Mitchell Symons finds his island paradise in Fiji… but just be prepared for a very long journey
EVERYWHERE YOU go in Fiji, the word you hear is Bula. It means welcome a n d i t ’ s a l way s meant. That’s just as well because it probably takes longer to get to Fiji than to anywhere else in the world. And you can’t go there directly from the UK, so the only sensible option is to drop in on your way home from Australia, which is a mere four hours away or New Zealand (three hours).
And therein lies a problem. Most Brits who go Down Under do so in our winter (December to March) which is their summer.
Fiji, on the other hand, doesn’t have winter or summer nor, indeed, spring or autumn. It just has wet and dry seasons. Alas, the wet season is from October to March… Who’d be the Fijian tourism chief responsible for selling holidays from the UK?
We arrived at the end of February and were, of course, greeted with a tropical downpour but because the temperature is so high (30sC), the rain isn’t unpleasant — especially when it is a short burst that mitigates the extreme humidity.
The first thing you notice when you get off the plane at Nadi Airport is a group of singers and musicians welcoming you to Fiji. Just like Heathrow.
This absolutely set the tone for our whole trip. Everywhere we went, people burst into song. Songs to welcome us, songs to make us happy and, most poignantly, the Fijian farewell song that brought a lump to even this old cynic’s throat.
They sing because they’re happy. I know that the idea of “happy locals” is one of the great clichés of tourism but, in Fiji, it happens to be true.
It’s hard to tell whether their happiness is predicated on their devout (Christian) faith or something in the Kava, the non-alcoholic brew they imbibe at any opportunity. It tastes disgusting — like Kaolin — but, as a male visitor, you’re obliged to down a whole glassful.
In any event, there’s no doubt that the friendliness of the people is Fiji’s biggest selling point and you can tell it’s genuine because it isn’t restricted to people who might hope to sell you something or receive a tip.
In fact, they actually don’t like being tipped — especially on the islands. Instead, the hotels invite you to donate some money to the staff welfare fund at the end of your stay. This pa-
Your own special island: the infinity pool at Tokoriki, one of Fiji’s 100 inhabited islands, at dusk