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Port Denarau Overview
Port Denarau is located on Denarau Island, a former mangrove swamp on the west coast of Fiji's "mainland," the island known as Viti Levu.
In recent decades, Denarau Island has become Fiji's five-star tourism enclave. It contains seven international resorts (such as the Sheraton, Sofitel and Westin), along with residential villas and a championship golf course and racket club.
Port Denarau, a small-ship dock with an adjacent yacht marina, was developed in 2007 and is connected to Viti Levu by a short bridge -- only a few yards long -- and is about 20 minutes south of Nadi International Airport. It offers everything an embarking or disembarking passenger needs to fill a few hours, such as cafes with Internet access, good restaurants, a few bars, a children's play area, a supermarket, a post office, banks, several retail stores and even two day spas. The port is also a good place to book day tours, as many tour operators are based there.
Apart from Captain Cook Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises (which are accommodated cruise vessels), the port serves as the dock for day-trip vessels that venture out to the offshore islands of Fiji's west coast -- known as the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. Big cruise ships, such as P&O Australia and Princess Cruises vessels, and those on round-the-world itineraries, anchor in nearby Nadi Bay and tender their passengers into Port Denarau.
From the port, you can take all-day and half-day sailing trips around the islands, fishing trips, snorkeling trips and land adventures, such as 4WD tours and beach excursions.
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Other South Pacific Cruise Ports:
Bora Bora • Huahine • Madang • Moorea • Nadi • Noumea • Pago Pago • Port Denarau • Raiatea • Rangiroa • Rarotonga • Tahiti (Papeete)
Anything that combines the ultra-sweet fruit -- especially pineapple and watermelon -- of Fiji is a great cocktail. If visiting the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, on Denarau, try the Melon Totoka -- a blend of Smirnoff red vodka, triple sec, Cointreau and mint-infused watermelon juice. Bliss.
Fijians have been using pure virgin coconut oil for centuries, and they swear it works miracles on your skin and hair. Fiji's homegrown brand of lotions and potions -- Pure Fiji -- is sold in many stores and used in spas. Retailer Jack's of Fiji carries the Pure Fiji line, which includes body lotions, bath oils, shampoos and body butters. Also made by Pure Fiji, in their factory near Suva, is the Reniu brand -- try the watermelon or pineapple- infused body butter.
If you've enjoyed kava (the national -- and quite popular -- drink made from the ground root of the pepper tree) on your cruise, why not take home a tanoa (kava bowl)? They come in all shapes and sizes (and price ranges) and are sold at Jack's. The popular retailer also sells the ultimate in quirky souvenirs: the cannibal fork!
English is widely spoken, although Fijian is the native language. Within seconds of arriving in the islands you'll learn the word "bula," which means "hello" but is so versatile it's used as an adjective to denote many touristy things -- such as the Bula Bus, a bus that travels around the Denarau resorts and port area. A Hawaiian-style shirt, for instance, is called a bula shirt. Another word to learn is vinaka (thank you).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Fijian dollar. For current conversion figures, visit xe.com or oanda.com. Westpac and ANZ, two Australian banks, are widely represented in Fiji. Port Denarau has a Westpac branch (open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday), as well as Westpac and ANZ ATM's. Some of the nearby resorts have ATM's in their lobbies, and Nadi International Airport and Nadi Town, just 20 minutes away from the port, also have banks. Credit cards are accepted in stores, restaurants and by most tour operators.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships operating year-round in Fiji, along with day-trip vessels, dock at Port Denarau, a facility that opened in 2007. Located 20 minutes south of Nadi International Airport and five minutes from the seven international resorts at Denarau, it is a lively precinct with shops, restaurants, spas, banking and Internet facilities.
Large cruise ships such anchor in nearby Nadi Bay and tender their passengers into Port Denarau for pick up by tour operators. Port Denarau (use the word "port" to differentiate it from the resorts at Denarau), is also about a 10-minute drive from Nadi Town where many hotels and restaurants are located.
Port Denarau is a purpose-built modern complex with many facilities. It not only serves port passengers -- getting on and off day tours, taking transfers out to the Mamanuca Islands and going on fishing trips, etc. -- but it also provides an alternative place to dine for guests staying at nearby Denarau resorts.
It has half a dozen good restaurants, many boutiques, surf shops and souvenir stores, an information desk, bank facilities, an Internet cafe, free Wi-Fi in most restaurants, a pharmacy, two day spas and a children's activity center. It is a very pleasant area to while away a few hours, and live entertainment is provided in the main square during the day -- you're likely to see Fijians singing and playing guitar and ukulele. The adjacent marina is the place to check out luxurious private yachts and boats belonging to round-the-world sailors and local "yachties."
Passengers who check in early for their cruises can leave their bags at the cruise operator desk and sign up with tourism operators at the nearby booths to go fishing, sailing, 4WD riding, island-hopping or jet-boating.
The port is a 10-minute walk to the Denarau resorts or a quick ride on the "Bula bus."
Many passengers embarking and disembarking at the port will be staying at one of the Denarau Island resorts. Passengers disembarking from the Captain Cook and Blue Lagoon ships are offered complimentary transfers to their Denarau property and hotels in Nadi Town or to the airport. (Blue Lagoon Cruises also offers a pick-up service from the airport.)
Taxis to Denarau Island resorts are frequent and cost FJ$5 for the five-minute ride.
The Denarau Island-owned Bula Bus is a colorful open-sided vehicle that travels in a loop around all seven resorts and the port all day; day-pass fares are FJ$8 per person and can be purchased from the port complex and resort stores. The bus operates a circuit every 15 minutes from 7:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. every day.
The local West Bus is a cheaper version and favored by locals and tourists in the know. It runs from Port Denarau to some of the resorts (but not right to the resort doors -- you have a short walk) and also into Nadi Town (about five miles away), all for FJ$1.50 a ride.
You also can take an easy walk from Port Denarau to the Denarau Island resorts; it takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
There is a rental car company at the port and another at the Sheraton Fiji Resort. Four rental car companies are located at Nadi International Airport, 20 minutes away.
The Airport Shuttle Fiji operates services between the airport and Port Denarau and the resorts (and other destinations); however, the per-person rates to Denarau (around FJ$38) are more expensive than a taxi from the airport (which is from FJ$25 to FJ$30 for the ride). The shuttles, however, can be pre-booked and might appeal to some travelers.
Passengers renting cars might like to drive along the coast, south of Port Denarau, to various beaches on the way to the Coral Coast, a tourism enclave developed long before Denarau Island took shape. It's about a 60- to 90-minute drive to the Coral Coast and its many resorts. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, British-style. Also, drivers should be on the lookout for cows ambling on the road. (Fiji has many Indian residents, and as the cow is sacred to the Hindu religion, cows often roam free.)
Watch Out For
While everyone involved in tourism in Fiji speaks English, watch out for the tricky spelling and pronunciation of Fijian words and place names. The letter "n" is added before a "d" and "g" in most words such as in the town of Sigatoka, which is pronounced "Singatoka," and the island of Wadigi, pronounced "Wangdinghy." The letter "q" has its own rules and becomes a "g" -- the island of Beqa (famed for its fire-walkers) is pronounced "mbega," although the "m" is skipped over. The infectious greeting of "bula" is actually pronounced "mbula"… although the "m" is barely heard. The letter "c" is pronounced as "th," so the Mamanuca Islands are pronounced as "Mamanutha."
Day trips to nearby islands are quite popular from Port Denarau. For example, Captain Cook Cruises' beautiful tall ship Ra Marama and its sailing catamaran Fiji One offer daily trips to nearby Tivua Island in the Mamanuca group. The day includes snorkeling and glass-bottom boat rides, a tropical buffet lunch, morning and afternoon teas, beer/wine/soft drinks on the island and a kava ceremony. Passengers can play volleyball, use the kayaks, snorkel or laze on the sand and listen to a Fijian band.
South Sea Cruises' day trips venture farther north to the Yasawa island of Botaira for a day on the beach with a two-course seafood lunch and snorkeling. The Yasawa Flyer cruises past many villages and islands, and commentary is provided.
Keen fishermen and women should team up with a few pals in advance to charter a fishing boat (complete with skipper and crew) from Port Denarau. Adrenalin Fiji offers three boats and trips venturing into the Pacific to try and hook marlin, tuna, Spanish mackerel and the local fish, mahi mahi.
The Garden of the Sleeping Giant is nestled beneath the mountain feature of the same name, about a 10-minute drive northeast of Nadi Town. Created as the private garden of the late American actor Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason and Ironside fame), it is filled with fabulous plants and more than 2,000 varieties of orchids. A guide is available to accompany visitors at no extra charge. The garden is small and takes between 90 minutes and two hours to explore, so it's worth combining the trip with a visit to the nearby Sabeto Mud Pools. Here, you roll around in natural mud pools and wash off in thermal spring waters -- but don't expect a five-star spa. This is natural Fiji! The mud pools are meters from the Garden of the Sleeping Giant and a huge hit with visitors; there's an entrance fee and a rudimentary massage costs extra.
The Sigatoka River Safari is a jet boat ride that skims over the river and executes 360-degree airborne spins. It's combined with a village visit, kava ceremony and lunch and is the perfect day tour for those who want to get off the beaten track. It operates every day with early pickups from hotels and Denarau resorts for the hour-long drive to Sigatoka Town through wild rural scenery. At the river, you board a sleek jet boat for a fun and hair-raising ride on the river past farmers, fishermen and wonderful mountain scenery. At the traditional village, visitors don their complimentary "sulu" (sarong) to wear for a guided tour, kava ceremony, a concert and lunch -- followed by dancing.
Been There, Done That
Sightseeing from a helicopter showcases the string of lovely islands off the west coast of Port Denarau. A 30-minute scenic chopper flight swoops over the Mamanuca Islands and reefs and also takes in the highlands of the Mount Evans Range. Flights out to islands for lunch also are available.
A visit to Nadi's Hindu temple, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, offers a departure from the usual island, beach and adventure activities. You can't miss the colorful Sri Subramaniya Swami Temple on Nadi's main road. An hour spent here is a very peaceful experience. The complex has a good vegetarian eatery. It's open daily until 8 p.m.
Visiting a cave where cannibals cooked and ate their victims is certainly a must-do in Fiji. The Off-Road Cave Safari, operated by the same company that runs the Sigatoka River Safari, offers a fantastic half-day trip. From Sigatoka Town, passengers board a large 10-seat ATV and head into the jungle, driving through remote villages and past majestic rural scenery. Before entering Naihehe Cave, visitors drink kava with the local priest who guards the cave. It's a tight squeeze into the first cave chamber, but once through the crevice, the second chamber is a vast cavern. The third chamber contains the oven -- a hole in a big stalagmite where unlucky missionaries and other enemies were cooked -- but that was more than 130 years ago.
Best for Quick Swim: As Denarau Island is a reclaimed mangrove swamp, beaches are not white and alluring; however, all the resorts groom their beaches and put on a top level of white sand. Day trippers are usually not allowed to swim at resort beaches because they can take up the deck chairs and other facilities reserved for paying guests. However, keen swimmers are advised to ask at the reception desk of the individual resorts, which might be willing to oblige if passengers have lunch at the facility. Sofitel, for example, only allows access to its pool and beach if a day room is booked. Passengers are advised to buy a day pass on the Bula Bus (which visits all seven resorts and the port in a day for FJ$8) and explore that way. Ask the information deck at Port Denarau about tickets.
Best to Reach by Boat: White sandy beaches are found on the Mamanuca Islands offshore from Port Denarau. The closest is Malolo Island, about 15 miles away, which was set to re-open in late August 2013 after damage from Cyclone Evan. South Sea Cruises runs a day trip that calls at Malolo, Treasure Island, Mana Island and Castaway Island. Passengers get off at their chosen destination and spend most of the day having lunch at the island resort cafe and swimming. The trip departs the port at 9 a.m. daily and returns around 6 p.m. with dropoffs and pickups from the islands along the way.
Best to Reach by Road: Natadola Beach has been called "supremely beautiful" by guidebook writers and Captain Cook Cruises' staff. It's advisable to visit on a calm day. Located about 25 kilometers south of Denarau (between Denarau and Sigatoka), visitors can take a taxi or, for a cheaper option, jump on the local buses that run along the main Queens Road that circles Fiji. The best place to pick up a bus is in Nadi Town. Take the West Bus from Port Denarau to Nadi Town. Ask the Port Denarau information desk for advice.
The Port Denarau complex features a clutch of casual cafes and several good restaurants. Food is international with an emphasis on seafood, but you can find authentic Fijian cuisine, which is usually fish, shellfish or meats cooked with local herbs, coconut milk and taro leaves. The restaurants face the water and have views of the maritime traffic and yachts.
Fijian kokoda, a national delicacy, is a type of ceviche dish made with raw tuna or snapper marinated in lime and coconut and often served in a coconut shell. If it's on the menu, order it -- it's delicious.
Restaurants are patronized by day-trippers and Denarau Island resort guests. There are some very good restaurants within the resorts themselves, which are open to the public, the most upmarket being the French restaurant V in the Sofitel Fiji (although it is only open for dinner).
Most restaurants at the port offer free Wi-Fi.
Bilo Cafe & Wi-Fi Lounge is an indoor-outdoor cafe offering sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, cakes, fresh juices and smoothies. Try a fresh fruit juice or cup of tea with a mango-iced muffin. Prices are very reasonable. Free Wi-Fi is for customers only, but there's also an Internet cafe with several computers, where a fee is charged. (Port Denarau; (679) 675-0065; open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Bone Fish is perched on the water's edge at Port Denarau and offers lunch and dinner. It specializes in seafood, and starters include the scallop and prawn mousse ravioli in gazpacho broth; for non-seafoodies, you'll find stuffed mushrooms with feta and herbs sauteed in thyme butter. Main dishes are big and always feature a pan-fried fish of the day on a bed of crushed potatoes with local snake beans and toasted cashew nut and coriander tapenade, as well as the big seafood platter for two of lobster, crab, marlin steak, spiced tuna, prawn lollipops and tempura fish. If you fancy pina colada prawn shots (i.e. shrimps in the glass), they have it. (Located at the port; open daily for lunch and dinner.)
Tucked away at the southern end of the port but still affording lovely views, Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant is a little eatery that gets big reviews. Billed as an authentic Fijian restaurant, the venue emphasizes seafood, herbs, spices and local vegetables. Start with a kokoda or a prawn and duruka (a type of asparagus although much larger) soup, before trying the mud crab with a coconut curry sauce. Look out for the coral trout; it's a sweet fish. (Located at the port; (679) 675-0290; open daily for lunch and dinner)
Indigo features good Indian curry or tandoori dish, as well as Thai, Chinese and Malaysian cuisine. A large indoor-outdoor restaurant, this is the place to savor Fiji crab masala -- mud crab cooked in onions, tomato and coconut gravy -- or a huge tandoori kebab platter. (Located at the port; (679) 675-0026; open daily for lunch and dinner)
Even guests from nearby Denarau Island resorts come to Salt Restaurant at the Sofitel Fiji Resort for the great pizzas. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try a tandoori dish, a fish curry, burgers, fish or calamari. Salt offers reasonable prices and a great view from an open timber deck. (Open daily noon to 10 p.m.)
Denarau Island houses seven international resorts, including brands such as Sofitel, Sheraton, Westin, Hilton and Radisson. Cheaper hotels and motels are located in Nadi Town (about a 10-minutes drive away), near the airport (20 minutes away) or south towards Sigatoka (about 45 minutes away).
Great Value: Robinson Crusoe Island Resort takes a bit longer to get to than Denarau or Nadi accommodations, but it is cheap, cheerful and features a wealth of free activities. It's 40 minutes from the airport and a few miles north of Natadola Beach. Set on 25 acres, the island lies about 10 minutes offshore. Four-person lodges and two-person bures (little huts) are affordable. All have attached bathrooms. Guests must buy the all-meals daily package for an additional fee.
Convenient: Raffles Gateway Hotel (no relation to the swanky Singapore hotel) is a short walk from Nadi International Airport (there's also a free shuttle) and is ideal for an overnight stay. Its two swimming pools and waterslide make for a great way to chill out before or after a flight. All rooms and suites have been upgraded, and there's an Internet cafe and Wi-Fi.
Luxury: Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa has it all -- including a fabulous pool, the area's best fine-dining restaurant (called V), a poolside cafe, traditional Fijian dance and feast nights, free child-minding and newly refurbished rooms. There's 20 minutes of free Wi-Fi in the lobby -- and even a wedding chapel. It's a short walk or Bula Bus ride to the port.
Staying in Touch
Most cafes and restaurants at Port Denarau offer free Wi-Fi for those bringing their own laptops and tablet computers. There is one Internet cafe inside Bilo Cafe and Wi-Fi Lounge. (Port Denarau; (679) 675-0065; open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Neither Captain Cook Cruises nor Blue Lagoon Cruises offer shore excursions in Port Denarau. Captain Cook Cruises offers a free half-day tour to passengers on seven-night Yasawa cruises, as that itinerary is a combination of the three- and four-night cruises with the ship returning to port each leg. Those passengers have a choice of an excursion taking in Nadi city sights and the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, or a half-day relaxing at Tivua Island; the island is leased by the cruise line.
P&O Australia and Princess cruise ships call at Port Denarau as part of longer itineraries, usually from Australia and offer shore excursions.
Best for First-Timers: Sign up to attend a fire-walking and cultural show. This takes place at the five-star Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa, one of just two resorts to offer fire walking on the western coast of Fiji. Only tribesmen from the island of Beqa can perform fire walking, and they undergo a rigorous two-week preparation period before each walk. The tour also includes a cultural show of singing and dancing with Fijians in tribal costume, which will usually mean grass skirts for men and clothes made from tapa cloth (a material made from bark) for women.
Best for an Unusual Spa Day: An excursion to Fiji's "Natural Mud Pools" lets visitors get down and dirty in Fiji's popular mud pools not far from Nadi. Afterward, they can relax and unwind in the mineral springs. Do not expect a day spa; these are natural mud pools, unlike the special mud you might find in your cruise ship's spa. The three-hour plus trip is a great way to chill out in a natural jungle surrounding.
Best for a Truly Local Experience: On the Lomawai Village "Salt Making Tour," you'll visit Lomawai village, about 45 minutes from Denarau, where the ancient practice of salt making takes place. Salt is used as a custom bartering system and is considered a prized gift at marriages and other occasions. There's a kava ceremony, songs and performance and visit to the salt ponds.
Best for Beach Bums: A South Sea Island catamaran excursion spends a half-day on a coral island about 30 minutes off the coast of Port Denarau. There's time for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking, along with enjoying a buffet lunch and traditional Fijian entertainment.
For More Information
On the Web: Tourism Fiji
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Pacific Islands
IndependentTraveler.com: Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific Travel Guide
-- by Caroline Gladstone, Cruise Critic contributor