Fiji 15 years on – Same smiles

To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect visiting Fiji again. The last time I visited was sandwiched between two military coups and things were very basic and Fiji time meant everything took a while.

My memories are a bit hazy of that first visit, probably down to a lot of Kava drinking, but the Fijian smiles endured. I always remembered with a homely kind of fondness the constant greetings of ‘Bula’ backed up with a huge welcoming smile.

So what has changed in 15 years?

Mass tourism is the answer. It was incredible to see the tourist infrastructure that has developed in Fiji. The once basic islands that were relatively inexpensive now try to cater for backpackers, flashpackers like me and even those who want a lot more luxury. Flushing toilets exist on a lot of the Yasawa Islands along with super fast wifi and hot running water.

My first visit I had zero electricity apart from a light in the evening and was allowed one bucket of fresh water to wash each day.

What hasn’t changed is the beautiful people, Fiji Time and the wonderful welcoming smiles

Despite being in the middle of a huge upgrade the arrivals area of the airport where you walk outside into the madness was actually the same as I remembered and despite being delayed and having no luggage (this is another story) my lift had waited for me and still greeted me with a ‘Tom?…… Bula’ and a great big smile. Because of the positive attitude and pleasantry of the Fijian’s welcome I knew despite having no luggage and being very late getting to my accommodation my visit was going to memorable once again!

This visit was a bit of a mini holiday within my round the world trip so we stayed in private rooms at Mantaray Island Resort and the Blue Lagoon Resort. Both offered shared bathrooms and showers which were a short walk from our rooms.

Mantaray was quite rustic but a definite family feel, staff got to know your name very quickly and there was an abundance of activities to do both free and paid. Also the snorkelling was really excellent here with lots to see at the reef right from the beach. Although a point to note is that it’s not possible to snorkel at low tide so you need to plan your snorkel sessions to coincide with high tide.

Blue Lagoon was a step up, it had a much more resort like feel with an outdoor pool and excellent food. Whilst it had a dorm it seemed much more family and couple orientated and most people were in bed by 9pm after dinner and the evening activities. I was however impressed with the hotels commitment to sustainability and the fact that they try to support the local village in every way possible. Staying here was a real insight into how tourism has developed in Fiji and how resorts are trying to stay true to the Fiji vibe of old but still offer the modern amenities that today’s travellers expect.

Anyway back to the smiles……..

Yes the beaches are beautiful, yes the water is clear, the activities fun, the social aspect of island life wonderful but the thing I loved once again about Fiji is the people and the big beaming smiles.

It was actually quite sad to leave the islands and move on. For a few days after I was almost shouting ‘Bula’ to people I passed in the street whilst in New Zealand.

I definitely want to return to Fiji and explore much more. I could easily see myself spending a month or so in the country it’s just a shame it is such a long journey from the UK.

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