Whenever 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.
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.
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.
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.