Saturday, March 21, 2015

1MB Travels: Fiji: Adventure (Semi) Flashpacking - Prep

Fiji has been one of my bucketlist destinations for a long time, but I never really allowed myself to dig too deeply into it, lest I be crushed by the realities of budget and time constraints.

Like most people, this particular four letter word evokes images of white sand, pristine beaches with dreamily clear turquoise to azure hues - a utopic place where it's hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins.  Most people also immediately think of "honeymoon" and luxury resorts - neither of which were in my foreseeable future.

But then my 'year of yes' happened: after more than a decade of toil, I was finally at the best place I've ever been in my career; frequent business travel had made me more comfortable in/proud of my independence; outside of work, some incredible people had become a part of my life, who share interests in food / travel...and then a flash sale came up with Fiji Airways, with flights from LAX to Nadi-Fiji for under $800 roundtrip.

After getting re-certified as a PADI Open Water Diver in the (to us) frigid Paciifc Ocean last year, @gourmetpigs and I had been talking about going somewhere tropical for more enjoyable, wet-suit free dives - and Fiji would fit that bill perfectly PLUS offer land adventures via lush rainforests and cultural experiences from kava to village visits.  It would be the best of nature + culture.

After some quick research on accommodations, we were excited to find that it was totally affordable - there was a happy medium between the much publicized extremes of the 5-star resort with private butler, and roughing it backpacker style in bare bones dorms shared with strangers.

We could go, "flashpacker" style.

["Flashpacker": n.  an adventure traveler, typically a working professional, seeking the flexibility of independent travel with more upmarket, boutique accommodations vs a backpacker: all with tech in tow.]

With 333 islands said to be in the Fiji network, and only five days in that #bucketlist paradise, it was difficult to choose which to visit.

So, we started by identifying the main attractions in each island system, and figuring out which are our priorities AND feasible to do with our limited time.

While the beaches look gorgeous, what distinguishes Fiji from other tropical destinations is underwater: its vast expanse of soft coral, and rich marine life including sharks that live in the area.

Since our main reason to visit was to dive, that narrowed down to Taveuni (the Garden island), Vanau Levu (where the world famous Rainbow Reef is located) and Beqa Lagoon (off the main island of Viti Levu).  After reading about the Mamanuca Group of islands as party central for twenty-something backpackers, we decided to avoid them.

We did see that getting around the islands takes time, and meticulous planning (if you are not going with an all inclusive tour group / high end resort).  There was only one boat per day leaving from the main island (where the airport is) - to the island groups west / northwest of it.  If you miss that, you could either attempt a last minute seaplane booking at $375 Fiji (~$187 USD) per person flight, or you're stuck in a touristy part of the main island for one night.  Luckily, my OCD self enjoys creating spreadsheets and planning - to ensure we can maximize our time and get where we need to go in order to make it happen.

After looking at our options and what we can fit within 5 days, we decided on a combination of Yasawa Islands and Viti Levu (main island).
Look out for my day by day recaps of our adventures - from cageless dives with sharks with Beqa Adventure Divers, to ziplining over rainforests in Pacific Harbour! (Including costs and full budget for the trip.)

Day 1: Yasawa Islands - Blue Lagoon Beach Resort
Day 2: Soft Coral Diving, Lovo and Meke Dance
Day 3: Limestone Cave Snorkeling, Tata's, Pacific Harbour
Day 4: Shark Dive in Beqa Lagoon
Day 5: Ziplining in Rainforest of Pacific Harbour, Slipper Lobsters and The Pearl South Pacific


Trip Planning Resources:

  • Lonely Planet guide: Fiji
  • Tourism Fiji
  • Trip Advisor

  • Trip Advisor
  • Orbitz

Must pack items:
  • Mosquito repellent - lots of it.  At least 2 bottles for 2 people for 5 days
  • Citronella bracelets
  • Dramamine (drugstores are not available on the outer islands, nor at Nadi airport, and the Yasawa Flyer did not sell these lifesaving pills while we were there)
  • Power outlet adaptors (US to AUS/NZ)
  • Lonely Planet guide (a lifesaver!)
  • Sunscreen
  • Swimsuits
  • Snorkel and mask (if you want the flexibility to snorkel on your own outside of equipment rental hours, or don't like the thought of putting your mouth where many other strangers had before...), and fins
  • Sunglasses / hat
  • Waterproof case for your phone / camera
  • Neosporin for cuts and itchy mosquito bites
  • Bandaids
  • Reading materials / entertainment for boat ride
  • Passport of course!


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