Research and planning pays off, writes Alexia Santamaria.
The 333 islands of Fiji are known for many things: white-sand beaches, smiling faces, some of the clearest water in the world, tropical fish, luxurious private islands, resorts, spas and fascinating pacific culture. What they are not well known for is being budget destinations — in fact many are quite the opposite. But that doesn't mean you can't visit these gorgeous islands if you're not rolling in cash; you just need to plan ahead, do some research and know where to buy things. Here are some ideas to help:
Avoid the tourist hot spots
Areas with big-brand resorts are never going to be the most cost-effective places to stay. The Yasawa Islands have some lower-key options, including Barefoot Manta Island Resort, Mantaray Island Resort, Blue Lagoon Resort and Octopus Resort (all family friendly).
Wailoaloa Beach is a well-known area for backpacker accommodation such as Smugglers Cove and Bamboo Travellers Lodge. And there's also the Ramada Suites — apartments with cooking facilities — which are great for families. In between the bigger, more expensive resorts on the Coral Coast it's worth checking out the prices at places like The Beach House, The Naviti, The Fiji Hideaway Resort and Spa, Mango Bay Resort and Crusoe's retreat. Check for all inclusive and kids-eat-free deals at some of these places.
Low cost attractions
Although most attractions in Fiji cost, some have a smaller price tag than others. The Sigatoka Sand Dunes are a stunning, and somewhat unexpected, sight and the entry fee is only $10 — time it right and you may see the Fiji Sevens Rugby team training there. The beautiful Garden of the Sleeping Giant is only $45 for a family and Sabeto Hot Springs is only $20 per adult to soak in the mud pool and wait till it dries on your skin, for therapeutic benefits. If you're staying near Nadi and have a car, it's worth a day trip to Natadola beach. The drive is only an hour and the beach is beautiful — great for bodysurfing, boogie boarding and lying in the sun. Take a book and buy some fresh fruit from roadside stands on the way, and you have a low-cost fabulous day in paradise.
Of course, it goes without saying you should keep an eye out for sales and start looking at flights early when planning a trip to Fiji. You will sometimes find flight-and-accommodation packages that can make it a bit less pricey. Once you're there, local buses are pretty reasonable, and a great way to really experience Fijian life — something that can elude you entirely if you're staying in tourist accommodation. If this is part of your plan, get an E Transport card from a Vodafone store as some buses only accept these; there's also the Bula Bus if you're exploring Denarau. Taxis are not as expensive as New Zealand so they can be a good option, and hiring a car will give you the freedom to stay a little further from the tourist spots and explore the countryside. Book well in advance for good deals.
Eating in Fiji can be expensive if you only eat at resorts or tourist restaurants. There are daily markets in Nadi, Sigatoka and Lautoka and the array of fresh fruit and produce is wonderful and very affordable (Fijian pineapples must not be missed). You'll also find ready-to-eat Fijian and Indian food in the streets and in mobile carts nearby. If you're staying in Denarau, make sure you venture into Nadi to eat where the locals eat. At Fijian restaurants, like Tu's Place, the portions are enormous and can be shared.
Try Raju's, Indiana Bar and Restaurant, Eco-Cafe or the Nadi Farmer's Club too. Supermarkets are great and very affordable for picking up snacks, excellent for edible gifts to take home as well — your friends will love you forever if you bring Friend Fiji Tamarind Chutney home as a present.
Fiji Airways and Air New Zealand fly direct from Auckland to Nadi.