Even though Fiji is quite close to Australia, I’d never been drawn to it.
To be honest, I’d been turned off the country from my days as a travel agent when I realised it was a luxury island destination for upper-middle class families (ie. the opposite of me, a young and frugal backpacker).
Still, when we were invited to visit the country for a friend’s wedding, Robert and I decided to give it a go. We planned to spend 4 days in the country before our trip to Latin America.
Even though the tropical wedding and post-wedding cruise looked like they’d be a lot of fun, my expectations for Fiji were fairly low. What I knew about the country was this:
- Almost all of the people who booked flights through me as a travel agent were Australian families with young kids
- Most people who visit spend 1-2 weeks staying in just one luxury hotel, maybe heading out for 1 or 2 activities during their stay
- Most of the hotels in Fiji are luxury and all inclusive
- 4 out of 5 people I know who have visited Fiji seem to think it’s fairly average
To me, it didn’t sound all that great, and yet some people keep travelling there time and time again. Curious to see why people are drawn to Fiji, I made it my mission to discover the source of the island’s appeal.
Our flight to Nadi Airport
We arrived in Sydney airport at some ungodly hour of the morning. As we waited at the gate for our flight, my fears that Fiji was primarily a family destination were confirmed.
Boarding was called for families with children under 2 years old, and promptly 50% of the passengers stood up to embark our flight. Another 45% seemed to have children that were slightly older than 2, and the remaining 5% were young couples like ourselves. We felt rather out of place.
The entire flight ended up being a chorus of at least three children crying nearby at any one time. As I mentioned in Why I won’t be flying Fiji Airways again, it was not a pleasant flight.
Still, I respectfully reserved my judgement of Fiji until I actually landed on the island.
Enjoying a beer by the beach in Nadi
the backpackers, nadi
Seeing as this was the beginning of 7 weeks of travel, we needed to keep costs as low as possible. The backpackers area of Nadi was going to be our best option for cheap accommodation.
Our taxi took us the area where a number of budget hostels lined the beach, just a few minutes drive from the international airport. Upon finding our room, the reason this hostel had been cheap became obvious – the cracked toilet was being held together with copious amounts of duct tape, the bunk beds felt as though they might collapse on top of us at any second, and the sheets looked less than clean.
Oh well, we’d been in shitty hostels before. Plus, we were only staying 4 days. We could deal.
We wandered about to explore the area. The beach was ok, not the nicest I’ve seen and it wasn’t really appealing to jump in the ocean, but there were hammocks and sun chairs available for us to sit and watch the sunset, and a beach bar at the hostel next door where we could get our hands on some pints of Fijian beer.
My favourite spot in Nadi
Hoping that we might be able to use the local grocery store to save some money on food, we quickly realised that this wasn’t an option. Aside from the fact that many of the hostels in Nadi don’t have a communal kitchen, there is also very little food produced on the island, meaning many of the groceries you’d normally take for granted are imported and therefore expensive.
Most of the time we were eating at the Smugglers Cove hostel restaurant, by far the best option nearby… but the food was fairly bland and westernised. The best meal we had was soup (a Fijian Rou Rou and a Pumpkin), but even the bread roll that came with it was average.
There wasn’t much else to do around the backpackers area. As someone who usually explores a new place by foot, it was hard for me to comprehend the need to take a taxi every time I wanted to leave the hostel. The closest area of interest (Nadi’s town centre) was about 10 minutes drive away, and one trip in had us content that there wasn’t much worth seeing there.
Never mind, I thought, surely the luxury hotel areas will be nicer.
The wedding location in Natadola Bay
The coral coast
The wedding we were attending was at Natadola Bay on the Coral Coast, a good 45-minute taxi ride from Nadi. On arrival at the Intercontinental Hotel, we were guided through the appallingly huge hotel lobby by one of the hundreds of well-dressed hotel staff (a rather awkward experience for a couple of cheap-ass backpackers) to get to the area where the wedding would be held.
Our eyes fell upon the beach, where a picturesque selection of palm trees and garden beds lined the sand. The beach in Nadi seemed like a soppy brown mess in comparison.
The ceremony was in a beautifully manicured grassy spot overlooking the ocean, and that evening at the wedding reception we sampled the best food we’d eaten in Fiji. This is what Fiji should be like, we thought…
…except that it would have cost us no less than $360 AUD per night to stay there. Absurd! Even if we went for one of the two cheaper nearby hotels, we still would have paid over $170 AUD per night. Way beyond our backpackers budget.
It was as though Fiji was teasing us by what we could have had, if only we were rolling in the dough.
Our ocean cruise out to the reef
Denerau, the reef, and the islands
On the way to the port for our ocean cruise, I pressed my nose up against the bus window to try and get a perspective of Denerau. From what I could see through the glass, it looked to be an area of rich people’s houses with some more luxury hotels thrown in. Go figure.
From Port Denerau we jumped on a boat and head out to the reef for some snorkelling. Even though I was somewhat hungover for much of it (free alcohol at weddings is my kryptonite), I really enjoyed the cruise.
Fiji’s appeal really lies with the surrounding ocean, and it delivers. The snorkelling is great, there are sandbars you can swim out to, and jumping off the boat into the turquoise blue water is every bit as fun as it looks.
With this in mind, I wondered whether Fiji’s smaller islands would be more enjoyable than the mainland. I asked a few people at our hostel what their thoughts were, and their response was consistently that the islands are beautiful, but expensive. Even the island with a hostel had pricey food and drinks, making it not so affordable after all.
my final thoughts on fiji
I’ve put off completing this post for a long time as I was wary about coming across as a tropical island hater, which is totally not the case – right now I’m in Barbados and I truly love it here.
But with Fiji, my original expectations were pretty much spot on. My days were spent much like how I thought they would be; eating overpriced food, staying at shitty hostels, and wondering why people went there.
Sure, Fiji is a nice country, but I felt like most of it was just a show for tourists. In the end, I think there are a million other places in the world with better beaches, better food, better prices, and a more prominent local culture.
So after seeing this island country for myself, I have determined whether it lives up to the hype, and my answer is…
…no. It doesn’t. At least not for people like me.
I know there are going to be some people that disagree with me on this one, but I just couldn’t love Fiji. The readers of this blog are mostly backpackers or young couples, so if you fit into this category, I’d highly recommend a trip to South East Asia instead where you can get everything Fiji offers plus more.
If you’re a family with young kids and a shitload of money, then Fiji is for you.