Fiji – more than just a tropical paradise
Sparkling turquoise waters. White sandy and pristine beaches. Ample sunshine. If there was ever a checklist for a tropical paradise, fabulous Fiji would get a tick for all the boxes. But there's a lot more than beaches and resorts for the intrepid traveller.
A TASTE OF CULTURE
This tour takes you up the Sigatoka River, one of the longest rivers on Fiji's main island Viti Levu, before depositing you at one of the villages up in the rugged hinterlands for a full-on cultural experience.
Expect a wonderful (and very fast) journey on specially designed speedboats. These vessels can traverse the waters of a superbly clear river that are 15cm deep.
The boat captains are trained in New Zealand and are a veritable fount of information about the area.
At the village, you will experience a traditional welcome ceremony that involves plenty of kava, a prized root found in the South Pacific islands that is said to have a mild sedating effect.
You also get to sample the local diet with a home-cooked lunch.
The key here is to befriend the villagers. They will tell you what subsistence farming is like, and traditional prohibitions, like how alcohol is banned from villages.
Get the villagers started on the subject of rugby and watch the smiles break out.
It helps that all Fijians study English at school, so communication is easy and friendly all round.
The Sigatoka is obviously a lifeline. Fish provide the much-needed protein and womendo laundry in it.
The Sigatoka River Safari is more than just an exhilarating boat ride.
They rotate the villages they go to, so dependence on the foreign visitors is kept to a minimum and the way of life is very much preserved.
Bring a present or two for the school-going children such as stationery - it'll be very much appreciated.
WHAT Sigatoka River Safari www.sigatokariver.com
HOW MUCH FJ$249 (S$167) and up for adults, depending on where you need transportation to and from.
A BOTANIC GEM
Nestled in the foothills of a rugged escarpment called the Sabeto mountains (that look like a sleeping giant, hence the name), this plant-filled paradise is quite the unexpected find.
Once owned by actor Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason fame), the Garden will appeal to people who love plants and flowers. Orchids, daisies, and other flowers festoon the entire place.
There are more than 2,000 species of plants and flowers to gawk at.
A boardwalk means traversing the 20ha area is quite pleasant.
Peak flowering seasons are in June to July and November to December, but my visit in September still yielded gorgeous vistas of trellis and blooms - a testimony to the care that goes into the area.
WHAT The Garden of the Sleeping Giant
HOW MUCH FJ$16 including a glass of tropical punch at a picturesque veranda terrace.
AN ADRENALINE-FILLED ADVENTURE
Fiji might be best known for its stunning beaches, turquoise waters and fabulous resorts, but it's also home to loads of adventure options such as white-water rafting, blobbing (picture being bounced from a big inflatable raft) and zip-lining.
Zip Fiji's Nadi tour is one of the newest. It takes you through an amazing 16 lines over 5km, where you are hooked to wire ropes and gravity is used to send you through the treetops, and over stunning drops - all at breathtaking speeds.
You can even spot the azure of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
The guides are quite adept and they will help you get over any vertigo or nervousness. There is instruction and training before the start of the adventure.
And they can retrieve you if you chicken out and apply the brake too suddenly, and end up sagging in the middle of the line (like yours truly).
Part of the tour also takes you into a dark limestone cave, where the indigenous people lived centuries ago.
WHAT Zip Fiji www.zip-fiji.com
HOW MUCH FJ$235 for adults, inclusive of transport and a simple lunch.
Fiji, a country in the South Pacific, is an archipelago of 333 islands.
A direct 10-hour flight on Fiji Airways takes you to one of the main islands called Viti Levu, the site of the capital Suva.
The plane will land in the major town of Nadi, which is the epicentre of tourism.
Accommodation ranging from backpacker lodges to exclusive posh resorts are available.
Expect sunny days and cool nights, along with stunning views of azure seas, white beaches and rugged landscapes.