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Fiji for a first timer
It’s a good thing, I think, because without the steady stream of fresh air, the temperatures on this jam-packed bus would be intolerable.
More than two hours into our journey along Fiji’s Coral Coast, we still have more than an hour left to go. But we don’t know that yet.
‘Ten minutes, ten minutes,’ was the bus driver’s answer when I asked him how long it would be until we arrived at Mango Bay – our home for the next 10 days. That was at least half an hour ago, and by this stage I’m not 100% convinced we’ll end up at the right resort. The sun is fast disappearing behind the coral reef we can see in the distance, and any hope of relaxing in front of our first Fiji sunset is disappearing along with it.
Having landed in Nadi, Fiji’s port of entry for most visiting tourists, we’d decided to shun the organised transport laid on by most resorts. A taxi, too, seemed somewhat extravagant given the distance we needed to travel east, past Sigatoka and half way on towards Suva. Not knowing what to expect, but hoping to get more of a feel of this foreign country, we’d decided to jump on board the ‘local bus’ instead. As seasoned backpackers, we aren’t the kind of people to demand air conditioning and the luxury of leg room.
After a 45 minute wait, we paid our FJD 9, clambered past the passengers to what seemed to be the only two seats left, and spread out. Five minutes later and our two seats were being shared by a third. And so we set off to Mango Bay Resort.
Having grown up in the UK, Fiji had always seemed like a far-off destination only the rich and famous got to experience. Now based in Sydney, the island nation is very much an achievable reality, with daily flights from a number of airlines, and reasonable accommodation costs, even in peak season.
Maybe it was because I had grown up idolising Fiji, or because of the luxury accommodation associated with the outlying islands, but I wasn’t prepared for the poverty that confronted us on those first few hours spent on the bus.
Whilst over the next week I came to better understand the simplistic beauty of the subsistence lifestyle enjoyed by many of the traditional village communities – what’s known as the ‘Kaiviti way’ – the hardship evident in the shelter, infrastructure and sanitation of the settlements that hug the coastline was confronting, and a sharp reminder than nearly half of this country’s population live in poverty – many more only just above the poverty line.
Many resorts around Fiji – those on the man-made island of Denerau for example – are shielded from this reality. And, in many regards, ours was too, with vast expanses of trim, lush grass interrupted only by towering coconut palms and idyllic huts.
However, built on village-land, Mango Bay works with the neighbouring community to employ locals, and gives back to the village financially where they can. Local attractions such as the nearby waterfalls keep a steady stream of tourists flocking to the harder-to-reach inland villages, where foreign dollars spent on souvenirs and handmade jewellery help the communities survive, if not thrive.
Perhaps it’s because of this easy relationship that the resort itself has blossomed. Everywhere you go, beaming staff call ‘Bula!’, a genuine smile lighting their eyes. The grounds are well kept and the food, which features freshly caught fish hauled from the boat just hours before, is tantalisingly delicious.
Nestled within the Tadrawai Valley and set across 12 acres of lush tropical landscape, Mango Bay Resort offers both backpacker and more up-market accommodation. An adults-only resort, the Beachfront Bures open onto the crystal clear waters of the reef, where we spent our days snorkelling, kayaking and cooling down from the often opressive heat of the sun.
Whilst the adult-only vibe offers a peace and quiet far-removed from more family-friendly resorts, there’s also plenty to keep you entertained, with daily activities including everything from basket-weaving to jewellery making to the traditional kava ceremony at sundown. And, whilst the resort is an hour from the nearest town of Sigatoka, it’s still possible to enjoy excursions to the outlying islands, deep-sea fishing, and to Suva.
Ultimately, as a first timer to Fiji, for me the island’s greatest lesson was ‘Fiji time.’ From the slow, sedate pace with which locals tackle their day, to the optimistic view that an hour’s journey will take just ’10 minutes, 10 minutes,’ a week in Fiji was enough to remind me to slow down, take a deep breath, and soak up what is indeed an idyllic island nation.
About the Author
Lizzy has more than ten years’ experience in the print and digital publishing arena and is the Editor at Single File. Having moved from the UK to Australia in 2008, Lizzy has worked for a number of leading publishers in Sydney and has particular expertise in the health, wellness and travel markets. If you have any questions for Lizzy, you can send them across by email to email@example.com.