The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, are home to 87 per cent of the nearly 944,000 population. While Fijian and Hindi are spoken by the locals, English is spoken everywhere.
Since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1970 Fiji has seen four coups. The current Interim Government says it’s committed to a new constitution and democratic elections in 2014.
The internal political situation of Fiji has not affected tourist safety, so while you should exercise caution in the cities (as in most cities around the world), you’ll probably be spending most of your time on the islands and in the villages, which have been largely unaffected by political upheaval.
May to October is Fiji’s dry season with less humidity and milder temperatures – it’s the ideal time to visit.
Fijian villagers live in extended family groups under the influence of hereditary chiefs. Traditional arts and crafts such aswood carving and weaving, along with dancing and music, remain important parts of life. There is also a strong oral storytelling tradition, especially in rural areas. Food is plentiful for village feasts, while kava drinking is still an important ceremony.
In the more urban areas, the heavy influence of both the Indo-Fijian lifestyle and the indigenous Fijian way of life positively affect the cuisine and result in a great variety of food.
Fiji has a plethora of adventure opportunities, from scuba diving to rafting, surfing, skydiving, hiking and even shark diving. So you can just laze on the beach every day, or you could try…
Scuba diving: One of the fastest-growing activities in Fiji, you can complete your introductory experience with qualified instructors and join the seasoned divers at sites with warm clear water, teaming with life, soft and hard corals with exquisite colours. Diving is possible all year round at most island resorts and beach properties on the main island, Viti Levu.
Shark diving: There’s also the shark dives of Mana Island or Beqa Lagoon where you can get friendly with eight species of the finned ones.
Surfing: Two world championships have been held here in the last 10 years. The main sites are off the Nadi Coast and the Coral Coast of Viti Levu.
Snorkelling: See the natural underwater beauty as you float in the sun.
Other Water Sports: Waterskiing, parasailing, sailing, kayaking, kite surfing are popular in many locations around Fiji.
River Rafting: Several operators have exciting river-rafting trips that pick up and drop off from Nadi.
Mountain Treks and Village Tours: There are five operators providing inland sightseeing tours, mostly full-day trips. Visit a pottery village, enjoy a BBQ lunch and Fijian-style cooking, experience a traditional Fijian kava ceremony.
Island Day Visits: Various boat operators provide day trips, mainly from Nadi. Visitors can swim, snorkel and enjoy great food and beverages at reasonable prices.
Tandem skydiving: Try this exhilarating experience at Denerau’s beach, Nadi.
Fiji: Island by island
The three largest islands are Viti Levu (Great Fiji), Vanua Levu (Great Land) and Taveuni known as the Garden Island.
Viti Levu: Starting with your arrival at Nadi International Airport, there are a number of backpacker hotels and hostels providing good accommodation, numerous facilities and the opportunity to relax after travel, and start your Fiji adventure.
Two hours drive north from Nadi are the spectacular Nananu-I-Ra Islands lying a few kilometres offshore. Beautifully hilly, they are surrounded by white sand beaches and mangroves. There are lots of beachside budget resorts and a great variation of un-touristy dive sites all within a stones’ throw of the beach.
From Nadi the Queens Highway takes you on a scenic stretch south to Suva along the Coral Coast and different types of resorts dot the numerous beaches, all accessible by various regular bus operators.
Suva is Fiji’s political and administrative capital and home to almost half the population. There are a number of small hostels and budget hotels here, and visitors can enjoy the sights and shopping in Suva before heading for the beaches.
Yasawa Islands: The main budget backpacker properties are situated in the Yasawa Islands, north-west of Nadi. Some 24 properties operate over 20 rugged islands, with crystal blue lagoons and great beaches. The islands are serviced daily by the Yasawa Flyer, a large and fast catamaran.
Mamanuca Islands: Lying close to Nadi, there are 20 islands in the group renowned for their natural beauty. Many support resorts and large villages. Great diving and snorkelling is available and various backpacker resorts are serviced daily by fast catamarans.
Vanua Levu: Fiji’s second-largest island with its two major towns – Savusavu and Labasa – is worth a visit and is the fastest-changing place in Fiji. There are many small budget hostels, regular flights are scheduled from Nadi, plus three shipping operators service the island.
Taveuni: Called the “Garden Island” due to its lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls and a profusion of plants and flowers. The main tourist activities are diving and snorkelling. Boats operate regularly from Viti Levu.
Kadavu: Fiji’s fourth-largest island lies 100km south of Viti Levu. On its north coast is the Great Astralabe Reef, a famous diving spot. A ferry operates from Suva on a regular basis.
Fiji is cheaper than other Pacific countries, but more expensive than South-East Asian nations. Budget travellers can expect to pay around US$60-90 a day for accommodation, food and transport.
Photos: Chris McLennan, Andrew Westbrook / TNT Images