I Always Travel To Fiji To See Family — This Time I Went As A Tourist

Photo courtesy of Alicia Vrajlal
I've travelled from Australia to Fiji at least 10 times, but when I touched down at Nadi Airport this time, it was different. The distinct smell of the local air, the heat hitting my skin and the sight of airport workers in floral-printed Bula shirts were consistent with my previous experiences. But there was a different air about me. For the first time in my life, I was travelling to Fiji as a tourist, without my family in tow.
My parents (who are of Indian heritage) were born and brought up in Fiji's capital city, Suva, before migrating to Australia in the 1980s. I'd often visited the country's main island, Viti Levu, during family holidays in my childhood and early adulthood to see my grandparents and extended family. While friends and colleagues assumed I was sipping cocktails by a beachside bure, the reality was vastly different.
Three to four hours' drive from the tourist hotspots of Denarau and the Coral Coast, Suva's bumpier roads and simpler houses are a firm reminder that Fiji is still a developing country. My family holiday activities were simple, communal and wholesome. Walks down to the corner store to get milk ice blocks, drives by the sea wall, buying fresh papaya and passionfruit from locals at the market, and listening to old tales from my grandma over a cup of chai.
This time, though I was embarking on a 'typical' Fiji holiday, yet there was nothing standard about this trip — and it has honestly become my favourite holiday to date.
After arriving at the country's primary airport in Nadi following a very comfortable Virgin Australia Economy X flight (the most comfortable Fiji flight I've taken so far thanks to ample space and up to 40% more leg room), our tour group travelled to the popular tourist area, Denarau, where we took a small boat over to the Tropica Island Resort in the Mamanuca Islands, which dangles just off the coast of Nadi. Staying in a boutique adults-only resort was quite the treat. I woke up to the sounds of rolling ocean waves, took a daily dip in my own private pool, and indulged in the sweetest fresh coconut straight from the trees outside my beachside bure.
With warm, crystal clear waters surrounding the 20 idyllic Mamanuca Islands, I got the chance to enjoy island life at its best. The hotel staff took our tour group out to sea for my first-ever snorkelling experience at the reef-laden Castaway Wall. A 15-minute speed boat ride is all it took to whisk us away to Cloud 9. The two-level floating platform is indisputably my top recommendation if you're after a waterside party experience that includes drinks, woodfire pizza, dance music, swimming and snorkelling.
While my previous Fiji trips have been filled with culture and tradition, the experiences have always leaned into my Indian heritage. Yes, I knew how to say bula (hello) and vinaka (thank you) in Fijian, but I hadn't delved into the history of a place that has such close ties with Australia, from both a tourism and trade perspective. This time though, I got a chance to speak to and learn from Indigenous Fijians. From the welcoming hotel staff to the locals at the Solevu village, I learnt about ways in which small villages are focusing on improving infrastructure through local water and electricity projects. I tasted the traditional coconut-based kokoda fish dish, and roasted taro straight from a Lovo underground oven. I learnt about the age-long tradition of drinking kava, and marvelled at the drums and ukulele accompanying the Isa Lei farewell song.
I may have been doing different things on my Fiji trip this time around, as I basked in the sun sipping on milkshakes hours away from my family's home on the main island. But the key similarity to previous holidays was the nature of the people around me.
My dad always tells me that Fijians are the friendliest people in the world. And on this trip, I understood what he meant, as I embraced the warmth, hospitality and generosity of the strangers around me. Whether I'm on the mainland or on an idyllic resort island, the people are what make Fiji the gem of a country it is.
Ironically, it was doing the 'touristy stuff' that made me realise the multidimensional beauty of Fiji, just how complex and rich its culture is, and how dedicated the locals are to giving people the ultimate holiday experience.
Through this experience, I realised how hard it would've been for my dad to come to Australia, leaving behind the familiarity of a place that's unpredictable yet comforting. Small yet a facilitator for dreaming big. Steeped in storytelling traditions and sharing, no matter whether you're swimming at a hotel or having a family BBQ on the mainland.
After bidding farewell to the Mamanuca Islands, I headed back to Nadi Airport and took a detour at the end of my trip to visit my grandma in Suva. After all, I had so many new stories to tell her about the piece of paradise I had fallen in love with.
Refinery29 Australia was a guest of Virgin Australia on board its Economy X offering. Virgin Australia offers direct Fiji flights between Nadi, Fiji and Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
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