For an authentic shopping experience with locals, head to Nadi Market, off Hospital Road between the bus station and downtown. A dollar here buys a bowl of kava, Fiji's national drink (daily except Sunday).
Nadi's bustling Main Street is the place for lunch and souvenir shopping. Jack's, Nads and Curio Handicrafts sell pottery and wood-carved items like spears and drinking bowls (or tanoas) still used in Fijian households. The bula shirt, which is a variation of Hawaii's aloha shirt, comes in either floral or traditional black and rust masi design. Colorful saris and sulus, the distinctive wraparound sarong worn by men and women, are other popular souvenirs.
With its large Indian population, Nadi is a religious center for Muslims and Hindus. The city's major Hindu place of worship and most recognizable landmark is Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple
. Decorated by artists from India, the colorful South Indian Dravidian-style temple features a statue of Lord Murugan, deity of the seasonal rains. Visitors are welcome to admire the frescoes and carvings, but are asked to remove their shoes and not take pictures (5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., $3.50).
For his private garden, actor Raymond Burr (Perry Mason) chose the foothills of the Sabeto or Sleeping Giant Mountain Range some 10 minutes north of the airport. Today, the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
has blossomed with native plants and several dozen varieties of Asian orchids and cattleya hybrids. Walking trails meander through forested hillsides, streams and ponds with water lilies (672-2701, Wailoko Road, $12 adult, $6 child, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to noon on Sunday).
With impressive dunes reaching nearly 200 feet, Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park
is spectacular for a morning or afternoon hike. Excavations have uncovered pottery over 2,000 years old as well as one of the Pacific's largest burial sites. After the dune climb, take the easy trail through a mahogany forest, planted in the 1960's (3 miles southwest of Sigatoka, daily 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
In nearby Korotogo, animal lovers will enjoy Kula Ecopark
. Supported by the National Trust for Fiji and other conservation groups, this wildlife sanctuary is home to a number of species like hawksbill sea turtles, Kadavu parrots, rapors, owls and fruit bats. The park is also a breeding facility for endangered species like the Pacific black duck and crested iguana (650-0505, $10 adult, $5 child, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
One of Viti Levu's best public beaches, Natadola Beach
offers soft white sand and gorgeous blue water. Bring your own picnic fare and snorkel gear, but watch for currents that can create a strong undertow (28 miles south of the airport, take the Maro Road turnoff along Queens Road, just past the police post).
For an intimate half-day snorkeling, fishing and sailing, Valentino of Valentino Sailing Safari Ltd. takes up to 10 guests to "where the wind is best" on a 37-ft. catamaran, Moana Uli Uli (from Port Denarau Marina, half-day day $480; three-hour sunset sail $415; 679-675-0611). The historic tall ship Ra Marama sails to Tivua Island, with a kava ceremony, canoeing, beach volleyball and barbecue (from Port Denarau Marina, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; $62 adults, $31 child; snorkel gear included).
Drive on the left side of the road in Fiji; a holdover from the British colonial era. Taxis are readily available and reasonable, but it's wise to confirm the fare in advance. Drivers don't always use their meters.
At about 70 cents a ride, the open windowed local buses are not only the cheapest way to get around; they're a good way to mingle with locals. You can hail any public bus from the roadside by waving to the driver. Pacific Transport Limited and Sunbeam Transport Limited offer air-conditioned bus service from the airport north to Lautoka and south to Sigatoka (670-0044; 927-2121).
Most Fijians don't own cars and renting one in Nadi is pricey -- around $80 a day. Makes like Toyota, Suzuki, Mazda and Daihatsu are available at major resorts and the airport. Companies with airport offices include Avis (672-2233), Budget (672-2636), Hertz (672-3466), and Thrifty (672-2935). Scooters start at around $20 (Beat Rentals, 672-1471).
Fijians typically eat a big lunch, and Nadi is a great place to try Chinese, Fijian and Indian cuisine. Local dishes to sample include kokoda, a ceviche of raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut cream, and an Indian curry with rice and dhal, a lentil soup. Though there are lots of restaurants on Denarau Island, downtown Nadi offers more authentic eateries clustered on and right off Main Street.
Local Eats: LC's is a local favorite for Chinese food (Hillsdale Road, Namaka, Monday to Saturday, 672-8181). Tata's is legendary for its inexpensive, spicy curry (Nadi Back Road between the Siva Temple and Hotel San Bruno, Monday to Friday, 670-0520). Hot Bread Kitchen's two locations offer sausage rolls, pies and freshly baked bread (Main Street and Colonial Plaza, Namaka).
Gourmet Options: According to legend, the first Fijians arrived at First Landing between Nadi and Lautoka about 1500 B.C. Today, the outdoor beachfront restaurant at the First Landing Resort serves views of the Mamanacas along with seafood specialties like kokoda, grilled mahi mahi, Lobster Louie and garlic prawns (666-6171). Chef's is widely considered one of Nadi's restaurants, serving exotic entrees like roasted ducking ravioli, curries and Afghan chicken (end of Sagayam Road just off Main Street, Monday to Saturday, 670-3131).
Restaurants Close to Main Attractions: Patrons at Saffron Restaurant can enjoy their tandoori mild, medium or hot. The large menu includes dishes like Peshawari Kadai chicken, Afghani sizzling lamb and lobster curry flavored with coconut and kalongi (Sagayam Road off Main Street, 670-1233). At Daikoku Japanese Restaurant, chefs cook teppanyaki dishes at your table (Main Street, Tuesday to Sunday, 670-3622).
Where You're Docked
The Nadi International Airport faces Nadi Bay. From the airport, Queens Road heads north 20 miles to Lautoka, the departure point for Blue Lagoon Cruises. Sugar and timber, not tourism, are this town's main industries. Six miles south of the airport along Queens Road is downtown Nadi, a seven-block strip lined with shops and restaurants. Just north of downtown, a 4-mile drive along Narewa Road leads to Denarau Island.
Watch Out For
If you're comfortable driving on the left side of the street, renting a car is a good way to explore Viti Levu's west coast. The main highway, Queens Road, is well maintained with good signage. Side roads are another story. Expect gravel, potholes and grazing horses.
Like anywhere, it's best to swim and snorkel with a buddy -- currents and tides can change quickly. And note that most stores and restaurants are closed on Sunday.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the Fijian dollar. For up-to-the-minute conversion rates, check www.xe.com
Though Fiji gained independence from Britain in 1970, its paper and coins still feature Queen Elizabeth. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted in restaurants, shops and car rental agencies. Small notes are best for local markets and taxis. There are dollar and traveler's check exchanges as well as ATM's at ANZ, Westpac and Colonial National Bank in downtown Nadi. The 24-hour ANZ at the airport arrivals area also has an ATM.
Though English is Fiji's official language, Fijian and Hindustani are widely spoken. Translated literally, bula means life, but it's also used for cheers, good morning and good night. Other essential Fijian phrases are vinaka (thank you), bula vinaka (a more polite way of saying hello), and senga na lenga (no problem).