The islands of Fiji are somewhat of a destination within a destination. Whenever travelers think of Fiji, we envision long stretches of white sand, comfy beach chairs, fiery culture, and perfectly-angled palm trees which extend out over the water. Once you’ve decided that Fiji is the next stop on your travel list, the next step is to figure out which one of Fiji’s 300+ islands you’re going to choose for your tropical adventure. All of Fiji’s islands have experiences which cater to different types of travelers, so the following is a brief guide for island hopping in Fiji that will hopefully answer some lingering questions.
Since Fiji is an archipelago in the middle of the Pacific, it isn’t exactly nearby to anything. Flight times to Fiji are three hours from Auckland, four hours from Sydney, six hours from Hawaii, and 12 hours from the U.S. West Coast. To break up the length of the journey, many travelers elect to stop in Fiji as part of a Round-the-World ticket or as part of a stopover on a Trans-Pacific flight. Airlines such as Air Pacific (which will change to Fiji Airways in 2013) and Air New Zealand offer stopovers in Fiji when traveling between Australia/New Zealand and the North American continent, and oftentimes for no extra charge you can spend multiple days in Fiji before moving on to your final destination.
Most international flights land in Nadi on the island of Viti Levu, and a handful of flights will land outside the capital city of Suva. If islands such as Beachcomber Island, Tavarua, or Castaway Island are on your planned itinerary, you definitely want to arrange your arrival into Nadi instead of Suva since Nadi is the departure point for the popular Mamanuca Island chain.
By Land: Moving around the main island of Viti Levu is fairly easy. For those who are staying in high-end resorts around Denarau there is a good chance the resort will provide shuttle service between the airport, Nadi, and the general resort area. Other than the resort shuttles there are also a full range of buses, taxis and rental cars, and Americans must remember that Fijians drive on the left side of the road. Public buses run continuously around the island, and average travel time between Nadi and Suva is about three to four hours.
Travel on private express buses such as those provided by Sunbeam Transport and Pacific Transport is far more comfortable than the local buses which can make unscheduled stops at any given moment, and the express buses between Nadi and Suva will usually make regularly-scheduled stops in the Sigatoka area. Taxis are another popular way of moving about the island, and if you’re traveling short distances it’s best to ask the driver to use the meter, whereas if you’re chartering a long-haul taxi it’s best to agree on a price ahead of time. Finally, should you decide to rent your own car, know that the roads which venture in to the interior of the island are often only accessible by 4-wheel drive and require a driver who is experienced with off-road terrain. Nothing mars a trip like needing to hike to a local village to deal with the issue of a rental car stuck in the mud, although it’s sure to make a good story once the ordeal is finally through.
By Water: On the western half of the archipelago travel is seamless between Viti Levu, the Mamanuca, and the Yasawa island chains. Boats run between Nadi and the Mamanucas and between Denarau Marina and the outer islands. For travel to the Yasawa Islands (which are a bit further out than the Mamanucas), there’s the Yasawa Flyer boat. For travelers looking to island hop between a number of destinations, “Bula Passes” are sold in increments of 5 to 21 days and provide unlimited travel between all the islands. While this is by far the most convenient and economical way to travel between the islands, you can only hop between one island per day, many resorts have two night minimums, and you still need to make reservations for boat travel at least 24 hours in advance.
For boat travel between other islands such as Taveuni, Vanua Levu, and Kadavu, there are long-haul ferries which travel irregularly between Suva and major ports on each island. The money you save on a 20-hour ferry ride between Suva and Taveuni, however, isn’t worth the savings when compared to taking a short flight.
By Air: To island hop by air within Fiji the airline with the most comprehensive service is Air Pacific, an airline which offers domestic service between Nadi, Suva, Taveuni, Kadavu, Vanua Levu, and a host of smaller islands. All flights within Fiji are under an hour in flying time, with the exception being Nadi to Taveuni which can be as long as 1.5 hours.
Choosing an Island:
To be perfectly fair, Fiji can be a bit overwhelming. With so many islands and so many experiences it can be difficult trying to choose just a few where you want to want to spend your time. Ultimately, choosing which islands to hop between in Fiji all depends on what sort of experience you’re looking for.
To begin with, all international visitors will have to arrive through Viti Levu. If you only have a few days in the country and are on a pretty strict budget, the best bet is to base yourself in Nadi and hop between islands as separate day trips within the Mamanucas. Sure, you won’t get the resort experience, but you’ll save money by returning to Nadi each night, and you still get to enjoy the beaches by day. If beaches, sun, snorkeling, and palm trees are the main reason for your visit, the Mamanuca and Yasawa island chains are known for having drier weather and are the setting for most of Fiji’s postcard-perfect backdrops. For those who want to focus on surfing and snorkeling it’s best to hop between the exclusive enclaves of Tavarua, Namotu, and Castaway Island, and for those who want to drink the night away until the sun comes up again there is no better choice than the hedonistic Beachcomber Island. Or, for honeymooning couples looking for a romantic tropical retreat, Viwa Island and Waya Island in the Yasawa chain offer high-end luxury getaways without the crowds or crazy atmosphere.
If advanced scuba diving is the main reason for your journey, start off your experience on Viti Levu where you can base yourself out of Pacific Harbour for day trips to the Beqa Lagoon. Or, if you want to scour the walls of one of the world’s most fabled reefs, the Great Astrolabe Reef is easily accessed from the island of Kadavu where luxurious accommodations such as Matava Resort provide a world-class getaway for avid underwater explorers.
Finally, if you want to venture off of the normally beaten track, eastern islands such as Taveuni, Vanua Levu, and those in the Lau island chain offer a closer look at indigenous Fijian culture and have ample hiking, diving, and snorkeling opportunities as well. For a romantic retreat that isn’t in the Mamanucas or Yasawas, Matangi Island is a small, private retreat located off of the coast of Taveuni which is popular with honeymooners and those who want an escape to serenity.
While it definitely isn’t possible to do it all on an average-length trip to Fiji, the best bet is to not try and do too much and simply focus on a handful of islands which fit the experience you’re looking for.
One week trip: Fly into Nadi and immediately hop on a boat to the Mamanuca island of your choice. Purchase a 5 day “Bula Pass” and hop between two different islands, spending two nights at each. On the return trip, spend a night in either Denarau or downtown Nadi as you explore the markets of the Viti Levu mainland, or arrange a day tour to a traditional Fijian village.
For a two week trip: For those spending two weeks in Fiji we have arranged three separate possible itineraries:
Plan A: Spend the entire time in Viti Levu, the Mamanucas, and the Yasawas.
Upon arriving in Nadi you can hop immediately on a South Sea Cruises boat to the Mamanuca or Yasawa island of your choice. Purchase a 10 day “Bula Pass”, and blend various experiences between the festive chaos of Beachcomber and the tranquil respite of Waya Island. Upon returning to Nadi or Denarau, hop on an express bus to the “Coral Coast” to relax for a few days in the Sigatoka or Pacific Harbour area before returning for your flight out of Nadi.
Plan B: The Mamanucas, Nadi, Suva, and Taveuni
Upon arriving in Nadi, get a 5 day “Bula Pass” and hop between two different Mamanuca islands. Return to Viti Levu and spend two days in the resort complex of Denarau, or settle for some budget accommodations in Nadi so you can instead devote your budget to visiting local villages or exploring the west end of the island. After two days in Nadi, hop aboard an express bus to the capital city of Suva where you will spend a day perusing the Fiji Museum and the confines of Colo-i-Suva Forest Park. Depart the next day on a domestic flight out of Suva to the eastern outpost of Taveuni, where you will spend five days trekking, snorkeling, diving, and experiencing a taste of authentic Fijian culture. Return on another domestic flight to the main island of Viti Levu for your departure out of either Suva or Nadi international airports.
Plan C: Nadi, Coral Coast, Suva, Taveuni, Kadavu
Arriving in Nadi, hop on an express bus to the Coral Coast of Viti Levu for a couple of days of relaxing beachfront on famous Natadola Beach. Once you’ve soaked up your fair share of rays, continue on to Suva for a day exploring the markets, the Fiji Museum, and the trails of Colo-i-Suva Forest Park. Depart the next day on a domestic flight out of Suva to the eastern outpost of Taveuni, where you will spend five days trekking, snorkeling, diving, and experiencing a taste of authentic Fijian culture. Return to Suva on a domestic flight before hopping on another puddle jumper down to the sparsely-populated island of Kadavu. Scuba diving and ocean view massages will be the two main focuses here, and this will be your jumping off point for multiple days of diving along the famous Astrolabe Reef. Throw in some treks to a few waterfalls and a visit to a traditional village, and you will be ready for your flight back to Nadi and your long-haul flight back home.