Sunday, June 23, 2013


A long time ago we looked into taking a cruise around the South Pacific. The idea of visiting such exotic-sounding destinations as Fiji and Tahiti was thrilling, and though we ultimately didn't book that cruise, the idea of visiting those places remained in our minds as a sort of ultimate beach trip. When we began planning this trip, we realized we had an opportunity to pick some island destinations in the South Pacific. Bali was the first of those exotic destinations, and the second was Fiji.

Fiji is a country made up of many islands, and is located about 1000 miles due north of New Zealand. It's a 4 hour flight from Sydney, Australia and a 3 hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, so you can imagine it's a popular vacation destination for people from those two countries. We weren't the only Americans at our hotel, but there definitely weren't many of us!

We stayed at a Hilton near the town of Nadi, where the main airport of Fiji is located. We had originally hoped to stay on one of the smaller islands, but the resort we'd booked was still rebuilding from severe damage done by a hurricane last year, and they had to cancel our reservation with fairly short notice. Many of the other places we'd been looking at were fully booked, so we ended up staying on the main island. It turned out to be a good choice, though. We were able to book a very nice suite and we were close to a shopping area where we ended up spending several evenings.

Our room had a gorgeous view of the ocean and lots of space for us to hang out in.

There was a little kitchen that even had a two-burner stove, but our single attempt at cooking on it wasn't a huge success, so we didn't try again. It's always hard to cook with minimal tools and convenience store ingredients. We did get a lot of use out of the fridge, though!

This was such a lovely sight to wake up to every morning.

The bedroom:

We also had a washer and dryer in this suite. We haven't been able to wash clothes whenever we want for nearly six months, and it's easy to forget what a luxury that is! 

The hotel was a series of villas, each containing several rooms. This was our building; the balcony you see on the very top of the building was ours.

We could walk right down to the beach. The ocean here was nearly still, which is always a strange sight. This beach was originally a mangrove forest that was cleared to create a beach. As a result, the ocean floor was a little slimy and it wasn't a great place to swim, but it was a lovely place for Carter to play in the sand. The beach was usually this empty, too. Most people at the resort spent their time by the pool.

I spent several lovely mornings lounging under one of these umbrellas and reading while Carter played in the sand.

Despite the stillness of the water, the tide still brought in lots of interesting shells, including lots of tiny conch shells.

I have so many pictures like this, of either an empty beach or of Carter on an empty beach. The hotel wasn't completely full, but many of the guests were families with pre-school-aged children, and most of them seemed to stay by the pool. 

Carter enjoyed the kids' menu in the restaurants. He likes circling his choice. Notice here that he crossed out the word "vegetables". 

We've been drinking a lot of local beer in the last few months, but I have to say that Fiji Bitter is one of the best local beers I've had in a long time. We drank a lot of it, too. ;-)

The hotel had a stretch of seven different pools, four of them were open to children. The water here was surprisingly cool - not too cool to swim, but cool enough that you had to grit your teeth a bit when first getting in.  

The requisite beer-by-the-pool picture. Ahhhhh.

We had some gorgeous views of sunsets here. 

Every night at sunset a man in traditional costume walked down the beach to light the torches. Carter got to help him one evening.

A short taxi ride away there was a little port with shops and restaurants, including a Hard Rock Cafe. We've been trying to go to Hard Rock Cafes whenever we find them, and this one was a lot of fun. The staff were very friendly and welcoming. In fact, we generally found the people in Fiji to be some of the most friendly and welcoming we've met anywhere. They are genuinely laid back and warm, and it really makes a difference to me as a tourist to feel like the people are genuinely happy I'm there, rather than just taking my money.

There was a kids' play space in the port as well, and we spent a couple of rainy afternoons letting Carter play there. The staff in this place would jump in and play with the kids, and Carter really loved that. They also had free wi-fi, and Doug and I enjoyed that. 

We generally had good weather. though there were several days when a storm blew up in the afternoon. One day we came back to our room to find our table had fallen over on our deck! We had a gas grill out on the deck, and one night ordered a BBQ package from room service and grilled for dinner.

This flower was all over the resort grounds, and it's really interesting. I have no idea what it's called.

When we were in Koh Samui, we spent one fantastic day on a private rented boat, cruising around the islands, snorkeling, and generally enjoying being in paradise. Since we were spending our entire time in Fiji on the main island, we decided to splurge on another boat charter day to see a bit more of the islands.

As we sped away from the harbor, we had a nice view of our resort fading into the distance.

One of our first stops was at a small coral reef for some snorkeling. Carter was excited to get in the water, and so was I.

He hasn't quite got the hang of breathing through the snorkel just yet. He gave it a try, but pretty quickly wanted to take it off and just float around in the water. 

It went well for a bit. The water was cloudy and the fish were a bit harder to see than what we'd experienced in Thailand, but it was still enjoyable -- at first. While I was swimming around, I began to notice tiny little stings on my arms and legs. At first I thought I was just imagining it, but then it got worse, and I realized that I was being stung by tiny jellyfish, so small I couldn't see them. It felt like getting pricked with pins, all over. I swam away from the reef a bit and it got better, but every time I approached the reef again, the stings would return. Around then, I heard Carter scream: he was getting stung too. I told him to swim back to the boat, and he booked it, swimming as fast as I've ever seen him.

The guy driving our boat said these were "sea lice", but when I looked them up later, I learned that this is a popular misconception and that we were actually being stung by jellyfish larvae. They have the same stinging cells as adult jellyfish, which presumably protects them from predators. So our snorkeling time there didn't last very long!

From there we went to a sandbar. The water was very shallow there, and very clear. We hopped out of the boat and waded around. It was utterly gorgeous.

There were some shallow reefs here, but there were also jellyfish larvae, which finally drove Carter back into the boat. At this point, he was starting to get paranoid about swimming in the ocean, poor kid. The sandbar had disappeared beneath the rising tide by the time we left, though, which was really amazing to see.

We asked our driver if he could take us to a beach where we could swim and Carter could play in the sand, and he took us to a nearby resort called The Plantation. It was a place we'd considered staying, and so it was good to get to see it. Here we were able to swim in jellyfish-free water (which was great because rinsing  in seawater is the best way to relieve jellyfish stings) and Carter even got some time to dig in the sand.

There were lots of little fish swimming close to the shore. 

How lovely is this?

We did more snorkeling after this in a spot with very clear water and incredible numbers of fish. The boat driver lent me an underwater camera and I took lots of photos. He said he would email them to me, but it's been a week and I've heard nothing, so... I'm guessing I won't be seeing those pictures after all. It's too bad, because the reef really was gorgeous.

I also ran into jellyfish larvae again. Carter headed back to the boat at the first sting, but I really wanted to tough it out and see the reef. Doug went back to the boat with him to let me keep snorkeling, and I spent another 20 minutes in the water. The jellyfish didn't really get bad until around the time I decided to head back to the boat, at which point I felt like I was swimming through a cloud of them. I kept having to stop and brush off the stings, and it wasn't fun. I've never experienced anything like that before, but from what I've read, it's actually pretty common along the gulf coast in the US. A week later, I still have welts! Though, honestly? Worth it!

Many of the small islands have resorts like these, very remote and isolated. Guests fly into the main island and then travel by boat out to the resort.

This is another resort we were thinking of staying at called Castaways. It was one of the places that was full when our original reservation was cancelled. It looked fantastic, though I think we enjoyed being close to shops and restaurants this time around. Sometimes remote is good and sometimes you want to be a little closer to the excitement. :-)

Speaking of Castaway, the movie of that name with Tom Hanks was apparently filmed in this area. 

Our last stop of the day was another sandbar, this one larger than the last.

It was surrounded by more water and the dropoff around it was steeper, so there were actual waves lapping up against the shores. When the water is this clear, the waves look like they're made of glass. It's stunning.

There wasn't another human being in sight the entire time we were there. It was far enough from the other islands that they were dark bumps off on the horizon, and so we had this huge stretch of turquoise sea completely to ourselves. It was quite possibly the most beautiful spot I've ever had the privilege of seeing.

Carter played in the sand for a while and we all went swimming, and it was fantastic. We spent more than an hour there, and it was with great reluctance that we finally left. I honestly don't think I will ever see a more beautiful place in my life.

I edited together some of our video from the day so that you can get a sense of what we saw. At the end, you can see us getting closer to our resort, which is the row of white buildings along the shore. Carter fell asleep on the way back, having worn himself out.

The day we left Fiji, it was raining. It rained the entire morning, and was still raining as the plane took off. There's something about leaving a place on a rainy day that helps to lessen the blow of your visit being over. We had a fantastic time in Fiji, and we really want to return someday. We both felt more comfortable there than almost any other place we've been this year. Maybe next time we'll stay at one of the more remote resorts, or maybe we'll return to the same area. Either way, it will be fantastic!

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