Fijians are some of the friendliest people on the planet. When you see their heavenly country, you understand why. This South Pacific nation consists of several hundred volcanic and coral land masses scattered across turquoise seas. It is an increasingly popular playground for Australians and New Zealanders, with hotels for every budget. From tiny sandy atolls to jagged jungle covered mountains, there’s more than enough to do for a month.

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Fiji is located on the southwest rim of the Pacific Ocean and is made up of 333 tropical islands (~110 of which are populated), along with 540 islets. Fiji is spread over three million square kilometers and contains 1,130 km of coastline. The largest Fijian islands are Viti Levu (‘Great Fiji’), along with Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Kadavu. The capital of Fiji is Suva and has a population of ~200,000, the total population of Fiji in 2014 is 887, 000. The Republic of Fiji lies 1,850 km north of Auckland, New Zealand, and 2,800 km north-east of Sydney, Australia. Fiji is surrounded by Tonga, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.

In regards to local services, access to the internet and email is available in most parts of Fiji. In addition to major hotels, internet cafes are abundant in major cities and towns. The Fijian dollar is the basic unit of currency. There is an effective medical system in place with government and privately run hospitals, clinics, surgical centres, dental service and pharmacies. The main international airport is in western Viti Levu, at Nadi. Nausori, near Suva, is the hub for inter-island flights, and receives some international services. Most islands have airports or landing strips. Lautoka, in the north-west of Viti Levu, is the main port; others are Suva, Levuka and Savusavu. Ferry services operate between the larger islands. There are roughly 3,440 km of roads, 49 per cent are paved. The network is vulnerable to flooding and hurricane damage.

The Fijian archipelago was formed through volcanic activity around 150 million years ago and today is famous for its spectacular coral reefs and thriving marine ecosystems. According to archeological evidence, Melanesian people populated Fiji more than 3500 years ago (Melanesia is a sub-region of Oceania – consisting of Vauatu, Solomon islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, south of Micronesia and west of Polynesia). The first known contact with Europeans occurred in 1643, when the island of Vanua Levu was explored by Abel Tasman. British explorers including Captains James Cook also passed through in the late 18th century.

The first American ships arrived in the 19th century, bringing adventurers attracted by the resources of sandalwood (which were exhausted within ten years). Later, Europeans began establishing cotton plantations but came into conflict with the Fijians over land, political power and the use of imported labour (including an increasing Indian population).

Fiji became independent and joined the Commonweath in 1970. However, in 1987 the government was overthrown in a coup, which called for the ethnic Fijian dominance of all future governments. Following the 1987 coups, Fiji became a republic, with a President appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga; heads of the ethnic Fijian clans). Fiji resumed its membership of the Commonwealth in 1997 and its new constitution came into force in 1998, however in 2000 armed ethnic Fijians overthrew the government. A new constitution was proclaimed in 2013. Fiji is currently suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth, pending restoration of a democratically elected Government.

In 2014 there were 660,000 international visitors to Fiji – If it’s the tropical island experience you want, then head for the Mamanuca or Yasawa island groups, or, if you have more time, to the outlying flat atolls of the Lau group. On the main island of Viti Levu, you can hike to the top of Mount Batilamu in Koroyanitu National Park or go white-water rafting. On Taveuni – ‘the garden island’ – you can hike into the rainforest to search for one of the world’s rarest flowers – the tagimaucia. On Kadavu, people grow the best kava – a root made into a narcotic peppery brew and drunk as a welcome ceremony.

But it is the people whom you will remember most from a visit to Fiji: their cheery ‘Bula’ greeting, wide smiles and infectious laughter. A highlight of any visit should be some time with a family in a simple thatched bure homestay or in a village-run guest house. It may not be the smoothest operation, but relaxing to the rhythm of island life is life-changing.

Ethical Travel Issues and advice

‘Bures’

Tourism is the largest foreign-exchange earner in Fiji. Other major economic activities include agriculture (namely Sugar cane), gold-mining, fishing and timber production. Tourism in Fiji is famous for its crystal clear coral reefs, tropical rainforests and pristine beaches – all of which rely on the health of the natural environment. Fijian people understand the importance of their beautiful environment to their well-being, employment and survival. Visitors need to be aware of the importance the fragile Fijian environment and support local tourism operators that have experience with living with the land (not on it). There are various family owned accommodation providers throughout Fiji, including local overwater huts named ‘Bures’, which provides an authentic accommodation experience along with a great way to meet and support the local community.

Respecting your hosts:

The Fijian people are lively, light hearted and energetic. Whilst visitors are encouraged to learn about local customs and ceremonies, it is importance you respect your hosts and respect customs. If you are lucky, you might experience drinking Kava (a drink made from a local plant with sedative effects), eating at a Lovo (a Feast of meat and vegetables cooked in the earth) or experiencing the Meke (traditional song and dance). Keep in mind the importance of respecting the local people and communities:

– When entering a village, prior consent must be granted; It is expected that one removes bags from shoulders as a sign of respect. Once in the village everyone is on the same level, material assets (thing in bags) are lowered to emphasize this.

– Sulus are worn by all women and shoulders are covered; Swimsuits and shorts are acceptable along the beach but it is important to dress modestly and respectfully when entering the village. It is respectful for women to cover their shoulders and knees – it is best to wear long dresses, skirts, or sulus (rather than shorts or trousers) and shirts with sleeves. Men may wear shorts, trousers or sulus and shirts with sleeves.

– In Fijian culture, the head is considered ‘sacred space’ seen as a human’s connection to Heaven; It is best not to cover your head )hats, scarves, bandanas), as it may block this connection. Hats and sunglasses are acceptable along the beach, but when you enter the village please take off your hat and sunglasses, and carry bags in your hands rather than over your shoulders.

Political instability:

There were 661,000 tourist arrivals in 2012. However, Fiji has a recent history of political instability that can, and has, deterred tourists. Fiji has experianced a period of political instability that has had a detrimental impact on establishing an image of a ‘safe and secure’ tourism destination. Fiji has become dependent on tourism, with tourism becoming Fiji’s biggest source of employment and Foreign exchange.

Fiji has suffered from being politically unstable due to the military coup attacks of 1987, 2000 and 2006 – resulting in foreign travel warnings. Statistics taken from Fiji Islands Bureau of statistics shows how tourist arrivals declined at the time of the year 2000 coup and also in 2007 after the 2006 coup. Following the coup of December 2006, tourist numbers fell by 70 per cent. It is worth noting that Foreign diplomats and tourists in Fiji during the coups claimed that the travel warnings were unnecessary, with a ‘travel-mole’ article in 2009 stating that various tourists claimed that they felt safe visiting Fiji and were aware that the attacks were not targeting the tourists themselves.

Supporting locally sourced handmade gifts & souvenirs

Today Fijian values and ideals are being constantly challenged. Various traditional skills have been passed down for generations through local Fijian communities, are slowly declining and being forgotten. Programs have been introduced to assist Fijian Elders pass down such skills to younger generations – workshops have been organized by NGO’s such as Partner’s in community development (PCDF). These workshops have proven popular and are attended by men, women and youths; they promote the use of local resources to make handicraft products to be marketed to local tourist establishments.

The revival of local and traditional handicraft practices is high on the agenda for NGO’s as they can also be used as an environmentally friendly source of income generation. The main handicraft skills taught at workshops are basket weaving, screen printing, jewellery making (from the natural resources available) and in some cases the revival of the pottery skills. When possible, look for the origin of any souvenirs/gifts and support locally sourced goods.

Reefs & Delicate Marine Ecosystems:

‘Fish feeding dive tours’ and ‘interactive diving’ are becoming popular in Fiji, despite the potentially harmful effect this can have on marine life. Fish feeding can cause changes in the behavioural patterns of the fed animals and disrupt natural processes vital to the marine community. In the Mamanuca Islands an increase in aggressive behaviour of certain fish species has been observed in areas where fish feeding occurs. Fish that become used to human food handouts may swarm around and nibble at divers or snorkelers, ruining their experience of viewing the reef. Feeding algae-eating fish can lead to their neglect of eating algae – an important role which maintains coral growth. We encourage people to avoid feeding or touching animals when diving or snorkelling.

Sea turtles are common in Fiji and are beautiful to observe underwater, but are also endangered. Divers should keep their distance from turtles, as touching them can spread deadly bacteria and hinder attempts to rebuild their population.

The Kula Eco Park is a captive breeding centre for endangered Fijian wildlife. The park’s purpose is to conserve and breed Fiji’s endangered native animals and re-release many of them back into their natural environment. The park allows visitors to handle and take photographs with some of the animals including rare iguanas and help hand feed the hawksbill turtles. Whilst this ‘hands-on’ experience is popular with tourists and educational for school children, it is potentially stressful for the animals and such high level of human contact may prevent their ability to re-enter the wild. Whilst this park clearly has good intentions, consider the impacts before visiting.

Water:

Some 96 per cent of the population uses an improved drinking water source and 87 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2011). Access to clean drinking water and sanitation is essential for the health of the local population – visitors must be aware of the importance of preserving fresh drinking water and not wasting such a valuable resource. (See Tourism Concern’s campaign on water scarcity).

Litter:

One of the biggest challenges Fiji faces today is the increasing amount of litter which is harming the environment and wildlife. Turtles are especially susceptible to plastic bags and may swallow them accidentally causing death. When batteries breakdown they leak harmful chemicals that kill corals and other marine life. To counteract this problem, tourists can dispose of rubbish responsibly, by recycling or taking it to proper dumping facilities. Extra caution of litter disposal should be taken on beaches or boats, to avoid it being blown into the sea.

Global Warming:

Fiji attracts divers year round to observe its diverse and stunning coral reefs. Tourists should be mindful of the marine life they encounter whilst diving in Fiji. Increasing numbers of tourists and human activities are all endangering Fiji’s coral reefs. You can help preserve Fiji’s ocean ecosystem by not stepping on or touching the coral or marine life, reporting any illegal fishing or dumping and supporting organizations that protect coral reefs.

Fijian Tourism relies on its pristine environment to attract tourists from around the globe. The unique natural environment, especially reefs and coral, is vulnerable to small changes in the climate & ocean water temperatures. Hurricanes are relatively frequent and droughts can also cause problems, for example a severe drought in 1997–98 was followed by cyclones and extensive flooding – the islands were again devastated by Cyclone Ami in January 2003. Therefore, Fiji must do all it can to contribute to the global strategy to combating climate change and reducing the risk of rising ocean temperatures and increased extreme weather events.

Useful Information

The climate in Fiji is tropical and oceanic. South-East trade winds prevail; day temperatures range from 20 to 29°C and humidity is high. The rainy season is November to March with the temperatures registering from 22° to 33°c. On average, the country is affected by a hurricane every other year and flooding is common during the wet season. You can expect April to October, the cooler months, to range from 19° to 29°c.

Fiji has frequently been called “the crossroads of the Pacific”. The archipelago falls into the same time zone, 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. From November to February Fiji moves one hour ahead with its own daylight savings

Much of Fiji is volcanic in origin, with the larger islands featuring populated coastal plains and uninhabited mountainous interiors. Many of the smaller islands have stunning coral reefs and surfing is popular near such reefs. The highest point is Mt Tomanivi on Viti Levu (1,323 metres), and the main rivers are the Sigatoka, Rewa and Ba on Viti Levu, and the Dreketi on Vanua Levu. River deltas contain most of the country’s arable land.

Fiji is a very hospitable land of lagoons, lush rainforests, pine forests, mountains and white sand beaches. Fiji has six national parks that are administered by the National Trust of Fiji. Bouma National Heritage Park is one of the most popular with various hiking routes. The high rainfall and fertile volcanic soil has provided Taveuni Island with dense rainforest abundant with wildlife, the area has been well conserved by protecting the region from logging and introduced species (such as Mongoose).

Known as the ‘soft coral capital of the world’, The ocean surrounding Fiji is home to more than 1200 species of fish and a vast array of marine life including sea snakes and moray eels. The Vatu-I-Ra Passage in the Bligh Water is a marine protected area managed by the local community and has a plentiful variety of coral, fish and sharks.

The distribution of the rainfall is the determining factor in the country’s vegetation. Dense forests and coastal mangrove swamps are found in the east, with grasslands and coconut palms on the coasts to the west. Forest covers 56 per cent of the land area, however over-logging has been in issue in the past, with Indigenous sandalwood resources exhausted in the 19th century.

In regards to local fauna, Fiji is home to six species of bat, including four fruit bats (flying-foxes), and the Polynesian rat. All other mammals have been introduced, mainly during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are more than 100 species of birds, 14 of which are endangered (2012), and several snakes and lizards, including the recently discovered crested iguana. Fiji’s waters contain turtles, sharks, eels and prawns.

To avoid the introduction of foreign plant and animal pests and diseases, Fiji prohibit the importation of vegetable matter, seeds, or any animal product without a permit from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests.

It is encouraged to dress modestly when away from hotels and resorts, particularly when visiting a Fijian village. Avoid wearing a hat in a village, it is considered an insult to the village chief. It is also insulting to touch someone’s head, including children. When visiting a village it is customary to present an inexpensive gift of ‘yaqona’ or kava to the “Turaga Ni Koro”, the traditional head of the village. Be prepared to shake hands and answer personal questions as to where you are from, whether married; and, if so, how many children.

If invited to a Fijian home for a meal, remove shoes when visiting someone’s house and don’t be surprised if everyone eats by sitting on cushions on the floor. When food is served, it is the local custom to wait patiently until the house guest makes their first move towards the food, otherwise everyone will simply wait around with grumbling stomachs. No one will remind you as it is deemed impolite.

You’ll find many ‘typical’ retail shopping outlets in Fiji, suitable for traditional tourist shopping. Markets are also prominent, offering fruit and vegetable, handicraft vendors, Indian merchandise and specialty gift stores. It’s here in the market place that you might find yourself in a bargaining session over price – bargaining in such markets is acceptable. Tipping is no expected or encouraged, but if visitors wish they are able to offer extra payment for outstanding service.

Fijian food typically consists of rice, sweet potatoes, taro, cassava, coconut and fish; using mostly open fire or underground cooking methods. ‘Lovo’ is prepared for communal celebrations and is a style of cooking that is popular throughout the Pacific region – it refers to the way meat, fish and vegetables are steamed under heated earth. Common dishes include Kokodo/Kokoda, a popular dish that has many variations in the Pacific – the island’s equivalent of South America’s Ceviche. Kokodo is made up of raw Mahi-mahi fish and a dressing called ‘Miti’ which is made from thick coconut cream with onions, lemon/lime juice, salt and chilies. ‘Palusami’ is also a popular dish which consists of corned beef or fish baked served with coconut milk in taro leaves.

The heavy influence of the Indo-Fijian culture also means the cuisine has elements of colorful curries and spices with it. It is not uncommon to find restaurants serving up Madrasi masala dosa to Punjabi tandoori chicken. Most of the Indian dishes have evolved along with the availability of fresh Fijian produce, served slightly milder and uses local ingredients such as taro and tavioka.

Yaqona (pronounced yangona) or Kava is Fiji’s national drink. It’s made from the pulverised root of a member of the pepper family. It’s believed to have medicinal qualities (apart from making you feel mellow).

Heart disease and obesity rates are rising annually in Fiji. This has been attributed to various introduced foods rich in sugars, preservatives and saturated fats – which is a problem for the health of young Fijians. Such food types are cheap and easy to cook, and are often bought with the money raise at market from selling fresh fish. As a visitor, explore the delicious range of Fijian cuisine and avoid imported junk food.

Fiji’s population is made up of indigenous Fijians, Indians, Chinese, Europeans and South Pacific Islanders. The official language is English, but Fijian, of which there are more than 300 dialects, is widely spoken. A single dialect, Bauan, is used in the media. Hindi is the main language of the Indian population, although it is now distinct from that spoken in mainland India. English, Fijian and Hindi are all taught in schools and most of the population is at least bilingual.

Fiji is a multicultural nation with many religious beliefs. The people are primarily of Wesleyan persuasion, along with various protestant denominations, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism and Islam. According to the 2007 census, Christians represented 65 per cent (Methodists 35 per cent, Roman Catholics 9 per cent, Assembly of God 6 per cent, Seventh Day Adventists 4 per cent), Hindus 28 per cent, Muslims 6 per cent and a small number of Sikhs.

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