No-one would blame you if your intentions while travelling in Fiji revolve purely around lazing on its tropical beaches which come unvaryingly in the guise of perfect South Pacific idyll. However, these volcanic islands, populated with folk of the enchanting kind, can offer more than just astonishingly lovely coconut palm-fringed sands and sea. Here are just ten of the best things to see and do in Fiji during your gap year.
1) Check Out at Least One Jungle Waterfall
Visit any of the Fijian waterfalls tumbling crystal clear water into a verdant jungle located pool (and there are lots of them) and it is guaranteed to take your breath away. However, two of the loveliest which are easy to access are the Tavoro Waterfalls on Taveuni Island and the Nagawaka Waterfall on Savusavu.
Tavoro Waterfalls are actually three separate falls with a changing area and toilets located at the first waterfall. Venture further to the second and third however and the reward for the extra effort is likely to be that of having the waterfalls and emerald pools all to yourself to cool down in.
Access to the lovely Nagawaka Waterfall on Savusavu requires permission – easily gained – from the village elder before you can strip down to your bikini or boardies and plunge into the pool’s cool waters. Fun water entries are possible from some high rock perches here too.
2) Get a Culture Fix at the Fiji Museum
Located in Suva on Viti Levu amid the botanic gardens, this excellent museum has significant anthropological, archaeological and historical interest. But even if you don’t normally interest yourself in things ending in -ical there is plenty to keep you engrossed here.
Its collection of hundreds and even thousands of years old artefacts give the museum’s visitors instant insight into Fijian traditions. Highlights include a huge canoe, weapons of combat, an exhibit on the subject of cannibalism (not for the squeamish) and even a shoe – looking distinctly gnawed at the edges – once the property of a missionary who was eaten by the locals.
If you happen to be in town on the last Saturday in the month check out the museum’s open-day and enjoy a spot of live music, traditional dance, poetry, a range of typical island food, handicrafts and if you are especially lucky even some fire-walking.
3) Watch the Fire Walkers
Beqa Island which lies off Viti Levu is best known as a diving Mecca but it is also home to a tribe who have been practising the ancient art of fire-walking since the dawn of time. This act of walking barefoot over white-hot stones and embers without injury was, according to myth, a power gifted to the Sawau tribe by a grateful spirit god whose life they spared. The fire-walking is part of a solemn ceremony which visitors to Fiji can take in on an organised tour.
4) Hike or Sand Board the Sigatoka Sand Dunes
The Sigatoka Sand Dunes are part of Fiji’s first National Park on Viti Levu. These fine grey sand dunes are big – running an impressive 5 km along the coast while at their widest they are a kilometre deep and rising to 60 metres at their highest point. These dunes are home to a vast burial site and along with the ancient pottery found here it is not uncommon for shifting winds and sands to expose human bones.
Call into the visitors centre to have a friendly chat with the typically chilled Fijian rangers who will give you a park overview and point you in the direction of where to walk to make the most of this area’s natural beauty complete with lovely views and archaeological sites of interest. If you prefer you can sign up for a guided tour.
Don’t forget to bring along your body board/sheet of cardboard etc if you’re up for a spot of dune surfing. You also might like to ditch the flip-flops or open-toed sandals for some kind of footwear which will protect you from the blisteringly hot sand.
5) Get Among the Orchids at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
Once the garden of an American actor, this 20 hectare site in Nadi on Viti Levu oozes tranquillity and Zen-like serenity in every step taken among its pathways, boardwalk, lawns, lily ponds and rainforest. It is also crammed to bursting with a whopping 2000+ varieties of orchids which can all be enjoyed while your ears take in a natural soundtrack of frogs calling and fountains trickling. The wonderful assault on the senses continues with aromas ranging from vanilla to orange.
Flower lovers will find themselves in a floral heaven while the non-horticulturally inclined will simply bask in the beauty of this Sabeto Valley located haven of peace. Don’t miss the half-buried statue of the sleeping giant sporting a green hairdo which is actually grass and should you have a desire to know exactly what the flowers are in this fantasy garden guides are available for free.
6) Share a Kava…Or Ten
Kava – a drink made from a peppery plant – is something of a big deal in Fiji. Drunk casually on a day-to-day basis but also featuring heavily in ceremonies, kava or yaqona has a mild sedative effect and could explain in no small part some of the ever-present air of laid-back which pervades all the islands’ people.
It is almost inevitable you will luck into some kava drinking during any trip here – simply going shopping tends to lean that way – and if you are especially lucky you will get invited to a ceremony. However, if you can’t wait for destiny to come calling there are plenty of tours offered of which a kava ceremony is a featured part. One such is the Nukubaluvu Village tour on Vanua Levu.
One word of warning – it is the done thing to down your kava in one go when the cup is offered to you and that is just as well because partaking is something akin to drinking mud laced with pepper.
7) Inject a Little Adrenaline into your Day with Zip-Lining or Abseiling
There are a few places in Fiji where you can choose to look down on the natural world below while buzzing along a zipline. Quite what your bird’s eye view will consist of depends on the company you sign up with but options include canyons, coast, mountains and rainforest canopies.
Most of the tours operate along a zipline course rather than one single line so you can get your kicks over and again with the chance to get your breath back on a series of platforms in between.
It is also possible to abseil into the Tau Caves on Viti Levu if whizzing down a 100 metre descent attached to a rope is something which appeals. You also get to explore these spectacular caves afterwards as well.
8) Wander the Wonderful Jungle Trails of Colo-I-Suva Forest Park
Spend a day pretending you’re in Jurassic Park wandering lush rainforest as the sounds of super-colourful native birds trill out their musical repertoire all around you. Greens are represented in every shade and the tropical plant life includes ferns dripping from the mahogany trees and exotic orchids.
If the walking proves too much stop off in one of the crystal-watered jungle swimming holes for a cool down – each courtesy of the Waisila Creek which meanders its way through the forest. The lower pools come with a rope swing for would-be Tarzans to play and splash about and there is more than one waterfall to enjoy along the several kilometres of walking trails too.
9) Get Mucky in the Sabeto Valley Hot Springs and Mud Pools
Some choose to get their pampering at a pricey spa (and there are a few of those in Fiji) while some prefer to do it the way nature intended. If you fall into the latter category be sure to check out Nadi’s Sabeto Mud Pool. It is claimed the mud in the three pools here has therapeutic and anti-ageing qualities which may or not be true but who cares. Covering yourself entirely with mud in a tropical setting is lots of fun. It seems the locals never tire of it anyway and swapping handfuls of mud is a great way to break the ice.
10) Have Some Natural Water-Park Fun at the Waitavala Rockslide, Waiyevo
Little enough known to be frequented more by locals than visitors, the Waitavala Natural Rockslide is, simply put, lots of fun. Once you’ve set off from the top the slip in your slide is created as sheets of water tumble down the rock face in a series of tiny waterfalls. The descent ends in a natural pool which is large enough for swimming if you don’t want to risk the bumps and bruises which seem to be an inevitable part of the experience here. Sensible folk slide down on their backside but there are often local children playing here who have become so adept they take the descent on their feet.