Fast-track Fiji: making the most of a stopover
With more than 330 islands, a rich, ancient culture and showstopping scenery both on land and below its incredibly blue waters, you could easily spend an eternity exploring fabulous Fiji. But if forever isn’t feasible, don’t despair: even if you’re en route to elsewhere, a layover in the ‘Land of Smiles’ is a holiday unto itself.
Whether you’re here for two days or a few hours, there’s an abundance of attractions, activities and experiences all within easy reach of Nadi International Airport.
A sailboat in the water surrounding a green island in Fiji
Fiji is comprised of over 330 islands, but only about a third of them are permanently inhabited © bjuerges / Getty Images
Back home, two days might pass in a bleary blink of an eye, but you’re on Fiji time now. Nadi is the gateway to some of the country’s most accessible – and alluring – parcels of paradise; whether it’s an island escape or a city break that brings you bliss, a 48-hour mini-holiday here is sure to leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
A 20-minute ride from the airport is Denarau Marina, which acts as the springboard to the spectacular Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. Arguably Fiji’s most divine drawcards, these 50-odd islands attract tons of romantics, resort-hoppers and roving families for their sugar-soft sands, eye-poppingly blue waters and enchanting escapism.
Scuba diver observing colorful fish
The reefs surrounding islands like Vanua Levu are great for scuba diving © Darryl Leniuk / Getty Images
Almost every island resort has its own flavour. Beachcomber Island, a 45-minute boat ride from Denarau, is the place to party in paradise; Castaway Island, 90 minutes away, is a hit with kids for its squillions of activities; while Naqalia Lodge, two hours away, offers a truly immersive Fijian village experience. If you’re keen to break up your sunning-and-swimming stints, many resorts offer fishing and island-hopping trips, snorkelling excursions and diving (though any dives should be completed 24 hours before you fly).
About four to five hours by bus (less via private transfer) from Nadi, vibrant, urbane Suva beckons landlubbers and those keen on experiencing a sultry slice of capital city life. By day, Suva’s jumble of streets make for a glorious gander; worthwhile stops include the Fiji Museum with its wealth of archaeological artefacts, and the charismatic Municipal Market, a top spot for a fresh juice, a gawk at the groaning tables of tropical fruits and veggies, and photo-ops galore. Cool down at the nearby Colo-i-Suva Forest Park, a rainforest respite from the steamy city. By night, crack a Fiji Bitter at one of Suva’s buzzy bars such as O’Reilly’s, or join the locals on heaving dancefloors at hip spots like Traps Bar.
A shopkeeper in front of her wares in Fiji
Woven goods are common local handicrafts in Fiji markets © David Nelson / Lonely Planet
They call it a layover, but if you want more from the next 24 hours than merely lounging around, the Coral Coast is calling. The region – an 80km swathe skirting Viti Levu’s southwest – starts about an hour from Nadi and is renowned as a thrillseekers’ hotspot; surfing and snorkelling are popular draws, as is a slippery stagger up the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, Fiji’s first national park and home to ancient dunes up to 60m high. Despite its name, many of the Coral Coast’s best attractions lie not on the shoreline but in its lush interior, dubbed ‘Fiji’s salad bowl’: blow off the long-haul cobwebs with a jetboat ride up the Sigatoka River, or hit Kula WILD Adventure Park for wildlife encounters and zipline thrills. Hotels and resorts cluster on Korotogo’s Sunset Strip, offering easy access to all attractions (and an easy trip back to Nadi before your flight).
If an island idyll is more your speed, nab a room in Nadi (try Tokatoka, a garden-set ‘village’ just across from the airport), or splash out for a Denarau Island resort stay. Then drop your bags and cruise out to South Sea Island. Though tiny, it’s jam-packed with activities – swimming, snorkelling and a ride on a semi-submersible among them – and makes for a wonderful taste of island life. Ideal for a half-day trip, South Sea is just a 30-minute boat ride from the marina on the Yasawa Flyer or a South Sea Cruises catamaran. For those who don’t want to get their feet wet, the Cloud 9 floating platform – a 45-minute speedboat transfer from the mainland – is a stylish spot for sunbathing, cocktail sipping and taking in views of the magnificent Mamanucas.
The stern of South Sea Cruises vessel as it sails through Mamanuca Group
The stern of South Sea Cruises vessel as it sails through Mamanuca Group © David Nelson / Lonely Planet
A few hours
You’re here for a good time, not a long time, so stash your bags at the airport’s ground floor luggage room and hit the road. The airport is home to scores of local operators offering a variety of half-day tours. While prices and itineraries vary slightly, most jaunts offer a similar, satisfying glimpse into the must-sees of Viti Levu. Popular destinations include the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (a lush plantation ablaze with more than 2000 orchid varieties), Sabeto Hot Springs (an outdoor natural thermal mud spa: bring your swimmers!), Viseisei village (the country’s oldest settlement and locally famous as the landing site of the first Fijians) and Nadi’s divinely colourful Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple. Recommended operators include Great Sights Fiji, Tourist Transport Fiji and Rosie Holidays.
If you’d rather explore Nadi on your own two feet, simply hop on one of the frequent town-bound buses on Queens Road just outside the airport, or nab a cab; it’s a 9km drive to the centre. The town itself is compact and easy to amble around: check out the temple, pop into the handicraft market, chill in a café over a freshly squeezed tropical juice or sweat over an Indo-Fijian curry at street-food stalwart Tata’s.
The colorful design of the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple, Nadi, Fiji
The Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple in Nadi is an example of Dravidian architecture, carved by artists from India © Selfiy / Getty Images
Prefer pampering to perambulating? Follow the frangipanis to the Essence of Fiji Rejuvenation Centre. A mere three minutes from the airport, the award-winning day spa offers various indulgent services to weary travellers, including spa treatments, massages, facials and yoga; there’s even a blissfully air-conditioned, beanbag-strewn movie room. Private day rooms are available if you’d rather just catch some zzz’s.