Happiness In Island-Sized Bites
By Aatika H Jain
The stunning South Pacific country Fiji was recently under the spotlight, thanks to the October visit by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince William and Meghan Markle. Mention Fiji, and it conjures up images of long, unending stretches of glistening white beaches under clear azure skies, unspoiled coral reefs, shimmering turquoise waves washing on the shores lined with drooping coconut trees, the picture-perfect image of a quintessential tropical island. This is Fiji, a tropical heaven. What sets it apart from other tropical islands is its kind, friendly people. The country has repeatedly led the world in the global happiness index. Be prepared to be greeted with a hearty Bula ( meaning hello, welcome, love, life, and so much more) by a passer-by on the road, a vendor sitting on the roadside, drivers, chattering school kids or just about anyone. No matter how remote the place, you will find smiling people positively bursting with warmth. When you are here, you are on ‘Fiji time’. The pace of life slows down to a languid, carefree saunter. Next time you feel ennui setting in, catch a flight to this country of joy to fill up your cup of cheer.
Often seen as just a transit point by many tourists because of the international airport, Viti Levu is the largest isle in the archipelago of some 300 plus islands that makes up Fiji. It houses the national capital city of Suva on its east coast, and the popular tourism destination Nadi on the west. Viti Levu showcases everything that Fiji has to offer. It boasts the luxurious designer marina Denarau, offering houses with canals for boats. The most stunning part of the mainland is the Coral Coast in the south, which has resorts for all kinds of budgets and varied water activities. Laze around on the spectacular white beaches. Snorkel your way around the incredible soft coral in Nananui- Ra. Scuba dive with the huge tiger sharks in the Beqa Lagoon. Rent a kayak and navigate the Navua River. Walk around the open-air Suva Municipal market teeming with fresh produce at unbelievably cheap prices. Experience the lively city life at Suva, the largest metropolitan city in the South-Pacific. Don’t miss the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, a horticulture heaven dotted with tranquil lily ponds, boasting 30-40 varieties of Asian orchids and Cattleya hybrids nurtured by the late Hollywood actor Raymond Burr. Visit the traditional picturesque Navala village to experience the true Fijian culture including the must-attend kava (a popular Fijian drink) welcoming ceremony with the local chief. The village still retains the traditional thatched huts with centre poles, bures. Trek through the lush Koroyanitu National Heritage Park to see archaeological sites and amazing waterfalls. Vini Levu is definitely not a place to be missed!
Mamanuca and Yasawa islands
Monuriki, one of the Mamanuca islands, is the one Tom Hanks got stranded on in the movie Castaway. When you land on its deserted shores, you wonder why he so desperately wanted to leave the place with its sandy beach and blue translucent water lapping the shore. Popular surfing spots like Cloud Break on Namotu Island provide action for the adventurous soul in you. Beachcomber Island will entice you with its relaxed feel. Enjoy a drink or two at Cloud 9, the incredible two-tier floating bar located at Ro Ro Reef off Malolo Island.
After immersing in the bustling touristy energy of Mamanuca, head north to Yasawa, the perfect next stop for some quiet and solitude. Until the 1950s, Yasawa Islands were part of only cruise ship tours, with passengers not permitted to disembark. The islands now have affordable resorts, set up by the government’s ecotourism programmes.
Brooke Shields took your breath away in the 1980 Hollywood movie Blue Lagoon on these very islands. Thinly populated, their pristine beaches are ideal to lounge under the clear, bright skies. Sail, snorkel, kayak, swim, fish or island hop. Sawa-i-Lau in the north is home to some captivating limestone caves. Scuba dive with the curious manta rays in Drawaqa Island reefs. Snorkel with sharks on Kuata Island.
Tavoro waterfalls, Taveuni
Popularly known as the Garden Island, Taveuni is the greenest of islands in Fiji. Densely forested, it boasts of three cascading magnificent waterfalls, also called Bouma Falls, located in the Bouma National Heritage Park. The lush forests are protected and are great for hiking. Don’t miss out on the Lavena Coastal Walk, which covers a 5-km stretch at the forest fringe along white and black sandy beaches ending at a luxuriant waterfall. The famous forests of soft coral reefs, Rainbow Reef, at Vanua Levu Island are accessible from Taveuni too.
Fiji is a multiracial country and its cuisine reflects that. Chinese and Indian dishes are common here, with their own local twist in the flavours. Fijian food combines fresh local produce with several generationsold traditional cooking methods. Popular ingredients of local Fijian dishes include coconut, taro (root vegetable similar to yam), cassava, fish, rice, sweet potatoes and breadfruit. Coconut and coconut milk are used extensively in the Fijian cuisine. Dishes are commonly prepared on an open fire or by underground cooking techniques. Fiji is well- known for its varied fresh seafood preparations, which feature several kinds of fish, turtle, seaweed/sea grapes, sea urchin, shark, sea cucumber, shellfish, and octopus.
A popular national dish is kokodo in which mahimahi fish is marinated with thick, velvety coconut cream, onion, lime juice, tomatoes, salt and chillies. Served in a clamshell, it is a refreshing starter as it cleanses the palates for later courses. A Fijian delicacy usually prepared for festive occasions like marriages is lovo, meaning ‘feast cooked in the earth’. Fish, vegetables and meat are wrapped in taro and banana leaves, and slow cooked for several hours on heated stones in a makeshift underground oven. It lends the dish a lovely, smoky flavour and makes it succulent and tender.
Then there is rourou made with taro leaves and coconut milk; tuna fish, onion and chillies can be added and stuffed in the leaves to make rourou peti—little pockets of bursting flavours. Tavioka is tapioca and mashed bananas baked with coconut cream. There is centuries-old coconut bread, lolo bun (coconut bun), cassava cake, Fijian pudding, purini and many more wholesome earthy fares you can sink your teeth into.
Fiji, with its tropical lush forests, immaculate beaches and a laid-back pace of life, presents to you a place “where happiness finds you”. Hop on a flight to this amazingly friendly country to down a few kava coconut shell bowls and sit back in serenity to warm your soul.