Fiji

Fijian Map

Background

Fiji covers a total area of some 194,000 square kilometres (75,000 sq mi) of which around 10% is land.

Fiji is the hub of the South West Pacific, midway between Vanuatu and the Kingdom of Tonga. The archipelago is located between 176° 53? east and 178° 12? west. The 180° meridian runs through Taveuni but the International Dateline is bent to give uniform time to all of the Fiji group. With the exception of Rotuma, the Fiji group lies between 15° 42? and 20° 02? south. Rotuma is located 400 kilometres north of the group, 670 km from Suva, 12° 30? south of the equator.

Fiji consists of 322 islands (of which 106 are inhabited) and 522 smaller islets. The two most important islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The islands are mountainous, with peaks up to 1,300 metres (4,250 ft), and covered with thick tropical forests. Viti Levu hosts the capital city of Suva, and is home to nearly three quarters of the population. Other important towns include Nadi (the location of the international airport), and the second city -Lautoka (the location of a large sugar mill and a seaport). The main towns on Vanua Levu are Labasa and Savusavu. Other islands and island groups include Taveuni and Kadavu (the third and fourth largest islands respectively), the Mamanuca Group (just outside Nadi) and Yasawa Group, which are popular tourist destinations, the Lomaiviti Group, outside of Suva, and the remote Lau Group. Rotuma, some 500 kilometres (310 mi) north of the archipelago, has a special administrative status in Fiji. Fiji's nearest neighbour is Tonga. The climate in Fiji is tropical and warm most of the year round.

Travel

Our itinerary went from Boston to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Nadi (on the island of Viti Levu in Fiji), Nadi to Pacific Harbour via a 3-hour bus ride, and then a 1-hour boat ride from Pacific Harbour to Beqa Island, where we transferred to a small motor boat that took us closer to the beach. Then we waded in knee-deep water to the shore.

American Airlines continues to be enormously painful in every respect. Thankfully it was only for 6 hours in each direction (Boston>L.A.). Air Pacific was noticeably better but not even close to Virgin Atlantic or Singapore Air in terms of helpfulness and comfort. Overall, the travel was not that bad, mostly because we were able to manage the layovers and sleep on the overnight flights.

Accommodations

We stayed at Beqa Lagoon Resort in an ocean-front bure (villa). The resort has 25 rooms, 12 of which are ocean-front, which indeed gave us an ocean view. Rooms are clean, spacious, and air-conditioned. They also have a sitting area with a day bed, a mini-fridge, and a hot pot. The water is drinkable, and there is power mostly 24/7 thanks to a generator. Rooms are serviced twice/day. We had a nice deck and a private plunge pool in our yard, along with a hammock (be careful of falling coconuts!).

Food

All meals are served in a common dining area. Breakfasts consist of a continental buffet, along with a choice of eggs or pancakes. At breakfast we filled out a small card to specify whether we wanted the fish, veggie, or meat entrée for lunch and dinner. Serving sizes are quite generous, and the food was rather rich (especially desserts). Coffee & tea (hot & iced) were always available.

There was a full bar - drinks costing ~$8. Diet Coke was available, which was a treat since that's often not the case in 3rd-world countries.

Diving

Much to our chagrin, Nitrox was not available on Beqa (4/2010). Our package provided 5 days of 2-tank boat dives with unlimited shore dives and 2 afternoon boat dives. We also purchased a 6th day of 2-tank boat dives. One option was to swap out a standard 2-tank day for the 2-tank shark/big fish dives, which is what we did. The dive boats typically held ~14 divers, with 2 dive masters, a boat captain, and an assistant. The marine head was surprisingly usable. On the first couple of days, the visibility was ~30 feet due to lots of recent storms and runoff. During the week the visibility improved to ~50 feet, especially as the weather got sunnier. Water temperature averaged 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Dives theoretically were limited to 60 minutes, but we managed to stretch that much of the time by being the first in and last out of the water. None of the dives went particularly deep (max. ~100 feet), with most dives being closer to 75 feet. But that wasn't a problem since the majority of the dive sites featured soft coral that was abundant at shallower depths.

Our only criticism of the diving was the diver-to-diver master ratio, which was insufficient. At times it seemed unclear whether a dive master knew how many were in his group. It was not unusual for the two dives groups to stray from one to the other underwater. Also, communication of the dive plans was sometimes unclear, e.g., should we wait at the surface and all descend together? should we meet on the bottom? how much current should we expect?

Marine life tended to be small - lots of nudibranches, clownfish, angel fish, and triggerfish. The shark dives, on the other hand, balanced that nicely with lots of HUGE fish. This was the highlight of our diving experience in Fiji. We saw white-tipped, black-tipped, lemon, bull, and tiger sharks, the largest being ~16-feet long. Tons of remora surrounded the sharks, along with schools of giant trevally.

Weather

The first two days featured afternoon showers, and it rained on one of our diving days while we were on the ocean. Otherwise, the sun shone every day. Temperatures were in the high 80s throughout our visit, with only mild humidity. Mosquitoes were rampant, and dengue fever is a risk in Fiji (thankfully malaria is not).

Spa

Newly opened in 2008, the spa offered a full menu of indulgent services, and we availed ourselves of some long, deep-tissue massages ($95 U.S. for 90 minutes) in the treatment rooms, which were open to the ocean. Between the birds singing and the gentle breezes, the setting couldn't be better.

Cultural Events

Beqa is the home of fire walking, and we were treated to a demonstration by the villagers. We still don't understand how they can withstand the heat, but it didn't seem to bother them at all. The fire walkers have a ritual that they follow, which seems to prevent injury. According to legend, they don't eat coconut or have sex with their wives (only men are allowed to fire walk) for 4 days preceding the event.

Dancing and singing were originally a method by which the oral history was preserved. All ages, both male and female, participate. Troupes of male villagers enact fighting rituals with native "weapons" (war clubs made from local wood). The women sang more peacefully to the visitors. We also got to visit a local village (Beqa has 9 villages but no town, nor any roads) and meet the school children. 2010 marked the first year that Beqa offered education beyond 8th grade. Prior to that time, children would go to the main island of Viti Levu if they wanted to pursue "higher education." We also learned that Beqa is home to 5 tribes, comprised of a chief, a speaker who functions as a liaison between the chief and the villagers, warriors who protected the chief, priests, and fishermen. These roles are birth rites and carried through the generations.

A sample of our pictures can be found here.

Another good information resource on the area