Fiji with a family
By Anne Vize
Travelling with a child is a rewarding experience, but also one which presents a few challenges. When combined with the added bonus of being 14 weeks pregnant, a trip overseas can become a very interesting proposition indeed! When my husband and I embarked on a three week trip to Fiji with our three year old, we decided to deal with as many of the challenges prior to departure as we could. We read Lonely Planet’s ‘Travel with children’ and talked to friends who had been overseas with young children. One of the best pieces of advice was to resign yourself to the fact that any plane trip, no matter how long or awful, will always end. And with a bit of luck, you are unlikely to cross paths with anyone from your flight again! Another useful travel tip was to take a few familiar toys which pack down flat, such as soft bears, dolls, cards and colouring books. We attached short pieces of elastic to the dolls so they could be looped over the handle of a stroller or round a wrist when needed. We decided against taking the ‘best favourite toys’ in case tragedy occurred and they were left behind somewhere. We rang the airline and found we were allowed to take a small stroller right to the boarding gate with us. The crew would then take the stroller and put it in the baggage area of the plane. The stroller proved a smart packing choice, and we would have been severely restricted without it. We also took our daughter’s swim ring, floaties and toddler sunscreen, as these are not readily available in Fiji.
Choosing accommodation was another challenge, as we wanted to stay at places which were affordable but offered more facilities than a basic backpacker’s. After much searching, we decided to start our journey close to Nadi at Sandalwood Hotel. This proved one of our better choices, as it had basic self catering facilities, a lovely pool and was close to both the airport and the town itself. We spent a few enjoyable days wandering around the surrounding district and enjoying the wonderful (and cheap!) Indian cuisine.
Our next stop was Anchorage Resort to the north of Nadi near the sugar growing town of Lautoka. This interesting resort is undergoing something of an upgrade, and seems to be in a state of ‘ongoing renovation’. The resort is actually on two levels, joined by a very steep and mostly unmade driveway. It rained on our first day, which turned the driveway into almost impassable sludge. The main swimming pool and bar are on the lower level, while we, in our basic budget room, were on the upper level. The room itself was good, with plenty of space, a television and a small kitchenette. The only draw back to self catering here was that the kitchenette contained virtually nothing except a fridge and electric hotplate, so even cooking a piece of toast proved a challenge! We timed our visit for the Sugar Festival in Lautoka, and spent two fascinating nights exploring the ‘Fijian’ and ‘Indian’ nights of the festival.
Our next stay was to spoil ourselves with a few nights of luxury at Hideaway Resort on the Coral Coast to the east of the busy township of Sigatoka. If you can fit this place into your budget and you have children, it is well worth a visit. There is a kids club which operates every day for children aged over five, and all children eat for free at set times. This actually proves an easy way of getting a small child to eat something (anything at all, even!) as they are surrounded by a group of other children who are all eating too. The pool is stunning, and has a delightful children’s area at one end. The resort management is working hard to preserve the reef outside the resort, and has strict rules governing access to the reef area. There is an excellent free guided reef walk, as well as the opportunity to plant your own piece of coral in their ocean coral garden. Meal and drink prices are comparable to a similar standard restaurant in Australia, and there are few alternatives to eating at the resort.
Our last stop was the ‘other’ main island of Fiji, Vanua Levu. We passed up the chance of a 12 hour ferry trip in favour of a stunning one hour flight in a light plane with Sunair. We stayed in the tiny township of Savu Savu, which is a popular yachties hang out. Accommodation options in town are scarce unless you are shopping in the absolute top end of the market. We chose Daku Resort, which appeared from the website to offer everything we needed. It was conveniently located just 15 minutes walk from town. When we arrived, we discovered that the place was quite run down, and lacked many of the basics you would expect from a ‘resort’ charging $130 FJD a night upwards. Service was mixed, and ranged from courteous and friendly to downright rude. A guest we spoke with likened it to ‘the holiday shack you put up with until you push it over and build something new’.
Accommodation dramas aside, Vanua Levu itself is fabulous, and gives an insight into what Fiji was like a few decades ago. There is stunning scenery, particularly through the mountain range which crosses the centre of the island. The town of Lambasa, which is predominantly Indian, is well worth a visit. We did a guided walk to a gorgeous waterfall (with my husband carrying a three year old on his hip the whole way). While I reached the waterfall pleasantly tired and ready for a quick dip, he spent the next few days letting his exhausted arms recover from the experience.
We found the Fijian people incredibly friendly, and always interested in our small daughter. She was offered food, drinks and conversation everywhere she went and it was only at the end of the trip that she seemed to tire of having her cheeks squeezed! She dealt with this in her own way, by pulling her sunhat completely over her face at the sight of any approaching locals. She loved riding on the local buses, and we found that $1.50 worth of bus fares can entertain a child for an hour or more. We ate mostly in small cafes with the locals rather than spending our money on resort meals that were really outside our budget. There is a range of good Indian food readily available, ($3-5 each for lunch and $8-10 for a dinner).
There is a vast difference in safety standards between Australia and Fiji. Most taxis don’t have seat belts in the back seats, no one has heard of a child car seat, and pools are unfenced. Boat travel should be carefully researched, and the rule about ‘getting what you pay for’ often applies. Good medical care is hard to find, and travel insurance is a must. With a small child, check the drawers and cupboards in your room – move sharp knives, mosquito coils, toilet cleaners and matches out of reach. Check doors, windows and balcony railings, and know where your small explorer will end up if they escape out the door. We discovered it is well worth emptying travel bags out completely before departing for a return journey home, as we found scraps of food and chunks of coral that our daughter had stashed in them without us noticing. We could just imagine the scene that would have caused at customs in Melbourne!
Worth a visit:
Garden of the Sleeping Giant – beautiful and extensive orchid garden close to Nadi. Established by actor Raymond Burr in the 1970’s, it now houses Fiji’s largest collection of orchids.
Kula Eco Park – conservation and wildlife park which is Fiji’s only facility for breeding endangered species. 5 mins east of Sigatoka. See hornbill turtles, crested iguanas and a range of bird species.
A trip to an island – this is probably your only chance to see a beach like the ones in the pictures! There are many day trips from Nadi, and some islands have accommodation allowing for longer visits.
Copyright © Anne Vize 2007