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“Ni Sa Bula!”

Denarau Island, Fiji

"Bula!" Greetings from Fiji, The friendliest nation on the planet.

“Ni sa Bula!”– a warm “Hello”. One of the world’s most recognised greetings from one of the world’s friendliest people. Here in Fiji, its “Bula!” everywhere you go. Even the buses are called Bula Buses!

Fiji is universally regarded as one of the happiest places on earth. If you’ve ever visited Fiji then you know that there are lots of reasons why Fijians are happy. Firstly, they enjoy one of the best climates in the world. They have a strong sense of community. They enjoy fantastic food and great music. Their ceremonies are amongst the most colourful and exciting and, not surprisingly, they exhibit an amazing sense of peace and wellbeing. And time? Well here they refer to “Fiji time”. No watch, no hurry, no problems. In Fiji, one simply accepts that what will be, will be.

I remember our first visit to Fiji. We’d checked in to an island resort and were relaxing by the pool. A waiter approached, a tall Fijian with a huge smile. “Rod, Rod…you want a beer?” “Sure,” I said. Off he went to get the beer. Thirty minutes later, no waiter and no beer. I went searching. There he was casually chatting to another hotel guest. He spotted me and simply said, “Just getting the beer now, Rod.” Angry? Annoyed? At first, yes. Then I realised it was happening, but in Fiji time. I relaxed, chilled out and enjoyed one of the best holidays of my life.

We’ve been back to Fiji six times. We love the islands and the people. From lush rainforests to coral reefs, Fiji is home to stunning fauna and flora and seemingly endless beaches and tropical islands set in crystal-clear lagoons. An island nation of just under a million people, Fiji is located in the tropics so the weather is warm all year around. The wet season is from November to April so, if you don’t mind the odd afternoon thunderstorm, this is also the best-value time to visit Fiji.

Our recent visit to Fiji was extra special as our son James was marrying the love of his life, Shelby in one of the most idealic locations on earth. The wedding was held at the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa on Denarau Island. The Sofitel is one of a number of upscale 5-star resorts clustered together on the largest integrated resort island in the South Pacific and is just a 20 minute drive from Nadi International Airport.  Attached to the mainland by a short causeway, Denarau Island is the place to enjoy the pampered holiday lifestyle. Apart from the resort hotels, the island boasts stunning beaches, an 18-hole championship golf course and the Big Bula Waterpark. Fishing boats, ferries to the Malolo Islands and luxury charter cruise boats anchor in the protected Port Denarau Marina. The port is also a favourite destination for large South Pacific cruise ships. Indeed, we visited Port Denarau some years ago on a P&O Pacific cruise. At Port Denarau Marina you can also you can enjoy world-class cuisine and shopping as well as plan and book myriad excursion options.

Adventures in paradise

Dinah and I opted to stay at the Sofitel Resort & Spa along with the rest of our family; sons Christopher and George and their wives Nikki and Sara and our three grandsons, Finlay, Felix and Jules. And of course, James and his bride-to-be, Shelby. This was the first time as an extended family we had all been together at the one time in the one place for nearly 3 years, and it was great. Besides the wedding, it gave us the opportunity to enjoy some real family time together. The Sofitel is an excellent hotel offering luxury accommodation for couples and families, with breath-taking views across lush gardens to the tranquil beach and islands beyond. The swimming pool complex is amazing; an expansive series of interconnecting crystal clear pools that cater for adults and children alike, with more pool-side lounges than I have ever seen in one place before. Perfect for a relaxing day doing…well, nothing! And of course, there’s pool service to ensure that we remained well hydrated – ice-cold sparkling wine, tropical cocktails and the mandatory Fiji Bitter.

The hotel has really excellent restaurants and beach-side bars. As a family, we found it hard to beat a quiet pre-dinner drink at the Suka Bar watching the amazing sunset, prior to a casual dinner at the Solis Restaurant. There’s also a number of other bars and eateries, a retail shopping arcade, even a Kids’ Club to keep the little ones entertained while we adults do adult things.

If you are looking for 5-star accommodation in a resort that offers everything, with the friendliest staff then you can’t go past the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa on Denarau Island. We had an amazing time here. You can check out and book the Sofitel at: www.sofitel-fiji.com

Everywhere you go…Bula!

The easiest and most fun way to get around Denarau is on the Bula Bus, an open sided tourist bus with, believe it, a thatched roof. The bus, or buses as there is more than one of them, travel the 11-stop circuit of Denarau Island, stopping at all of the resort hotels as well as at Port Denarau Marina. You can purchase a one-day or multi-day pass on the bus with unlimited rides each day. Tickets are available at the resort hotels. Kids under 12 travel free. Check it out at: www.bulabuses.com.fj

Port Denarau Marine is a great place to shop and eat. Arguably the most famous retail outlet here is Jacks of Fiji. Since 1969, Jacks has been working with local communities at grassroots level to showcase Fiji’s finest authentic arts and crafts to the world. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Jacks is committed to promoting authentic Fijian handicrafts and artefacts. This is the place to purchase a genuine reminder of your visit to Fiji. On our P&O cruise visit to Port Denarau, Dinah and I purchases a karva bowl. It is a real talking point at home. Also at the marina, a number of excellent restaurants and eateries. Our favourite is Cardo’s – great food and a great ambiance on the marina deck.

I must admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Mexican food. There’s something about a plate of beans and corn chips that just doesn’t do it for me. Mamacita Mexican Restaurant and Bar changed my mind. This is a fantastic restaurant set in lush garden surrounds at the Wyndham Resort Hotel. The food is spectacular, as is the evening entertainment. Friday evening (the evening we went) features an international buffet and traditional Polynesian dancers from the South Pacific Islands. I would absolutely recommend Mamacita for a great night out. But you do need to book. So popular is it that reservations are essential. Check the restaurant out at: www.mamacitafiji.com You can email reservations to: reservations@mamacitafiji.com

While our visit to Fiji this time was only a short 6 days, we had a great time. Even though we didn’t leave Denarau Island, we found plenty to do here. Warm, tropical days sitting around the pool with family and friends at the Sofitel, the magnificent wedding of James and Shelby, shopping trips and evening visits to restaurants on the island ensured a memorable holiday.

Tips for the Trip

Most people visiting Fiji arrive by air. Jetstar Airways, Air New Zealand, Korean Air, Virgin Australia, Air Niugini, Air Vanuatu, Aircalin and Fifi’s own airline, Fiji Airways all fly to Fiji. You can also cruise there. Ships cruising the South Pacific invariably call into Port Denarau near Nadi as well as berthing in Suva, the capital of Fiji.

All visitors from non-exempted visa countries require a visa to enter Fiji. Visa applications are considered on an individual basis and may be granted for holiday, business or for passenger purposes. For a list of visa-exempted countries, go to: www.immigration.gov.fj/visa-exemption

Australians don’t need a visa to travel to Fiji for tourism. Visitor visas for stays of less than 4 months are issued on arrival, provided you have a return ticket and confirmation of accommodation. For visa, passport, health and security advice for Australian travellers, visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website: www.smarttravellet.gov.au You should register your details online so you are easier to contact in case of an emergency.

Located in the tropics, you can generally expect warm weather all year round. The wet season is from November through to April. This is also the best value time to visit Fiji. So, pack accordingly. If you can get away with 7 kilograms of carry-on luggage (t-shirts, shorts, beach pants, thongs, wet-pack), then you can save a considerable amount on your airfares – and no waiting around at luggage carrousels!

Electricity is the standard 240v. Most hotels have 240v power points, though a universal adaptor is always worth carrying with you.

Time-wise, Fiji is 2 hours ahead of AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) and 4 hours ahead of WST. Daylight saving time is observed between mid-October and late January each year.

The official currency of Fiji is the Fijian dollar (FJD). One Australian dollar is approximately equivalent to 1.5 FJDs. Major credit cards are accepted most everywhere. Tipping is not encouraged anywhere in Fiji. A simple “Vinaka”(Thank you) and a smile is sufficient.

Fiji’s official language is English and the most common word used in Fiji is “Bula”. It means greeting or hello.

Photo Gallery

Main picture: Ticket to ride – the Bula Bus is the best way to around Denarau Island

  • The magnificent pool complex at the Sofitel
  • The Suka Bar at the Sofitel. Swingers bar!
  • A romantic dinner for two
  • Recycling, Fijian-style at the Suka Bar
  • Lunch by the pool
  • A wall of donuts for breakfast
  • The Sunset Bure at the Sofitel
  • Music is part of the Fijian fabric of life
  • The Beach Club – strictly for the kids
  • The Bula Bus
  • All aboard the Bula Bus
  • Cardo’s Restaurant at Port Denarau Marina
  • Dinner on the deck at the Marina
  • Welcome to Mamacita’s
  • Polynesian dancers at Mamacita Mexican Restaurant
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