Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple
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Golf pro Vijay Singh got his start by hopping a fence and darting across the runway at Nadi International Airport to practice at Fiji's only golf course.
Today, it's this airport plus several golf courses and numerous resorts that have established Nadi as Fiji's tourism hub. Nadi (pronounced nandy), the country's third largest city, is located on the west side of "mainland" Viti Levu. Many international flights arrive here early and depart late, leaving travelers plenty of time to explore.
Nadi, like the rest of Fiji, has a fascinating history. Its 30,000 plus citizens are a mix of indigenous Fijians with roots in Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia; and Indo-Fijians, descendants of indentured Indian laborers brought by the British in the late 19th century to work Fiji's sugar cane fields.
This melting pot occasionally boils over -- most recently in December, 2006, when Fiji's military staged a bloodless takeover. Most Fijians we spoke with -- some of the warmest people we've ever met -- seem nonplussed by the latest political upheaval. Safety is also not a big concern with the majority of tourists who hail from Australia and New Zealand.
Nadi is not the place for beachcombing -- you'll find far better sand and snorkeling at Fiji's idyllic outer islands. But it's ideal for other pursuits like driving along the scenic Coral Coast, savoring delicious cuisine, shopping for handicrafts and enjoying exotic flora and fauna.
Just four miles and a narrow creek separate Nadi from Denarau Island, a reclaimed mangrove swamp transformed into a major real estate development. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, restaurants and upscale resorts like the new Hilton and Radisson, the Port Denarau marina is the departure point for day trips to the Mamanuca islands.
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Other South Pacific Cruise Ports:
Bora Bora • Huahine • Isle of Pines (New Caledonia) • Madang • Moorea • Nadi • Noumea • Pago Pago • Port Denarau • Raiatea • Rangiroa • Rarotonga • Tahiti (Papeete)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
Been There, Done That
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).
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).
As part of its itinerary, Blue Lagoon takes passengers to traditional villages in the Yasawas, a chain of 20 islands northwest of Viti Levu. One of these excursions features a traditional meke dance and kava ceremony. The second excursion is to a school serving children from four villages.
Staying in Touch
Internet cafes are common in Nadi. Among these, Bula Internet Cafe on Main Street charges $3 per hour (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m). Connect Cafe at Connect Arcade on Queens Road charges $5 per hour (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday).
At the airport, passengers can buy an access card for I-Surf Internet kiosks scattered around the departure lounge. Also at the airport, Rosie's VIP Lounge offers high-speed wireless and broadband internet connections as well as a 15-minute head, neck and shoulder massage, express manicure or express pedicure ($32 adult, $16 child).
For More Information
On the Web: Fiji Visitors Bureau's North American headquarters, (310) 568-1616, (800) YEA-FIJI
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Pacific Islands
Independent Traveler: Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific
--by Susan Jaques, a Los Angeles-based writer whose favorite travel adventures are with her husband and teenage son and daughter. In addition to Cruise Critic, Jaques' articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine.
Images of Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple and Nadi Market appear courtesy of the Fiji Island Visitors Bureau. Image of hut appears courtesy of Ra Marama. Image of crested Iguana appears courtesy of Kula Ecopark. Image of sailboat appears courtesy of Valentino of Valentino Sailing Safari Ltd.