They don’t call Fiji the land of smiles for no reason. This laid back land is the second biggest travel destination for Australians after Bali. There are two main islands and up to 900 smaller ones. There is a world of choice here as far as prices and styles of accommodation and holiday.
Fijian smiles and Handicrafts
Suva, on the south eastern coast of Fiji’s main Island, Vetu Levi is a good hop off point for travelling to resorts and other Islands. It’s where you will find lots of international businesses and expats living in the suburbs. Every so often a cruise ship will pull up and the souvenir shops and the main department store will be flooded. It’s a good opportunity for Fijians to make a bit of money with their traditional hand crafts and Suva has quite a few shops selling these crafts and the “Bulla” shirt, a colourful shirt in a myriad of patterns that are as much a part of Fiji as those famous smiles.
Fijians are no entrepreneurs, they will sooner sit and have a chat than sell you something, so there is no fear of being hounded to buy. The best place for souvenirs is in behind the main central markets and just near the bus terminal at a large under cover market full of handicrafts. Here the sellers are respectful and never approach us to buy. There are all kinds of crafts from jewelry to the traditional. One friendly lady notices me looking at some colourful textured mats and tells me about them with pride without any expectation I will buy. This is where I discovered what a Kuta mat is. They come in all kinds of sizes and designs and are important both as income for the weavers and as a ceremonial mat given as a traditional gift for weddings and funerals. The “kuta” reeds to make these mats are seasonal and only grow in low lying areas that can often be effected by rising sea water in bad weather. Expect to pay anywhere between $100- $ 400 for a mat.
In Suva a wheelbarrow is a prized possession. There are many uses for a good wheelbarrow, it’s popular as a shopping trolley or to carry a few kids in, it’s vital for stall holders to move stock from place to place and quite clearly any good Fijian will find a way to use it for laying back and chilling. There were blokes with wide smiles waiting outside shops with barrows loaded with bread and cans of coconut milk, sugar and taro, & kids waiting for the good wife to come out of the shops.
I always wanted to go to Fiji, not just so I could relax, but to see what the Fiji outside the resorts is like too. Not many people in Fiji have a car, they are expensive and most can’t afford one. People travel by public transport, and that usually means local buses or taxis, both are quite cheap. The bus trip from Nadi to Suva ( on there other side of the main island) is 4 hours and less then $15 FJ . Taxis can be shared to cut costs. I was extra lucky to travel the circumference of the main island by private car. A friend living in Suva (thank you Bertrand) made sure that we saw as much as we could on our drive around the rural outskirts of Fiji. Hire cars can be found on expedia or when you book your airline ticket.
Not many cars also means very few learner drivers and the rules here make sure you do not miss one on the road. I laughed when I saw this. Is that the biggest L plate you have ever seen?
Usually food is the emphasis of a trip for me, but their isn’t such an emphasis on food in Fiji. What Fiji has are mountains and blue skies and the most amazing fluffy clouds between beaches and smiling village faces. Drive down a country road and into a village and you will be inundated with invitations for tea. Perhaps an opportunity to feel the real Fiji.
If you go to any market at all while in Fiji you will probably see Kava for sale everywhere.
Kava is not only an important cash crop in Fiji but a culturally significant way for Fijians to relax. The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties, giving a feeling of relaxation and well being. It is widely accepted in the community in everyday life, even as part of religious and political occasions. Its kind of an insurance that you will meet a smiling welcoming Fijian. The whole top floor of a the market in Suva is devoted to Kava ( or Grog)
Suva is a small city with a population of around 330,000. It’s the capital and government centre of Fiji. Spend the day here
Things to do in Suva
- Go and see the Fijian Guards at Government house on the waterfront
- Island hop. There are a large number of choices from only about an hour away from Suva (next post). Travel here from your resort and spend the day.
- Have a Bulla shirt or dress made for you personally by a tailor
- Go to Eden Restaurant and cafe
- Buy an authentic Fijian handicraft
- Go to the central food market
- Walk along the waterfront at dusk
- Go to the Pure Fiji day spa
Have something Tailored for you in 24-48 hours. There’s lots of Tailors. This one down a funny back alley and up a set of stairs on the second level. My friend had a Bulla shirt made.
Food- are there any restaurants?
Restaurants can be a little disappointing but there are two in Suva that I tried and can recomend
Daikoku Restaurant is an unusual but popular Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant on Victoria Parade Suva. There are all the usual Japanese specialties you’d expect including great Sushi but the real treat is watching a towering Fijian Teppanyaki chef bang away on the Teppanyaki plate.
Eden Bistro and Bar has been open for three years and in that time has become a favourite with both locals and tourists. Sangeeta, born in Fiji and educated in New Zealand really knows how to make customers feel welcome and special. She loves her restaurant and is like a mother hen with the staff. She provides a learning nurturing environment taking young hopefuls and mentoring them by providing opportunities. Help with books, uniforms and accommodation encouraging them through her kitchen like a real life Fijian Jamie Oliver. There are few restaurants in Suva or even Fiji with local staff that offer this kind of contemporary food. The menu showcases a range of eclectic dishes from all over the globe
Eden is open three meals a day and has a bakery on site. The food is diverse from sashimi & pot stickers, pizzas and wraps but it’s at night that the food really gets interesting.
Local Prawns with herb rice and Sangeeta’s famous chilli paste $55Fiji . Crab ravioli curry with crab meat $50 Fiji.
Paka Paka ( local fish) with minted avocado, lemon risotto $28 Fiji.
Sangeeta was about to launch a second business at the beginning of 2014,”Sugar Temple” that will be a strictly dessert affair in the Damodar City Shopping Centre, Grantham Rd Suva. Not all food and service on offer is perfect but I was very pleased to find Eden. Prices reflect the quality of ingredients and in Suva, Eden is definitely a place to visit. Bureta St, Suva +679 338 6246
I had never heard of Pure Fiji before I visited Suva, but I am now a convert. A couple of hours at the spa was such an unexpected treat. This is how they describe their products “Land and Sea providing all that is needed for good health with pure and natural body care. This is the Pacific way – the way body care should be – naturally.” The spa offers a full range of treatments and products and in Fijian dollars thats a bargain. There is also a factory shop!
The products are addictive- and very cheap in Fiji!. This tray is everything they put on my face to improve it….. I loved this spa. Highly recommended! 52 Karsanji St, Vatuwaqa, Suva Ph: (+679) 337 3431
Next post on Fiji, Island hop from Suva or take in a resort just an hour away from downtown.