For many travellers, a typical Fijian holiday is all about plush resorts, snorkelling off white sandy beaches and cool cocktails at the end of the day. In many cases the closest they come to Fijian culture is a dance show at their resort.
Jason Dundas decided to delve a little deeper into this fascinating island group and took to the Sigatoka River. It runs from the hills of the Novosa Province to the sand dunes in Kulukulu on the Coral Coast of the main island Viti Levu. Until the late 1950s the river was the only means of transport from the coast to the interior.
The 1020km-long river is a life line for the Fijian people. They rely on it for much of their food (mussels, prawns, eels, fish) and water for agriculture and drinking. As you journey further along the river there are farmlands where women do their washing, children play and men keep their horses cool and clean.
Sigatoka River Safari takes visitors into the depths of the countryside where they see a side of Fiji not usually on the tourist agenda. They use a purpose-built jet boat which easily manoeuvres very shallow water.
Fijians are pretty relaxed people and they love the boats arriving as they meet people from other parts of the world and introduce them to their culture. Women present tourists with fragrant flowers while children have fun practising their English skills.
Jason was honoured to share the local ceremonial drink, kava, with a village chief. It's quite peppery and not to everyone's taste, but it shows respect to the chief before entering his village. The only thing regarded more highly is a whale tooth and that is presented to those who intend to marry someone from the village or are going to buy land.
The biggest house in a village is the church which is also a community home. It's where children play while adults do their craft work for sale at the markets. Individual homes are very private and no one is ever invited to enter.
Lunch includes traditional Fijian food fresh fruits, juices, breads, rotis, curry and palusmi, followed by singing and dancing. There's always time for a swim in the river's clear water.
On Fridays villagers go to the markets to sell their produce and craft. They sleep there and return home on Sunday afternoon hoping everything is sold. In a good year they can earn around $2000, but sometimes it can be as little as $400, so money from tourism is most welcome.
Sigatoka on the south coast of Viti Levu in Fiji.
Sigatoka River Safari's 4.5-hour tours cost $140 for adults from Nadi and Denarau, $128 from the Coral Coast and $114 from Sigatoka Town. Children's prices are $68.50, $63 and $57 respectively. Children under three years of age travel free.
Transfers from resorts, half-day tour, village contribution, sulu for women and 10 percent shopping discount at markets are included. They operate every day except Sunday, year-round.
Pacific Blue, international airline of Virgin Blue, has flights to Nadi.
One-way fares from:
- Brisbane $269
- Sydney $289
- Canberra $339
- Adelaide & Melbourne $349
- Darwin $379
- Perth $409
There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are subject to change.
Prices correct at April 15, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 136 789
Sigatoka River Safari
PO Box 1473
Ph: +679 650 1721
Visas: Australian visitors to Fiji are issued a visa on arrival. They last one to three months.
Electricity: 240V at 50Hz using the same pins as Australia.
Time zone: GMT +12.
Currency: The Fiji dollar.
International dialling code: + 679.
It is recommended travellers to Fiji see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au.
To find out more about the hot deals mentioned on the show, check out Holidays for Sale.