Mild Rover: Go your own way

Curated tours, cruises, resorts and reviews

Laid-back luxury islands so near, yet far enough away

A small charter boat streaks across the turquoise waters, leaving a trail of white surf that laps at the beach. Workers on a construction site are sitting back on their haunches and turning their faces to the sun as they take their morning tea break.

Meanwhile, inside, the head of a major tour company hunches over her desk, plotting fresh expeditions to some of the country’s furthest, most remote islands.     

It’s almost two years since Fiji’s borders were flung back open to the outside world, and a huge number of new attractions are now being set up, hotels constructed and new tours planned as the number of visitors smashes pre-COVID figures.

“Visitation to Fiji is tracking really, really well,” says Rob Thompson at his office, regional director Australia at Tourism Fiji. “Despite cost of living rises, Australians don’t appear to be ready to sacrifice spending on travel, and they’re looking for good short-haul holidays around the Pacific.

“They still need to want to escape their daily lives, and we’ve getting quite a few Australian travellers who’ve never been before. Fiji has everything going for it: it’s easy to access, it has a good health and safety record, it has a high level of security for investment and there are a lot of new developments in the pipeline.”

The last consecutive 12 months of Australian visitors surpassed all pre-pandemic levels, peaking at 134 per cent up on January 2019, with global visitors 106 per cent up on their total for the same month, driving $310 million of income for the year.

Australians made up 41 per cent of the total, New Zealanders 28 per cent, and the US and Canada contributed 13 per cent.      

With such a robust rebound in popularity, hotel, resort and tour companies are all now scrambling to upgrade or introduce new product in order to seize the new opportunities and accelerate the upturn.   

Outrigger, Fiji Beach Resort

Among the upcoming changes are a multi-million-dollar renovation of OUTRIGGER Fiji on the Coral Coast, an hour and a half south of Nadi, with the addition of attractions to its adventure park including a golf driving range, archery and paintball course, a second Radisson Blu hotel on Naisaso Island, and the building of the first Crowne Plaza Hotel in the country, a massive conversion of the old Pullman Nadi Bay.  

“We were getting great momentum with visitors before COVID, but it’s absolutely exploded and is going from strength to strength,” says Matt Tripolone, managing director, Australasia & Pacific, IHG Hotels & Resorts, who’ll be opening the 326-room Crowne Plaza Fiji Nadi Bay Resort & Spa in March 2024.

“We’re seeing great growth in both leisure and family travel and also business travel and incentives, while a lot of people are now seeking niche luxury experiences. The hotel will have seven restaurants and bars, including a whiskey bar, and a lovely day spa and it’s on a beautiful beach, close to the airport yet still pretty private. Demand for Fiji is definitely increasing and there are a lot more flights available there, too.”

It’s a similar outlook for Lachlan Hoswell, managing director – Australasia development for the Radisson Hotel Group. He believes holidaymakers are now seeking more natural experiences in beautiful island and water settings, with friendly locals.

As a result, construction is just starting on the new 250-suite and apartment Radisson Blu hotel, with completion likely early in 2026. “It will tick a lot of boxes as people can fly in and within 10 minutes be sitting by the lagoon pool overlooking the ocean and the white sandy beach,” Hoswell says. “You don’t have to land and then travel for two hours to get there.

“And Fiji has developed in a way that makes it a lot more desirable. There are now some pretty special resorts there, with a modern luxury feel, but life there is still at a relaxed pace. I see it as having a great future and I’m certainly looking for more opportunities there.”

The OUTRIGGER Hospitality Group is also investing hugely into its two resorts in the country. It recently renovated the 253 rooms and bures of its OUTRIGGER Fiji, added those extra facilities to its adventure park and expanded its kids’ program, and introduced island-hopping to its private island resort Castaway Island in the Mamanuca Islands.

“The country is rebuilding well and the future remains exciting,” says Ben Johnson, OUTRIGGER’s director of sales and marketing. “We anticipate continued growth from all regions and certainly from Australia into 2024 and beyond.

“Tourism is vital for Fiji; it is incredibly important and every dollar that is spent assists in supporting locals in jobs and families in villages. Fiji has great capacity for further growth in terms of tourism and resorts and there is no current concern of over tourism in my opinion. With 333 islands there are many places to escape and many villages that would love to see a smiling tourist visit.”

With more tourists now than locals – 880,738 in the 12 months to August 2023 compared to 863,000 residents – others have expressed fears of over tourism. But the Fijian Government has been keen to seize the upper hand in the debate early on, stressing its commitment to sustainability.

“We’re spearheading the formulation of a 10-year strategy known as the National Sustainable Tourism Framework to gather inspiration and direction for the tourism industry, by leveraging Fiji’s natural, cultural, physical and reputational assets to build resilience beyond immediate gains,” says Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Viliame Gavoka. “We want our future generations to reap the very same benefits as our people and visitors do today.”

Many long-time operators, like Captain Cook Cruises, also operate their own sustainability protocols, planting more coral, tidying rubbish and educating both visitors and locals in keeping the environment pristine. It’s also enabling them to expand their operations too, offering a greater variety of experiences, and often with a higher degree of luxe.

Captain Cook has just brought in their luxury small ship MS Caledonian Sky to replace their old Reef Endeavour to elevate their cruises to a new level, with bigger suites and private decks, themed trips like yoga and wellness, and visits to more remote locations.

Tivua Private Island

“Our cruises are the only way you can reach some of these islands, so Australians can discover there’s a lot more to Fiji than they ever knew before,” says Captain Cook Cruises Fiji executive chair Allison Haworth West, with the company’s dinner cruises, day sails and overnight, and multi-day, cruises, as well as its private island Tivua. “We’re seeing many rediscovering Fiji now, and seeing it in a new light.

“From April 2024, we also have a new itinerary to really open up Fiji. It’ll mean diving on reefs no one has ever dived on before, beaches that no one’s ever swum off, an insight into different cultures and styles of architecture and villages that no one has visited before. We’re trying to create a new, undiscovered bucket list destination, like the Kimberley.”

There’s lots more island-hopping now being offered with Fiji’s two-level floating platform Cloud 9, with its own bar and pizzeria, now introducing its own ferry plus two more boats that visitors can hire to travel around the islands. Owner Bar’el Wachtel says, in these kinds of ways, Fiji is now extending its appeal. “Australians and New Zealanders have always loved it but now we’re seeing the Chinese market back too,” he says.

There’s plenty to attract them too, with another floating pontoon Seventh Heaven Fiji offering overnight stays, construction just starting on the FJ$230 million expansion of the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, scheduled to complete in late 2026, and a new solar-powered island resort being built by Silent Yachts off Taveuni.

At the top end, for adults only, the new Waya Island Resort has just opened in the Mamanucas with just 17 bures, while romantic packages are being introduced in the Lomani Island Resort.

Even small enterprises like Ecotrax, which has been operating e-bike carriage trips along the old disused sugar cane rail lines since 2018, is now doubling capacity in reaction to surging demand.

“We have to turn away so many bookings, we’re now increasing our fleet so we can do four tours a day instead of two,” says owner Mandy de Vries, whose business took off after it was featured in an episode of the TV show Bachelor in Paradise Australia.

“It’s going amazingly well and we don’t see any end in sight. Fiji is such a glorious destination and, as more and more people come here, we can only see it improving and increasing in popularity.”

This feature first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald Traveller section.

Sue Williams
Sue Williams
Sue Williams is an award-winning journalist and author who’s written for all of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines and has published 25 books.

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