My son’s voice rung out loud and strong. “High tide,” in answer to the village chief’s invitation to drink a cup of kava, the national drink of Fiji. A brimming half coconut shell of muddy brown liquid was presented to him, which he accepted with both hands, downing the drink in one go. A strong clap followed, indicating satisfaction with the slightly peppery beverage, and two more full bowls were drunk, as is the custom. He was warmly welcomed as a village guest, as was my husband who’d also braved a high tide portion of the drink.
My coconut shell was filled with the lowest of ‘low tide,’ so as to appear respectable in my attempt to honor the chief and the traditional ceremony. But despite the warning that the kava would taste as unappealing as it looked, it was nowhere near as bad as I’d feared. I downed my portions, clapped, and smiled at the chief.
I had completed my mission, given to me by our driver Johnnie when we’d arrived ten days earlier in Nadi:
“You haven’t been to Fiji unless you’ve drunk kava.”
Embracing local traditions and trying new things are always travel goals for our family. Part of the magic of visiting new destinations is learning about unique cultures, food and people. Before we’d even boarded our Fiji Airways flight from Los Angeles, we got a taste of the welcoming Bula spirit and culture of Fiji that we would enjoy during our two week visit.
Similar to the Hawaiian aloha, Bula has more than one meaning, but the sentiment is true in spirit: welcome, enjoy, good health, life! You can’t but smile and be happy when you say the word; a great way to be when you’re a stranger exploring a new place, even one as friendly and welcoming as Fiji.
Where to Stay in Fiji
The tropical islands in Fiji, and there are 333 to choose from, are incredibly family-friendly. Fiji’s people and resorts should encourage parents to consider a visit sooner rather than later in their children’s lives. It is a family travel paradise.
It’s not possible to visit that many islands in one go, unless you’ve got an entire year. Consider island hopping as a way of experiencing the variety of what Fiji has to offer. There are many places to choose from when thinking about where to stay in Fiji. The three islands and resorts we enjoyed during our two week stay each provide a unique experience that reveals a different side of Fiji at every turn.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Situated on the southern Coral Coast of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is a traditional family-friendly property that caters to younger children, parents and multi-generational families. It’s located in a few hours drive from Nadi’s international airport.
The resort is very popular with Australians, who can get here in just a three or four hour flight, the resort offers a variety of accommodation options, from cost effective hotel suites to individual beachside bures (cabins) complete with butler service.
There’s a large kids pool and lazy river, with generous-sized buffet and full-service restaurants (with optional meal plan) sprinkled throughout the property. The Outrigger Fiji Beach has an excellent Kids Club for children, Meimei nannies for wee ones, and a packed day schedule of kids and teen activities (many at no charge) to keep children of all ages entertained.
The tide goes out quite far at low tide, so schedule any snorkeling and kayaking during the times of higher tide. The water in this turquoise blue lagoon is clear, warm and shallow, and it’s easy to spot fish, crabs and other sea life.
Family activities include kayaking, snorkeling, pool games, cultural adventures, hiking and visits to a local village school. There’s the award-winning Bebe Spa, and an adult-only pool to give couples some time together while the kids enjoy club fun with new friends.
Use the Map Below to Search for other Hotel and Short-Term Rental Options
For a true island resorts getaway-from-it-all, catch a South Sea Cruises ferry from Port Denerau near Nadi to magical Castaway Island. (You can also arrive by helicopter or float plane if you’re flush and in a rush to get to paradise.)
Castaway is an idyllic little private island in the Mamanuca Islands group, off the main island of Viti Levu. The island is just 174 acres, covered in tropical rainforest, and surrounded by the purest white sand beaches. The ocean waters are warm, in varying shades of turquoise blue that reveal healthy coral reefs, teeming with ocean life and multicolored fish.
There are only sixty bures on the island, so the resort is intimate and compact. Each freestanding bure has been modeled in traditional style, with thatched roofs, high vaulted ceilings and air conditioning. There are no telephones or televisions, and they won’t be missed. You’ve left the world behind, remember?
This is the place to let the kids roam free, to meet new friends at the kids club, pool or by the beach. Guests can spend all day in and around the ocean, enjoying water sports like snorkeling in the calm water, kayaking, sailing, swimming or paddleboarding. Many of the water activities are complimentary with a stay.
Kids as young as ten can take a scuba diving certification course before heading out for dives in deeper waters. After the day’s activities, families connect over dinner in the open-air Waters Edge Restaurant, or watch the sunset over a wood-fired pizza at the Sundowner Bar and Grill.
Tip: Sign up for Castaway’s Daily Meal Plan, which includes all buffet meals and a la carte selections. Bonus: Kids under 3 eat free.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort
Located in the protected marine sanctuary near Savusavu Bay on the island of Vanua Levu, the five star luxury and incredible family-friendliness of the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort will exceed expectations.
The resort pairs authentic Fijian hospitality with an environmentally sustainable mandate left by its Cousteau family heritage. Add the award-winning Bula Club for kids into the mix – where every child under the age of five gets a dedicated nanny, and those under 12 get grouped with a Fijian buddy – and you have the makings of an unforgettable family holiday where everyone can get exactly what they wish.
The resort is all-inclusive (excluding alcohol), and includes all kids, teens, and most adult activities. Scuba diving though the Cousteau Dive Centre is booked separately. Kids from 10 years of age can learn to dive – first in the pool and then by boat ride to the nearby reefs, including the world-famous Namena Marine Reserve. The opportunity to explore one of the healthiest coral reefs in the world shouldn’t be missed.
Each family settles into its own large, traditional bure, serviced by attentive and friendly staff, many of which have been with the Cousteau Resort for decades. The open-air dining area has separated seating for families and couples, but everyone shares the same gorgeous views of the pool area and Savusavu Bay.
The dining options are vast and varied, from breakfast buffets to intimate, sit-down dinners that include delicious Fijian-inspired dishes served tableside. There are also weekly traditional ‘lovo’ buffet feasts, where various meats have been prepared in a fire pit covered with banana leaves.
You can choose to be as active as you want to be in this tropical family-friendly resort. There are many opportunities to appreciate Fijian nature and culture through kava ceremonies, day trips to the local market, listening to local musicians, learning about medicinal plants, zip lining, and visiting hidden waterfalls in the lush jungle.
Or just relax, enjoy a meditative yoga session, lay by the pool, and melt away into Fiji time. Heaven on earth? You’ll have to experience it for yourself to find out. No matter where you choose to enjoy your family’s Fiji time, the Bula spirit of these tropical islands will remain with you long after your trip has faded into a dreamy memory.
When to visit Fiji
As a tropical destination, the climate in Fiji is usually pleasant and fairly mild throughout the year. But like most tropical climates, the wet season occurs during summer where high temperatures and increased humidity lead to higher levels of precipitation, as well as an increased risk of cyclones.
Located in the southern hemisphere, the summer wet season runs from November to March with temperatures in the low 30s celsius. Fiji’s dry season occurs during the cooler months from May to September when temperatures remain warm enough to enjoy Fiji’s most popular activities, such as swimming, sunbathing and snorkeling.
What to pack for your tropical holiday in Fiji
Peak and off-peak seasons may also be a factor affecting your decision on when to travel to Fiji. July to August is usually one of the busiest periods as many families in Australia and New Zealand choose to visit Fiji with kids during their winter school holidays.
Over the Christmas/New Year period, the resorts are also often filled with families taking a break during the Southern Hemisphere summer holidays. If you can take advantage of the off-peak season, book a trip during the months of February, March, June, October or November. Note: We visited in October, traveling from Canada via Los Angeles.
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Disclosure: The writer and her family were guests of these resorts or paid reduced rates. As always, the writer’s love of Fiji and its bula spirit are honest and her own.