Fiji is undoubtedly the most popular holiday destination for North Shore Mums. After years of reading posts about Fiji in the NSM Facebook group and envying other people’s holidays to this island paradise, Rachel Chappell and her family decided it was time to find out first hand why this tropical destination was so appealing.
We stayed at Radisson Blu on Denarau Island, which is one of the many luxurious resorts on this man-made island, just 25 minutes drive from the airport. We’d also considered an island or the Coral Coast, but after flying four hours with three young kids (aged 15 months, 4 and 6), we decided to keep it easy and avoid another lengthy transfer via boat or coach (for this holiday, at least).
As much as I loved the idea of lounging by the pool all day, we were also really keen to do a couple of activities to explore other aspects of the country – so we booked day trip to a tropical island on one day and jet boat river cruise to visit a remote Fijian village on another. For a family of five, this seemed like a good balance of relaxing at the resort, but also getting out and exploring.
Sigatoka River Safari
Cruise your way up the magnificent Sigatoka River in a jet boat to visit authentic Fijian villages and experience a day in the life of the real ‘kaiviti’ (Fijian).
The Sigatoka River Safari was undoubtedly the most memorable experiences of the whole holiday!
We were collected from the resort at 7am, and transferred via minibus to Sigatoka. The journey took about an hour, but the drive in itself was fascinating, just passing all the villages and getting an appreciation for Fijian life – a stark contrast to the luxurious 5-star resorts of Denarau. After a quick stop at Sigatoka, and we were back on the minibus for a 20-minute drive towards base camp.
Upon arrival, we were given our life jackets, had a quick loo stop, and then we were broken up into smaller groups and allocated a driver and jet boat. There were about 6 jet boats in total, and two families on our boat.This is where the fun really began! For the next 45 minutes, we raced up the Sigatoka river, passing through some bendy narrow channels and avoiding the odd tree stump. Along the way we saw young children riding horses bare back, people washing their clothes in the river and more glimpses of Fijian life. It was not only thrilling, but it was also a real eye-opener for my kids to see people living off the land.
I was a bit nervous about how our 15-month-old daughter would go on the jet boat, but she sat on our lap in a life jacket and giggled the whole time. I’ve never seen such smiles on our older daughter’s faces too! There were a few stops along the way, where our driver told us some interesting facts about the area and its people.
We were greeted at the village’s wharf and guided up the hill to their village. We spent the next few hours being shown around the village, being welcomed with a traditional kava welcoming ceremony, enjoying a sumptuous Fijian lunch in their community hall, plus some singing and dancing!
I really liked the fact that this village isn’t infiltrated by tourists every single day – tour operators rotate the village that is visited, so they only get a tour group through once per week, and the tourism is sustainable. And the villagers we met were so welcoming and friendly, it really felt like they were happy to show us their village.
It was an experience that we will never forget. It was a big day out and we were exhausted by the time we were heading back, but it felt like we were properly “travelling” – in a way that we hadn’t done since having children. It was pretty liberating to know we could still do it with three kids in tow!
Tip: If you’re travelling with a baby, pack a carrier and leave the pram at home!
South Sea Island Tour
A day trip to the gorgeous South Sea Island, one of the treasures of the Mamanuca Islands. Crystal clear waters, coral reefs and thousands of colourful tropical fish surround the tiny island.
A trip to a Fiji isn’t complete without a visit a tropical island, and it was something I was desperate to experience!
We chose South Sea Cruises, who are Fiji’s most experienced cruise operator. They operate a range of Day Cruises, ranging from a kid-friendly “Finding Nemo” 3-hour tour, to a full day island hopping option. We decided on a half-day trip (which we were told feels like a full day anyway!) to South Sea Island, which is a tiny island about 30 minutes ferry ride from Denarau Marina.
We were collected by the tour company and transferred the short drive (about 15 minutes with other hotel pick ups) to Denarua Marina. After collecting our tickets, we boarded the luxurious ferry to South Sea Island. The cruise liner is fully enclosed (though you can also sit outdoors), and takes you to about 150 metres to the island. You then hop on a smaller speed boat and taken to the island – where a group of Fijians greet you in traditional costume singing Fijian welcome sound and a big ‘Bula!’ For us, the island experience had begun!
After arriving, we sat down to enjoy a delicious buffet lunch in the open-air restaurant while watching Fijian performances. With full bellies, we were then free to spend the next three hours however we wanted. Our first stop was the pool in the middle of the island (the kids decision, not ours!), before moseying down to the beach to spend some time in the ocean..
We had three hours to explore the island (which you could walk around in 10 minutes), relax or enjoy some of the activities. You could kayak, snorkel or scuba dive, hang out by the beach or pool or simply have a doze in the hammock (only possible for those without kids, of course!). There was a kids club on the island too, so the girls enjoyed spending time with the Fijian carer and getting their faces painted.
What I particularly enjoyed about this trip is the freedom – there were activities available to join in if you wanted, but if you just wanted to lie in a hammock all afternoon, that was completely fine. Aside from the transport to and from the island, it really didn’t feel like you were part of a tour group. The island is absolutely stunning, and gave us a real appetite to discover some more islands for our next holiday!
Tip: If you’re travelling with a baby, pack a carrier and leave the pram at home! For some silly reason, we decided to take ours, and it was such a hassle to get on and off the boats, and you couldn’t even use it on the island anyway!