Mitchell Sy­mons finds his is­land par­adise in Fiji… but just be pre­pared for a very long jour­ney

The Jewish Chronicle - - Travel -

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

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