The South Pacific: A World Away, and Worth It


Jun 5, 2001
Outside Magazine

Of course, the only rationale surfers need to part with a year's savings is a 25-second ride in a 15-foot tube—which is why Tavarua attracts even the most penurious of the breed.

In Fiji, choose your island according to your sport, then expect to empty your wallet. The ultimate Fijian idyll won't come cheap, but the good news is that Fijian hotels tend to treat all travelers like royalty, no matter how wild-eyed or grungy.
The 330-island archipelago (population 785,000) lies 1,148 miles north of New Zealand. Of the three largest islands, 4,010-square-mile Viti Levu has the capital of Suva, the Nadi International Airport, and the bulk of the population. Legendary surfing awaits at tiny Tavarua off its western coast, while Vanua Levu (3,000 square miles), Taveuni (166 square miles), and smaller islands in the north have the least-traveled beaches and the best snorkeling and diving.

Of course, the only rationale surfers need to part with a year's savings is a 25-second ride in a 15-foot tube—which is why Tavarua attracts even the most penurious of the breed. Reached from Nadi via a 45-minute drive plus half an hour in an outboard, the 30-acre island sits amid razor-sharp reefs, outside of which loom screaming left breaks accessible only by boat. Tavarua Island Resort (doubles, $150 per person, including lodging, meals, and transportation; 805-686-4551) caters to a maximum of 24 surfers with rustic bures (thatch-roofed huts), communal toilets, a family-style restaurant, and those all-important first-aid stations. Bring booties, boards, and your strongest leash, and prepare to meet a sea snake in its natural habitat. Glassiest conditions occur November to February.
You can also scuba dive off Tavarua, but if diving's your main passion, book yourself into Cousteau Fiji Island Resort (doubles, $375-$475, including breakfast and all activities except diving; 800-268-7832) on Vanua Levu, Jean-Michel and partners' new playground on Savusavu Bay where it meets the Koro Sea. The PADI dive and water-sports operation offers a full-on photo lab, along with crafts from sailboats to kayaks. On occasion, the reefmeister himself leads dives or even rainforest hikes to misting waterfalls.
If the resort's 20 plush bures, each with floor-to-ceiling windows and well-stocked minibars, sound a tad decadent, do it in the name of science: Project Ocean Search, Jean-Michel's biannual resort program on reef ecology, includes lectures, field trips, and underwater shooting with a Nikonos V ($6,200, all-inclusive with round-trip airfare from Los Angeles; 805-899-8899).
Divers who want to try their luck at saltwater fly-fishing should check out Matagi Island, a horseshoe-shaped sliver six miles from Taveuni's northeast coast. Its eponymous 240-acre resort (doubles, $200-$340; 800-362-8244) houses guests in ten bures, or in a treehouse 30 feet off the ground. Mornings, two dive boats (two-tank dive, $85 per person) run to coral-covered drop-offs like Purple Wall and Golden Dream. Afternoons, you can fool around with Hobie Cats and sailboards or test the resort's handmade flies on king mackerel and dogtooth tuna.
If you'd rather dive day and night, bunk on the resort's Matagi Princess II, with air-conditioned staterooms and hot showers (seven nights, all-inclusive with round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, $3,500; 800-362-8244). The 12-passenger, 85-foot live-aboard cruises from Matagi to sites in the Somosomo Strait and the Ringgolds brimming with soft corals and tiger cowries.
Sailors can charter a bareboat through The Moorings (50-foot Beneteau, $590-$690 per day; 800-535-7289); a typical ten-day sail from its base on Malololailai Island ten miles west of Nadi includes a stop on Sawa-i-Lau to swim in the caves, a visit with Naviti Island's female chief to trade for shells and carvings made by villagers, and an exploration of the freshwater pools and beachside waterfalls on Waya Island.
Finally, there's the hell-you-only-live-once choice—a sojourn on 800-acre Kaimbu in north Fiji's Lau group, where you can either ensconce yourself in a palace of a bure with 25-foot ceilings and 220-degree views or drop a slightly larger fortune and have the run of the island. Kaimbu Island Resort (all-inclusive doubles, $1,200 per night; entire island, $3,500; 800-473-0332) takes up to six guests and fronts the proverbial blue lagoon.
Getting There and Around:
Three airlines make the 11-hour trip from Los Angeles to Nadi International Airport: Qantas (800-227-4500), with nonstops on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Air Pacific (800-227-4446), with a Saturday nonstop; and Air New Zealand (800-262-1234), with four weekly departures via Honolulu. Round-trip airfares range from $1,100 to $1,500; the minimum stay is usually a week. Sunflower Airlines (011-679-723-016-408) flies from Nadi to most of Fiji's smaller islands ($40-$110 one way). For car rental, call Avis ($309-$412 weekly; 800-331-1212) or Budget ($312; 800-527-0700)

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