Quintessential Fiji

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Quintessential Fiji
Fiji's culture is rich with song, dance, food, and tradition. Friendly, welcoming Fijians make it easy to connect. You can connect with nature, too, whether you're seeking adventure or just want to learn about exotic local flora and fauna.
By Gayle Keck, AFAR Contributor
Photo by age fotostock
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    An Amazing Collection of Orchids
    The Garden of the Sleeping Giant near the capital, Suva and created by the late actor Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason and Ironside TV fame), contains more than 2,000 different kinds of orchid spread over 20 hectares. Burr started the garden in 1977 to house his own private orchid collection. The unusual name comes from the outline of the hills behind the property, which resemble a sleeping giant. In addition to orchids of all sorts (both native and non-native), the garden is home to a collection of native Fijian plants and lily ponds. It's a lovely spot to relax and refresh after a long flight.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Visit a Fijian Village
    Most resorts can organize a visit to a Fijian village such as Nukubalavu or Navala if you're keen to meet locals. Typically, you'll be able to tour places like the school, community hall, and village green. Villagers are welcoming, and may even invite you to take part in a kava ceremony. Often they'll have crafts for sale. If you're in Fiji on a Sunday, you might ask at your resort about attending a village church service. When you visit, be sure to wear clothing that covers your knees, upper arms and shoulders—and remember never to wear a hat in a Fijian village. Don't visit a village on your own, though. You always need to go with a Fijian, by invitation.
    Photo by Holger Leue/age fotostock
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    Play the Game of Fishing
    Game fishing is big in Fiji—and so are the fish. You can go after wahoo, yellowfin, marlin, mahi-mahi, Spanish mackerel, reef fish, and more. Often, you can ask your resort chef to cook up your catch, which might involve a range of hot preparations, as well as sushi. Some resorts and independent operators also organize days on the water that include snorkeling and island-hopping along with fishing. If you're a serious game fisher, don't miss the Great Astrolabe Reef, which is off the radar of most tourists but hosts some of the biggest and proliferous fish in the region.
    Photo by Francis Zera/age fotostock
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    Fijian Wildlife
    At Kula Eco Park, a forest haven for Fijian wildlife, kids will love feeding the turtles or having their photo taken with parrots, boas, and iguanas. Golden doves, red musk parrots, crested iguanas, and fruit bats are just a few of the exotic species you might spot as you wander a kilometer of wooden walkways that criss-cross a stream. You'll find plenty of seabirds and the rare Fijian crested iguana on Monuriki Island, Bull, Tiger and Lemon sharks in Bequa Lagoon, Hammerhead sharks around Somosomo Strait and of course all assortment of colorful fish at great snorkeling spots such as Monuriki Island.
    Photo by Ashley Cooper/age fotostock
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    The Beautiful Harmonies of Fijian Music
    Visit Fiji and you'll soon believe that every local is born with a beautiful voice and the ability to sing in perfect harmony. Look for an opportunity to join a sing-along, most likely around a bowl of kava. Historically, Fijians used song to communicate their feelings. But songs or chants were also used to intimidate opponents in battle and to tell stories, since Fiji didn't have a written language until Methodist missionaries developed a version in the early 1800s. You may recognize tunes to some of the hymns sung in the churches, but the words and harmonies are beautifully Fijian. Church choirs sing a cappella, and even children join in. A visit to a village such as Navala or Nukubalavu will also provide opportunity to hear lovely, local song.
    Photo by J.D.Heaton/age fotostock
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    Take Part in a Kava Ceremony
    Drinking kava is woven into Fijian society, and kava ceremonies hold great importance. You might encounter a simple ceremony in a shop or at an informal hotel gathering, but bigger ceremonies are part of social, political, and religious life. Kava is a root, which is ground or pounded, then mixed with water and strained through what might look like a sock into a large bowl. Beautiful carved wooden kava bowls are a great souvenir. Fijians will explain the etiquette around receiving a coconut shell cup of kava; be sure to follow instructions. Kava is an acquired taste that will leave your tongue tingling and your mood relaxed—you've got to try it, at least once. Navala is a great spot for it.
    Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/age fotostock
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    A Night of Fijian Dance and Song
    Most resorts offer a night of Fijian dance and song. Often these are performed by local villagers—and make up for in sincerity what they might lack in polish. Men will demonstrate fierce war dances and chants, designed to intimidate the enemy, while women will sing lovely harmonies. Even kids get in on the act. At larger resorts near Nadi, the performers are likely to be a bit more professional. On Robinson Crusoe Island, for example, organizers and performers pull out all the stops, featuring a Fijian choir, kava ceremony, fire walking, lovo feast, and cultural dances, including fire dances.
    Photo by Michael Snell/age fotostock
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    Thrill or Chill on the Water
    It's a thrill-a-minute on high speed, 360-degree spinning jet boats, which skim around the waterways behind Denarau Island (reached by a bridge from the main island of Viti Levu). Kids as young as two or three years of age (they just need to be old enough to fit in a life jacket) can participate. For grown-up surfers, Cloudbreak on Tavarua Island is one of the most famous and spectacular waves in the world. Underwater, the thrills are endless including cage-free shark dives in Beqa Lagoon and blowing bubbles along the Somosomo Strait, that is so filled with life its given Fiji the title "Soft Coral Capital of the World." For a more chilled experience try a day trip to uninhabited Monuriki Island, where the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away was filmed.
    Photo by Francis Zera/age fotostock
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    Traditional Fijian Lovo Feasts
    A traditional Fijian lovo feast starts with digging a pit. Then leaves and hot rocks are added. More layers of leaves, and then vegetables and meats are layered in, with more leaves and hot rocks. The entire thing is covered over with dirt or sand and left to steam for hours. Most resorts will offer a lovo feast, as will a few villages you can visit such as Navala, but don't just go for the food: Ask to watch the whole cooking set-up as it's constructed. Then, return when the food has cooked and the pit is opened. Expect root vegetables such as yams or taro, and chicken or pork, all steamed to perfection.
    Photo by Douglas Peebles/age fotostock