Trapped in Paradise

Palm trees on Fiji's beachesWhenever I hear the word “Fiji,” I think of those postcards you see in airports—white sand beaches, palm trees, a little boat in the ocean, and the bluest, clearest water in the world. Essentially, my idea of heaven.

With Gary from Everything-Everywhere heading to Fiji, I thought there was no better time to cross off one of my travel goals. Even though I was exploring the south island of New Zealand, I decided to change course. Finishing New Zealand could wait—I was on my way to Fiji.

The deep blue water, the white sand beaches, the lush jungles. Looking out over the boat to the Yasawa Islands, I was struck by the sheer beauty of Fiji. Paradise doesn’t accurately describe this place. The Yasawas are beautiful. Mind numbingly, stupidly beautiful. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I‘ll let the pictures here fill in the adjectives for you.

In addition to being heavenly, the islands are easy to get around, the Fiji dollar is cheap, and there are all your typical island activities to do. Basically, you have everything you need to make this paradise. Throw in the sound of crashing waves, the relaxed attitude (you quickly discover “Fiji time”), and the starlit nights, and you‘ll never want to leave. You‘re a million miles from anywhere, and after a day here, that‘s exactly where you want to be.

A photo of the Yasawa islands in Fiji from afar

Island-hopping the Yasawa Island chain, I’ve determined that backpacking in Fiji is like nowhere else in the world. Close to the mainland, these islands are popular with backpackers because they‘re cheap, easy to get to, and known for their lively atmosphere. There’s only one boat through these islands, and all the islands have two or three resorts you can get dropped off at. The resorts provide all your meals, and you book all your activities through them. It’s packaged backpacking. You move from resort to resort like a tour. Except these resorts focus on budget travel—cheap activities, dorms, and cheap beer. No five-star luxury here. It’s not my normal mode of travel, but it hasn’t taken away from the experience at all.

Three kayaks lying on the beach in Fiji

While I’m a lover of all things tropical, one thing that‘s really struck me here has been the locals. Everyone has been friendly and extremely welcoming. They‘re always saying hello, asking where you‘re from, how you like it here, and having a 20-questions style conversation with you. At night, they come over and spend time with the guests.

On a clear and balmy night, Gary and I were invited to hang out with the staff of Waya Lai Lai resort (I highly recommend staying there) and drink kava. Kava is the traditional drink of Fiji. Made from the kava root and mixed with water, it has an earthy taste, and as a mild relaxant, it makes your mouth and tongue numb and tingling.

There’s a special ceremony to drinking it. You must clap once before you drink, yell bula, drink in one gulp, and clap three times when you finish. The clapping is out of respect for the drink. They drink this every night and spend the night relaxing. Bowls and bowls of kava get passed around, and the night that started out loud gets more relaxed and quiet. Handing out drinks to us, they always asked if Gary and I wanted high tide or low tide (essentially a lot or a little). Until your last drink. Then they finish you off with a “tsunami.” Needless to say, I slept well that night.

The sunsets in Fiji are pink and stunning

Despite being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Fiji is quite accessible. It’s a standard stop on round-the-world tickets. If you‘re coming from Australia or New Zealand, you can get an easy stopover flight. I’m not sure why more people don’t take advantage of it, but if you want easy living in a South Pacific paradise at a budget traveler’s price, make Fiji one of your cross-Pacific stops.

  1. Oh, I love these pics, Matt! Fiji was one of my favorite vacations of all time. Everything stressful disappeared and I relaxed like I’ve never done before. Hope you have a fantastic time! :-) I’m jealous beyond words. :-)

      • shirley

        Hi Matt,
        Hope you’re well, love your blog. Just reading about Fiji and your island trips. Could you tell me where you scupa dived and where you were able to get private rooms? Thanks in advance, really appreciate your help! Shirley

  2. Kine

    Ahh, you poor thing who’s “trapped” in Fiji!
    Pictures are amazing, and it sounds like it is as well. Keep enjoying!

  3. Ahimsa

    Fiji is my least favorite place I have ever traveled to, but it’s my own fault. I decided I wanted a cultural experience and stayed on the main island. I was robbed in Suva and Lautoka was not much better. I was not once actually approached by a non-tout.. I’m sure Fiji is awesome, but in the overly-obvious advice category, you have to get off the main island.

  4. what a great place to be trapped in!
    I was debating about including Fiji in my RTW itinerary but you just convinced me it´s a go! did you fly there? if so, from which city in NZ?

  5. Will


    Now I gotta add Fiji to my list
    of places to visit. That’s what’s so
    awesome about travel. There is just
    soooo much to see!

    Awesome stuff man.

  6. Ah, I have great memories of Fiji when I visited in 2002. There is nothing quite like “Fiji Time”. Fiji Time is the slowest pace of life I have ever witnessed anywhere. Nothing gets done in a timely manner, but who cares, you’re in Fiji! The most relaxing place I’ve ever been by far. Have fun, Matt

  7. In my opinion, clapping out of respect for a drink should be worldwide. :) I never gave that part of the world much thought, now you have me interested. Thanks for the article!

  8. Everyone I know who’s been to Fiji absolutely loves it. And your right, Matt, it’s super easy to include it in an RTW trip. Air Pacific will typically give a free stopover in Fiji on continuing flights, which if perfect for people traveling between Los Angeles or Honolulu and Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane in Australia. Opportunity!

    They’ve also added a nonstop flight to Hong Kong, so if you’re in Asia and going to Melbourne you can still work in a rest day (or week) in Fiji.

  9. Dan

    Hey Matt,

    I know what you mean about Fiji and the Yaswara Islands! I also stayed on Waya Lai Lai in 2008. Fantastic little village to stay at, it was great to just chillout with the locals, chatting away eating coconut or just lounging around. Highly recommended!


  10. Sara

    We stayed there in May of 2006!! Loved it, the people at the resort were so nice and it was so relaxing! We headed to Octopus Resort on our last night for a little nicer accomidation. We spent as much money on one night as we did for 3 on Waya Lai Lai!!

  11. Bec

    To anyone who loved fiji… i recommend vanuatu. Havn’t been to fiji yet, going later this year, but it sounds similar… friendly locals, great relaxed island atmosphere, beautiful beaches, good snorkelling & diving. Not sure bout fiji but vanuatu also offers some beautiful more inland attractions like a valcano & awesome waterfalls. Hoping fiji wont disappoint after such a wonderful holiday last year in vanuatu.

  12. Great post on Fiji. A Fijian holiday is something that everyone should take up and one that will not be forgotten easily.

    It is refreshing to see that people around the world are starting to see Fiji as a great destination.

  13. I agree with you “Paradise doesn’t accurately describe this place”. I have a friend there and initially first pictures he sent them I thought they were processed

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