Day one; Settling in and Cultural Dinner

Our flight from LAX was uneventful. It was a bit long, but one advantage of leaving L.A. At 11:00 P.M., is that the entire flight is over night. We did get a bit of rest (as much as one can get in an economy seat), and arrived in Fiji at about 6:00 A.M.

Deanna had heard that customs and immigration could be long, but that wasn’t the case for us. We were in and out in less than 30 minutes, and as we had no luggage to wait for (we’re just travelling with carry-on suitcases for the month), we were out looking for our ride to the hotel in no time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, all the hotels, ground transportation and most of the ‘tours’ was organized (and pre paid) before our trip. We weren’t sure exactly how that was going to work out, but after a couple of minutes of looking about, we found two young fellows with a Kensington sign waiting for us. They drove us from the airport to our first hotel of the trip, the Westin Denarau Island.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was only about 25 minutes. We got to see a bit of Nadi on the drive to Denarau Island. It’s a small island, that plays host to a number of upscale resorts, golf course and private homes for wealthy folk. The Westin is beautiful, right on the ocean with immaculate gardens, a number of restaurants and pools. It’s our understanding that many people head to one of the other 300 islands after landing at the airport. Given that we’re only here for three nights, it didn’t make sense to through the hassle of finding our way to one of the more ‘typical’ Fijian islands. The plan was to use this as a base to relax for a few days before our busy New Zealand itinerary kicks off.

Our room wasn’t ready yet so we changed out of our air plan clothes into some shorts and saddles. At 7:00 am, the temperature was already in the mid 20s and not a cloud to be seen. We walked along the beach for a bit, grabbed some breakfast and grabbed a couple of chairs to wait for our room. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long.

We don’t have anything planned from the tour company for the Fiji days, we figured we would spend it mostly relaxing. That plan got tossed out as we found a couple of things that looked interesting. A half day tour and a cooking class. We booked the half day tour for Thursday and the cooking class for Friday.

Port Denarau is only a 1.2 km walk from the hotel and after a bit of a break we wandered down for a look around. It’s a collection of restaurants, bars and shops. We found some ice cream and had a bit of a break. There wasn’t anything too exciting to buy (not that we have room in suitcases for much of anything), so we wandered back to the hotel.

On Wednesday and Saturday evenings, they have a ‘traditional’ Fijian dinner and show at the hotel. It was good. If you’ve seen or experienced a Hawaiian luau, it’s in a similar vein. I don’t know much about the South Pacific or Fiji and this was a nice way to be introduced to a bit of culture and food. The dinner was a buffet style with lots of seafood, local fruits and vegetables. The stars of the diner were pork and chicken roasted in a pit called Lovo.

The entertainment consisted of singing, stories and culminated in a fire/hot stone walking ceremony. All in all it was really well done, but at 8:30, both Deanna and I were done, having travelled for the better part of a day.

Day 2. Temple, School and Mud Baths

After passing a somewhat fitful night for the both of us (awake at 3:00 am), we grabbed breakfast at the hotel and waited to be picked up for the ‘Mud Pool’ tour presented by Valentine tours. The itinerary of this tour looked interesting to both of us as it covered a variety of stops over the course of the day.

Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple Our first stop was the Hindu temple in Nadi. It’s a beautiful building,covered in some very spectacular paintings. We joined a group of 10 other people or so and had a local guide walk us through a portion of the temple. One must dress modestly in these places of worship so we donned sulus which is similar to a sarong or a kilt. Shoes, hats and sunglasses are not permitted (as one would expect), The temple cat followed us around as the guide spoke about the building, the shrines and the artwork. It’s very interesting and worth a stop if you find yourself in Nadi.

Souvenir and farmers market stop As is typical for these kind of tours, we stopped in downtown Nadi at a popular souvenir shop. We had a quick look around, but opted to head across the road to a grocery store and pick up a few school supplies for our school stop. After 30 minutes there, we hopped back into the van for a short stop at one of the local farmers markets. It’s open everyday, all year round and has a number of vendors selling local fruits, vegetables, flowers and a few other things. Avocados are in season here so Deanna picked one up to try.

Vuda District School Next up was a stop at school that has about 350 kids from kindergarten to grade 8. Schools like this are always in need of supplies so we were happy to provide some workbooks and crayons. We were treated to a tour of the school by one of the senior teachers,who spoke about the history and focus of the school. It is affiliated with the church, so there is some religious studies in addition to the typical kind of classes one would expect. The kids were happy to see us (I suspect they see a lot of groups come through) but they were all very polite.

Viseisei Village This typical village is home to where a number of the kids from the school live (others are bussed in from the surrounding area). We stopped here for a quick walk around, had a chance to buy some souvenirs and hear a bit about village life. This particular village is where the Fijian people first landed on the island around 3,500 years ago. It is thought that their ancestors originated from Melanesia perhaps.

Garden of the Sleeping Giant Our second to last stop was the botanical garden which is at the foot of a mountain range that looks like a sleeping giant (hence the name 😛) . The garden was originally designed to house Raymond Burr’s private collection of tropical orchids. It’s open to the public and is a beautiful place to wander around.

Tifajek Mud Pool & Hot Spring The final stop of the day was at a mud pool and hot spring. Here we donned bathing suits an proceeded to get covered head to toe in mud. Once the mud is dried, we cleaned off in three different pools. A mud pool, a hot springs and a clear pool.

It’s a bit of a strange experience but felt great. There a claims that the mud cures all sorts of ills. Who is to say one way or the other, but we felt great after the experience so perhaps there is something to be said about it.

We closed out our busy day with a walk back to the port and had dinner at restaurant called Bonefish. It was very good.