea front villa – called Edgewater Bure (pronounced as Boo Ray). Bure is the Fijian word for a wood-and-straw hut, sometimes similar to a cabin. In its original sense, a bure is a structure built of anything that comes to hand. The components of a bure are either stacked together, tied together by rope, or a combination of both methods. Though, the bure here are the luxurious type, of course!
Here’s how I enjoy beautiful night in Fiji, looking at the stars and constellation right in front of you. The night skies of Fiji are famed for star gazing. However, during my time there, there were plenty of clouds and the full moon which complicated star trails photography. But it helped that the resort was photogenic and makes great foreground subject. 82 frames were used for this image which took about 1.5 hours to shoot.
Look up to sky at the resort and you’ll see these tall coconut trees. You see them everywhere along the coast as well. One of many reasons Fiji is favorable is because I simply love coconut trees and coconut based food. Otherwise, you will eventually develop liking for coconut if you haven’t appreciate it yet sooner or later
These dried pandanus leaves came into my sight! See it closer, these leaves are hung dry first before being woven into various arts form of handicrafts. You’ll see such handicrafts at the Fijian village. This was how pandanus leaf fan looks like. It’s inspiring to know most of Fijian arts and crafts are Earth friendly product.[foogallery id=”2645″]
At the Urata village, there was a resident showing passerby how he communicate with others to gather all in the village for meeting, church, gathering, etc. He started to pound the hollowed wooden log that produces a knocking sound loud enough to be heard.
I met with a lovely mother accompanied by her two bubbly kids at Urata Village. This picture speaks a lot to me, Fijians may not live on much, but I feel their happiness. Perhaps that is the answer to a happy life.
The highlight of the 20min easy trekking through the Urata Village was the beautiful waterfall. Really soothing sight. Only a few of the hundreds of islands in Fiji were said to be sufficiently big enough to have waterfalls. The rest of the islands were primarily uninhabited atolls, isolated resorts, or more populated islands that still lack the topography necessary for waterfalls. But what they have were lovely.
Look at this beautiful lookout point at Savusavu. The fast moving clouds mean neutral density (ND) filter and tripod are essential equipment for you to capture the feel of the moment.
I caught a sunset that marks the end of a lovely day, beginning of an enchanting night. The natural beauty of Fiji Islands is round the clock. Fiji has a warm tropical climate. Normally, the best months for holidaying is late March through to early December, pertaining to weather.
It’s hard to describe how thrilled I felt to attend Fiji World Coconut Day 2016! These coconuts play an important role in Fiji because they are a key produce in the Fiji Islands. Not only coconut is a major export for currency, its multitude uses for the versatile plant is very useful. That is why you notice how coconut is quite a daily necessity here in Fiji.
Participants at the Coconut Fair were friendly bunch of people. They never shy from camera. One group of coconut farmers at the coconut fair requested a picture, so I was more than happy to oblige. Coconut, is the giver of life – it’s a symbol Food, Shelter and Life in Fiji. So, never underestimate the importance of this fruit! 🙂
My next adventure – Get to know Fiji marine life! It’s time explore the other side in Fiji, deeper into Fiji by going underwater ! I reached Copra Shed Marina, where I disembarked and headed towards the pearl farm.
I was greeted and got started crash-course introduction to pearl farming industry at the Justin Hunter Fiji Pearls. Meet this Japanese pearl culture expert from Mikimoto at the farm doing seeding procedure.
One can think of the Japanese pearl expert as a “oyster doctor”, deciding the eventual type and colour of pearl after the 18 months period. The Japanese pearl technician came from Mikimoto in Japan only in the months of April/May and October/November to conduct seeding work
You’ll be shown oyster larvaes holding tank. The sizes are so small , you need a microscope just to see them. The tank holds nylon nest for the larvaes to latch on and grow from there. Lesson does not stop there, you will also see a section of oysters ready for culturing.
The snorkeling trip at the pearl farm was aborted due to choppy water that afternoon. So I snorkelled at Namena Island instead, which features a Giant Clams (Tridacna) farm. It’s a rare treat to spot these clams because Tridacna gigas is considered one of the most endangered clam species in the world. Fortunately, this species of clam have an average lifespan in the wild of over 100 years.[foogallery id=”2646″]
I rushed back just in time for the Lovo unearthing at the resort. A Lovo is a traditional form of cooking. This is the Fijian name for a feast cooked in the earth. The taste was like a BBQ, only a little more smoky and it’s an efficient way to cook large quantities of food at the same time. It was amazing seeing this unearthing for the 1st time and the smell wafting from the unearthing prepares you for the dinner ahead. No appetizer needed.
You have all food items wrapped in coconut leaves, except the taro (yam). On menu today was pumpkin, taro, fish, chicken. What a great feast ahead! Smoke were escaping and aroma from wrapped food smells really good. Every second felt like hours, I can’t wait to feast on the stuff hidden inside these leaves
My night continued with a twist of surprise – A Meke dance before dinner! The entire village turned out for this great session. You don’t need great sound system or pyrotehnics, just honest warm heart and great lung power. Their just honest warm heart and a great lung power worked brilliantly for this outperformed traditional style of dance. What I enjoyed from this Meke is this amazing vocal range from the villagers that forms a surreal experience! The most senior of the group was tirelessly exuberating a lot of energy and happiness. He kept going on, nothing hold him back. Everyone was united in this dance. People of Fiji including grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters all chipped in to the Meke dance. Feel the warm of the Fijians!
2. South Viti Levu Island
I adjourned to the next phase of Fijian adventure at South Viti Levu island. It was quite convenient for me to board domestic flight via Fiji Links transfer to Suva Airport..
Don’t forget to do a quick visit to the Pure Fiji HQ, where fantastic natural body care product are sold. This is where you can get the best price in Fiji! Even the locals buy here (in bulk!) It’s cheaper here and many Fijians and tourists throng the place…buying bags and bags of the product. After using the product, I can see why people like to choose these souvenirs back to Singapore.
You will love the hydrating lotion and the anti-mozzie spray, I have to say they’re very nice. I am sure other product are just as good as my pick of the day.
The sleek and zen styled Pearl Resort makes it challenge to leave your room. This resort is a perfect venue for couples and family, being a chic styled hotel. This was my second resort for the trip, how lovely…there is an old and new wing, each blessed with its own characters.
The hotel casual dining venue was a fabulous one, it’s called Riveria Restaurant and Bar, just by the resort marina.
Windy picture perfect day! Can u see a wedding in progress at the chapel at the white structure? You can find chill out spot at the resort Wedding Chapel lounge nearby. The resorts on the islands are effortlessly beautiful. Makes great venue not just for couples, honeymooners but also families. There is something for everyone in Fiji.
Then it’s on to adventure… via Quadbike into mountain trail and a trek to a double waterfall within private forest in the Pacific Harbour. Haku was our quad bike driver and guide. His humour kept me entertained all the way, like a long time friend, making the 45min trek seem like 10min.
I stopped by Terratrek private leased waterfall at the Pacific Harbour, had some shots taken. I came to understand that many locals not aware there’s a waterfall in their backyard, so it’l was worth checking out.
I found the kava plant that was used in Kava ceremony few days back. This plant may look ordinary to anyone. Its roots are the ones used to produce the kind of drink that is quite sedative and relaxing without disturbing clarity of the mind. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones
On my fifth day in Fiji, I checked out early from The Pearl Resort and proceeded straight to Sigatoka River Safari.
The beauty of Fiji is more than beach-side resorts. At Sigatoka, a town in the island of Viti Levu, visitors get experience the inner beauty of Fiji by visiting villages located along the river of the same name. It is largest town and gateway to the Coral Coast, where golfing , beach life and scuba diving are the key attraction.
I was briefed by Sigatoka River Safari founder, Jay Whyte. He was a very nice guy who owns a very well-run company that brings business and revenue to the local economy and villages. Now I was prepared to get soaked and messy with this wild adventure!
A tight spin to get the cool spray … awesome! If excitement is what visitors craved for, skydiving, 4WDs safari, sports fishing and various other exciting adrenaline activities like jetboating is available, like this on the Sigatoka river . This is the part where your camera high frame per second comes in handy.
Our fabulous guide and boat captain is Josephine. She was the one who got us jetting down the Sigatoka River around 50-60km/h. The ride lasted for a total of 40min each way. The friendly villagers were always waving to us as we jet down the river. There were couple of local villagers taking horses out for walk. You can also see mountain goats resting by the river bank.
Nice shot, isn’t it? I was surprised my travel mate Cindy managed to capture shot while jetting by.
Glimpse of the Sigatoka town, a gateway to the Fiji Islands interior and the Coral Coast. Some modern vehicles you see on the road like this one here.[foogallery id=”2647″]
Moving on, next up on list was visit to Koroua Village as part of the Sigatoka River Safari itinerary. You get to see some squatter settlement with availability of electricity made available to the villagers. This certainly help in their daily lives. Water are still being drawn from ground wells. A kava presentation ceremony ensues with the village head was presenting kava gift to village chief, on behalf of us. He did so as a gesture to seek permission for our visit and activity in the village. This ritual is a form of respect to the village chief and attendees are requested remain silent during the gift presentation. Village senior received kava gift and made us felt welcomed.
I watched as they proceeded with kava drink preparation. The kava powder is mixed with water and stirred constantly as the kava powder within the water settles quickly. After that, you sieve the kava powder through fine muslin cloth. Another village senior expressing appreciation for our visit with sincerity.
The 1st kava drink goes to the eldest in our group of visitors. Kava is a very mild narcotic and is known to make people feel relaxed. Fijian people are known to be some of the happiest on Earth. I cheekily wonder whether Kava may have something to do with that. It’s safe to drink a few cups, just that your tongue gets a bit “numb”.
When it’s your turn to drink a bowl, you can opt for “high tide” (or tsunami) or “low tide,” which stands for a full bowl or half a bowl. Before you drink, you’re supposed to clap once and yell “Bula!” drink it and shout Vinaka! It’ was an eye-opener on Fijian culture!
Kava presentation is cultural must-do when visiting Fiji. It is a ritual and an important social event. In our visit to the village, the kava presentation serves as a “get to know you” session as well as respect for the village head. Ladies and children seat behind the men in a kava presentation and required to wear a sulu (sarong) too. This ceremony is not just about Kava drink, everyone also get decorated with a floral garland including little ones.
A village feast was prepared, where we sat on the floor beside and opposite of each other. There you go, a sneak peak of a village cuisine. You’ll noticed it’s not that oily and most of ingredients used are natural with produces like banana and casava (tapioca) being served. I joined in communal feast together with everyone else. My favourite dish was pancake with vegetables![foogallery id=”2650″]
Shortly after the hearty lunch, the villagers started playing music with their guitars and everyone had a spontaneous party. There’s no need for audio system, just great music from human.
Travel mate Cindy took a classic shot of this little girl with natural expression. I am sure she will this like this picture when she sees it in future when she grows up.
Fijian kids were really following us around the village. When it’s time to say goodbye, the village head and some kids head out to bid us farewell. They’re totally not camera shy and I just love their spontaneity. I enjoyed capturing a slice of the local life, proving this world are without borders. I love what photography does. It melts borders and invites others into your world. It’s not about how sharp your pictures are or how good your gears are…it’s about capturing the moment. It’s about communication. It’s about life. Photography is a platform. Never a physical tool.
I’ve finally reached Fiji Hideaway Resort, our last resort of the trip, after a long day. We were warmly greeted and welcomed by their singing and clapping of hands. It was a sensory overload beyond my expectation, everyone was just so friendly. The staff happily put on frangipani garland on us all. You’ll be left in awe meeting buffed up Fijian warriors, who turned out as friendly as the rest of the people here.
Next up, the resort resident chef Yunus showing us how the national dish..Kokoda, is being made… simple healthy dish. He was pouring coconut milk into the dish (Coconut, yes!!). Overall this is a colourful looking dish indeed. Not only this meal looked great, it tasted delicous too. Viola! time to eat. I am tempted to try this recipe out – http://www.bite.co.nz/
As you explore around the resort, one of other treats was an open invitation to splicing coconut session. Two of resort warriors will be the ones conducting this demonstration. After sipping away fresh coconut drink, I joined cultural chief Suwani as he explained the various types of fruits and veggies of the Fijians, in a village known as Sekoula Village, within the resort compound.
As part of the activity, you’re shown how they do the cannibalism in the past.. He will demonstrate this process on you if you are game for it. You’ll hear his story about how different tools were used for different parts of the body. Our activity proceeded, I went for another kava presentation. This time around, I was appointed as the “chief” because I was eldest in our group. It felt like my first time watching kava presentation in this village, observing the kava being squeezed through the muslin cloth.
Here’s what the kava looks like since you have not seen it earlier. During the kava presentation ceremony, the drink was presented to the eldest in the group of visitors and that’s me. I’d describe the flavour as not sweet, not salty and sort of “earthy” taste. Slightly bitter with a hint of mint and a little peppery. And after drinking, your tongue will feel slightly numb. An acquired taste indeed!
This was my room for tonight – The Beachfront Villa at Fiji Hideaway Resort. Wonderful sleep quality and the bathroom experience was surreal, with indoor and outdoor shower under the stars, clouds, and coconut trees. The Fijians call them bure, I like to call them paradise huts !
Just look at these spectacular view. Would anyone still need more reasons to stay at the Hideaway Fiji?
4. Kuata Island
I boarded Yasawa Flyer, heading for Kuata Island where you can do Shark Snorkeling. The Yasawa Flyer departs Denarau at 8.30am, with check in at 8am at the South Sea Cruises. It’s good to advised that the cruises here operate on tight time schedule and are punctual to the minute. No “Fiji time” here.
Here’s a picture of the cruiser Yasawa Flyer II and a sneak peek inside the Captain’s Lounge. Wifi, free flow of drinks, chips, fruits, aircon sum up a perfect experience. Look at blue skies, doesn’t it feels like going to paradise saying “Heaven is an island on the South Pacific”? I have been taking some photography shot on my way to the barefoot Kuata Island from the cruiser top tier deck. The picture below is the picturesque islands are the the magnet that draws visitors from all over the world. Such as this atoll named Beachcomber Island. Great island to be marooned on.
It caught my full attention to the extent that we missed the 1st transfer boat. Consequences? Our names were announced on the intercom and the boat came back for us thankfully…
You can see how laidback life is here. I spotted local villagers selling souvenirs from likes of handcrafted bracelet, looking very comfortable as if she’s also enjoying “Fiji time”. I was welcomed by resort captain. He made us feel relaxed and briefed us about our stay. You can feel soft sands and see how the wooden chair that shaped like “the flintstones”, feeling comfortable with few sips of drinks decorated with flowers.
The surrounding of resort was beautiful. You’ll hear the sound of leaves rustling in the wind, while you walk through the stone path in garden like beach area. There’s this mini hut looking sitting area behind a stretch of beach chairs. Nearby, you have a fresh water pool although the best pool is out there in the sea. Just imagine yourself facing the sea that has different shades of blue in this serenity. I spent my time watching and taking photos of Pacific reef heron and shy looking hermit crab at the reef. Even the seagulls were enjoying “Fijitime” ! since there are abundance of food here.
My experience snorkeling with sharks at Morea Reef, Kuata Island was undescribable. The divemaster, Simon Chen from Hong Kong from my snorkeling trip did a free diving to the reef bottom to attract and photograph the sharks. Can you spot one of the sharks at the bottom left ?
You will be amazed how close you’d be with a few of white tip reef shark at Moorea reef. Relax, there’s only just 4-5 of them and human beings are not on their diet plan.
Well, they say all good things must come to an end. This amazing photographic trip was organised by Jetabout Holidays, in partnership with Fiji Airways and Fiji Tourism Board
What remains for sure is no one leaves Fiji Islands without being captivated by the locals’ warmth or entranced by the beauty of the picture perfect islands.. Bula ! (Welcome !) and Vinaka (Thank you!) are two Fijian words that will forever be etched on your mind when you think of the beautiful country with it’s friendly people.
Jensen Chua is a Canon EOS World Council Member and an invited writer at TheSmartlocal.com . All pictures used in this article are copyrighted to Fiji Airways, Fiji Tourism Board and Jetabout Holidays Singapore.